A friend of mine recently told me about an incident involving students at Berkeley High School. On the first day of classes, African-American juniors and seniors were being asked by their honors course teacher to show him their schedule when they entered the classroom. The teacher, who was white, apparently assumed the black students were lost and in the wrong room, and his gesture made them feel unwelcome and humiliated.
1. Cultivate awareness of their Biases
Teachers are human and therefore influenced by psychological biases, like the fundamental attribution error, when we assume that others who behave in a certain way do so because of their character (a fixed trait) rather than in response to environmental circumstances. In-group bias leads us to assign positive characteristics and motivations to people who are similar to us.Biases like these are natural, used as cognitive shorthand for making quick social judgments in ambiguous situations, especially those involving people from unfamiliar ethnic or social groups.
2. Work to increase empathy and empathic communication
The ability to understand another’s perspective and emotions—is important in all human social encounters, including teaching. Yet, often teachers have little understanding of the communities where their students live and have trouble understanding their perspectives, leading them to treat these students more harshly.One solution: learning about the lives of students and showing that you care. At least one study has found that actively trying to take the perspective of another person.
3. Practice mindfulness and loving-kindness
Mindfulness practices—such as paying attention in a nonjudgmental way to one’s breath or other sensations—has been shown to decrease stress in teachers, which can indirectly have an effect on reducing bias. But according to some research, mindfulness may also have a direct effect on bias reduction as well. young white participants who listened to a 10-minute audiotape with instructions in mindfulness showed less implicit bias towards .
4. Develop cross-group friendships in their own lives
While it’s important to take steps in the classroom, the relationships we form outside of the classroom can also have an impact on bias.Cross-group friendships have been shown in several studies to decrease stress in intergroup situations, to decrease prejudicetoward outgroup members, and to decrease one’s preference for social hierarchy or domination over lower-status groups. These findings alone might encourage teachers to seek out cross-group friendships in their lives so that they can be more receptive to the diverse students they find in their classrooms.