Research indicates that each of us carries implicit biases.
Do you consider implicit bias a factor in Worcester Public Schools and if so, what role do you see the School Committee taking to address it?
Yes implicit bias is a huge factor in Worcester Public Schools. If elected to School Committee I would make it a necessity to have each member of the school committee including the mayor take a implicit bias course and then administration, teachers, principals and staff. We have to do things by showing that what we are asking of the administration, staff, teachers and principals we are willing to do as well. It is walking the walk. We need to show leadership in that way no more dictating but a showing of what is to be done. We need to do that for our children as well. We are the teachers and we have to teach by doing.
As your question notes, research indicates that as human beings, implicit bias exists in all of us. We need to check our actions and our perceptions on a daily basis to assure that they are not being driven by bias. Every organization needs to assist their employees in recognizing this potential bias and misconception in the workplace. This is particularly true in a public school setting with students and families from so many diverse backgrounds that may be very different from the educators’ backgrounds. This diversity may be racial, geographic, sexual orientation, political, or family incomes, as examples. I am expecting that the new Chief Diversity Officer in the WPS will initiate anti-bias professional development.
Part of the agreement with the superintendent with the renewal of her contract included 14 points or action steps, including “comprehensive training practices focused on understanding cultural differences, unconscious bias, understanding racial disparities, and trauma-informed care for all staff.” The school committee needs to make sure that this training is comprehensive and effective and begins to be implemented this fall.
There has been a great deal of discussion on the topic of implicit bias ... looking at ourselves and making changes when needed. More districts continue to address this issue or at best address the issue of culture/bias as one.
The district, in its diversity training, has focused on understanding the behavior or characteristics of students who come from different backgrounds than their teachers. Workshops on this topic have been held to make teachers aware of what implicit bias means.
What researchers in the field are asking is that teachers to examine how their own identities have shaped their experiences. In our district there is training on this issue and more will come as we learn from one another.
Dr. Ablon, from Mass. General Hospital, will be working with staff on collaborative, problem solving for helping students with behavioral challenges. The program focuses in on building relationships and teaching at risk children the skills that they need to succeed and how teachers can help ALL students.
In addition, and equally important is the need to work with our staff about building relationships with our students and reaching out and involving parents in the learning process. The ability of the teacher to reach out and establish rapport with the students and parents is essential. The School Committee should embrace the training taking place and ask for a report on what the district has accomplished and what would be the next step in the process.
It troubles me that the first part of this question even needs to be asked. We know that implicit bias is part of all human interaction; we know that institutional bias is very much a factor in government, in industry, and yes, in education. To deny this is to deny the lived reality of our shared spaces.
Districts across the country have made equity—speaking of race, ethnicity, economic status, disability, gender and sex, among others—a centerpiece of their work with students. We cannot educate children well without recognizing the fullness of who they are, and without making ourselves in turn able to meet them where they are. The best educators want to always do better, and that means looking at ourselves.
The role of the Worcester School Committee is twofold: they first should set equity as an institutional goal of the district, and make and hold the Superintendent accountable for timely action steps in doing so. This must explicitly be the goal of the Superintendent on which the Superintendent is professionally evaluated. The School Committee and thus the public should be updated at every meeting on the specific steps and work being done in pursuing equity in academic outcomes, in disciplinary actions, in extracurricular activities, in hiring and retaining staff, in family engagement and involvement, and more; in other words, this should impact every aspect of the district. As with all such goal setting, the School Committee also has the responsibility as the financial legislature for the district of funding this work. The all of the budget should be reviewed and passed with equity as the lens.
We owe the children we serve no less.