Social Studies Teachers Collaborate with Colleagues Statewide to Create Anti-Racist, Culturally-Responsive Curriculum

July 01, 2020

A group of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) teachers have been collaborating with colleagues from five other Virginia school districts to create a social studies curriculum that presents diverse perspectives and challenges students to critically examine materials, events, and institutions for bias, identity, and multiple perspectives.  The new curriculum will be available to students in grades 3, 4, 6, 7, and 11 as soon as this fall.

Beginning in 2018 under the umbrella of the Virginia Inquiry Collaborative, FCPS teachers worked with colleagues from Albemarle County, Virginia Beach City, and Charlottesville, and later Madison County and Powhatan County Schools, to collaborate around curriculum development designed for use across Virginia, beginning with a focus on fourth grade Virginia Studies. 

The group’s goal was to create a curriculum:

  • in which diverse perspectives are represented with nuance and respect.
  • in which students are invited to use their voice and activate their own perspective and to construct their own knowledge about concepts that transfer beyond the unit.
  • in which students are encouraged to examine materials, events, and institutions critically attending to power, position, and bias.
  • in which students are empowered to pursue their own lines of inquiry and take meaningful action to impact their communities and the world.
  • that leverages the power of place to study the themes of U.S. history and culture.
  • that is accessible to all learners who are encouraged to believe that they are capable and worthy learners.

“The FCPS Design Principles for Cultural Responsiveness have been at the center of this collaboration for both professional development and curriculum development,” says FCPS Social Studies coordinator Colleen Eddy. “In addition, the Social Justice Standards and Teaching Hard History Framework, both from Teaching Tolerance, have provided context for the project.”

In 2019, about 70 teachers collaborated with partners from museums and historic sites (such as the Smithsonian Institution, Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, Facing History and Ourselves, Echoes and Reflections, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the University of Virginia School of Education) to design a curriculum that would encourage students to engage in critical inquiry, gathering information from a variety of perspectives, ultimately resulting in well-reasoned analysis and understanding. 

During the 2019-20 school year, the teachers focused on grade 3, U.S. History I and II, and Virginia-U.S. History. A March kickoff, prior to the pandemic quarantine, focused on the Teaching Hard History Framework from Teaching Tolerance and included place-based learning in Charlottesville emphasizing slavery and its legacy. Eighty-nine teachers, 13 curriculum leaders, and 29 professionals from partner organizations participated in a five-day workshop whose goal was the creation of 25 critical inquiry unit plans. In late June, more than 100 educators and partners from higher education and cultural institutions collaborated via Zoom for a curriculum development workshop.

“In addition to our work with the Virginia Inquiry Collaborative, FCPS Social Studies has undertaken significant curriculum revisions and professional development over the last 18 months to address the overrepresentation of white and Eurocentric history and the lack of diverse perspectives in social studies courses,” says Eddy. “This is particularly true on our U.S. history courses in which African American history deserves a truer and fuller account. 

 “We value historical integrity and cultural responsiveness in the teaching of social studies, and we seek to empower students to be positive change makers in their communities and the world,” she adds.

The state social studies curriculum is currently under review by the Governor’s Commission on African American History Education and is due for revision in 2022.