Silence is not kindness

This post was authored by Heather DeSchazer, @mrs_deshazer on Instagram.

She is an English Language Arts Teacher at Shawnee Middle School in Shawnee Oklahoma.  This was her personal reflection as she thought back on the teaching of this unit.

Click the link to hear Heather talk about how we often don’t set our kids up for success. In this video, she inspires us to trust our students and design learning experiences that set kids up for success. I’m proud to say that Guided Inquiry is an instructional design that teachers can trust to accomplish just that.

I want to thank her for her humility and grace in sharing her reflections as a white teacher embracing culturally responsive teaching about race in the United States.  – Leslie Maniotes, PhD

Silence is Not Kindness

Growing up in a large family, we would frequently be told,

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

It would be inevitable at least once a day this phrase would be repeated to the arguing four children to remind us to keep our mouths shut unless it was kind. This mantra is one of the most prominent ones of my life; it is one that I live by daily to make my grandma proud. You see, kindness was her thing.

The problem with this mantra is that it became a crutch for my white silence to rest upon.

I started my journey in education twelve years ago as an 8th grade English teacher. It has been a dream job that has married my love for writing and reading with my love of youth. It is a job that I take seriously and desire to do well. My whole goal is to help foster life-long learning with compassion and empower students to create positive social change in their world by using their unique voice. I have prided myself on this lofty goal. Still, when conversations of race and inequality come up I would remember this phrase, “if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all” and maintain my privileged white silence. I didn’t realize that I was causing harm but I was, and the intent did not matter. I was not compassionately leading and empowering students for positive social change, I was hushing them out of fear and my own white fragility.  Jamilah Pitts states in the article, “Don’t Say Nothing” that “When their teachers choose to remain silent about moments of racial tension or violence-violence that may well touch students’ own communities or families- these children are overtly reminded of their inferior place in society” (Pitts). 

My silence communicates to my students that I do not value them. That is a heartbreaking but true statement and I wonder at what point will I begin to speak up and quit being a bystander of justice. 

While sitting in a room full of white educators we decided to use the Guided Inquiry Design process to talk about the Tulsa Race Massacre. I remember the moment well due to the heightened anxiety around the decision. I feared the community response, I feared calls from parents, I feared hurting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) but more than that, in honesty, I feared I would mess up. I feared I would get it wrong and in-turn fail. My white silence would allow me to “stay kind” but kind to who, at the expense of whom? The truth is that we are not brave for choosing the topic of the Tulsa Race Massacre. 

We were behind. 

The truth is that it is our responsibility as educators to hear every voice and ensure that every voice is represented. We are not teaching equitably by ignoring conversations about race because we feel uncomfortable.

Kindness isn’t silence. Kindness is action. 

The Guided Inquiry Design process opened my eyes to a way of teaching in which I was not at the center.

It gave me the structure I needed to get out of my comfort zone and empower students to do the same. We moved from phase to phase with the students’ questions and curiosity at the center of the entire process.

We slowed down and sped up according to the needs of our students and not at the convenience of their teacher. It was beautiful, magical to see so many students question, struggle, and figure it out. They were just waiting on  me to get out of the way. 

Heather DeShazer

English Language Arts Teacher

Shawnee Middle School

Shawnee, Oklahoma


1 Comment

  1. Heather is amazing in how she is incorporating this into her classroom now to empower ALL students. I’m so grateful to be able to witness the learning that is happening in our school. Part of our school that also benefits from all students feeling empowered is the fact that there are 28 Native American Tribes that are represented in the students of our student body. When students feel empowered, their reasons for learning (any of their reasons) become valid. Then, they can translate this validation into speaking about who they are.

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