Dec 09, 2016
Open Choice Discusses Implicit Bias with Local Educators
(Hartford, CT) More than 60 education professionals, including teachers, principals, and superintendents, attended the Hartford Region Open Choice Program’s recent Dine & Discuss event, which focused on how educators can counteract the impact of implicit bias by shaping their expectations of students of difference races.
The event was hosted by the Berlin and Granby school districts and allowed participants to reflect on how their perspectives, developed through multiple social influences, affect how they may unconsciously perceive students of color. They also considered potential impact on their decisions and actions and how these instances of discrimination can occur repeatedly, resulting in unequal outcomes for children of color within education settings.
“Joining in collegial conversations around implicit bias was a great opportunity for our community,” said Christopher Tranberg, director of teaching and talent development for Granby Public Schools. “We often talk about the importance of having difficult conversations, and there are few topics that challenge us more than acknowledgment and understanding of implicit bias. I was happy our district could host this event, allowing us to break bread with our community, as well as neighboring district colleagues. Whether reviewing relevant research or hearing participants discuss how implicit bias has impacted their own lives, we were all able to leave the event full on many levels. Dine & Discuss gave us all an opportunity to think about what we believe, ask ourselves why, and decide how we are going to make things better for all of the students we serve every day.”
Dine & Discuss event participants, such as Tranberg, learned that implicit racial bias in education can lead to lower teacher expectations, disproportionate discipline, the suspension and expulsion of students of color, and higher expectations of problem behavior within this group beginning in preschool. Other examples of implicit racial bias in education include disproportionate tracking of students of color for special education and the underrepresentation of students of color in honors and Advanced Placement classes. Teachers’ repeatedly low expectations can result in low self-esteem, lack of motivation, and poor academic performance.
“Prejudice is in your head, and acting on those thoughts is discrimination,” said a Dine & Discuss participant who wished to remain anonymous. “When you become conscious of implicit bias, you can begin to be purposeful about stopping it. You tend to see what you look for. If you start to look for the good in people, you will begin to notice it. If you expect someone to act out, you will be focusing on looking for that instead of the good they do.”
During the event, the group collectively identified several ways to reduce implicit racial bias. They suggested that educators analyze data to identify and correct the policies and practices that perpetuate racial and ethnic inequities and participate in facilitated race dialogues, develop relationships with people from different racial and ethnic groups, and become more cognizant of negative race-related messages that are evident in our culture and the impact they have. They also stressed the importance of practicing empathy and taking the time to get to know and build trust with students who reside in Hartford.
Participants were reminded that implicit bias is a universal human condition—not a personal defect. Open Choice staff explained that everyone has to quickly categorize to make sense of the world and said that hope lies in the fact that implicit racial biases are malleable. By slowing down and reflecting upon first impressions before taking action, negative impacts on all students can be minimized, they said, adding that recognizing students of color as individuals and taking the time to hear their stories will move educators toward ensuring success for all students.