During the past few months, Americans have borne witness to the racial and social inequities that many of our students face every day.

Now that our eyes have been opened, we have the responsibility to provide students with the tools to address these issues. But many students are disengaged from their learning.

This was my fourth year teaching but my first teaching criminal justice. I didn’t start teaching the class courageously. I had neatly aligned the desks to face forward even though instinctively I thought groups of four desks would work better. I didn’t want to come off to the students as “weak,” “too fun” or “easy.” I began the first day teaching from a place of fear — that is, by laying out the rules of engagement. Rules trumped relationship-building.

In my heart however, I wanted to share how this class would broaden my students’ perspectives on the social injustices they experienced. I wanted them to learn how to use their voices to become agents of change. Yet, I hesitated.

Giving rigid orders for students to follow reinforces teacher control over the classroom but it also impedes the creation of a learning environment where students feel safe to speak and learn from one another. The classroom shouldn’t be isolated from what happens in the real world; it should be an extension of students’ lives.

Teaching from a place of fear unintentionally teaches the students to be fearful. They are more likely to be afraid to fail and miss out on using those failures as opportunities for growth. Students in the traditional classroom setting do not raise their hands because they are afraid to be wrong.

Read the full article about engaged in learning by Kandy Galvez at EdSource.