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high expertise teaching

Time to Be Tackling Racial Bias in the Classroom

Student Looking at GlobeRacism is a social construct that operates as a system of oppression based on race. It operates everywhere, even inside the best intentioned of educators.

Racism is built on stereotypes and expressed in various forms of oppression. It shows up in individuals belonging to marginalized groups as internalized racism, in unaware individuals committing micro-aggressions, and in the implementation of school procedures like student placement into special education, tracking, and unequal application of discipline. Facing all this invites difficult conversations that need to take place in schools across the country.

Racism is certainly a first cousin of cultural blindness and cultural improficiency, but it is profoundly different. Culturally improficiency arises from lack of interest and awareness and respect for other cultures. Racism comes from an ancient tradition of dominance and control.

The presumed inferiority of non-white racial groups shows up in a range of places throughout our history. We can see this bias systemically in unequal distribution of governmental resources to schools even to this day. We see this bias in views of intelligence as innate and fixed. Racism prompts differential teacher behavior.

One consequence of our history of racism is what Claude Steele identified twenty-five years ago as “stereotype threat.” “Stereotype threat” induces an unconscious loss of edge in performance based on racial cues. His 2011 book, Whistling Vivaldi, summarizes his quarter-century of research on this topic in engaging and non-judgmental prose. I recommend it to anyone who wants to broaden understanding of this very important and challenging topic.

As teachers, we deepen our understanding of racism by studying the manifestations of white privilege and racism from the beginning, in the history of our country and other countries. It is, in fact, an often unexamined history, and one whose consequences for people of color can be hard for white Americans to comprehend completely without a conscious effort to learn and talk openly about it.

The quest for racial awareness and anti-racist teaching should propel us to push back on negative stereotypes, to correct distortions, and to remedy omissions in our behavior and curriculum that stem from racism. Most powerfully, it should inspire us to make students of color believers in themselves and their capacity. And it is our job to convince them of that. In the process, we will have to work hard to convince ourselves, since we are all, without exception, tainted by traces of racism.

Recommended Reading:

Steele, Claude, Whistling Vivaldi

Singleton, Glenn E. Courageous Conversations about Race.

Why Teachers Need Cultural Proficiency

Group of Elementary Pupils In Classroom With TeacherChanging demographics have made a “should” into a “must” for American teachers. Cultural proficiency produces behaviors that acknowledge and value the culture of those different from oneself. It develops out of being curious and wanting to learn about other people and their cultures.

We are culturally improficient when we lack any understanding of people whose cultural backgrounds and traditions are not that same as our own. Cultural improficiency in the classroom has the result of leaving students who are culturally and linguistically diverse feeling misunderstood and excluded. When a teacher is culturally proficient all students feel that they have a place in the classroom because cultural difference is acknowledged and recognized as having value. This shows up in the artifacts of the class and the examples used in lessons. Cultural diversity is viewed as enriching the classroom experience for everyone.

As teachers of all children, each of us has an obligation, a moral imperative really, to 1) learn about the different cultures of our students and 2) find ways to make their cultures appear in validating ways in our curricula and instructional examples. That is the starting point for cultural proficiency, and cultural proficiency is a new skill set that all American teachers must have to provide every student with the best learning environment.

Recommended Reading:

Excellent recent book in a rich literature: Zaretta’ Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain.

A Short History of Ed Reform

This short video describes the history of Ed Reform and recommends that the focus be on high expertise teaching in every classroom.

Successful Teaching

In this video, I describe the elements required for successful teaching. Most people don’t realize how complex teaching really is.

The Mirage Report

The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About Our Quest for Teacher Development, a new report from The New Teacher Project (TNTP), should be much discussed. It is a study of teacher professional development that surfaces stark data about the failure of an $18 billion dollar investment to have much influence, according to school administrators, on improving most teachers’ practice.

Learning Forward (formerly the National Staff Development Council) responds by accepting TNTP’s recommendations and adds that they are “not surprised that someone would call effective professional learning a mirage at this point…while we have thought for  years that we know what it takes to help people improve, the evidence doesn’t support it”. While it is true that there isn’t much empirical evidence to support our effectiveness in helping people improve, it doesn’t mean we don’t know how! The Mirage report reinforces that we do know what it takes:

  • All staff share a “vividly clear vision of instructional excellence that can be observed and measured” (p.35).
  • The bar set by this vision of excellent instruction is high, “an ambitious standard”…higher than what is tolerated in most schools in the United States (p. 35).
  • Teachers get weekly feedback about where they stand in relation to that high bar from trusted leaders, and debriefing from his or her coach for 30-45 minutes (p. 32).
  • The feedback is honest, rigorous and viewed as credible by the teachers (implications for training and certification of coaches and evaluators!). There are clear assessments without blame about their strengths and weakness for all teachers, as opposed to being “told in innumerable ways that their level of performance is good enough” which is what happens in most American districts (p. 36).
  • A culture of continuous learning about a complex knowledge and skill base where everyone is expected to improve no matter how experienced or high performing they already are. 80% of the teachers acknowledged they still had room to improve (p. 32).
  • Teachers spend two to three hours a week with other teachers reflecting on instructional practices (p. 32).
  • “Everyone in their school community is constantly working toward better instruction and pushing each other to do their best work…there is always going to be somebody to push you. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stagnate here” (p. 31).
  • There is “a culture and organizational structure centered on teacher development and its impact on student learning” (p. 33).

These are school settings that “make a more fundamental shift in mindset and define ‘helping teachers improve’…[as] providing them with information, conditions, and a culture [ital. not in original] that facilitate growth and normalize continuous improvement” (p. 35). Strong Adult Professional Culture (see my blog post of June 22, 2015) is the surround-sound that empowers professional learning. It’s not a mystery; and not something we haven’t known for a long time. It appears that we have to keep reminding ourselves what we know works. An important question is: what prevents us from doing it? How do we close the “Knowing-Doing Gap”?