Reflections

Mastering the Art of Unlearning: Do we just follow the expected path along the lifecourse or is there space for pushing boundaries and exploring new possibilities?

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-vni9a-1065920

eduardo-flores-1akqr5QBNTw-unsplash

Photo by Eduardo Flores on Unsplash

In this episode, Victoria Procunier, a successful business woman from Toronto, Canada, and I discuss the subject of unlearning.  Unlearning can challenge assumptions that we have long held and trying to understand why something is the way it is.

Click HERE for Accessible Transcript

Our discussion focuses on how people value terms, skills, and mindsets in four specific areas, personal, societal, business, and education.  Unlearning can be very useful for resetting, rethinking, and re-evaluating, the way we think about the world, and that there are different truths to the same situation depending on perspective.  Unlearning challenges what we know to be true and can be useful in moving forward when you feel stuck or desire to understand something from a new perspective.

Victoria talks about the constant process of learning and re-learning through her experiences as a lifelong volunteer and the space volunteering provides for not only changing perspectives and personal growth, but for doing something good, giving of yourself, and encouraging others to find value in themselves.

We discuss the varying reasons why so many are hesitant to let go of old ways that include understanding privilege, the impact of the #MeToo movement and uncomfortable conversations that need to be had. There is further discussion on controversies amidst the Covid pandemic with differing mindsets on taking the vaccine and wearing masks and being open to understand and respect people’s positions.

We also talk about fear being a factor that inhibits unlearning, and whether it is wrong to think through what it means to be privileged and whether you are deserving or not, and reconciling our past. Additionally, as a single woman of 40 with no children, Victoria discusses identity as a factor in unlearning and this kind of ‘box checking’ when it comes to assumptions and expectations about what it means to be a woman and what success and happiness is supposed to look like.

As a VP in sales and marketing, Victoria explains why she thinks it is vital for unlearning to happen in the workplace. She discusses how important it is to understand the other person’s perspective and the people behind the decision. The value that comes from meaningful relationships and reputation and integrity in leadership means a lot.  In leading a team, she practices unlearning regularly using the ‘start up culture’, to make sure that her team can be the best that they can be and that she is supporting them behind the scenes to create an environment where they can be most successful. We talk about what you can learn from surviving toxic work environments.

We conclude our conversation with an eye-opening discussion on how unlearning from an educational perspective can be life changing.  I ask Victoria her thoughts on ungrading and radical assessment, and was very surprised by her response.  Victoria, an avid lifelong learner, felt that grades were dangled as a carrot, but her experiences in ‘unstructured’ educational settings provided her with deeper, more meaningful learning.  She questions the idea that perhaps unstructured learning gave her the platform she needed to be success, but that having good teachers and supportive parents certainly

We have a jolly laugh at the end with a quick discussion about how unlearning applies to the dating world and running a three-legged race.  Come, #ListenAndLearn!

Growing Up Black in Ireland: One man’s journey of how it feels to live and learn as a person of colour in a country with a very young immigration history.

Picture of Olatunji Solola – age 21

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-hwgky-1066ebd

In this episode, I am joined by Olatunji Solola, to talk about his experiences of living, learning, and growing up black in Ireland. 

Click HERE for Accessible Transcript

Tunji is a 21 year old 3rd year student at Maynooth University in the Biotechnology programme. He and his family moved to Ireland when he was just five years old and he remembers everything feeling so new and different.  Getting used to his surroundings and starting school that was culturally very different from his birth home in Nigeria, was difficult for him but he adjusted very quickly.  Tunji identifies himself as black, Nigerian first and then Irish.

We talk about microaggressions, the concept of othering, racism and his earliest experiences of these in school, community, and society.  He tells a story of his family home being raided by the Guards when he was just nine years old, and the confusion they felt because of the way it had been handled and the mess they left in their wake.  It didn’t make sense to him that a single mother and two young sons, being the only black family in this neighborhood, must be drug dealers just because. 

Tunji talks about his school days and how conscious he was of being a ‘minority’ and the sense of tokenism.  He describes three responses that students had to him as being one of only two black kids in school.  1.  Kids who wanted to be your friend.  2. Kids that treated you differently because of the color of your skin.  3.  Kids who wanted to be your friend just to say ‘I have a black friend’.  

