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Teacher’s view: Addressing bias in the classroom

In this video, hear from our teaching experts discuss the importance of recognising your own biases in your working practice and how to overcome them.
Helen: My name is Helen Bilton and I’m Professor of Outdoor Learning at the University of Reading. And with me, I have Michelle Morris, Class Teacher and Patrick Pritchett, Headteacher of Evendons School. We all have a value system, a set of beliefs and values that we work by and so do schools. And sometimes those values may not match. This is what we’re going to discuss now. Michelle, what are some of the assumptions that we make about children?
Michelle: I think one of the biggest assumptions that can be made in the classroom is assuming children know something before we start a lesson or assume that they’ll only be able to know so much. So, you plan a lesson and you’re assuming that these children are going to fit in those parameters. Whereas actually, you might need to give them a lot more background information, or you might need to leave it a little bit more open ended, so they can push further.
Patrick: I think we can often assume that children know why they’re there. and for very young children, they could be, they could be in school for weeks, or even months before they even realise that they’re in school, and that you’re here every day in front of them, teaching them and then they suddenly make that connection.
Helen: So it’s quite important that we work those assumptions out and help them
Patrick: What for young children, I think you just have to know something about child development, and you have to just stop yourself. You’ve got your own plan of what you want to teach, but you need to just pause and stop and think - Right, how old are these children? Where are they in the development?
Helen: So we can just forget to tell them just the basics, almost Yeah,
Michelle: I’d agree, you need to think about what the children need right in that moment, so you can have all the plans that you’ve spent weeks or hours working on. But if the children are showing you that they’re not understanding why they’re there, or what they’re learning, you need to stop that completely and go with what the children need.
Helen: In your careers, have you ever noticed any biases of yourself or other people? And what have you done about those biases?
Michelle: I have noticed with other people, there have been a couple of colleagues I’ve worked with who have bias towards certain children in the classroom. They’ve made relationships a lot more with some children and not so much with others. I think it’s really important that you can notice that yourself in your own practice. Or that you can notice it in your colleagues, and it’s important to have those frank open discussions.
Helen: What do you think people do that? Why do they gravitate towards some children?
Michelle: I think it could be personalities that people have, maybe there’s children that are more like family members possibly, or people that you know outside of school, or you’ve got those children who show their love and their affection for the adults in the classroom. And if you’ve not got the experience, or the level-headed to be able to differentiate that all children need the same amount of attention, you could easily be swayed into falling into those more affectionate children.
Helen: Patrick?
Patrick: I think that the, the most bias I ever seen in a school is really when a teacher perhaps values something, and doesn’t really consider whether or not that’s valued by the child. So you might be teaching something because you think- well, this is really valuable but for that child from that family background, or from that culture or because of where they are in their development - is of no value at all.
Helen: And what what can we do about that?
Patrick: I think you’ve just got to be mindful of that all the time. You know you’ve got to, you obviously know if you’re teaching a lesson and it’s going very badly because nobody values it at all. You obviously then have a really sharp wake up call when you have to think- Why didn’t that go well? What is it? What is it about that lesson? But I mean, I think more experience you get the more you understand that it’s got to have value for those children and you’ve got to consider all of your children.

In the previous Step you’ve looked at unconscious bias and how this can lead to making automatic and unintentional judgments.

In the first of our round table discussions, watch Michelle Morris, Class Teacher, and Patrick Pritchett, Headteacher, discuss with Helen the assumptions some adults make when working with children. They consider how this can affect children’s learning and how to recognise and overcome your own unconscious bias.

Have you had to overcome any of your own unconscious bias? How did you recognise it and what did you do to overcome it?

Please note filming took place in 2019. Patrick Pritchett is now at Floreat Montague Primary School.

Our course tip

We provide a written transcript of each video in this course, which you may find useful. You can find this by clicking ‘view transcript’ found underneath each video.

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