Toolkit as Teaching Resource in Community College Social Justice Course

May 30, 2024

Photo of Sarah StarSarah Star, a philosophy and humanities professor at Carroll Community College in Maryland, is always looking for ways to enrich her social justice class. She stumbled upon the Interactivity Foundation’s Collaborative Discussion Coach Training and quickly realized the Collaborative Discussion Toolkit offered a treasure trove of activities to help students unpack the complexities of critical social issues. Three activities, Developing an Awareness of Stakeholders, Mapping Complexity, and Encouraging Bold Imagination, became the cornerstone of the capstone project for her Contemporary Issues in Social Justice class.

Sarah loves using these activities with her students. “This is my third time running it, and it’s hands-down my favorite part of the class,” Sarah beamed. “More importantly,” she said, “the kids really love them.” The class kicks off with students selecting a social justice issue that ignites their passion. They then craft an “artifact”—a presentation, poster, or video—to explain the problem and advocate for change. “The goal is to create something informative yet persuasive,” Sarah explained, “educating the audience and urging them to take action.”

But before diving into advocacy, Sarah relies on the toolkit activities to guide students through a meticulous dissection of their chosen issue. These activities help them see the issue through a lens of intersectionality, identify all the stakeholders involved, understand how each is affected, and untangle the social structures that contribute to the problem’s complexity.

“Getting to the root causes can be tough,” Sarah admitted. “Racism, for instance, isn’t just about a few bad apples; it’s woven into the fabric of our society. Even if we were all paragons of anti-racism, structural racism would persist.”

Grasping these interwoven complexities can be challenging, and that’s where the toolkit shines. “It’s a constant effort to introduce these ideas and maintain a high level of analysis,” Sarah said. “But these exercises are phenomenal in scaffolding that ability for students with their chosen social justice issue.”

Lacey Dustin, a Carroll Community College sophomore, recently tested these toolkit activities in Professor Star’s class. Lacey focused her project on the school-to-prison pipeline. The Awareness of Stakeholders activity painted a stark picture of many people impacted by punitive school justice. With its fishbone framework, the Mapping Complexity exercise helped her visualize the web of interconnected issues that make solutions elusive. These activities “really helped us organize our project effectively,” Lacey said.

Lacey also discovered that the toolkit activities fostered a sense of connection with her classmates. As someone who transitioned to online or hybrid learning during high school due to COVID-19 and was unable to practice in a typical classroom, unstructured conversations caused her anxiety. “Just being thrown into groups and told to ‘talk’ would have been overwhelming,” Lacey confessed. “Having structured questions to guide us made all the difference.” Each activity involved working with a different partner, and with the support of the toolkit activities, Lacey was able to comfortably engage with her peers and appreciated the unique perspective each brought to the table, ultimately strengthening her project.

The final activity, Encouraging Bold Imagination, asked students to imagine a future without their chosen issue. “I pictured a world where this problem wasn’t even a concern anymore,” Lacey said with a hopeful glint in her eyes. “What’s the core of the issue?” she wondered.

Lacey believes restorative educational approaches hold the key to reducing the school-to-prison pipeline. Schools can create a less punitive environment by fostering strong relationships and connections between students and teachers and equipping students with conflict resolution skills. Lacey aspires to become an elementary school art teacher, leveraging her visual arts background to cultivate a safe, welcoming classroom space. Her ultimate dream? A future where every child looks forward to going to school, a place filled with warmth and a love for learning.
“I don’t want kids to dread school,” Lacey said. “I want them to love it and embrace learning.”

Sarah Star is proud of all her students. “These resources transformed my class. By approaching the issues deliberately, students are able to engage deeply.”

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