Welcome to the Innocent Classroom™ website. I wanted to create a place where teachers and parents could see the ideas and the process that led us to create a teacher training program that is having rather surprising success. In the future this same site will bring news and innovative ideas about all kinds of approaches to teacher-student relationships and the connection between the quality of those relationships to reducing the achievement gap between white students and students of color.

a group of african american teens studying

Teaching innocence can close the achievement gap

By Alexs Pate

What is the answer to the academic achievement gap between students of color, particularly black students, and white students? Although many in education have tried to address this question, with uneven results, I believe the answer lies in a basic concept our society has forgotten when it comes to children of color: Innocence.

Our children deserve to know what it feels like to experience their unique and innate innocence. Without it, guilt is their only reality. What I call guilt is the consequence of the negative stereotypes that have come to generally define young people of color; especially black children.

Our children know what is being said about them. If you ask anyone, but especially a teacher, what our culture tells them about students of color, you will find a ready list of negative adjectives and narratives. They are violent, unteachable, disrespectful, lazy, angry, dangerous and so forth.

Our children have heard the negative narratives about them so much, many of them behave as if they believe it. The residue of the negative narratives about children of color stains many of them and manifests itself in apathy, cynicism and a disidentification with academic engagement.

But we know different don’t we? We know our children are not naturally prone to violence, that they are smart and intellectually capable.

What if the achievement gap could be greatly reduced by teaching teachers to teach innocence? What if teachers were instructed in how to create relationships with students that fight against the negative stereotypes that assail our students? Help them throw off the images and narratives of the guilty and learn to rely on their innocence?

The Innocent Classroom™

Over the past year, I’ve begun implementing this approach in the Omaha Public School system, in a state that has one of the highest achievement gaps in the country. And while this program is nascent, early results assert its potential.

The program is called the Innocent Classroom. Unlike other current educational programs, it is focused on improving the relationships between students of color, especially black students, and their teachers. It is actually more like a new operating system for the classroom.

I begin the Innocent Classroom with an ancient concept, first articulated by Aristotle. At the heart of all actions is a goodness, “the thing for which all other things are done.” The Innocent Classroom provides teachers with an operating system that helps them understand and identify a student’s good. We help them see through a student’s problematic behaviors to find the student’s good and to respond to that.

Once a child believes that someone is actually “seeing them,” change is possible.

The truth is that our colleges and universities are not adequately preparing teachers for the actual students they will face. I believe that teaching innocence is the most important work they can do for our children–all of them, regardless of age or gender.

We have to teach them innocence because it is the salvation for their academic success and for their lives.

The response of teachers exposed to these concepts has been resoundingly favorable, as you will see as you peruse this website. So come back often and send other teachers and administrators here to track our progress in Omaha and other school systems.

Constructing the Innocent Classroom™ is
an educator-driven response to the achievement gap

smiling grade school girl giving classmate a penConstructing the Innocent Classroom takes teachers beyond the boundaries of cultural proficiency and cultural competency. Working with other teachers in small groups you will come to understand better the way our society has burdened our children – especially children of color – with the weights of low expectation, stereotypes, and negative narratives.

You will discuss how these barriers interfere with a teacher’s capacity to establish strong, productive relationships with children and develop strategies that diminish the significance of these barriers.

Your work constructing an Innocent Classroom will help the children you teach rediscover the value of innocence, curiosity, and vibrancy. And most importantly it will lead to increased academic success.

Attending Innocent Classroom sessions has opened my eyes to many things. I’ve learned that I can be the change in a child’s life that they are looking for. I can be the positivity that they need to grow and learn. I can be the one who loves them unconditionally and my classroom can be their safe place.
Fall 2012 Cohort
The Innocent Classroom brings us back to nurturing the soul and the heart. With this vital component, our children will succeed – both academically and emotionally.
Assistant Principal
Fall 2012 Cohort
I want to encourage all the teachers in Omaha, Nebraska to participate in this workshop… Get signed up right away. You won’t be sorry.
Fall 2012 Cohort
I recommend highly that you take it…It’s very solution centered. There hasn’t been a lot of sitting around and griping about the problems. When we’ve talked about problems, it’s been so that we can understand them, so that we can try and find solutions for them.
Fall 2012 Cohort
I just feel like coming to this school, and working with you guys, and getting to do things like this have made me a kid again.
Student, as told by teacher
Spring 2013 Cohort