Biased Teachers

unconscious bias

Teachers are human. All humans are prone to unconscious biases, therefore teachers too are subject to unconscious biases. However, it’s not advisable to ever go in front of an audience of teachers and say this – I know, I’ve tried it! My argument has always been that people are only victims and weakened by their unconscious biases if they remain completely blind to them. The more that even the possibility of biases is brought in to consciousness, the greater the chances that teachers will overcome them, counteract them and render them powerless.

This was the subject of a post I wrote on this blog post three years ago;

Blog Post – Teacher Reflection Guards Against Unconscious Biases and Prejudices

With this in mind, i was very interested to see two interesting articles within the last week from different sources. The first comes from the British Psychological Society and raises the touchy issue of teacher bias against children who are overweight:

British Psychological Society – Teachers Show Biases Against Overweight Kids, Including Giving Them Lower Grades

The second article comes from the Washington Post, sharing results and data from research carried out in the UK and the US. This research concluded that without a doubt better looking children performed better and achieved to higher levels in school than less good looking children.

Washington Post – Good Looking Kids Do Better in School

Whilst the article suggests that more research is needed to figure out all the reasons for this advantage, I can’t help suspecting that again unconscious biases of teachers (and other pupils in the classroom) are playing a big part.

All of this could make unnerving reading for teachers. So many educators have chosen their profession with ideological desires to do good, to give children opportunities and qualities such as fairness and equity figure high in their priorities. So, to discover the evidence that unconscious biases are causing better or worse experiences and prospects for children sits uncomfortably. However, as i said before, I don’t believe this gets addressed by putting our heads in the sand. Awareness, vigilance, self reflection and mindfulness all have the potential to unearth the potential for such unconscious biases and prevent them.

Mindful educators can be better educators.


Mindful Education

Mindful Education

There’s been growing interest in mindfulness in education in recent years, but all too often educators struggle to know where to start, how to work with the teachers first before considering the potential impacts for students or how to carry all other stakeholders with them.  I’ve also had experiences where senior educators have struggled to figure out all the implications of how mindfulness practices will change so many other facets of their school culture. For example, if a school expresses a commitment to mindfulness then it has to completely rethink its approach to discipline, behaviour policies etc.

I’m always keen to bring free and useful resources to the attention of readers of this blog. So, I wanted to get a quick message out to all to share information on the Mindful Education Summit. This is a free online conference that actually started on Wednesday. Each day they share through the website (link below) a number of video presentations of talks of varying lengths. each day’s videos are available for 48 hours. So, there is still a little time to catch up on the day 1 material, day 2 will be available for another day and day 3 is just launching now.

The videos vary between explanation of theory and research in the area of applying mindfulness in education environments and some that are very geared to providing demonstrations and simple practices of mindful practices.

The Mindful Education Summit Website
(Click on the link above and it will open a new tab or page in your bowser. You will simply be asked to share your name and email address to register, then getting full access to the videos.

Creativity – Key Skill

Wired to Create Crop

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him …..a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create and create – so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. he must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.”

Pearl S. Buck
Winner of Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes

Educators today are very fond of parading and selling the emphasis given to the development of creativity in their schools. Many have declared its importance through values, mission or vision of the school. This has been partly a response to the work of people like Dr Ken Robinson (highlighting the ways in which education kills creativity) and the recognition that creativity figures highly in most lists of the core skills that employers look for both now and in the future from their workforce.

However, I’ve really seen very little attempt by most educators to define what is really meant by creativity, what it would look like if a student had it and the best ways to ensure that school experiences nurture and cultivate it. How many schools could give an honest appraisal of how well they are achieving this aim?

The picture and quote above come from the best book I’ve read so far this year. As I read it I was continually mindful of this inclination towards creativity that is espoused by educators, but how the lack of detail or clarity suggests that these are simply nice words given little deep thought or introspection

The starting point is to acknowledge the types of creativity the world, business and schools want. in addition, as Dr Ken Robinson has highlighted over many years, the young infant doesn’t lack for creativity. A small child doesn’t need to be taught divergent thinking. When a child runs around the house or garden with a stick that is one second a gun, the next a flying broomstick, the next a walking stick and the next a cricket bat they show all the attributes of creativity.

The reality is that a lot of divergent thinking is not welcome in the classroom. Teachers fear the divergent thinking child. In fact, one chapter of the book shares research where children who were more creative divergent thinkers were among the least popular with their teachers, while their more compliant, obedient and passive peers were top in the popularity stakes. So, the child who is going to retain their creativity will need the resilience to deal with unpopularity and the treatment meted out to them by all around for ‘not playing the game.’

