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Being the Change

Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension

Being the Change is based on the idea that people can develop skills and habits to serve them in the comprehension of social issues. Sara K. Ahmed identifies and unpacks the skills of social comprehension, providing teachers with tools and activities that help students make sense of themselves and the world as they navigate relevant topics in today’s society.

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Topics such as race, gender, politics, religion, and sexuality are part of our students’ lives, yet when these subjects are brought up at school teachers often struggle with how to respond. How do we create learning conditions where kids can ask the questions they want to ask, muddle through how to say the things they are thinking, and have tough conversations? How can we be proactive and take steps to engaging in the types of conversations where risk is high but the payoff could be even greater?

Being the Change is based on the idea that people can develop skills and habits to serve them in the comprehension of social issues. Sara K. Ahmed identifies and unpacks the skills of social comprehension, providing teachers with tools and activities that help students make sense of themselves and the world as they navigate relevant topics in today’s society.

Each chapter includes clear, transferrable lessons and practical strategies that help students learn about a targeted social comprehension concept. From exploring identity and diversity to understanding and addressing biases and microaggressions, Sara demonstrates how to address real issues honestly in the classroom while honoring and empowering students.

Dealing with social issues is uncomfortable and often messy, but you can build habitats of trust where kids and adults can make their thinking visible and cultivate empathy; where expression, identity, and social literacy matter. There is no magic formula for making the world a better place. It happens in the moments we embrace discomfort and have candid conversations.


"I am convinced that every class of kids I work with is filled with change agents who will make this world the one we teach toward. I believe that my students will carry the work of doing right by this world into their own lives.

I’ll bet you believe this about your kids, too."

—Sara K. Ahmed

Additional Resource Information

(click any section below to continue reading)

Sara K. Ahmed on the Heinemann Podcast


Foreword by Terrence J. Roberts, PhD.

A Letter to Readers


An Introduction to Social Comprehension and Strategies to Prepare You for the Work Ahead

Chapter 1: Exploring Our Identities

Lesson: Affirming Our Identities: Identity Webs
We introduce the elements of our own identities (such as sister, athlete, bilingual, reader) and look for connections to or wonders about the identities of others.

Lesson: Placing Ourselves in the World: Stories of Our Names
Using a mentor text, we write the stories of how we got our names, how our names make us feel, and our experiences with our names.

Lesson: Journeying into Our Family Histories: “Where I’m From” Poems
We use the structure of a “Where I’m From” poem to share our family histories, storied objects, and moments.

Synthesis: Making Thinking Visible

Chapter 2: Listening with Love

Synthesis: Making Thinking Visible

Chapter 3: Being Candid

Lesson: Seeing Our Own Bias: Drawing Activity
We learn about how bias works, and we use an activity to help us see some of our own bias and brainstorm how we can confront it.

Lesson: Understanding Microaggressions: Poem Analysis
We analyze examples of microaggressions to understand what they are and how they affect people, and we look for microaggressions in our own lives.

Lesson: Refusing to Let Others’ Biases Define Us: Identity Statements
We assert who we are with confidence. We recall labels others have tried to put on us, reject those labels, and choose how we define who we are.

Synthesis: Making Thinking Visible

Chapter 4: Becoming Better Informed

Lesson: Understanding How Our Identity Affects Us: Our News
We identify what is happening in our world—personal events, news stories, media—and consider how our identity shapes what we give our attention to.

Lesson: Moving Beyond Our Initial Thinking: Mini-Inquiries
We use a mini-inquiry to learn more about a topic and examine how new information changes our perspective.

Synthesis: Making Thinking Visible

Chapter 5: Finding Humanity in Ourselves and in Others

Lesson: Broadening Our Ideas About Who We Are Responsible To and For: Our Universe of Obligation
We consider who we feel responsibility to and why. We also consider how that responsibility can change in certain situations.

Lesson: Understanding Others’ Perspectives: Intent Versus Impact
We work to understand two sides of a divisive issue by listening to both perspectives.

