Teacher Reflection Guards Against Unconscious Biases and Prejudice

One of the toughest things for any of us to admit to ourselves is that we have biases, whether those are conscious or unconscious. This becomes even more so as a parent or an educator because society has drilled in to our minds that we are duty bound to treat every child equally. As a result, research that demonstrates innate biases on the grounds of race or gender always make slightly uncomfortable reading.

here’s a recent article that demonstrates this in a big way. It concerns evidence from the US about how, even in the very early years of schooling, teachers have biases in their perceptions of the Maths and ‘STEM’ competency of boys and girls. Further, it seems to carry strong evidence that those different teacher expectations actually impacted upon the girls’ future performance. Maybe that shouldn’t surprise too much – there have been lots of studies that have shown clear evidence that teacher expectations can affect student outcomes. However, it really highlights just how much this unconscious bias is having a very real impact.

Edweek – Teaching Now – Teachers Underestimate Girls’ Math Abilities

My belief is that as educators we do a massive disservice to the children in our care if we don’t first acknowledge that such biases and societal influenced opinions can be there. Once we’ve admitted the possibility to ourselves we can be alert to the possibility and looking out for clues. Ultimately, it requires that we are continuously reflecting on our actions, our practices and our words in a way that is as objective as possible to seek the clues and warning signs (and to challenge ourselves when necessary).

I believe that one of the best ways educators can do this is through journaling. As I’ve written on other occasions, i believe this process makes for better teachers in many ways, including awareness of how to differentiate effectively to meet the needs of each child in the class. I believe that journaling can also help in this area – it doesn’t entail continually trying to analyse, but simply writing the facts of what was done, what happened in class and things tried. over time, reading back through this information can reveal clues based on the interactions with students, reactions obtained and outcomes.

A problem doesn’t go away because we ignore it. At the same time, if teachers obsessed over every word spoken and every action in case of inadvertent bias the job would become impossible. Ignorance is not bliss and any processes that make the educator more reflective can only help to unearth the potential for bias and actions that don’t serve our students effectively.

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