Ways Educators Can Interrupt Implicit Bias in the Classroom

Posted by Communications Coordinator Rose Frezza on Jun 30, 2020 5:15:25 PM

Providing equitable education and advising for students in the age of virtual learning is more important now than ever. 

Back in May, we were fortunate to host Dr. Bentley L. Gibson, leading researcher and founder of the Bias Adjuster, LLC, as a guest on our monthly webinar series. The topic was Reducing Implicit Bias in Advising. For a quick brush-up on the difference between explicit and implicit bias, read our blog on Implicit Bias and College Advising.

Dr. Gibson, an associate professor of psychology at Georgia Highlands College and bias expert, offered valuable tips educators can use to mitigate bias in virtual advising:

  • Be mindful of the times 

We are living in a pandemic that is causing immense stress. Nothing about this time is normal for students, their families, educators, or anyone else. Strive to have patience, grace, and empathy when interacting with students. Student effort matters a lot in times like these.  

  • Societal social distancing can increase biases

During this time of social isolation, we are stressed, tired, distracted, and under pressure. This can result in our brains defaulting to old habits and assumptions we may have about people or groups of people. Be mindful of this when working with students, and do your best to combat these biases. You are also intimately privy to a student’s home life in a virtual setting, and you may notice things about their socioeconomic level or their level of personal grooming. Avoid letting this knowledge affect your expectations for that student. Do not make statements that make the student feel judged.

  • Mentally reset before working with each student

The more stressed and busy a person is, the less bandwidth they have to check their biases, so it’s important to take time to breathe between student interactions and view each student as an individual.

  • Create a “safe space”

Be aware of the nonverbal cues you are giving your students that can help them feel safe. Things like smiling, making eye contact, moderating your tone of voice and body postures can help create a sense of openness and trust during remote advising sessions. 

  • Get to know your students’ identities 

If you work with students of color, females, or members of the LGBTQIA community, they may be extra sensitive to negative arousal and prone to feelings of unsafeness. Be aware of these groups and do not heighten the stereotypes around them. For example, saying “You’re being so emotional” to a female may make her feel unsafe. Commenting in a surprised tone on the achievement level of certain ethnic groups may convey that you had a negative stereotype about them to begin with (e.g., “Wow – you’re so articulate.”)

  • Increase openness, conscientiousness, and empathy. 

Facilitate a sense of openness with your students by sharing about yourself. Respond to concerns thoughtfully, and make an effort to engage individual students in conversation, making them feel seen. Cultivate a sense of empathy by placing yourself in your students’ shoes.

Dr. Gibson also recommended that we check out Zaretta Hammond’s Four Tools for Interrupting Implicit Bias. Zaretta Hammond is an educator and author whose principal work has been connecting instruction, equity, and literacy. In her book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students, Hammond uses neuroscience research to advise on how educators can design and deliver culturally responsive instruction. Much of her work can be applied to counseling and advising as well.

We’d like to share some of the most useful tips we got out of Four Tools for Interrupting Implicit Bias. Hammond first cites the research of Patricia Devine of the University of Wisconsin, which finds that three things are necessary for a reduction in bias to occur:

  • Intention: One must acknowledge they hold unconscious biases and be motivated to change.
  • Attention: One must be mindful of what particular circumstances and situations prompt them to make stereotypical assumptions.
  • Time: One must devote time to practicing new strategies that break the cognitive link between behaviors that are culturally unfamiliar and negative judgments.

Here are four strategies created by Devine and her colleagues that are meant to be practiced on a weekly basis in order to decrease implicit bias. Let’s say an educator has noticed a certain ethnic group of students being loud and disruptive in class.

  1. Re-Association: This strategy involves reframing negative associations. For instance, your current thought might be, “This group of students is loud and disruptive.” The alternative thought might be, “This group of students is lively and creative, and they have a lot of energy.”
  2. Refuting: If an educator has caught themselves assigning a negative stereotype to a student, the educator should do their best to refute that stereotype in their mind by coming up with examples that prove their assessment wrong. For instance, alternative thoughts could be, “I have worked with these students individually before, and they have been polite and helpful. They have contributed to class conversations. They demonstrated effort in completing their assignments.”
  3. Perspective Taking: This is an empathy exercise where one places themselves in the shoes of the person they find themselves judging. In this situation, the resulting thoughts could be, “Because these students are presenting a challenge to me, I have a low opinion of them, and I feel like they are not trying. What must it be like to be pinned constantly as ‘the student who never tries?’”
  4. Increasing Opportunity for Positive Contact: Instead of avoiding the subject of their biases, people should approach groups they may be biased against and look for opportunities for positive engagement. In this circumstance, a resulting course of action could be volunteering with a student group you are striving to understand, or it could be interacting with this group of folks, in general, outside of school. Zaretta Hammond mentions exploring community events in parts of town you are unfamiliar with. 

To test your own implicit biases, visit Harvard University’s Project Implicit for a free assessment. For more information on implicit bias reduction and training for your workplace, contact Dr. Bentley L. Gibson at The Bias Adjuster.

Topics: Professional Development, Lessons & Curriculum, Distance Counseling, Diversity and Inclusion