social justice · Teaching Writing with a Social Justice Lens Blog Series · writing workshop

Overview: Teaching Writing With a Social Justice Lens

Over the 2019 Martin Luther King weekend, Washington protesters provided us with a lot of news. Viral videos of a teenage boy staring and smiling at a Native American elder showed up all over Twitter, and news reporters filled the internet with details about the story. As the story unfolded, other details came to light; the context, various perspectives, and other motivations fleshed out the story. In an article that appeared in The Atlantic, Julie Zimmerman reminds us to wait for more facts to emerge when there’s a viral story. Her article reminds us of how easy it is to get news from “an online mob for whom Saturday-morning indignation is just another form of entertainment.”

Ruth Graham also wrote about the story, coming at it with a different lens, and her article centers on the idea that the MAGA (Make America Great Again) Teens Aren’t Innocent Victims.  Toward the end, she writes, “The new facts about this small encounter this weekend in Washington are important, and worth clarifying. But they don’t change the larger story, the one that caused so many people to react so viscerally to the narrative’s first, and simpler draft.” Overall, her message is that we are living in a time and climate where there are clear behaviors of aggression and disrespect available and recognized by both perpetrators and victims–and those behaviors are happening in both subtle and obvious ways.

At the end of this blog series, we will be giving away a copy of Being the Change by Sarah Ahmed, and in some ways, a news story probably could not be better suited to this book as this story touches upon many of the ideas in Being the Change— identity, empathy, news sources, being informed. No question that identity and biases were wrapped up in this incident. No question that there is work to be done around understanding and valuing all people. No question that we all have to be careful about how we get our news and how we communicate our views.

We don’t have a crystal ball to know how many more layers of this story will unfold, but as educators, we must teach students to be critical, thoughtful, reflective consumers of information. That responsibility won’t go away. And since Two Writing Teachers is a blog about teaching writing, another challenge involves teaching students the power and responsibility of language. This blog series is not only important, but necessary.

Over the course of the next week, my co-authors and I will be sharing the posts we’ve written about teaching writing with a social justice lens. Our intentionality about this subject has been brewing for a while, and this series has been in the works since the summer of 2018, long before the MLK weekend events. More than any other series I’ve been involved with, this one has inspired reflection, conversation, and collaboration between and among all of us. Although we are not of different races, one of our co-authors is Jewish, and she has shared her fears as such, given current events and brazen anti-Semitism in our country. We are admittedly under-represented. We are  learners too. We are not claiming to be experts. That being said, we are convinced — now more than ever — these conversations and shared reflections are critical for educators to have with and for each other, as well as with and for our students.

Shana V. White is a self-described passionate educator who “believes in purposeful disruption of status quo and encourages teachers to exercise autonomy and utilize meaningful collaboration to better meet the needs of all students,” as stated on her website. In a recent blog post, she wrote:

Let’s shift the needle on anti-racist work in our conference, social media, and professional development spaces too. Expertise is a matter of deep knowing but consistently doing quality work, with racism, social justice, and equity being no exception. It is okay to not be an expert in this arena because passing the mic and illuminating others is always free. – Shana V. White

Overview of This Week’s Posts

  • Later today, my post will focus on our own implicit bias. I’ll be talking about how we can be more aware of our own sub-conscious responses and reactions. I’ll also discuss  what can we do about them.
  • On Monday, Beth’s post about language will inspire thoughts about what teachers  say and the subtle messages the words convey to students.
  • Stacey’s post centers on expanding our choices of mentor texts. She offers a quick primer on the usage of mentor texts and then offers suggestions as well as questions for selecting inclusive texts for writing classrooms.
  • On Wednesday, Betsy weighs in with another post about mentor texts, but this one with a spotlight on ones that build empathy. Social justice and cultural competence require a foundation of empathy, and Betsy’s post has specific ideas and books for building this important awareness.
  • Thursday, Kathleen describes how educators teaching with a social justice lens can prepare students to craft persuasive speeches through intentional instructional choices all year long.
  • Lanny’s post emphasizes the importance of honoring student voice. Don’t miss his contribution to the series on Friday.
  • On Saturday, Deb’s post addresses ways we can establish environments where students feel safe and empowered to share their writing. 
  • Kelsey rounds out the series on Sunday as she shares how teachers at P.S. 59, in New York City, have committed to developing social comprehension skills in a school-wide approach, leaning on Being The Change, by Sara K. Ahmed as a guide.

Throughout our posts this week, you may read the refrain, “When we know better, we do better.” We are on the continuum of growing our own understandings and practices around the importance of social justice, cultural awareness, empathy, and inclusion. We hope you join the conversation. Please comment. Please share your own experiences and resources. Please begin conversations within your own environments and practices.

On 2/4/19, we will host a Twitterchat that addresses this important topic. Please join us at 8:30 p.m. EST, using the #twtblog hashtag.

Feb19 Twitter Chat Image

At the end of the series, we have a special giveaway that members of the community who comment on any of our posts will be eligible to win.


  • This giveaway is for a copy of Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension. Thanks to Heinemann for donating a copy for one reader. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a print copy of this book.)

  • For a chance to win this copy of Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension, please leave a comment about this or any blog post in this blog series by Sunday, February 3rd at 6:00 p.m. EDT. Betsy Hubbard will use a random number generator to pick the winner’s commenter number. His/her name will be announced in the ICYMI blog post for this series on Monday, February 4th.

  • Please leave a valid e-mail address when you post your comment so Melanie can contact you to obtain your mailing address if you win.  From there, our contact at Heinemann will ship the book to you. (NOTE: Your e-mail address will not be published online if you leave it in the e-mail field only.)

  • If you are the winner of the book, Betsy will email you with the subject line of TWO WRITING TEACHERS – BEING THE CHANGE. Please respond to her e-mail with your mailing address within five days of receipt. A new winner will be chosen if a response isn’t received within five days of the giveaway announcement.

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