Have each student stand up, step away from their desk and find enough space to move around a bit. Tell students that you are going to spend the next couple of minutes playing a fun game. Each student is going to pretend that they have some sort of injury. This can be something as simple as a paper cut or a scrape on their knee, or it can be as extensive as a broken nose or dislocated knee. Let students be creative and have fun thinking of unimaginable explanations for how they got injured.
Give students a minute to think of their injury and how they got it (they should not start acting yet). Before getting started, ensure that everyone has thought of an injury and is ready to go. Let students know that you are a doctor and you will be coming around to treat each student.
NOTE: If you are the only one acting as a doctor, then this activity will be quite lengthy. If there is a teaching assistant or any other adult in the classroom, then it will be much easier and faster if they also act as doctors. If no other adult is present, then ask for one or two students to volunteer as doctors. Give each doctor a number of band aids and quietly instruct them to ask every student what their injury is, before “treating” them by giving them a band aid (doctors will simply give the students a band aid).
When you are ready, give students the start signal: “Ready, set, act!” As students act out their injuries, move around the classroom and ask each student to explain their injury and how they got it. Be prepared for this activity to get loud and playful. Try your best to play along, have fun, and be inspired by students’ imagination.
Once students tell you about their injury, hand them a band aid saying, “this should do the trick”. Ask students to return to their seats once they have been treated. Continue making your way around the classroom, asking students about their injuries, and handing them a band aid. Once everyone has been treated and is sitting back at their desk, call them into a circle for a discussion.
Start by asking a number of students to share what their injury was and what treatment they got. Students will likely be excited and energized by this activity so allow at least five minutes for sharing. After several students have shared their stories, acknowledge that there were a number of different injuries ranging from small cuts to broken bones, and even worse.
Ask any student who had a small cut or scrape to raise their hand and share what treatment they received. Then, ask someone with a major injury to share what treatment they received. Once it’s obvious that every student, regardless of how small or large their injury was, received the same treatment – a band aid – explain that, for students who had small cuts or scrapes, a Band-Aid was all they needed. However, for students with broken bones or even worse, a Band-Aid would not have been very helpful.
Challenge students to think about how this activity relates to their original definition of fairness. Previously, students suggested that fair means equal. Point out that, in this activity, everyone was treated equally by receiving a single bandaid.
Then, ask students if they thought this treatment was fair. Hopefully, students will agree that the treatment was not fair because, although everyone received the same treatment, they all had different injuries and needs. As a class, and based on student’s responses, come up with a new definition of fairness that involves treating people according to their needs.
Explain that treating people according to their needs does not always mean treating people equally. Ask students to think of and share an example from their own life where people need to be treated differently (unequally) to be treated fairly. Show students the picture of the bikes to reinforce the difference between equality and equity and ask them to select which scenario reflects fairness.
Then, give each student a copy of the “It’s not fair” worksheet and ask them to spend the next ten minutes reading through the examples, identifying fair versus unfair scenarios, and explaining their reasoning. For the unfair scenarios, students should create an alternative, fair solution. After 10-minutes, check-in with students to see if they need more time. When the class is ready, take up the correct answers and ask at least one student to share their alternative solution for each unfair scenario.
It's Not Fair Worksheet available in downloads section.
End this lesson by reinforcing that fair does not mean equal. Instead, fair means treating people according to their needs. Mention that you will do your best to always be fair but that this will nor always look equal. Depending on students’ needs, you may spend different amounts of time with each student, ask students to participate differently in activities, or give different assignments.
Emphasize that you will always do your best to meet everyone’s needs. If, at any point during the school year, a student asks or complains about something not being equal or fair, remind them of their Band-Aids and that fair does not always involve treating people equally. It means treating people according to their needs.
What should I do if I think I am not being treated fairly?
The first thing to do is to take a deep breath. Try to step away from the situation and create some cognitive distance. If you feel like you are not being treated fairly then you are likely also experiencing feelings like anger or rage. It’s very easy to get lost in these emotions and, if you try to address the problem or situation in the heat of the moment, then things often get worse. Our natural instinct is to blame others and lash out, which tends to result in the other person feeling threatened, getting defensive, and issuing a counterattack. So, first things first, take a deep breath. Become aware of what you are feeling, as well as why you are feeling that way. When you are ready, reach out directly and privately to the person who is not treating you fairly, and ask if you can speak with them. When you are speaking with them, identify the problem and use “I” statements to explain how the situation makes you feel. You will learn about “I” statements and effective communication strategies in a future lesson. Make sure that you also give the other person an opportunity to speak. Try to be open minded and seek to understand their perspective. Together, see if you can come up with a solution to the problem.
What should I do if someone else is not being treated fairly?
Big or small, everyone has seen someone being treated unfairly. Everyday students are teased about the colour of their skin or the way they look, they are excluded from social circles for not having enough money or they are bullied and threatened because of their sexual orientation. The list goes on. If you see someone else being treated unfairly, be assertive and speak up. For example, if you hear someone being teased, then you might say “That’s not funny”, or “That’s not okay”. If the situation is very escalated and intervening would put your safety at risk, or if the situation is recurring, then ask an adult for help. You should also talk to the person who is being treated unfairly. Listen to them and ask them what you can do to help. Sometimes just hanging out or having a friend makes the biggest difference. Reaching out to the person who is experiencing the unfair treatment makes them feel heard, gives them a voice, and lets them know that you care. Finally, you can use your knowledge to educate your friends. If your friends think that something is “not fair” when in reality it is, teach them about the difference between equity and equality and help them understand that fairness involves addressing people’s needs and does not always look equal. If your friends are also witnessing unfair treatment, talk to them and try taking a stand as a group. There’s strength in numbers.
What is justice? Does it have anything to do with equity and equality?
Yes, justice is related to equity! I think you will be able to best understand these concepts if we do a little visualization exercise. Is that okay? Imagine a soccer field with a tall wooden fence surrounding it. Three people are standing on the outside of the fence and are trying to watch the game, but each person is a different height. For simplicity sake, let’s say that there is a tall, medium and short person. If it were assumed that everyone needs the same support, then each of the three people would get a single box to stand on. This is equality. In this scenario, the tall and medium people are able to watch the game, but the short person still cannot see. In the second scenario, the people are treated equitably (rather than equally). They are each given a different number of boxes so that everyone can watch the game. All of this is the same as what we talked about in our lesson. But here’s where justice comes into the picture. In the third and final scenario, all three people can watch the game without any support because the fence (i.e. systemic barrier) has been removed. Justice involves upholding what is considered morally right. It is about creating environments, systems and communities where everyone is treated fairly and where the systemic barriers to equity are removed.