Category Archives: Community of Care and Support for Students

Unconscious Bias

I embrace education as an opportunity to inspire and empower. As an educator, it is my goal to enhance student learning as a transformative experience. Teaching is a privileged position. It  demands humility as much as respect. It is crucial that as educators, we recognize the power inherent in our role and are self-reflective about our actions. It is critical that we are mindful of our position as a role model and the kind of learning we strive to promote among students. Our students are always watching. They are always learning from us. When the image below was recently posted by Adam Welcome, it forced me to stop in my tracks. This small image has a BIG impact.

“We say we teach all children, but do we teach all stories?  Do we teach the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, or just the sanitized version that will not ruffle any feathers? I can choose to bring others into our classrooms so that their stories are told by them. I can choose to model what it means to question my own assumptions and correct my own wrongs.” As Jessica and I unpacked Pernille Ripp’s post “These Divided Times,” with our Voxer group #StrongTies, Pernille’s words swirled in my head. This conversation brought my own assumptions to the forefront. Do I support all stories? Do I create a space that encourages the whole truth? What do I model? -Sari

 

 

Who’s different? What’s fair? As a society, discussions about bias, discrimination, culture, and social justice tend to happen more in middle and high schools. Educators sometimes believe that younger children may not understand these complex topics, or maybe they just want to delay exposing them to injustices as long as possible. However, young children have such a passion for fairness. They want to do the right thing; they want to be fair. The best though is that they notice differences without apology or discomfort. Why does your hair feel different than mine? What is that in your lunchbox? How come you have two mommies?

As Sari mentioned, while we unpacked Pernille’s post, I thought to myself, bias can be unlearned or reversed if children are exposed to everyone’s differences in a positive way. The burning question, how do we do that-Jessica

Searching Inward

I quickly realized I had a lot to learn. I am so grateful for the time that Pernille spent with us that week digging deep into this meaningful work. As Pernille shares in this message (that I highly encourage you to listen to), this is messy, exhausting work that is so incredibly important. Before we can do the work with our students, we need to do the work with ourselves. I needed to search inward and identify my own personal bias. Bias. What does that mean? I used to believe that word had a very negative connotation. This learning journey has shifted my perspective.

To have personal biases is to be human. We all hold our own subjective world views and are influenced and shaped by our own experiences, beliefs, values, education, family, friends, peers and others. Being aware of one’s biases is vital to both personal well-being and professional success.

Our lens is created through our experiences. These experiences create our bias. That does not make our lens wrong…it just makes it personal. Believing that our lens is the only lens or the correct lens, is wrong. – Sari 

The Power of a Story

Yes, Sari! We must identify our own bias first, and it’s not always easy. Once we can understand and recognize this, we can begin to teach students how to acknowledge their own. The early years are the time to begin helping children form strong, positive self-images and grow up to respect and get along with people who are different from themselves. So, how can we start beating bias? With books!

Children’s books continue to be an invaluable source of information and values. These books can begin extremely positive and powerful discussions in your classroom, if we allow them to. We must allow them to. The experience of listening to others read aloud or reading picture books with an anti bias message provides an opportunity for young children to see and identify with characters often different from themselves. They can also experience a wide range of social dilemmas and points of view. These stories teach students how to look at events from a variety of perspectives, in other words, feel what it is like to “be in another person’s shoes.” Jessica

 

Continuing the Conversation

Pernille ignited a flame within me. Jessica and I gravitated towards one another. We shared a strong desire to seek more answers. This marked the beginning of our journey. We continued to dig deep in an effort to understand our own personal bias. We explored books, podcasts, TED Talks, hashtags, blogs, and workshops that have stretched our thinking. Please click here to find the list of resources that have opened our eyes. This document also includes many of the incredible read alouds Jessica has utilized as a catalyst for these important conversations with students. (Please also reach out to us with recommendations to help support our journey!) We developed a workshop, Unconscious Bias. To date we have facilitated sessions at EdCampLI and The New York State Middle School Association Regional Conference. We designed this workshop not as experts, but as learners. Our intention is to create a space to continue the conversation and learn with others. – Sari

I read picture books to my students on a daily basis as part of #ClassroomBookADay. Recently, I decided to look back on some of the picture books I have read to my students and connect them with our current Civil Rights unit, as well as current events. Having the students explore the literature and discuss hard topics was just what we needed in order to reflect back on our biases. 

