<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none;" alt="" src="https://dc.ads.linkedin.com/collect/?pid=57860&amp;fmt=gif">
Equity

A More Equitable Future: Combating Unconscious Bias and Systemic Racism in Schools

Talking about race, identity, and bias is difficult. If you feel uncomfortable having these discussions, you are not alone.

But, as Dr. Tracey Benson–academic activist and author of Unconscious Bias in Schools–put it:

"Our inability to have these conversations in our schools is preventing students from building a more equitable future."

As part of Panorama's Celebrating Resilience: A Summer Series weekly webinar programming, nearly 800 educators joined us for a conversation with Dr. Benson on combating systemic racism and implicit bias in schools. (Download the audio here or watch the video recording below.)

The discussion tapped into a level of honesty, vulnerability, and authentic introspection that required us and our listeners to confront the systemic racism in ourselves, our teams, our schools, and our broader communities. 

 

 

As we work to disentangle the systemic racism and implicit bias impacting our own lives and our school communities, know that Panorama is here to support you. Know that we are walking shoulder-to-shoulder with you. Together, we will invest in the difficult work of dismantling the systems of oppression in our world. 

Here are some questions, ideas and frameworks from our panel discussion with Dr. Benson. We hope that these insights help you envision ways to create an equitable future for your students.

Combating Unconscious Bias at a Personal Level

circle-cropped (6)

Tracey Benson, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and author of Unconscious Bias in Schools

We learn biases when it comes to differences in skin color. We grow up in a society in which we are inundated with racialized messages throughout our lifetime, and we—often unknowingly—absorb them. Research indicates that we learn them from a very young age and they develop over time. Until we address them directly and make purposeful efforts to see how they impact others, these unconscious biases will persist.

Intent is off the table. We all intend to be good, caring, and fair educators who serve all students. However, if we do not address our ingested racism, we are not serving students equally regardless of race.

Demetrius Lancaster

Demetrius Lancaster, Professional Learning Manager at Panorama Education

There is an opportunity now to have conversations about power and the distribution of power. What does it look like for us as educators and education leaders to give up power in schools? Once we are aware of our biases, there is an opportunity for us to think about what action could look like. But we need to have real conversations about what's stopping adults from reaching awareness before moving to action or shifting the focus to our students.

Becky Barstein

Becky Barstein, Professional Learning Manager at Panorama Education

When I think about the world that I grew up in—which was a predominantly white space—and what I learned to be true, I realize that I learned to negate my own identity and the identities of others. There is so much un-learning that needs to happen to really be able to see the world from another person's perspective. It requires a willingness to notice your own emotions and create space between the emotion and the reaction. 

 

Combating Unconscious Bias and Systemic Racism in Schools

circle-cropped (6)

Tracey Benson, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and author of Unconscious Bias in Schools

Specific systemic changes in the classroom and school-wide can make a world of difference for students.

Racial bias can work its way into your practice, even if you don't intend it to. Good intentions don't save you from being biased. But these behaviors impact the racial climate within a school, which really affects a student's day. You will never see it unless you pay attention to it. Be purposeful about identifying your biases, and come up with strategies to mitigate them. 

It takes a purposeful effort to remind ourselves as educators to correct the behavior, not the student.

Data is one way we can shift school and classroom practices by looking at them through a racial lens. Do our students feel welcome in school? Do they feel that they are treated equally and fairly? Assess that and then create systems to take this data and disaggregate it by race. If there is any sort of discrepancy in student outcomes by race, we have to accept that: (1) the discrepancy is rooted in racial bias, and; (2) we can do something about it. That's when we can start to truly understand how students feel and improve upon students' perception of what's going on.

Demetrius Lancaster

Demetrius Lancaster, Professional Learning Manager at Panorama Education

When I think about system shifts, I think about the intentionality around making the conversation visible while also looking for opportunities to grow.

When we inevitably do make decisions out of our bias, how do we become aware, and are we having honest conversations about it? 

We need to pause and acknowledge the bias that we bring into classrooms. We need to have honest conversations about it and ask for accountability from other adults in our buildings.

When we create conditions for adults to have real conversations about their own biases and assumptions that they bring with them to work, we can talk as a community about taking practical steps to live the equitable outcomes that we believe to be true.

Becky Barstein

Becky Barstein, Professional Learning Manager at Panorama Education

I love the phrase: "a purposeful plan." When your wheels are misaligned, you have to actively course-correct to make sure the car doesn't veer off the road.

Creating a plan, engaging other caring adults in your building who might be breathing in this smog of implicit bias, and having honest conversations about supporting every single student. Ultimately, if we can do more of this, our students win. If we are not having these conversations, it is our most marginalized students who are at risk. 

 

Combating Unconscious Bias and Systemic Racism in our Communities

circle-cropped (6)

Tracey Benson, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and author of Unconscious Bias in Schools

We cannot expect to solve hundreds of years of oppression in one year. But we can take a step and choose what we are going to do.

We don't have to do everything. Start in the classroom by removing race and gender bias in the ways in which we call on students to participate during instruction. Focus on looking for where your racial bias shows up and address that. Accept the humility that none of us are experts at this. We are functionally racially illiterate. And it’s scary to make a mistake. But when you empower yourself to have a conversation about race, you empower others to do the same.

Demetrius Lancaster

Demetrius Lancaster, Professional Learning Manager at Panorama Education

As adults, we tend to wish that conversations about race and bias were less messy than they are. Or less emotional than they are. But, in reality, that's not how we grow; that's not how we foster productive community conversations. This is a messy process that adults have to model embracing.

Download the Panorama Equity and Inclusion Survey to measure student and staff experiences of equity and inclusion in school.

Topic(s): Equity

Join 50,000+ education leaders on our monthly newsletter.