Examining Biases for Cultural Competence

To work collaboratively, teach students effectively, and make responsible and ethical decisions, each individual in the school community must continuously develop their own self-awareness and recognize how their experiences and beliefs impact the ways they interact with others (Howard, 2003; Gay, 2010).

Schools, like the greater society, are becoming increasingly more diverse in culture, ethnicity, race, language, values, and beliefs. This diversity has countless positive benefits, but it can also present challenges. Each person is shaped by their experiences, interactions, and observations. Because of these unique experiences, we each bring a set of our own biases to every situation we encounter.

These biases are a natural response, but unfortunately, we don’t always recognize them. Even the most well-intentioned individuals can act upon implicit biases (Staats, 2015). If left unchecked or unrecognized, these feelings and expressions can be hurtful or even damaging to the well-being and safety of others. For example, implicit biases are known to contribute to disproportionality in discipline practices (Skiba et al., 2014).

As a result, it’s crucial for all school staff to reflect on their own biases to create safe, equitable, supportive, and inclusive environments for all students, staff, and families. Cultivating self-awareness to uncover biases about others can promote practices that encourage engaging, interactive, cooperative, culturally responsive environments that focus on a growth mindset for student and staff capabilities and potential.

This personal transformation takes ongoing effort and courage, and can be painful at times. The following activities can increase awareness of personal biases and provide a path to overcoming biases.

Activity: Community Mixer

Community Mixer – Paseo

  1. Open the link above for complete instructions and a reproducible a graphic organizer.
  2. Have each participant draw a diagram and write their name in the center circle. On individual “spokes” coming off the original circle, ask them to add a word or phrase that captures some element of their identity.
  3. Ask participants to find a partner and discuss the following: With which of the descriptors do you identify most often? Why?
  4. Ask participants to change partners and discuss the following: With which of the descriptors do other people identify you most often? How do you feel about that?
  5. Ask participants to change partners and discuss the following: Describe a time when one aspect of your identity worked to your advantage or disadvantage in life.

Note: Steps three to five can also be done with one partner, going deeply into the conversation in a more personal way. Depending on time constraints and your purpose for selecting this activity, participants can introduce themselves to the group by naming an aspect of their identity that impacts their shared work and speaking briefly about how and why.

Activity: Reflecting on Issues of Equity

  1. Divide the large group into smaller breakout groups of no more than five and assign each group to read a different article.
  2. Within each breakout group, assign each group member a portion of the chosen article.
  3. After silent reading and annotating, each group member discusses the key content, general meaning, and their personal interpretation of their section.
  4. As a whole group, summarize and reflect on any new meanings regarding forms of biases, prejudices, or stereotypes.
  5. Reflect on what SEL competencies are being used within this activity.
  6. Select someone to report out to the larger group key ideas, general meaning, and any significant personal interpretations from the group.

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