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Seven ways to support Black student success: Tips from Professor Ann Lopez

'Teachers must consider what they need to learn and unlearn' 

February 27, 2017

Professor Ann Lopez

OISE Professor Ann Lopez has a message for educators: teach Black students about the success of their ancestors, and you’ll foster success in those students too.

“Black students must be taught about their greatness, the greatness of their ancestors and their contributions to civilization… This will allow Black students to see themselves as descendants of achievers, believe that they can achieve, and develop confidence,” she said.

Prof. Lopez, featured in the Q&A below, is profiled here as part of OISE’s Black History Month coverage. (Other stories have focused on professors Lance McCready and Wanja Gitari, along with OISE PhD student Annette Bazira-Okafor, featured in a video about her creation of Black Girls Magazine.)

Multicultural Teacher of the Year

A professor in OISE’s Social Justice Education department, Prof. Lopez’s work is so well regarded, she recently won the international Multicultural Teacher of the Year Award from the National Association of Multicultural Educators. She is the first Canadian to ever win the award.

Prof. Lopez’s teaching and research are in the areas of diversity, equity and social justice in teacher education and educational leadership.

Specifically, she looks at student engagement and success, teacher identity, critical pedagogy and culturally relevant teaching practices and leadership.

Prof. Lopez is also a member of the University of Toronto’s Curriculum and Academic Programming group, part of the recently formed Black Faculty Working Group.

Read below for greater insight into Black student success and tips for educators from Prof. Lopez. 

One-on-one with Ann Lopez

How does curriculum impact Black student success?

Prof. Lopez: It’s important for Black students to see their experiences, histories, knowledge and culture in the curriculum. Black students must be taught about their greatness, the greatness of their ancestors and their contributions to civilization. An inclusive Afrocentric curriculum creates a framework for Black students to see themselves as part of their own learning and not at the margins. This will allow Black students to see themselves as descendants of achievers, believe that they can achieve, and develop confidence.

When students have confidence, they succeed academically, are engaged in school and the learning process, and make good choices that will positively impact their future and their success. Other students learn about the important contributions of Black people and equate blackness with greatness and excellence not only in sports and the arts, but in math, science, philosophy and entrepreneurship. 

Can you please give an example(s) of how Canada’s curriculum could better support the success of Black students?

There is not a "Canada’s Curriculum" as such but curricula taught in different classrooms and schools across Canada. The experience of Black students is that the curricula taught in schools whether they are in Nova Scotia or Ontario have not adequately included and represented Black history, achievements and knowledge. For example, students can leave school without ever having learned about Timbuktu in Mali, Africa which was a great centre of economics and commerce, not learn about the contributions of Africans to the development of math and philosophy, and not be aware that the Sureshot Dispensing system used in coffee shops across Canada was invented by a Black man.

Curriculum is more than text, it also includes how students and their parents are treated in schools, the expectations that teachers hold about Black students and the harsh experiences of Black students when it comes to discipline.

What are some steps an educator can take to better support Black student success?

To better support Black students, teachers, school administrators, guidance counsellors are encouraged to:

1. Examine the texts that they use to ensure that information about the contributions of Black people are represented. If the texts that they are using do not have the information teachers are encouraged to supplement the text.

2. Teachers are encouraged to engage in critical self-examination about biases they may hold about Black students and begin to think about what they need to learn and unlearn.

3. Teachers are encouraged to get to know Black students, their culture and learning styles and include this knowledge in their pedagogy.

4. Teachers, administrators and all involved in schooling are encouraged to treat discipline as lovingly supporting children to develop self-control. Too many Black students are suspended, sent to the ‘contact room’ and otherwise removed from the school or classroom to deal with poor choices that they may make.

5. Teachers are encouraged to pay attention to the language used in dialogue and texts.

6. Teachers are encouraged to constantly review curriculum and be open to adding new knowledge, resources and information.

7. I am aware that some teachers want to be more responsive to the educative needs of Black students but lack the knowledge, comfort level and ways to engage. I suggest teachers develop a list of critical friends that they can call on to share resources and talk about challenging situations that arise. Teachers might also consider using the principles of Kwanzaa that teach children the importance of responsibility, self-determination, acting with reason, creativity and belief in themselves and their purpose. I have also used stories passed on to me by my grandmother to make connections with students encouraging them to share their stories. 

Related: Black History Month spotlight