Chapter 6: Facing Crisis Together

Suggested Resource Stacks

References and Inspiration


In Depth

This book is based on the idea that we can develop skills and habits to help us comprehend social issues and participate in relevant, transparent conversations. Social comprehension, like academic comprehension, is how we make meaning from and mediate our relationship with the world. We understand that the meaning making, or socialization, is learned, not inherited. Each chapter in this book includes lessons and/or practical help for students to learn and engage in a targeted social comprehension concept. Our thinking will change often as we practice being more socially literate citizens of the world, so we allow for and model the same for our students as we construct comprehension and cultivate our empathy together. The “At First I Thought . . . Now I Think” journal page in this introduction gives you and your students a tool to reflect on how the experiences in the lessons are affecting your outlook. In the work of social comprehension, we want to be as transparent as possible and make our thinking visible. 

The final chapter of the book addresses how we, as educators, can continually refine our own approach to this work. If we are going to be on the front lines of helping children make sense of the news they bring to school and the curriculum the world keeps handing them, we must have a strong foundation of social comprehension in place. If we can commit to approaching this work as the lead learner, teaching with curiosity and modeling vulnerability rather than rigid certainty, we can build habitats of trust where kids (and adults) participate in a learning discussion, and where expression, identity, and social literacy matter. 

— Introduction


Companion Resources


A sense of urgency for pedagogy rooted in empathy and humanity is palpable in communities around the world. But how can teachers actualize such instruction and make it accessible to students? Where is the professional development teachers yearn for to facilitate important, and at times, challenging conversations? Being the Change is the resource every educator needs right now! Against a socio-politically charged backdrop where tensions run high, Sara is a beacon of light who offers practical, compassionate guidance that makes it possible to do the work of social comprehension. The journey to accomplishing this isn’t linear; it is messy, tangled, circuitous. But Sara provides a pathway for teachers and our students. She offers a sustained, clear voice that reminds us of why this work is necessary and how it can look in our classrooms. Being the Change is invaluable to all educators as we work to empower our students as change-makers who positively influence the world.

Sonja Cherry-Paul


Sara Ahmed is the ultimate upstander; she cares enough to confront. Her gentle and wise voice is a model for how to be in this tumultuous age. She shares text sets that ask big questions and resist simplistic answers. She invites teachers and students to address tensions in today’s classrooms and examine bias in their thinking. Being the Change offers practical tools for building a classroom community that is inclusive, candid, and caring. This book is a treasure.

Penny Kittle 


What an incredibly powerful, practical, beautiful book. As I read I could not help but think how this book has the potential to radically change conversations in classrooms (and larger communities) around compassion, listening, empathy, and knowing. It is books like these that heal. It is hope and possibility and humanity within these covers.

Perhaps the greatest compliment I could give is that as I read, the teacher in me itched to get out of this room and into the presence of kids- to experience these lessons in real time, to hear children's stories, to dig into this work because for the first time I feel capable. This book is a roadmap with an entry point all of us can access and guidance through the most challenging places we could go. I don't feel afraid of what could happen, I feel energized about what Sara has taught me I can help happen.

I could not help but think of the million and one ways I could use Sara’s thinking and teaching, to engage in this work whole heartedly from the moment children step through the doors. 

Kristi Mraz


In her book, Being the Change, Sara K. Ahmed offers us not only the roadmap of how to create and maintain components of meaningful social change within our instruction but also the necessary tools for us to navigate the hard conversations we invite in and those we have not had the courage to have...yet.  By centering her book on developing the identity of the very children we teach, she gives us invaluable tools to navigate the hard topics that are constantly surrounding our learning community.  While she writes in her book that there is no magical formula for making the world a better place, within the pages of this book and in her willingness to help us grow not just as educators but as human beings with her impactful lesson ideas, she has given us something near magic. A resource to be used in every school, this book will leave a trail of change for a better world in its wake if we let it.  

Pernille Ripp

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