I had a very personal experience of this in primary school. I moved in to the classroom of a teacher I found incredibly frustrating. Her attention was all on power and control. It was a place where you spoke when ordered to do so, where obedience was the golden rule. I dared to ask questions and even after being given all the visual warning signals I continued to ask questions when dissatisfied with the dismissive responses i was getting. As time went on, the relationship between me and that teacher became more and more adversarial. Worse, she sought to turn my classmates against me with sarcasm and hints that I was stopping the class from moving forward (and the perception being that progress forward through the syllabus is what everyone’s supposed to care about). It all escalated to the point where the teacher suddenly took out a large roll of sellotape and taped my mouth shut. The sense of humiliation and belittling was horrendous. I received the message loud and clear that my curiosity, my desire to know things and understand some things deeper was not welcome in a classroom. Rather, classrooms were places where ‘playing by the rules’ counted above anything else and the punishments for daring to step out of line could be barbaric.

Creativity is challenging by its very nature. In 1959 Isaac Asimov pointed out that, “The world in general disapproves of creativity.” Many companies have had to take hard looks at their cultures to understand how they can create more ‘safe space’ for creativity. However, the focus on getting stuff done, continual movement of all in a common, shared direction in schools means that it’s majorly stifled in both teachers and students. Therefore, I conclude that any school that glibly declares it applauds creativity, but doesn’t ask itself serious questions and introspect continually is likely to be short-changing students.

Sadly, this gets brushed off by pointing out the inclusion of music, art and drama in the syllabus of the school and even that students can take these subjects through to examination levels. Also, much of the ‘creative time’ is pushed to extra curricular activities. A keen eye watching most schools’  annual talent competition would notice two significant things;

a) The levels of real, true creativity exhibited are minimal. The fact that a child can produce a reasonable rendition of a popular song or dance is hardly representative of creativity, and
b) Almost all the talent on show will have been acquired by the child outside the school, not in it.

The ability to point to a handful of children with some degree of mastery playing the piano or violin, putting on a staged musical or writing a poem for the school yearbook or displaying a watercolour of three pointy mountains and a rising sun does not represent proof that the school inculcates creativity in its students. The fact that many of those things might be done in very formulaic, pre-precribed and predictable ways may actually be indicative of quite the reverse.

As the various chapters of the book highlight, creativity is not neat and clean and certainly not formulaic. Rather, it comes out of daydreaming, mindfulness and developing an awareness of the working of one’s own mind. Invariably (but not exclusively) it flows from and is most often found in those who have undergone some suffering and had the strength to battle through to the other side of their personal challenges. If schools are truly positive for creativity they need to think carefully about how they support students to build resilience and grit.

As the quote at the beginning highlighted, creativity often flows from heightened sensitivity. All too often, today’s schools teach such sensitive children to tone down their emotions, to put a lid on strong feelings and to learn to conceal or bottle up those feelings that would make them stand out.

In fact, this may highlight the area that requires most effort in schools. All too often, it’s just not cool to stand out, to be different or to show behaviour or thinking that is outside the norm. Instead, school cultures emphasise conformity, fitting in and complying. many spend way more time drilling children for ‘march past’ etc for sports day than in activities that develop and expand on ability to think differently.

Visions, missions and values are not meant to be just nice phrases that are tripped out, displayed on websites, brochures and hall walls. Rather, they should be treated as touchstones against which a school community is continually testing itself.  The work of school leadership around these driving principles is never done. They should be continuously introspecting and leading the debate, encouraging a willingness to publicly challenge, question and innovate – a process akin to peeling an infinite onion.

It’s time to get creative about how we develop creativity in schools.

Free Resources – World Business & Executive Coach Summit

Many say that we live in a world where it’s never been more challenging to be a leader, regardless of the field or environment in which one leads. Faster changes, higher expectations of the leader to meet the needs of all stakeholders, always on communication channels, differing needs and expectations of different generations, global and technological changes that rewrite the reality of every industry or field are just a few of these challenges. In such circumstances, leaders need help and access to material that helps them to clarify their thought processes, from wherever it comes.

Last year I was very impressed to access a number of excellent sessions that were part of the WBECS Pre-Summit.  This organisation has a very extensive annual Summit that runs online weekly over a period of months. For that, you pay. However, they also offer a very extensive pre-summit where some of the top leadership experts and coaching experts of the world share summaries of material that will be in their longer summit sessions. These are free, run over a three week period, but are still enormously useful and can often stimulate interest for further reading, research and exploration.

WBECS Pre-Summit Recordings

The first week of sessions this year that can be accessed through the link above already include some valuable gems. Highlights for me included;

a) Daniel Goleman and Michelle Navarez – Mindfulness and EQ
b) Edgar and Peter Schien – Humble Leadership
c) David Peterson – DNA of VUCA
d) David Goldsmith – The Robots Really are Coming

And, there are three more weeks of great material still to be made available – all free!

I stress, this is not just for coaches or those who aspire to be coaches. For one, I would suggest that as leaders seek to achieve more through others in diverse teams, often scattered over many locations, the skills of coaching are pivotal for anyone who wants to lead. In many ways, the skills of coaching are the skills of leading.

