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How can I overcome any unconscious biases in the classroom?

It’s difficult to change behaviour if you’re not aware of how you’re behaving. Being able to recognise unconscious bias will help

It’s difficult to change behaviour if you’re not aware of how you’re behaving. If you’re aware of what unconscious bias is, you can look at yourself more closely; you can decide to watch yourself in different situations and reflect on how you behave, the gestures you make, what you say or how you stand.

How to overcome unconscious bias

Here are some useful tips to help overcome any unconscious biases in the classroom:

  1. Being honest and aware of your own biases will help keep the negative ones in check, and ensure your decision making is based on actual knowledge.
  2. Question your motivation for everything you do.
  3. Without knowing the circumstances of the individual or group, try and remain impartial and empathetic to them.
  4. When you feel very strongly about something, check why you feel this way.
  5. Take tally charts of your contact with the pupils and check whether you’re giving equal attention to all, or a lot to some and little to others.
  6. Take a tally chart of your contact with girls and boys and check as above.
  7. If you’re more exposed to other groups of people this will help challenge and reduce bias views.
  8. Pay attention to the decisions you make when you’re in a challenging situation.

An example of unconscious bias

A lunchtime controller at a large secondary school was accused of being a racist by a number of pupils. The deputy head went to observe the person at lunch time.

The lunchtime controller’s role was to ensure the dinner queue was orderly, and the pupils approached the serving hatch in small groups, with no crowding or rudeness.

The deputy head noted that the person greeted all the pupils, was polite and moved them on in an orderly fashion. The deputy head could not see there was any racism, or what the problem was, especially as the pupils were being spoken to and spoken to politely.

However, the complaints of racism continued and so another member of staff went and observed. They also noted that the lunchtime controller spoke to all the pupils equally and was chatty with them all, regardless of who they were.

However, this member of staff also noted that the lunchtime controller showed affection by giving a tap of endearment but only to the white pupils, and not to any pupils of other ethnicity. When asked about this, the controller said that they didn’t feel comfortable touching them because they were unsure if it was the norm in their culture to be touched.

The lunchtime controller wasn’t intentionally being racist, but their actions which was caused by lack of knowledge or understanding about other cultures, made it seem like their actions were indeed of a racist nature.

© University of Reading
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