Through meaningful activities that promote critical thinking and problem solving, based on carefully selected books, our students can begin to build the empathy and confidence needed for becoming caring and knowledgeable people who stand up for themselves and others in the face of discriminatory behavior. Let’s continue to teach them the beauty of others.  -Jessica

 

The Best Worst Time

This is the best worst time of my life. We are living in a global pandemic. Everyone is feeling the impact of this historic time. The effects are felt wide, deep, and far, tentacles reaching into all aspects of our lives. Yet, if we shift our lens, there are always good things that come out of hard times.

Everywhere I look I see new ways to do things. There is inspiration around every corner. I see us doing more, with less….faster! I also see educators making decisions without any distractions. Tests and grades are gone. Our intentions are in the purest of forms and focused completely on what matters most, our students.

Nuggets of Inspiration

  • The teacher who identifies herself as ‘tech challenged’ creating lessons with Screencastify and facilitating Google Meet live lessons.
  • The teacher who has become the ‘book fairy’ and delivers books to her students’ doorsteps.
  • The assistant principal who has personally served every single free and reduced lunch.
  • The custodian who calls staff to see if he/she needs anything from the building, but is really just checking in on everyone.
  • The building staff that rotates delivering meals to a colleague who lost a loved one.
  • The principal who openly fears technology facilitating Zoom faculty meetings with the funniest virtual backgrounds.
  • A district of over 6,000 students that rallied together and rolled out Google Drive and Google Classroom in less than two weeks.
  • These are just a few pieces of inspiration I have experienced.
Imagine how many nuggets we would have if  each of us gathered all that inspired us!

One podcast that I learn from regularly is The Table Group with Patrick Lencioni. Their focus is on leadership, teamwork, and my personal favorite, organizational health. I am passionate about culture, relationships, and learning from each other. One episode that has really resonated with me, (and each of the seven times that I have listened to it) is episode 38: Why We Innovate in a Crisis. While The Table Group does not specifically focus on the field of education, there are so many key ideas that apply to all organizations. This podcast stretched my thinking. I began asking myself…

Why do we innovate more during a crisis?

Prior to the pandemic, change could be found in small and large ways. Change would occur with an individual educator shifting practices to match the needs of a student. Change would also occur with district-wide initiatives. Some types of change often included several committees, multiple meetings, data collection, surveys, research, and some sort of presentation. The process of change looked different for everyone. In most cases, educators had the ability to explore a new initiative at a flexible rate, ranging from early adopters to laggards. Educators could work through change in a way that felt most comfortable. It was an option to hunker down in a safe space for as short or long as anyone wanted to before embracing something new. Throughout these times of change, the question that typically guided educators and school districts was, ‘SHOULD we do this?’ Since the pandemic, the essential question has changed. Now we ask ourselves…

HOW do we do this?

The question was not ‘Should we implement distance learning?’ But rather, ‘How do we implement distance learning?’ We needed to quickly figure out how to stay connected to our students, families, and colleagues. We were forced to go all in. The comfort that lies within the walls of our schools and classrooms was not an option. In other words…we did not have a choice, we had to innovate.

This forced innovation has flattened walls and broken down silos. Collaboration is at its best! Our goals and vision are in sync. We are setting egos aside and offering empathy, grace, and patience to others which has allowed us to move past things quicker. This has created healthy conflict, which inevitably leads to more efficient decision-making. Our focus is directed towards taking action to support our students rather than getting lost in the process. We are leaning into trust and being vulnerable because #WeAreAllInThisTogether. As the reasons why we innovate during a crisis became clearer to me, a new question emerged…

How do we replicate this level of innovation after the crisis? 

I want to capture everything that helped the teacher who leaped into distance learning despite identifying herself as ‘tech challenged.’ I want to bottle up this mentality, this way of thinking, and cultivate it, then watch it grow. It doesn’t take a crisis to innovate, think creatively, or have healthy conflict. We need to remember all that we accomplished and all that we learned during this time. We need to nurture these authentic, sincere experiences so they will continue to thrive when the crisis is over. We need to take hold of the best parts of the worst time and imagine what we could be!