Abstract: Anti-Oppressive Practice in K-12 Education: Implications for School Social Work Practice and Research (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Anti-Oppressive Practice in K-12 Education: Implications for School Social Work Practice and Research

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Ashley-Marie Hanna Daftary, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Nevada, Reno, Reno, NV
Erin Sugrue, PhD, Assistant Professor, Augsburg College, Minneapolis, MN
Background and Purpose: Research and scholarship that investigate disproportionate negative outcomes for Students of Color (e.g., grade retention, drop-out rates, in and out of school suspensions, etc.) overwhelmingly indicate that institutionalized racism and implicit bias heavily contribute to poorer academic outcomes (Hayes & Ward, 2014; Merolla & Jackson, 2019). In addition to the continued push for institutional changes, anti-oppressive educational practices are necessary to combat the systemic racism and bias present in the K-12 education system (Kumashiro, 2000).

Although much research related to anti-oppressive practice in K-12 education exists, there is a gap in empirical research and scholarship that investigate specific strategies used by experienced K-12 educators with anti-oppressive orientations. This study helps to fill this void by investigating common practices among K-12 practitioners with anti-oppressive orientations.

Methods: Twenty-five K-12 educators with anti-oppressive orientations (including teachers, administrators, school social workers, school counselors, etc.) participated in key informant individual interviews. All participants identified as having at least one historically marginalized identity, with most having two or more (e.g., female, LGBT+, Person of Color, etc.). A demographic survey and semi-structured interview protocol were used to collect data. Transcripts were uploaded to Atlas.ti (v. 8.4.3) and a flexible coding approach (including two cycles of coding and ongoing memo writing) was used for data analysis.

Results: Analysis of participant narratives uncovered five anti-oppressive practices that were consistent across participant social and occupational identities: 1) cultural humility, 2) challenging oppression and injustice, 3) building relationships with students and families, 4) supporting staff who are engaging in anti-oppressive practice, and 5) modifying the curriculum. Ultimately, participants’ narratives underscored the need for all educators, no matter their roles, to attend to the whole child and demonstrate flexibility in their approaches based on the social, emotional, familial, academic, and basic needs of each individual student, small group, class, or school. In addition, educators must attend to their own points of view, deficits, and strengths in order to attend to their students’ unique experiences as well.

Conclusions and Implications: Although larger systemic change must occur to successfully address the root cause of systemic oppression, the daily actions of individual educators play a role in the production and reproduction of both oppression and liberation. In identifying types of anti-oppressive practices and corresponding examples, this presentation provides a starting point for conversation, inquiry, and action among K-12 professionals and school-based researchers. Implications specific to school social work practitioners and researchers are addressed.


Hayes, D. & Ward, A.M. (2014). Disproportionality and disparities in the educational system and schools. In R. Fong, A. Detlaff, J. James, & C. Rodriguez (Eds.), Addressing racial disproportionality and disparities in human services: Multisystemic approaches. Columbia University Press. (pp. 239-279).

Kumashiro, K. K. (2000). Toward a theory of anti-oppressive education. Review of Educational Research, 70(1), 25-53. doi:10.3102/00346543070001025

Merolla, D. M., & Jackson, O. (2019). Structural racism as the fundamental cause of the academic achievement gap. Sociology Compass, 13(6), e12696. https://doi.org/10.1111/soc4.12696