Teaching respect #BeginsWithMe

Mon, 11/28/2016 - 7:28am

In the aftermath of the brutal 2016 election season, educators are dealing with some familiar and some unprecedented challenges in our classrooms. Stereotyping, bullying and discrimination are sadly not new occurrences; however, the level of despair and fear accompanying these instances have increased in many of our situations following November 8.

As educators, we are asked to help our students effectively process the outcome of our elections and the implications it may have in their communities. In doing so, we need to find ways to provide them a safe and supportive place to understand their changing roles.

Although as I write this, the results of the election have not been finalized by the Electoral College, I have already told my students that our democratic system is dependent on the acceptance of the results of our elections. I then clarify that acceptance and unquestioning support are two different things. The former is part of our role as citizens but the latter is dangerous to the sustainability of our democracy, regardless of who wins. It is from this entry point that we then begin our conversations.

Testimony can play a powerful role in inspiring students to rise to the occasion

The range of emotions runs nearly the full gamut in my classroom. Our diverse school includes students of the “First Families” of Virginia through individuals who have only been in our nation a few weeks or months. Students hail from many different ethnic groups and classify themselves according to a varying range of sexual preferences. While many students express anger at the outcome of the election, others have voiced support and other individuals have voiced fear. I told my students in our very first conversation on the topic that my goal for each of them is to think about how they can approach this situation, considering their backgrounds and ideological viewpoints, in the most positive fashion for our nation.

Empowering students, especially those feeling abject despair, can be challenging. The use of visual history testimony can play a powerful role in inspiring students to “rise to the occasion” in difficult times and to show each of them that they have the ability to make positive change in our society. USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive and IWitness provides a wide range of testimonies that can be used to inspire our students. A few of my favorites include:

Teaching with Testimony

Genocide: Holocaust survivor Itka Zygmuntowicz

Holocaust survivor Itka Zygmuntowicz on the last time she saw her mother.

  • Genocide: Holocaust survivor Itka Zygmuntowicz

    Language: English

    Holocaust survivor Itka Zygmuntowicz on the last time she saw her mother.

  • Jan Karski on the Warsaw Ghetto

    Language: English

    Jan Karski speaks on being smuggled into the Warsaw Ghetto to report on the horrible conditions and the destruction of Polish Jewry. He also recalls how he recently met, just months prior to his interview, a very successful business man, who as a child followed Karski around in the ghetto. 

  • Alicia Appleman-Jurman on courage

    Language: English

    100 Days to Inspire Respect

    Alicia describes when her house was attacked. She recognizes one of the attackers, and she makes a speech to him that causes him to leave.

  • Roméo Dallaire on the 1994 Rwandan Tutsi Genocide

    Language: English

    Roméo Dallaire describes how quickly violence escalated in Rwanda in 1994 and his disappointment in the lack of support from the international community.

  • Carl Wilkens on neighbors speaking up

    Language: English

    Carl Wilkens, an aid provider during the Rwandan Tutsi Genocide, describes the courageous acts of his neighbors. 


Providing students with positive examples of individuals who make a difference in challenging times can inspire conversation and ideas for action. Although the outcome of this election may not be what an individual had hoped for, I tell each of my students that it is within their power to make an impact on the future.

By taking small actions such as becoming politically informed, writing their legislators, donating to groups which support their beliefs and advocate for them and working to end bullying and discrimination in their local communities, these young people can help to build a better future - not just for themselves but for everyone around them.


Jennifer Goss