There’s also much in these sessions that is food for thought for educators as they give thought to how to prepare young people to go in to the workplace of the future and do so effectively, as well as the most effective ways to lead and empower all stakeholders to do their best for the education of the pupils.

Enjoy, and please let me know what captures your attention.

Free Online Conferences

November is traditionally one of the busier times of the year for conferences. However, it’s also a very busy time in schools so few people can justify taking the time away to attend, let alone the cost.

So, I’m really happy to share that for the ‘learnivores’ everywhere there are online conference opportunities which are free to attend (but don’t compromise on quality content for being free)

Here are two:

The first is one that I’ve been following for about seven years. It’s the k-12 Online Conference and has a particular slant towards the harnessing of technology in the classroom and school to personalise and expand pupils’ learning experiences. It’s not only worth putting a note in the diary to catch up on some of the best live sessions, but also there’s an archive of all the presentations from past years – masses to get in to and explore:

K-12 Online Conference

The second is a new one for me, but looks really interesting. It has a fascinating lineup of speakers. It’s the Education Next Generation Conference running from 3rd to 7th November. This one focuses more on progressive education approaches, mindfulness, social emotional learning, homeschooling and so many aspects that focus on the child. This one will have great content for parents as well as educators:

Education Next Generation Conference

I’ve registered and will be looking to get in on some great learning sessions.

Incidentally, all live sessions will run on US time, which can be a problem. However, there are generally archive links available pretty soon after for each session to watch at a more convenient time. Not as immersive as being part of live sessions, but a worthwhile second best.

Calm – For Free

Regular readers of this blog know my fondness for finding and sharing things which are free, useful and sharing them around. Well, today, here’s one which is especially free for teachers!

I’ve written off and on in the past about the studies and research that appears to be building a body of evidence in support of mindfulness practices as beneficial for children in the learning environment. As I’ve become more interested I’ve downloaded a few ‘mindfulness apps’ to check out and explore.

One of those apps, and one of the best known of this type is ‘Calm’. So, when I came across an article about Calm today, I wanted to share this with all readers:

Calm – The Calm Classroom Initiative

What I like about this is the duel potential – helping the children and helping the teachers (which in turn can help the children further in a calm and productive learning environment.

So, teachers – nothing to lose, start signing up.

Meditation For A Better World

“If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”

Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhist Leader

So, OK – hands up who believes he’s right? Hands up those who believe that he might be at least partially right. Or, hands up those who don’t believe it would make a blind bit of difference.

Shane – I can’t see hands, but I’m certainly happy if anyone wants to leave a comment.

Of course, if we stop and think about the Dalai Lama’s words, there are many many questions. Can 8 year old children meditate effectively? Do we even have a common understanding of what meditation is, how it’s practiced, frequency required/ desirable etc.? If children are to ‘learn’ meditation, what should be the process of learning? Who should teach it, and how?

Further, what do we mean by violence? Is harming the environment an act of violence? Or, do we only mean acts of physical force or aggression against other humans (individually or collectively)? Also, are there acts by nature that can essentially be seen as a form of violence? Predatory animals, storms, hurricanes, forest fires etc.? What does meditation have to do with these things, if anything?

There are no simple answers to any of those questions. However, I feel rather than allowing that to negate any potential value in what the Dalai Lama was saying would be a shame. Far better to acknowledge it as a hypothetical global spiritual wish. A desire that we – human society – takes on a responsibility to become more mindful through meditative practices, so as to live our lives with a greater sense of human inter-connectedness. Further, an acknowledgement that the earlier such reflective mindfulness starts in a person’s life, the more effective it’s going to be.

When I was based in Delhi, our schools introduced a practice that involved a ringing of a ‘buddhist prayer bowl’ over the tannoy system a couple of times a day. As soon as anyone heard it, they were to stop whatever they were doing and for those few moments focus inwards on their own breathing, centre themselves and then go on with their activities afterwards. We saw a marked improvement in focus, even with quite young children. Children were generally calmer and there were definite, sustained reductions in abrasiveness and aggression levels. This was enough to convince me that mindfulness associated practices enable children to focus, to relax and to learn in school. perhaps the biggest benefit was that some of the children whose behaviour changed most were ones who had most difficulties with maintaining appropriate classroom behaviour. This benefited them and the other children in their classroom.

I believe that there’s a positive chance that children who grow up with mindful, introspective and reflective practices live their lives with more agency, more self-control through better and more positive self-image. They are likely to reflect higher levels of empathy towards those around them and a greater sense of acceptance of differentness and diversity. These are all attributes that, in enough children and young people, can change the way humans interact.

To me, this is what the Dalai Lama was getting at. I don’t believe he was advocating some kind of unsubstantiated global impact of meditation as a sort of spiritual wave of peace that changes human and cultural behaviour throughout the planet.

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