We have high expectations. We actively engage students. We observe to take notes on what they say and do. We are feeling on top of our formative data-gathering game!
Then, brain science enters the equation with humbling news: We don’t always see what’s right in front of us. This is especially true when we have implicit biases—which, as humans, we always do. We have all been conditioned by false narratives about racial difference, language hierarchies, and gender differences—whether we believe them or not.
For observation data to matter, we need to be clear on our learning intentions. For it to matter for equity, we need to be aware of our biases and intentional about disrupting defaults of low expectations for students from historically-marginalized groups. What do you see as students engage? How do you interpret the data? How do your lived experiences shape what you see?
Observing students is one of the most important teaching skills. It is also one of the most under-prioritized in professional learning initiatives and district-wide change. Using observation data for equity requires more than watching students — we need to learn to see beyond our own biases and use new data to challenge our own assumptions.
The language we use to talk about students matters. It reflects and shapes our perceptions, and most importantly, our expectations for student success.
In your school, make a courageous commitment to shift all staff conversations about kids and their families from a deficit mindset, which views diversity as a problem kids bear, to an asset mindset: one which truly values students and their communities for the diversity they bring. Begin by reframing these four sentences.
No matter how good our intentions to be free of prejudice, we all have implicit biases that can have a serious impact on our work in schools.
Implicit bias refers to stereotypes or attitudes that affect our decisions and actions. Unlike explicit bias, which is intentional and part of our belief systems, implicit bias is an association we have that is unconscious and unintentional.
In a new study, Gershenson, Hold, & Papageorge (2015) reveal that non-black teachers have lower expectations than black teachers for the same black students in the same schools. How do white educators respond to these findings? Do we point the finger at others, or get personal to reflect humbly on what we each might better understand about ourselves, and change?