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Addressing implicit bias in the classroom

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Posted at 6:01 PM, Mar 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-14 20:02:04-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo.  — From relating conversations on bias to windows and mirrors to researching activists, five Kansas City metro elementary and middle school teachers recently discussed implicit bias in the classroom and how to approach the subject with children.

"I think bias is just the not knowing or not experiencing other cultures or races," Vonnchet Clark, a pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teacher, said. "It's the lack of resources available to students. It's the lack of representation. I think that's how bias starts to develop in young children."

Before addressing implicit bias in the classroom, Monisha Slater, who teaches sixth grade, said it's important for educators to address their own biases.

"I think when kids can see that you're being authentic with them and that you understand race and different cultures, then they're more willing to be honest with you about their culture, and be honest with their race and have those types of conversations," Slater said.

When asked about how they start conversations on bias, many educators brought up a specific concept.

"I think of the idea of the windows and mirrors," Clark said.

Haley Hurst, a sixth grade teacher, and Denisha Johnson, who teaches second grade, agreed.

Clark, along with other teachers, said this particular concept shows that it’s important to see oneself as valuable and special.

"You have a lot that you bring into the world. Your life has a purpose and a meaning," Clark said. "But it's also important to look through those windows and see, OK, there are lots of different things to learn about, to celebrate, embrace, to become more knowledgeable of other cultures as well."

By creating safe spaces in the classroom, teachers can highlight representation and difference -- and involve students in conversation on those topics.

"Through circles, we can share how we're different and what that looks like and the importance of that," Johnson said. "And we just learn so much from each other because we're building those connections and weaving those relationships throughout the classroom."

Clark also said celebrating other cultures through food, music and dance is vital.

"All of that is so important so we don't create that implicit bias within a child unintentionally,” Clark said.

For Hurst, now is a critical time in which children can experience and learn about cultures different from their own.

"Our students, our children are growing up in a world where implicit bias, explicit bias, racism, is a real part of what's happening in our nation," Hurst said. "And so to ignore those things is ignoring a critical part of their developmental years."

Regarding the mirror concept, Middle School Instructional Coach Renee Cooper said it provides an opportunity for children to think about who they surround themselves with.

"Going back to that mirror and window, where might you need those windows because you don't live that perspective,” Cooper said.

It's also important to ask questions -- calling people in, not out.

"The goal is to not shut anyone down but keep those conversations open," Johnson said. "So that parents can understand what our goal is here in our schools."

Everyone “deserves a place to belong,” according to Cooper.

"That's why it's important that we're engaging in these topics even though they might not be the most comfortable with students and with parents,” Cooper said.

A lot of the world’s problems, according to Slater, are due to race, religion or other differences.

"Trying to find some commonality is important,” Slater said, “and so teaching students that it's OK to be different and trying to find some commonality is important."

These educators use a number of different projects and conversations to incorporate representation and highlight students' cultures.

Hurst created a change maker project with second grade students, in which the students researched activists who were fighting for a cause.

Slater created culture quilts, giving students the opportunity to look at and explore their own culture and share it with others.

Each teacher 41 Action News spoke with said incorporating books in the home that highlight children of all abilities, cultures and races will help start conversations when children are curious.

Another idea was to have baby dolls and action figures that are multicultural.

Clark said some of the books she has in her classroom could also be books for the home:

  • "The Colors of Us" by Karen Katz
  • "The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler
  • "Accept and Value Each Person" by Cheri J Meiners

Rene Cooper provided this list of resources for parents:

Podcasts:

  • Scene on Radio, Season 2: Seeing White -- exploring race. How it was constructed, and so much more. Thought provoking and sharpens the lens you look through when it comes to race.
  • Your Parenting Mojo, How to Support Gender Creative Children. This podcast is about children who are exploring gender and how to support it as a parent. This is a great resource to learn terminology and gain understanding of the gender bias that is present in society.

Books:

  • "This Book is Anti-Racist" by Tiffany Jewell. "This book I divided into four sections, offering a guide to personal identities, understanding the world, and taking action and working against racism. The author gives examples of [what] it looked like when she was a teen and now as an adult. The book explores topics in a way that isn’t overwhelming, but give enough to reflect on and think about. This book is perfect for middle school aged students and adults. "
  • "Troublemakers" by Carla Shalaby. "This book gives insight to the school and home dynamic to four different children who have been labeled as 'troublemakers' in school. This book guides you to seeing the world of children in a different light."

Social Media:

  • Learning for Justice on Twitter. Formerly known as Teaching Tolerance, it is a publication that you can sign up for or follow on Twitter. The writers push out articles and lessons that can help start conversations with children and provide insight to the issues in schools.
  • SURJ KC Families on Facebook: Showing up for Racial Justice Families group that provides different support, articles, book titles, etc. on the topic. It is an online community that provides a space for learning.