While his teachers and schools tried their best to make sure minorities felt included, Tunji believes that Irish people don’t really don’t understand how to deal with other ethnicities in general.  While teachers try really hard to make sure ALL students are treated equally, they don’t account for differences when it comes to policies.  He tells a story about how he was penalized for not conforming to the hairstyle policy which was written for ‘white hair’ and did not account for black hair.  Cultural integration, tolerance, and other lessons from other cultures and perspectives are not well taught in schools.  There is no such thing as ‘I don’t see color’.  Color and difference should be inclusive and embraced.

We talk about his role models growing up and how important education was to his parents, who arrived in Ireland as highly educated immigrants but whose credentials were not recognized and their treatment as ‘unskilled’ workers.  Quality education and working hard was instilled in him from a very young age by his parents.  Growing up, he wished he had someone in the schools who looked like him, that truly understood diversity and what it means to be black.  He wished he had someone that would advocate for him and make sure that his voice was heard and that he was seen as an individual.

In society, being heard is the biggest challenge that immigrants face in Ireland.  Going forward, Tunji will pursue his master’s and wants to continue advocating for the rights of people of colour.  He is even considering going into politics to fight for these rights and the voice of the unheard minority.  I hope you’ll join us.  Come, #ListenAndLearn

Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors: Preparing teachers for diverse classrooms through professional conversation workshops on implicit bias with newly qualified teachers in the field

Image credit: Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-q9svh-106036f

In this podcast episode (link above), I talk with Dr Amy Kavanaugh, Dr Andrea Kitomary, and Dr Lindsay Stoetzel from Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan, USA about their work preparing rural teacher candidates to work with diverse student populations.

Accessible Transcript is available HERE

This is very much an international conversation that will benefit teacher educators, those currently in teacher training and education, as well as parents, families and community members concerned with implicit bias training for fair, inclusive, and diverse practices in the classroom. 

This trio, keen social justice advocates, takes their teacher candidates through a series of professional conversations and workshops that require them to interrogate their own implicit (unconscious) biases and to think deeply about how their words and actions impact the teacher student relationship.

This project was born out of a need identified by their accrediting body to strengthen the teacher candidates’ awareness and ability to work with diverse populations. This is no easy task when the university itself, and the schools that teacher candidates will be teaching in, are largely rural.  Traditionally, the teaching body in Michigan is predominately white, middle class, and female, so the problem of practice was how to teach these teacher candidates to become culturally responsive teachers. We discussed the difficulties they faced designing and implementing a programme that would be transformative and impactful for the teacher candidates in such a homogenous environment.

They recruited Ferris alumni, teaching in several different states, to come together with their teacher candidates in a series of professional conversation workshops. They felt that practicing educators who have been where their teacher candidates are, and are now in the field experiencing the reality of teaching first hand, would reinforce and enhance what the professors are currently instructing, providing a richer learning experience for the teacher candidates. They specifically chose early career (newly qualified teachers) because they wanted their teacher candidates to see that you don’t have to have 20 years of expertise to be ready… and that this is a learning journey that all educators are on together.

We talk about immigration, the black lives matter movement, the recent election, and other hot-button issues across the country that push educators and their choices of what they bring into their lessons in the classroom.  We discuss the similarities and crossovers in teacher education, in the US context, the Irish context and other countries as well.  They discuss bias through the lens of racism which is historical and prevalent in the US, whereas in the Irish context bias is more likely to be discussed from a class or socio-economic lens.  There is a discussion on how implicit bias is very damaging to children through microaggressions and actions in the classroom, often without realizing we are even doing it. We share stories, nationally and internationally, about cultural norms and biases, and practicing awareness of difference in diverse classrooms. 

Research supports that the biggest indicator for future student success is the classroom teacher.  Teacher educators have a responsibility to help teacher candidates see that you have the power to make a significant difference in every student’s life and their success. It is more important than how much money the school has or the student’s family has. Rather, finding an awareness of the power the classroom teacher has and the expectation for success of ALL their students. Teachers make more of a difference than they know, and words and actions matter. Interrogating our own implicit bias and embedding collaborative and reflective bias training in teacher education programmes is essential.

Author: Catherine Compton-Lilly

Website: Learning For Justice

Book: Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain

Nothing About Us Without Us: A call to action for embedding transformational change and widening social experiences and participation for disabled students in higher education.

image credit: Photo by Elevate on Unsplash

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-jw83r-103e825

In this podcast episode (link above), I talk with Dr Vivian Rath.  Vivian is a teaching fellow in Trinity College Dublin and recently completed his PhD on the “social engagement experiences of disabled students in higher education in Ireland”.

