Unconscious Bias

Guest post by Sari Goldberg McKeown @sgteach_sari & Jessica Liakonis @MrsLiakonis

Opinions expressed are  those of the guest blogger. 

 

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

How do you flatten the walls in your classroom? @pernilleripp @kemnitzer3 @JamiePandolf @AKennedy61 @MrsLiakonis @lopescommack @ChrisKauter @MrECuff

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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

Searching Inward

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!

Jessica Liakonis@MrsLiakonis

Day 46 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! @EastWillistonSD

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Jessica Liakonis@MrsLiakonis

Day 160 An important topic told in a fairy tale. Student discussion was powerful. Thank you @DanielHaack @EastWillistonSD @WilletsRoadMS @kemnitzer3 @sgteach_sari @JamiePandolf @AKennedy61 @dmgately @pernilleripp

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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

Jessica Liakonis@MrsLiakonis

Day 70 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

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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

Ed Kemnitzer@kemnitzer3

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.

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____________________ Thank you Sari for the Guest Post _____________________

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Keeping What Matters Most

 

Our son, Nick, sees an occupational therapist each week who does amazing work with him to help strengthen his core, quicken his response time to questions, practice his social interactions, and work on his fine motor skills. The best part is that she does all of that while he rides a horse around an arena. The horse provides sensory input and forces him to focus his core on maintaining balance, which allows his brain more freedom to work. As Nick rides, he plays Pictionary with a whiteboard, sprays water guns at targets, moves cones from side to side, identifies letters, and has conversations with the therapist and the other assistants as they walk next to the horse to make sure he stays safe while riding around. At the end of each session, he takes responsibility to prepare a bowl and feed the horse a snack to thank him.

His skills have grown tremendously since we started this therapy. We have missed going while we have been home, so we were so relieved that he was able to return last week. They had all kinds of new safety rules that we had to follow. His therapist met us in the parking lot; he had his temperature taken and had to thoroughly wash his hands as soon as we walked in. We all wore masks. We stayed distanced from one another as best as possible. They shifted the options for therapy so there were fewer clients in the facility at one time. We didn’t do some of the classroom-based exercises before he got on the horse, and he couldn’t prepare the bowl of snacks on his own. The most significant shift was that I was suddenly the volunteer walking alongside the horse. It helped to limit the number of people in the arena, but also allowed me a new opportunity to understand more about what he is working on in therapy and how he responds to the staff and the horse. I am not convinced that I am the best guide as it was much harder to hold the materials, keep an eye on his safety, and not get distracted by the beauty of the horse than I thought it would be, but we made it work.

I didn’t realize how much I needed to do something that felt “normal” to our routine until I walked through the doors of the arena. It was so comforting to do something that we used to do even though the process of doing it was different. Nick was excited to see the therapist, and I had the chance to help him share a little more about himself as we did the exercises and walked around the arena that she wouldn’t have otherwise known even though she has a great relationship with him.

As we start planning for school to look different in the fall, the first week of therapy had me feeling hopeful about what we can maintain when the process and school system may look really new for a while. A big question for me has been how to explain the shifts to staff, learners, and families. I read a great article by the Harvard Business Review that helped me to start thinking about communicating what’s to come.

The first point in the article is to acknowledge your own anxiety. I am nervous, very nervous about how we will make the process of school work in the fall while following the safety guidelines and still meet the needs of our families that need childcare. I am nervous about the gaps in learning or experience that may be happening for our learners. I’m nervous that they will miss out when we can’t give the reassuring hugs and high-fives we are used to. What I am not nervous about is our ability to maintain our relationships with our learners and grow them in new ways. We’ve bonded during this time at home, which has deepened many of our relationships with learners and families. Those get to continue and get to keep growing no matter how we provide schooling.

Nick’s relationship with his occupational therapist was not different. His ability to complete the tasks and work on his skills was not different. We just did it differently. He was super quiet in the arena, which honestly surprised me and helped me to learn more about him in that setting. He still talked the whole way home about his horse and the experience just as he usually does. I know I will be anxious as we drive there and as we walk in again this week, but I am hoping that goes away with time.

“Listen for the need underneath the question” is something I have practiced a lot recently. When a parent, staff member, or school leader gets frustrated, it sometimes takes asking many additional questions to get at the root of the concern or the reason behind the issue, which is almost always a genuine fear about something. To help build our skills in understanding one another and ourselves, we are working on summer professional development options for our staff that include having critical conversations about challenges, trauma training, mindfulness, and compassion resiliency. We all need to be able to see one another through an empathetic lens more than ever and give each other grace. Our stress as a collective society is high, and our composure tends to fail us when we are stressed. We need to prepare as best as possible for strategies to reduce stress in our schools, for and with our staff, as well as learn how to have more open communication about what is happening so we can acknowledge our fears and build hope whenever we can.

We have seen some absolutely inspiring efforts by our staff and learners that we continue to try and capture and share. It is hard to always stay focused on those positives, but they are also ways to find strength as we move into our next steps. I have seen teachers doing evening bake-offs with learners online, daily video announcements to celebrate birthdays and accomplishments, safely going to homes to drop off supplies or check-in, creating videos with shared books, songs, and poems, writing personal notes, sending “flat teachers” to each learner, and many, many more. We have worked to support our community and help our learners find their passions during this crazy time. I get to ask our leaders and staff about those moments to help them see all the positives and make sure we recognize the impact of those remarkable connections. The Harvard article said, “Asking, “What’s one of the worst things you’ve ever overcome or endured?” helps people tap into sources of hope and fortitude from their own stories.” Our stories of what our staff has done with learners and families during this time, as well as what our families have done on their own, are perfect sources of hope and fortitude to carry us forward through our next challenge.

