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What Is Implicit Bias, And How Might It Affect Teachers And Students? (Part II - Solutions)

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Esther, thank you for continuing to write on this important topic and moving the focus towards actionable steps. Too often these topics remain stuck on the question, "do we have bias?" Now we're working on practical ways to overcome bias. My first comment on what teachers can do to reduce bias comes at a critical point during the process where they are introduced on paper for the first time to a student, often via a list of some sort. In my experience, the information that is passed along to the new teacher can, in and of itself, reinforce a negative bias towards a child. For example as a special education teacher, I often am told information like the following BEFORE I'VE EVER MET THE CHILD: "The student is in the 1st percentile for reading and math. The student has had 20 behavioral referrals in the past year and is now off his medications. The parent is very difficult to reach and never comes to meetings. The student has a tendency to slap other kids in a play like manner but it turns into confrontations." Imagine getting that report on a child and only after all of this negative information be told the following: "He has been very sweet at times. He really benefits from having a trustworthy adult read with him in a one on one context. When he is given a leadership opportunity, he has taken it very seriously and has thrived. He is very active and needs lots of opportunities to move about the classroom to help him." My point is simple: through our own practices in learning about new students, we often start out, not only with a strong bias, but we reinforce such negative bias by STARTING with the behavioral/academic challenges a student has had with staff in the previous year. Perhaps the first step we can take as teachers to overcome implicit bias is to practice the art of seeking out everything positive we can about a student prior to reading anything at all that might predispose us towards some negative perception. I know there are other practical factors that might lead toward bias (such as grouping students instructionally in appropriate ways) prior to meeting them, but I need the help of other teachers to suggest how we might prevent some of these necessities from forming/reinforcing bias among us. Jim Barnhill MN Board of Teaching

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