Books that Improve Teaching and Learning: A Review of the Book The Innocent Classroom

In January I often feel, as Anne Shirley of Green Gables said, “In the depths of despair.” This year my One Word is “proactive,” so in December I researched new book releases in the education world. As a part of a plan to feel empowered and invigorated in January, rather than dragging my feet through the doldrums, I decided to hold myself accountable for reading a new book by planning a blog entry to review the book! Sometimes you gotta do what you can to stay motivated.

When looking for teach-spiration (can I make up that word?) I often start at the ASCD website. After quite a bit of research and blurb-reading, I settled on the book The Innocent Classroom: Dismantling Racial Bias to Support Students of Color by Alexs Pate. I work in a school that is predominantly white, which should make a reader scratch his/her/their head right about now. But each year, I watch while the very small minority of students of color struggle to integrate at our school. After reading the synopsis about The Innocent Classroom, I decided that it was the right book to inspire me to plow through a dreary pandemic winter.

Almost immediately this book jolted me back to my purpose as a teacher. Pate is an excellent teacher, and in his approach he brings a lot of love for teachers who are trying to bring an anti-racist ethos to their classrooms. 

Pate defines innocence as a student’s ability to function in your classroom without the burden of his/her/their intersectionality. In your classroom, you have the magic wand that can help students feel included, smart, and valued in your safe classroom environment. The book leads you through a process of studying students who are on your roster. While getting to know the student, Pate encourages the teacher to find the student’s good, which is a purpose that the student has that is neither a positive or a negative trait. 

For example, a student’s good may be “connected.” Is a disruptive student in your class trying to make connections to her peers in ways that derail your lesson? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be connected, but if you identify that as the student’s good, it will help you shape your path to supporting her in interrupting less. 

As I read through the book, I benefited from the case studies and examples that Pate provided. Each chapter includes interactive portions where I wrote down information about my students as I learned how to support their return to innocence. 

After reading a few chapters of the book, I decided to identify 2-3 students to try to support in finding innocence in my classroom. I found two great candidates, but was disappointed when I assumed (wrongfully, it turns out) that my third choice was not a student facing racial bias. After looking through his file, I found that his family had identified him as a student of color. Not only did I learn a valuable piece of information about him, but now I was ready to try to create an innocent classroom with three students. 

Here’s a list of my initiatives in building a safe classroom culture for all students after reading The Innocent Classroom

  • Shared my study with a trusted administrator
  • Decided, for the time being, not to be the pied piper of my project
  • Named it, for my own purposes, The Innocence Project
  • Started to use discussion questions shared in the text as my morning attendance questions for all students
  • Created an informal spreadsheet to jot quick notes about my interventions
    • Include: Student likes, comments they make about themselves, observations, and copies of their responses to the attendance questions and other work in class. 

This is a new process; I’ve only been working with these students for three weeks. But the results so far have been encouraging. 

Here are just a few examples of how students have shown even a small return to innocence in my online classroom include:

  • One student preemptively sharing about his pets each class period
  • A student has started to volunteer to call me into a breakout room when his group needs support
  • A student worked with me to complete missing work and brought her grade up from failing

As a blogger, I am not a writer who uses affiliate links. I cannot recommend this book enough, no matter how long you have been teaching or what your students look like. Bring innocence back to your classroom with the Innocent Classroom. 

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