As I start to find my way back to social events and daily activities, I think a lot about one of my favorite quotes from Maya Angelou, “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” I certainly feel changed by much of what has happened and what I know is coming. Some days it really gets to me, but it has not reduced my desire to do the work we get to do each day with learners and families as I know how much it matters no matter the setting or the format in which we do it.

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Words

Guest post by Dr. Kalum McKay (@DrKalumMcKay)

Opinions expressed are those of the guest contributor.

Words matter. 

Words aren’t just words, they are building blocks or a wrecking ball. Many things in life are made or destroyed by what we say. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. This is straight-up false! Words are powerful. Broken bones heal, I’m not sure emotional wounds ever do. This isn’t just a message for kids, although it is an important one for them as well. This is a message for us all. The words we use determine so much of the successes or failures in our lives. When rolling out a new initiative, the words you use to present the idea can go a long way to determining buy-in. The way you handle a “growth” opportunity with a teacher or student determines how the information is processed. If you correct in a positive manner, you promote growth, if you correct punitively, you promote resentment and have taken a sledgehammer to the relationship. Our words verbally, in written format, and digitally have the ability to change the world. They can aid in growth or demoralization.

In today’s digital, social media-driven culture, our words can reach farther than previous generations could have imagined. This can be amazing and powerful. It can also be dangerous and harmful. Before you send that email, tweet that tweet, write that Facebook post, we must determine the consequences of our words. In Spiderman, there is what is widely known as the “Peter Parker Principle” that states, “with great power comes great responsibility”. Our words have great power, this comes with great responsibility. This is verbally, digitally, and everything in between. All of our words have power. Everyone. From the CEO of a company all the way to the intern. From the Principal to the PreK student. Our words matter. The tone, the context, the content, all matter. It is important to be purposeful in our choice of words. How many times have you seen a “leader” come in and completely demoralize an entire organization? On the flip side, how many times have you seen one energize and uplift an organization? This includes teachers in their classrooms. The words and the tone they use shape the entire atmosphere of learning in their classroom. Is it going to be an environment of love, connection, and growth? Or is it going to be one of compliance, fear, and resentment?  It is our responsibility to use our words as building blocks, not as the proverbial wrecking ball.

The wisest thing we could learn to do is to watch our words. We can learn to speak when it’s helpful and needed and choose our words wisely. We must take seriously the impact of our words. The right words can mean the difference between misunderstanding and enlightenment. They can mean the difference between being hopeful and supportive or judgmental and condescending.

The words you use are a choice you make constantly, as always, Choose to be GREAT!

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Nearpod – Increasing cultural awareness and student engagement through interactive lessons and virtual field trips

Using Nearpod in class

I have used Nearpod many times, but during the past few months, I had an opportunity to dive in and see what it can provide for student-led learning. As part of conference presentations, graduate coursework and lessons for my Spanish classes, I have a much greater understanding of its capabilities for instruction and the tremendous features it offers for education. At the end of the school year, after noticing a decrease in student engagement and motivation, I wanted to try some innovative, different methods of instruction.

Technology in our classroom: It has a purpose

Students work with many digital tools and choose how to showcase their learning.  Using technology to provide authentic and meaningful learning experiences leads to an increase in student engagement, motivation, and content mastery. I am invested in providing diverse learning opportunities and look for innovative ways to introduce content and promote student choice.  Students need to do more than just be receptors of information, they need to be creators! After reflecting on my practice and thinking about student needs, I had my students create a project using digital tools typically used by teachers to facilitate a lesson.

The Project

I first used Nearpod to review South American culture and verb tenses.  The virtual field trips were fantastic and the students were much more engaged in the lesson. I then wondered how students would like creating a Nearpod lesson and taking control in the classroom, so I put them up to the challenge! After my students created and facilitated their Nearpod lessons, they had some fantastic feedback about using Nearpod as a tool for both teaching AND learning.

So what did the students say?

“I used Nearpod for a class project about South America, and the amazing virtual tours took my presentation to another level. I consider myself tech-savvy, but I’ve never seen anything like this; I’d recommend Nearpod to anyone wanting a real step-up from Powerpoints, Prezis, or Google Slides!” – Sydney

“As someone who finds technology unnecessary at times, I often do not enjoy using some of the tools I have in the past. Nearpod has really gotten me excited about the possibilities of technology in the classroom! Being able to take an adventure on virtual tours and experience culture first hand is something I have never been able to do before. Nearpod is a great tool for every classroom!”    -Patrick

“Having so many choices for activities to use were educational and fun. Choices make learning more enjoyable for students. It provides more than just listening to a presentation, or watching a video, and not really being held accountable. I recommend Nearpod for other educators and anyone looking for a new way to present information. -Izabel

Learners to leaders

Using Nearpod means that learning is no longer confined to the traditional classroom setting, nor that the “teacher” is the only person providing instruction.  Students were empowered in their learning.  Seeing their transformation from learners to leaders was tremendous. The choice was theirs.

Students teaching a Nearpod lesson 1

Students teaching a Nearpod lesson 2

Students working on projects in class 1

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