Click HERE for Accessible Transcript

We talk about his personal journey accessing higher education as a disabled person himself.  The barriers that he faced, and how his own social experiences in higher education influenced his desire to research this important issue for disabled students.  He explains how the use of the Transformative Paradigm and the Bioecological Model put his participants at the centre of his research and at the same time working alongside them for transformational change by using a social justice approach and human rights.

Vivian explains how the presence of disabled students in higher education is a relatively new phenomenon and their presence is surprisingly low… but dramatically increasing.  We discuss the lack of agency and a sense of disempowerment when disabled students feel unseen and unheard.  It is critical to listen to the voices of ALL students and to be aware of the barriers that many different students face. He shares the endearing voices of his participants, their sense of belonging, their desire to be seen and heard, and the impact a lack of awareness by higher education institutions has on them. While he does see changes being made, it is largely sporadic across university settings and much more needs to be done.

University leaders and stakeholders need to realize that social engagement is important for ALL students.  If disabled students can’t access a coffee with a fellow student because the campus canteen’s lift isn’t working, and their request to have it repaired goes unheard, they are left feeling like their needs don’t matter. Disabled students just want to be able to access facilities, events, or opportunities to volunteer and engage.  They want to have meaningful connections and relationships with others as part of their social engagement experience, and to be heard and valued, just like every other student on campus.  

Come, listen and learn!

Website:

AHEAD.ie

Twitter:

@RathVivian

@aheadireland

@UDLChatIE

 

Something for a Monday: Exploring the beauty and authenticity of informal professional learning conversations, finding community and belonging through #TeachMeet networks

image credit: Photo by Jacqueline Munguía on Unsplash

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-mdu2k-103e4ed

In this podcast episode (link above) I talk with Mags Amond, a retired post-primary school teacher and PhD candidate, about her research on a form of informal continuous professional development among teachers all over the world.  It is called TEACHMEET where teaching professionals come together to encourage, edify and ‘teach’ each other through their own lived experiences.  #TeachMeet is a phenomenon that is completely organized and facilitated on a voluntary basis.

Click HERE for Accessible Transcript

Mags reflects on the influence of her parents and their lifelong commitment to volunteering and supporting her educational pursuits.  Mags talks about life in ‘the slow lane’ as a part-time PhD, her relationships with fellow research colleagues, the back channels of communication on the journey, and the unexpected twists along the way that have significantly impacted her understanding of research as a scaffolded process.

Mags explains that a newfound awareness of herself as a ‘pracademic’ has transformed her way of thinking about research and practice. Mags likens the beginning of TeachMeets to that of a love child of the unconference world and the growing social media presence in 2006. We talk about how pivoting online due to Covid_19, has had a positive effect on #TeachMeets because educators are hungry for connection, community, belonging and ownership of professional conversations and learning outside of the school environment.

Mags shares her philosophy on the importance of attending #TeachMeets to find ‘something for a Monday’ that you can use for personal or professional enrichment or your classroom teaching practice. She provides a mental visual of ‘desire lines’ that are worn into the ground through a desire to take oneself from where they are to where they want to be – as part of the #TeachMeet process that just becomes a natural path for informal authentic professional learning.

Come, listen and learn!

Website: magsamond.com

Twitter:  #TeachMeet @magsamond

 

Never Give Up! How volunteering fuels a passion for lifelong learning and relentless determination to overcome educational barriers and achieve the dream of becoming a school teacher

image credit: Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-i9k3y-103ce97

In this podcast episode (link above), I chat with Hayley Myerscough, who is currently studying to be a primary school teacher. 

Click HERE for Accessible Transcript

We talk about her volunteer and learning experiences growing up and what fueled her passion to become a teacher.  How her experiences volunteering in Girl Guides really solidified her determination to become a teacher.  She says ‘volunteering allows you to see a different side of yourself that you don’t normally see and the difference you make for others’ that is motivated by voluntary rewards and not paid rewards.  Hayley explains how volunteer work can help you find out what you are passionate about and what you want to do as a career. Girl Guides helped her to see what it is like to lead and to inspire and to help. 

We talk about how relying on the Leaving Cert is really a form of tracking that can be detrimental for young people when you don’t get the ‘points’ to go into a career path that you really want.  We talk about how getting into the professional master’s in education programme wasn’t easy for Hayley because of the Irish requirement for primary school teachers.  Hayley inspires and encourages others to practice relentless perseverance and determination to pursue your dreams no matter what. 

