Training Bias Requires Comprehensive Approach

As many who implement trainings in the field would guess, research has found that removing teacher bias is not an easy or quick fix in our schools. A recent summary of the research from EdWeek writes:

“Several large-scale analyses of research on implicit-bias training suggest it more often changes short-term knowledge about the vocabulary of diversity than long-term changes in behavior. Several specific common strategies—such as thinking positive thoughts about stereotyped groups, meditating or making decisions more “slowly” to avoid stereotypes, or simply being aware of the possibility of implicit biases while making decisions—have all so far failed to show benefits that last even a day or two.

In some cases, diversity and anti-bias training can paradoxically lead to more stereotyping, if participants come to think of biases as common and uncontrollable, and can lead white participants to feel threatened without yielding benefits for participants of color. Rather, evidence suggests staff training can be helpful, but only as part of a comprehensive strategy that includes identifying specific problems and strategies to address structures that perpetuate bias in a school system.” (Sarah Sparks, Nov. 17, 2020)

Implementing broad mind shifts requires extensive and ongoing work, not only at the school and classroom level, but throughout the district, to the state, and even to other agencies and organizations that collaborate or connect to schools and the students.

While some districts may be tempted to “check the box” and hold a 1 or 2 hour professional development series on bias or equity, it is not enough to reverse decades of beliefs as well as institutionalized policies and practices. Truly addressing bias in the education system requires a coordinated effort of intensive professional development (especially those which target discrete skills (i.e. classroom management techniques, self-regulation, increasing empathy), creating a safe environment to allow uncomfortable conversations and self-realizations, implementation of regular monitoring of indicators tied to the desired behaviors/ changes/ actions, and review and revision of broader systemic policies and practices (such as disciplinary practices, intervention referrals, advanced coursework eligibility processes, etc).

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