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
— 𝕊𝕒𝕣𝕚 𝔾𝕠𝕝𝕕𝕓𝕖𝕣𝕘 𝕄𝕔𝕂𝕖𝕠𝕨𝕟 (@sgteach_sari) May 13, 2019
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
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!
Day 46 #classroombookaday Another great story by @bwittbooks & @LondonLLadd set in 1959 about Bernard’s wish for the Red Sox to finally integrate their baseball team! @JLVacchio @miss_anderer @WilletsRoadMS Ss loved learning from the back matter! #ewlearns @EastWillistonSD pic.twitter.com/NnnsmNxRap
— Jessica Liakonis (@MrsLiakonis) November 13, 2019
Day 160 #classroombookaday An important topic told in a fairy tale. Student discussion was powerful. Thank you @DanielHaack #EWlearns @EastWillistonSD @WilletsRoadMS @kemnitzer3 @sgteach_sari @JamiePandolf @AKennedy61 #strongties @dmgately @pernilleripp pic.twitter.com/tbPFGVCT5E
— Jessica Liakonis (@MrsLiakonis) May 30, 2019
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
Day 70 #classroombookaday The Undefeated by @kwamealexander is an ode to black Americans through history: the dreamers and the doers who have made a difference despite the many injustices endured and challenges faced. @JLVacchio @miss_anderer #caldecottcontender pic.twitter.com/U28OTkcEE3
— Jessica Liakonis (@MrsLiakonis) January 6, 2020
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
This presentation is just amazing! Great conversation on bias, putting all stories on bookshelves, and engaging all voices. Using gentle stories to talk about heavy topics. Shout outs to @pernilleripp and @dmammolito. Great work, @MrsLiakonis and @sgteach_sari. #NYSMSA pic.twitter.com/B4Ae0J7FJt
— Ed Kemnitzer (@kemnitzer3) January 14, 2020