We talk about starting the initial teacher education programme right at the beginning of the Covid pandemic and the weirdness of going through a master’s level teaching programme without being able to meet and see your cohort.  We chat about Hayley being an up and coming educational ‘influencer’ on Instagram as @TheTeacherStudent, and balancing her own learning experiences with teaching and encouraging others. She explains why she believes that being raw and real and giving first-hand insight on the barriers that she faced on her journey to becoming a teacher is both helpful and therapeutic.  She tries to make sure that her content isn’t too wordy or complicated, but is delivered in a way that is meaningful to her followers and to provide a sense of community and belonging in a digital/online world.  

Hayley is an absolute joy.  Come, listen and learn.

Instagram @TheTeacherStudent

 

Let’s Talk About Teenagers and Sex: Finding a way to promote a socially literate approach to consent, sex, pregnancy loss, abortion and reproductive education in adolescence and beyond.

Image credit: Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-hcabs-10369f4

TRIGGER WARNING:

The content of this discussion is sensitive and may have a trigger effect for you.  Topics discussed:

  • pregnancy loss
  • miscarriage
  • abortion
  • grief
  • rape
  • post-traumatic stress
  • forced medical and community interventions
  • historical societal interactions around sex education and baby loss

Please take a moment to consider opting out if you think this topic may negatively affect you.

Click HERE for Accessible Transcript

In this podcast episode (link above), Caroline Lloyd, a PhD candidate in her final year at Trinity College Dublin, joins me to discuss her research on adolescent development and the impact that baby loss has on young women across their lifespan.  Her previous employment background was in corporate business environments, counseling,and she has significant experience as a volunteer, particularly with cancer and bereavement charities.  As a bereavement counselor and facilitator of bereavement support groups, Caroline saw a real dirth of information on baby losses, miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal losses and the level of affect it has on women across their life span which is what inspired her research.

We talk about how her research evolved from just looking at the emotional response to baby loss and grief, to the socio-historical and cultural factors of how others interacted with women after their loss.  Retrospectively, how were they treated by their parents, medical professionals, other students, and teachers. The blaming, shaming and the lack of agency and voice adolescent girls have. Caroline also discusses the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of sex education as formal part of learning in school and the lack of counseling or mental health care available for these young women.  

We discuss post-traumatic growth after experiences such as this, why sensitivity matters in these situations, the way someone is treated, and how words spoken can impact how girls think about themselves throughout their life.  Caroline discusses productive equality, how boys and girls are socialized, and the way that society treats boys and girls differently when it comes to sex and reproductive education.  We discuss the importance of continued research and how crucial it is to get findings like hers out to educate wider society because knowledge is power. 

While great strides have been made in sex education, proper education is important for educators, medical doctors, political figures and governmental bodies on enacting proper sex education that is not shame based or ambiguous.  We question who is teaching sex education and consent, how are they teaching it, and what messages are going out to children? Sex education should not come from friends and porn.  Sex and reproductive education needs to be presented with competence, frankness, honesty, and without shame or sex shaming.

You can find Caroline’s book on Amazon and all booksellers online.

Grief Demystified: An Introduction by Caroline Lloyd

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Demystified-Caroline-Lloyd-Foreword-Jennifer/dp/1785923137/ref=nodl_

Her book has a whole section at the end signposting to reputable organisations globally.

Caroline’s Website:

www.carolinelloyd.co.uk

Caroline’s Twitter:

@CLloydTCD 

What The Mountains Can Teach Us About Life: Unleashing independence and confidence through outdoor living and learning.

Image credit: Cormac Lynch – Fia Mountaineering

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-uvgkx-102ddc2

In this podcast episode (link above), I chat with Cormac Lynch, a Mountain Leader who has been hiking, rock climbing and mountaineering for over 25 years.  He is a highly skilled member of the Dublin & Wicklow Mountain Rescue Team and owner of Fia Mountaineering.

We discuss his experiences growing up in Wicklow Town with a sense of adventure through reading and exploring his childhood playground that consisted of the Wicklow Mountains and the Irish Sea.  We talk about the book he is writing around his personal odyssey ’32 Summits with 32 Friends’ about his experiences climbing the highest mountain in every county in Ireland, each one with a different friend.  He tells us that early on in the project, while standing in a 4,000 year old passage grave listening to whispers of history echoing down through time, he came to realise that this project wasn’t about him, but about commemorating those who have gone before us, relationships with those in our lives today, and connections with the landscape in which we live and how we engage with one another.

