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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.
Hello my name is Helen Bilton and I’m Professor of Outdoor Learning at the University of Reading, and with me, I have Luke Davies who’s Head of Drama, and Janine Evans John, who’s a Teacher of Science and these guys are both at a secondary school. We all have values and beliefs which are formed over time through our families, our childhood, peers, schooling, all the experiences we have. There’s also unconscious and conscious attitudes. And so, some things we do we don’t even realise we’re doing. What we’re going to do today, talking to Luke and Janine, is just trying to unpick some of those things about values and beliefs within schools.
So Luke, can you talk about some of the assumptions that people make about children. I think you hear a lot about the children that you teach. So, instantly as soon as you hear one rumour or an off-phrase about a particular student, you start having your own thoughts about that particular person. Whether they’re positive or negative, behaviour, ability, their special educational need, and those thoughts, unless you catch them and you’re very aware of them, they will kind of, they’ll mark your expectations of those children. Thanks. Janine? I
think as well, on a more general level, I think adults who come into education and are faced with children, tend to expect children to behave and respond in rational ways that an adult would. And I think that definitely teenagers are operating from a more emotional level. They are responding instinctively to things that happen and that may be, you know, for some adults then, is that oh that child is, you know, that child doesn’t listen or that child goes off the handle, or without actually taking a step back and thinking, well hang on a minute this is a teenager what happened there. You know, why did that person respond the way they did.
You know, put themselves in that place, you know that plays a part, I don’t know.
Can I build on that? In your careers have you noticed any biases in your practice you know, so sort of, key examples or other peoples’ practices? I think in my early career, given my subject, when I’d find a child who was very, came across as quite skilled, or very energetic, or very enthused by the subject I think I would, unconsciously challenge them more than children who were maybe less skilled or weren’t quite there yet.
And I think that was, that was definitely an unconscious bias, I’m going ‘Oh they’re really they’re really talented at this, so I should I should push them at this and I should give them more complex stuff’ and I think that was wrong and it’s a disservice to the children who maybe aren’t there yet at that particular time. Interesting. But definitely something I was aware of, later on. What advice would you give those people to reduce their possible bias and the impact of bias?
Just be aware that if you hear any information about students, don’t take it as concrete and definitely constant reflection, would be my main advice. Janine? I just think, you need to make an effort to get to know your students. Sometimes when you build a relationship with someone, you will overcome your own bias because you actually see that perhaps, you were wrong or, you know, your, put your initial first impression of that person was, you know, not what it appeared to be and actually then you know, you see their personality come out and you build that lovely link, so I say.
Can I just drill down a little bit more? So, can you give some examples of how you manage your own value system? First for being aware of them. And then just remembering not to react to things. I think in, when you’re kind of, you start building a relationship with your students, you can become very quick to interact with them, just through talking through setting up work and helping them.
But then sometimes they can say something, or they react to something in a very kind of shocking way, because it’s very different to them or you suggest something, and they’re very, kind of, very kind of, they come up against it and it’s because of their own experiences at home, coming into school life and stuff, and you can try not to react to that, at controlling your own response to things as well. Can I give you a for instance, if secondary pupils may have a tendency to swear. You may have a value system that doesn’t like swearing. How do you do with that?
I mean, I think there are always certain, you know, levels of respect and you know I think every adult has an expectation, that they, they deserve respect because they simply are an adult. And that doesn’t always figure with the students that you’re teaching. But one thing I’ve learned is that you can’t take things personally. Very much in my early career when students were, if they ever swore at me for example, or rude, or disrespectful, I would take it very personally and it would affect me deeply and I think it would affect then my relationship with that child going forward.
I remember, one particular child came to me after he left and apologised for the way that he’d behave, and I realised that it was never about me. It was how that child was feeling at that time, on that day, influences. I think you kind of like, you, you model it don’t you? Yeah. You want them to be respectful, and calm, and to talk things through, and kind of voice their opinions in an appropriate way. So, you have to do it. Yes. That way, to kind of show them how they should be doing it..

In the previous Step you’ve looked at unconscious bias and how this way of thinking leads to making automatic and unintentional judgments.

In the first of our round table discussions, watch Janine Evans John, Science Teacher and Luke Davies, Head of Drama, both from The Hurst Community College, discuss with Helen the assumptions some adults make when working with pupils, how it can affect their 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?

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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