Why Your Secret Bias Matters in the Classroom

Teacher Tips Brain Based Learning

How to Have the Best Year of Your Professional Life

The word “explicit” means overt, obvious, known and spoken. Implicit means implied, insinuated, tacit and not said. Our biases have been known to show up in our classrooms in study after study. Surprisingly, most teachers claim they are NOT biased. This month, you’ll see how to recognize your biases and why you should alter them. You will get a critical insight and strategy for high-performance teaching. Stay a learner and you can turn this into the best year of your professional life. Let’s start with an awesome process for success.

Here is Background on My Best Teaching Idea This Month

High school students whose teachers have higher expectations about their future success are far more likely to graduate from college. All else equal, 10th grade students who had teachers with higher expectations were more than three times more likely to graduate from college than students who had teachers with lower expectations. In fact, teacher expectations are more powerful predictors of postsecondary education status than the expectations of students and parents.

  • Teacher expectations were more predictive of college success than most major factors, including student motivation and student effort. Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS: 2002).
  • Teachers almost ALWAYS say that high expectations are important for student achievement. According to a recent METLife study, with a nationally representative sample of more than 1,000 K-12 teachers, 86% of these teachers say that there is a strong relationship between having “high expectations for all students” and student learning. Sounds like a good start. Seems like we are all in good shape, right?

Now, get ready to be shocked.

Yet, when it comes to actual expectations for individual students, only 36% of teachers say that “all of their students” can achieve academic success. The same MetLife survey also showed that only 13% of teachers “believe that all of their students are motivated to succeed academically.” Oooops… maybe the teachers in that survey had not attended one of my summer courses where I show you how to boost effort, attitude and motivation!

Teachers believed that African American students were 47% less likely to graduate from college than their white peers and Hispanic students were 42% less likely to get a college degree than their white peers (NCES, 2002).

It looks as if, “Houston, we’ve got a problem.”

Solutions You Can Use

Teachers think that high expectations are important, but they are not actually referring to every student in their own classrooms. This is important because teacher expectations, starting at pre-school, was a robust predictor of the child’s high school GPA.

Solution #1: Recognize and admit you are likely biased

• Researchers from UNC (University of North Carolina) at Greensboro conducted a longitudinal study of almost 1,000 elementary school students and reported that teachers had higher expectations for the reading achievement of girls than they did of boys.

• Count how many times per week you give affirmations to those students who have performed lower in the previous few years. For children who are used to thinking of themselves as stupid (or not worth talking to, or deserving neglect or beatings) a strong, caring teacher can provide an amazing insight that helps a student think, “I am worthwhile. I am worth others spending time on me.”

• Ask if your schools communicate high expectations in the way they structure and organize learning. Do you give all youth access to college core subjects? Do you push the arts, or save them for those identified as ‘gifted’?

• Ask yourself if you infuse multicultural content throughout the curriculum. This honors the students’ home cultures, gives them the opportunity to study their own and other cultures, and to develop cultural sensitivity. Studies show this actually fosters achievement, not inhibits it.

• Just when students need an ally to help them get to college, secondary teachers have lower expectations for students of color and poverty. Secondary teachers predicted that high-poverty students IN THEIR CLASSES were 53% less likely to earn a college diploma than their more affluent peers. That’s a bias!

Solution #2: Learn the cues for implicit biases

• Do you begin with strengths and interests, then use those as starting points for learning? Or, do you focus first on the deficits?

• Labels show low expectations. Targeted programs that label children ‘at risk’ may be doing more harm than good. Labels such as this define a student as having a lower potential, based on what the teacher predicts he or she might do, rather than on a high likelihood that he or she has had lower performing / less experienced and/or biased teachers.

• Expectations play a role in motivating students and instilling within them a responsibility for learning. Kohn (1993) argues that extrinsic rewards ‘punish’ youth. Rewards can be given from a “deficit” mentality, assuming that underperforming students just need a kick in the butt. Brain research tells us otherwise (Farah, et al, 2006).

BRAIN BASED PERSPECTIVE: Variety is essential since our brain can often become bored and even desensitize to any overuse of a single learning strategy.

Solution #3: Engage and use these bias-busters

• Help students SET “Gaudy (very high) Goals” then, help them make a plan to reach their goals.

• Create a school wide culture with the ethos of high expectations and protective factors like mentoring, life skills and strong adults in each student’s life.

• Start up a scholarship committee for every single student beginning in 9th grade. Show them the process for arranging the advanced coursework in high school, taking the right classes, getting tutoring (school can provide) and learning the hoops for getting a scholarship.

• Show students pictures, read web stories and present real-world role models that say to them, “You can do this!”

• Successful teachers refuse to label their students ‘at risk’ or ‘low students’. In fact, Hattie has shown NOT labeling students is a top 20 contributor to student achievement.

• Offer the AVID program or similar college track programs. One poor, inner-city school established a college core curriculum, and over 65 percent of its graduates went on to higher education—up from 15 percent before the program began. A San Diego school with 100% free and reduced lunch has 100% of its students on a college track curriculum and every year over 95% of its graduates go to college.

BRAIN BASED PERSPECTIVE: Brains can change. If the brain’s not changing, change the instruction (strategy), the quality of circumstances (effort) and expectations (attitude).

Let’s review what we have so far. Change your expectations and it will change your actions and results. Turning all students into believers in herself or himself is critical, and a highly effective way to boost achievement. In fact, it may be one of the single best ways of all to improve your own teaching. In closing, you CAN have the best school year of your professional life. Implement ideas from this monthly newsletter and get ready for a miracle!

I hope September is a great month for you!

Your partner in learning,

Eric Jensen
CEO, Jensen Learning
Brain-Based Education

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