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September 10, 2018


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Upstander: The app helping teachers make a difference

September 10, 2018


Happy Back to School season, everyone!

I’m going into 19th grade this year, but each September, I always spend some time thinking about the years I was a teacher and all the excitement and anticipation that surrounded the first day of school from the other side of the classroom. While I would be setting up my space and learning all my students’ names, I would imagine the wild possibilities and adventures that my students and I would go on, and how responsible I was for making the classroom a safe and challenging place rooted in love, humanity, and justice.

As a first year teacher, this was much more difficult than I could have anticipated. Not only was it my first time around the block teaching my curriculum and managing my classroom, but it was also my first time realizing the small, everyday ways in which my vision for love, humanity, and justice could fall by the wayside if I wasn’t prepared enough. Sometimes, this was not fully listening to my students after I had had a long, frustrating day. Sometimes, it was making assumptions about who was in the wrong when two students argued. Many times, it was being confronted with microaggressions in the classroom and not knowing what to do or how to respond. I would then think about what my student or colleague said all day, until hours or days later when I would finally land on something. Sometimes the responses wouldn't come at all-- and with the demands of teaching, I didn't often have time to prioritize looking up help. Diversity & Inclusion professional development came about twice a year at my school, and was only possible through the tireless advocacy of passionate educators whose plates were already too full. In these moments, I felt discouraged because I had always envisioned myself as an educator-activist who would be able to swiftly and competently address bias in my position.

This summer, I launched an iOS app called Upstander that I built for educators, specifically for this purpose—to combat microaggressions in their classrooms, schools, and communities by preparing for them. As teachers, we know that our responses to micro- and macroaggressions around race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and other systems of oppression are formative for our students' understanding about how we ought to care for others and the world around us; our in-the-moment responses are urgent and important because our students learn from how quickly and seriously we address them. Upstander provides a low-stakes space for teachers of all experience levels to practice their in-the-moment responses to a multitude of common micro- and macroaggressions before they happen. It is a tool that teachers can use either by themselves or in community with other educators. The app has a self-practice and team-practice mode, which provides guiding questions, lesson plans, and multimedia resources for problem-solving a variety of issues that might come up in school.

Upstander is my personal passion project, but it is also a work-in-progress and by no means perfect. For instance, each of the scenarios is grouped into decks, although many of them are intersectional issues that could easily belong to multiple decks. My suggestions and resources may only be a sliver of what educators might looking for in terms of microaggression help, and this guidance will reflect my blind spots, as I am (and will always be) on my journey to becoming an anti-racist educator, too. However, I’m excited to share it with the Point Family and any educators out there who want to be allies and accomplices in the fight to create more loving, humanizing, and just classrooms.

Upstander is now available for free on the App Store. Please download it if you are able, and follow the Facebook page for any updates, including Android compatibility! If you have any comments or questions, please let me know. Feedback is a gift, and I would be so grateful to receive it.

For all those going back to school, but especially to those who are teaching, happy new year! May this year be full of surprises, triumphs, learning, and community.


This post was written by Point Scholar Alice Liou.

Alice is currently studying Social Studies & Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. As a doctoral student, she hopes to expand her advocacy for the institutionalization of Ethnic Studies and Asian American Studies at the K-12 and post-secondary levels by studying youth activism and the pedagogical practices that help to sustain it. Read more about Alice here.

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