- Metafox coaching card featuring four red game pieces grouped together with shadows underneath. Off to the right is a single blue game piece with a shadow underneath. Written on a pink sticky note are the words, "It's not always about the whole... sometimes it's about creating a mirror for the one."

Positive Windows and Mirrors: An Activity to Bring Belonging to Life


“It’s not always about the whole… sometimes it’s about creating a mirror for the 1.”

– Kalin Farrell, 1st grade AmazeWorks teacher

At AmazeWorks, we often talk about the power of positive Windows and Mirrors when it comes to stories. This idea, however, is not ours. We’ve borrowed from the work of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, whose 1990 article, Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors, gave us the language to describe these kinds of connections and the research to support their importance. In her work, she describes how children need positive mirrors – ways to see themselves positively reflected in stories – to experience belonging. This is extremely powerful for children with marginalized identities. Dr. Bishop also talks about the importance of windows – ways to see into the lived experience of someone different from them – to build empathy and respect across differences, which is important for all, but particularly necessary for children with dominant identities or in classrooms with little visible diversity.

AmazeWorks has been fortunate enough to work with two different cohorts of elementary school teachers from ISD 197 – West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan this year as part of an 18-hour Training Academy centered around Anti-Bias Education training and the AmazeWorks Elementary Curriculum. In each cohort, teachers are asked to complete an action research project. Some teachers gave intentional lessons on what it means to find Windows or Mirrors in the AmazeWorks Curriculum’s books and lessons. Then, they asked their students to respond after each book and lesson to identify if the book/lesson was a window or a mirror for them. They’d also ask students to describe what a window and a mirror are, showing their full understanding of this powerful way of connecting to the stories. 

Four children's journals stacked in a spiral. The top reads, "My Amazing Journal" with a child's drawings of a dog, bridge, pencil, and other images.
Four student journals from a 2nd grade AmazeWorks teacher’s class

Windows and Mirrors Activity

Educators and caregivers, try this powerful activity with your students or children to put the AmazeWorks ethos of belonging into action:
  1. Find picture books that are both powerful and positive windows and mirrors for you that you can share with children/students. Spend some time reflecting on the importance of those stories for you.
    1. If the book is a window for you, how did the story help you gain empathy or understanding for others? What identities are affirmed by the story?
    2. If the book is a mirror for you, how does it affirm your identity or experience? Who could benefit from this book as a window?
A child wearing a colorful dress with vertical stripes looking into a full length mirror with a wooden frame leaned against the wall. She poses with her hands curled into fists under her chin and her right knee bent inward.
  1. Introduce the concept of windows and mirrors to children. Give developmentally-appropriate examples of your own powerful windows and mirrors using picture books. 
  2. Ask children, “What story can you think of that taught you something about someone different than you? What story can you think of that reminded you about something in your life?” Keep connecting the windows/mirrors idea to the books children identify.
  3. As you read with your children/students, or as they read on their own, ask them to identify whether each book/story/poem is a window or a mirror for them. Continue reviewing the windows and mirrors idea until they eventually can explain it to you independently when asked. 
  4. Take note of which students/children are able to connect to books as mirrors more than others. Consider:
    1. Who might need more mirrors to feel affirmed in their identities and lived experiences?
    2. Who could benefit from seeing more windows into the identities and lived experiences of those different from them? 
  5. Take the exercise further by working with your children/students to ask everyone in their family/class to identify a book that is a powerful mirror for them and explain why. Take pictures of family/class members with their “mirror” books, and create a collage or book. 
  6. For older children, encourage them to categorize movies, shows, advertisements, songs, or other works of art as windows or mirrors. 

Stories hold power, and when we can connect our story to or learn something new from someone else’s story, that power becomes magnified. These connections provide positive connections for children, leading to greater empathy and understanding and a respect across differences, and thus more belonging. When children are able to make connections with the text, they are also more likely to find belonging as a reader, thus boosting their confidence and literacy skills.

To find children’s books on specific racial identities, visit the AmazeWorks shop. To find various book lessons on different children’s books, scan our Hot Topics for valuable resources.

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