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On "seeing" students and invisible biases.

Today I took part in an enjoyable webinar via BigMarker.com - entitled What it Means to 'See' Your Students presented by @elizabethaself

Here's her blurb from the site - where the session is recorded, and I'd recommend you make some time to view and listen.

In the first half of this session, I will share my current research on clinical simulations and how simulations can be used to develop cultural competence among both pre- and in-service teachers. I will walk teachers through one such simulation in order to better understand the potential dangers of “culture blindness.” In the second half of the session, I will work to help mathematics teachers think about what they can do in their own classrooms to better “see” their students in ways that support mathematics outcomes as well as healthy identity development.

Elizabeth presented a sort of digital pepeha of herself, which as all pepeha do, meant that those of us listening were able to understand a bit more about her, her life experiences and the places and people that give her meaning. And in so doing, we were able to "see" her presentation based on her story.

The first section on clinic simulations - role-plays of student-teacher interactions, with additional information provided as participants moved through the exercise - was fascinating. It was really encouraging to hear about it being used in pre-service training in parts of the USA. I'm unsure if these methods are being used at teacher training faculties in NZ.

I really liked the idea of creating some in-school simulations, to use these active methods to unpack and reflect on our own biases and the constructs that we work around. It could be done as a team, or as a school based PD opportunity.

The final section had some really simple, but actionable items that a teacher or a school could use to focus and reflect on their own practice - a needs based inquiry, that focuses on how we build and maintain our relationships with students.

A lot in the session resonated with me, in part because I'd been listening to an episode of 'This American Life" entitled 'Cops See it Differently' - which explores the idea of invisible biases, particularly around the issue of race relations in policing.

On a personal level I always enjoyed doing the bus duty after school, because it gave me a chance to meet students on their terms, instead of just mine. I got to meet students who weren't in my class as well, to chat about everyday goings on, to build simple, but real connections. I got to see parents, some who would stop to chat, some who would make a request.

I got to be part of the ritual of the day, of the wider school communities day.

Most of that knowledge didn't feed back into my class in explicit ways, but I believe those sorts of experiences enrich your perspective, and therefore allow you to be seen and act as more human in the classroom.

As teachers we need to constantly step into the shoes of those we stand in front of, and not just in a metaphorical way, but in active and simple ways. This active empathy requires a real humility at times, but is important to do so to allow us to reflect on our biases and our blinkers.

That can be a real challenge, because when we see those, we can be threatened by what they reveal about ourselves.

It takes honesty and courage to then make the changes required.

But this then is much of what it means to be human. Which is a grand thing.


Two books were referenced in the chat, that may be of interest.

"I Had No Idea" : Clinical Simulations for Teacher Development by Benjamin H. Dotger

Start Where You Are, But Don't Stay There: Understanding Diversity, Opportunity Gaps, and Teaching in Today's Classrooms by H. Richard Milner

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