A few weeks ago, I was part of a small team of Nueva representatives who attended Pollyanna, an anti-bias conference for schools that teach grades prekindergarten through eighth. Aimed at promoting community-wide growth, the day centered on three experiences: a keynote focused on offering a wealth of research and practical strategies for tackling implicit bias; an opportunity to work with and learn from other Bay Area school members; and time reflecting on one’s own community and planning for the future.
Jerry Kang, professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law, kicked off the morning with an engaging message about how to counter implicit bias. He offered everyone in attendance five alliterative key points to capture his thinking:
Be humble. Have the awareness that we all have implicit bias and that it takes effort to change. It is natural to engage in what he described as "moral credentialing," thinking that having the knowledge is curative and then assuming our personal discretion is more reliable.
Countering bias involves societal change, and yet, in our classrooms, we have some particular power to reinforce one of Kang's key points: you are what you see. What we see defines what it means to be normal. We can influence what our students see as the norm. We can present diverse perspectives and lived experiences, and actively break down stereotypes and misconceptions. We have the ability to share mirrors of our students as well as windows into other perspectives, cultures, and identities.
Kang raised the importance of creating systems that constrain personal discretion. This can involve building diverse teams that bring diverse perspectives, embracing structures and protocols that counter group-think, and seeking to identify assumptions and then actively working to disprove rather than confirm them.
Kang shared that it is important to consider how bias might affect who we support and in what ways. He asked us to identify where we communicate high expectations and for whom. He recommended emphasizing malleability and resisting tracking, as well as sponsoring or mentoring others outside of our comfort zones.
Kang recommended gathering "little data" by doing something as simple as listing the last five people we had lunch or dinner with and then looking for patterns. We can also apply big data, and gather broader information to analyze our practices; for example, what language do we use in talking with different genders, and how might bias affect discipline or who participates in class? Data collection is also key to measuring our own changes in behavior.
Over the afternoon, our school team reflected on Kang’s presentation, our cohort meetings with members in similar roles at other schools, and our experiences within our Nueva community. In this space, our parents and students shared personal stories of triumph, disappointment, strength, challenge, and support. Faculty, administrators, and trustees shared their efforts to shape policy, culture, and practice. Collectively, we highlighted areas for continued work tied to race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic diversity. We celebrated that Nueva is further along than many schools and recognized the need for important ongoing work and growth.
Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways from the day was the importance of being open and honest in this journey and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable in order to promote learning and growth. As one Nueva participant summarized, “When you open up and share something [personal], you can [then] connect with someone else and start to build bridges. Then we can understand, ‘It’s not okay to treat me differently because of the assumptions you have about me.’”
This echoed Jerry Kang’s keynote message, which was hopeful even as he asked us to recognize both that implicit bias is part of the human condition and that it has substantial and sometimes frightening consequences. He reminded us that "there is great power in radical honesty about our own limitations." Embracing this insight, we can be honest about where we can still grow, develop policies and practices to further promote equity and inclusion, and build bridges that deepen our sense of community.