Change can be challenging, but it can also be rewarding. As the new school year approaches, there is still lingering uncertainty surrounding the ongoing pandemic and the devastation it has caused. Adding to this, civil unrest, mass shootings, and heightened trauma are still impacting our students and their families. While we cannot control many of these things, we can control how we think, act, and respond.
As educators, we must come into the classroom (whether it be in-person or virtual) and teach, support, and love our students. This is regardless of who our students are, where they come from, and what we have learned and heard about them. We must make sure our mindsets are aligned with culturally responsive, anti-racist, and decolonized teaching in mind, and that might require a shift. While this shift may take time, there are simple, yet impactful things we can do now as we prepare for the new year, with new mindsets.
By now, you have probably been to a mandated professional development training with your school district or even read other materials that has mentioned teacher bias. Thinking about biases– whether they be implicit or explicit– the impact of our own biases are tremendously important as we shift our mindsets. Unsurprisingly, there are messages in the media, from friends and families and in schools, that consistently remind certain groups that they are better, have privilege over others, or that they do not matter. Are you inadvertently giving Black male students more negative marks in ClassDojo? Are you steering female students towards certain career choices, colors, and types of toys? Changing mindsets towards equity requires us to combat these societal messages and to acknowledge when they do impact the decisions we make regarding our approaches to teaching.
The impact of our own biases is tremendously important as we shift our mindsets.
Adding to the impacts that our own biases have on our students’ experiences in school, it is not uncommon to focus on what students do not know. However, as we shift our mindsets, we must focus on students’ assets. Focusing on deficits is counterproductive and does not make students feel valued. Instead, students may become saddened and frustrated with constantly hearing what they cannot do. Have you ever thought about why there is a disproportionate number of Black and Latinx students who have been identified for special education? Or, why there are typically mostly White students in honors and advanced placement courses? If your pedagogy is based on Eurocentric standards that require prerequisite knowledge of the dominant culture, then you are not leveraging the strengths of your all your students and using their assets as a catalyst to engage them in learning.
We hope you consider the impact of your own biases and commit to focusing on students’ assets to ensure that you have equity-centered mindsets going into the new school year. Remember, showing students — all students — that they matter will start with how you view them and the ways you approach teaching. By having an equity-centered mindset, every book, material, tool, activity, and assessment you create, instruct with, and engage your students in will be intentionally for all of them. Our book, Culturally Responsive Teaching Online and In Person: An Action Planner for Dynamic Equitable Learning Environments, can support your shifting mindsets on your equity journeys.