The Path to Empathy: Catching Up with Ms. Liz’s Allies
The Art of Guiding Difficult Discussions
Ten Steps Toward a Less Biased Classroom
1. Self Reflection
Start by looking at your own identity, and how your personal biases and assumptions inform it. How you carry yourself can often influence how you are perceived by your students.
2. Cultivate a Safe and Inclusive Environment
Allow students to participate in the creation of classroom guidelines that address how everyone should respectfully communicate with one another. Foster an environment where students can make mistakes, and refer back to these class-created norms should issues arise.
3. Emphasize That One Individual Does Not Represent a Group
It can be difficult for a student who represents a minority group to shoulder the responsibility of representation. Emphasize that no one represents anything larger than their own opinion; no one speaks for a larger group of people.
4. Invite Inquiry
Find out what students already know so that you can help gauge whether they are grappling with facts, opinion, or conjecture. You can begin with a Mad Lib approach, asking students to complete sentences, such as “Right now, I’m passionate about_______” or “When I think about the injustice of ________, I feel __________.” This type of inquiry is also an opportunity to introduce effective research techniques, resources, and overall media literacy.
5. Call In, Don’t Call Out
Shame is a roadblock to empathy. Establish the difference of “growth” versus “gotcha” with your students. “Calling in” is a desire to preserve a relationship, assuming with good intent that someone is willing to undertake the process of learning and unlearning. “Calling out” only creates a spectacle and will make students more resistant to expressing their feelings and perspectives. Check out this resource that distinguishes the two, and review it with your students.
6. Normalize Diversity
Integrate culturally diverse perspectives into all aspects of teaching. Read Latinx books not just because it’s Cesar Chavez Day, but because we value them. Celebrate African-American voices not just because it’s Black History Month, but because we value them. Find natural places in your curriculum to include diverse voices and histories, such as fairytales and folktales from underrepresented cultures.
7. Words Matter
Help your students to understand the terms around bias and race—and the distinctions between certain words, such as prejudice and bias—so that everyone is on the same page. The Anti-Defamation League has provided a glossary of common anti-bias education terms and definitions.
8. Don’t Erase, Don’t Rewrite: Understand History
Connecting current events to history can make appalling stains on our history such as slavery and segregation more relevant and less abstract. Take the issue of Confederate statues, for instance. This can fuel a powerful conversation about the statues’ historical connections to slavery, while reinforcing that—to truly understand the present—one must more deeply understand the past.
9. Activism, Not Slacktivism: Take Action
Talking is important. But to avoid feelings of hopelessness, educators need to encourage action. This could take the form of students circulating petitions; writing letters to elected officials; organizing school clubs around social issues; or participating in community work. Reinforce student activism with lessons involving social change movements, and celebrate their efforts to bring about progress.
10. Involve Parents
Share the progress and insights of your classroom conversations with families. Explain the anti-bias resources or lesson plans you use, or invite families to watch you teach a lesson. Make the experience non threatening and inviting for diverse family groups and others in a student’s community.
Doing Students Justice