He talks about bringing your ‘A’ game… and how the quality of informal learning is just as important as the quality of formal learning and translating informal learning experiences into valuable life skills is vital.  He reminds us that when people give you well-meaning advice, you need to remember that it isn’t instruction and you can’t necessarily take the advice of strangers at face value. He also explains that a teacher just being good at their subject is not enough, they have to be good at teaching as well, and why curriculum and instruction is so important, because you have an incredible responsibility to NOT get it wrong.

We discuss how variety, and pursuing something with a little more bite in your professional worklife is not a bad thing at all. He attests from his own experience that valuable lifelong learning is gained through what he calls a ‘module’ career and how important volunteering is in not only a personal capacity but in a professional one as well.  I encourage you to listen and learn.

Click HERE for Accessible Transcript

You can find out more about Fia Mountaineering here:

http://fiamountaineering.ie

https://www.instagram.com/fiamountaineering/

The Lonely PhD Epidemic: Exposing the symptoms of isolation and exploring the cure through practices of inclusion.

Image credit: Photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-yyzuu-101fcf9

Are  you a PhD student?  Do you support one, work with one, love one? Do you know someone who has finished a PhD or is thinking about starting one?  This podcast episode is for you! (link above).

They say that the PhD journey can feel very isolating and lonely.  It often feels like you’re battling a contagious illness all alone.  Don’t fear!  You’re not alone, and the cure is found through the process of making the invisible visible.  My conversation with Maeve O’Regan, occupational psychologist and part-time PhD herself, covers everything from symptoms to cure for today’s PhD candidate.  Through her research on the lived experience of surviving the PhD, we unpack:  

The symptoms…

  • Feeling like the Invisible learner
  • Fumbling in the darkness
  • Fighting a Disconnected Culture
  • Suffering with Unconscious Incompetence
  • Keeping your PhD a secret
  • Battling Imposter syndrome

The cure…

  • Practice Personal Agency
  • Visualize Resilience
  • Gather Support
  • Embrace Human Centrered Design
  • Adopt Dynamic Interaction
  • Promote Linking in and Listening
  • Find your network
  • Encouraged by Shared Experiences

We talk about how Covid has leveled the playing field and laid bare the ‘gap’ in supports for PhD candidates that must be addressed and how we can bridge that gap between what she calls ‘zoom and room’.

We discuss the importance of space and place, as a physical connection that provides a sense of belonging for a PhD who’s world is really quite isolated, and if you can’t find an ‘in’ within a physical space as a part-time PhD, you can become very lost – missing that ‘in’ to navigate the Phd journey. We explore the biggest barrier that many part-time PhD’s face –  those important informal connections within the institutions through face to face contact.  Just by the nature of being there, full-time PhDs benefit more highly from informal community and ‘coffee culture’. 

Maeve shares so many nuggets of wisdom and implications for policy, practice and support.  Including the difference between cultures where PhDs are valued, not just in the ‘academic community’ but in the business community and wider society.  Everyone has a responsibility, to support our learners, and promote the ethos of continued learning by creating a feeling of belonging for part-time and full-time PhDs alike.

A Three Point Shot and A Slam Dunk in the Classroom

Being more aware of who is in your classroom matters… and actions matter. We have to start thinking equitably for ways to reduce classism in our classrooms.  

Bias, Classism, and Social Justice

The term “slam dunk” (also known as a ‘dunk shot’) was first used by former Lost Angeles Lakers announcer Chick Hearn in 1972 during a game of basketball, to describe is a shot in which a player mightily jumps up with incredible enthusiasm and forces the ball through the basket. It is a sporting event moment and a crowd favourite. SLAM!! Cheer!! Roar!! Absolutely no question… That. Was. A. Score!!

Image credit: https://unsplash.com/@markbroadhead

Slam Dunk can often be used as a dynamic descriptor to express a hidden meaning.  Essentially, if you say that something is a slam dunk, you mean that a success or victory will be easily achieved… or that something is a “sure thing” – an action with a guaranteed outcome, or at least an impressive achievement!  I like to use the term slam dunk with students to get their attention about a sociological concept(s) that should be a ‘no brainer’.  Something that they need to remember and should be obvious in the reasoning for embracing or enacting change as humans and for coexisting in a civil society.  

Now, I know very little about basketball except for watching my boys play it for their high school teams growing up… But I do know that a three point shot is magical because it is a difficult shot to make.  This is a metaphor, of course… A metaphor is a figure of speech that is used to make a comparison between two things that aren’t alike but do have something in common.  But, this metaphor is all I can think about when I lecture on bias, classism, and social justice in the classroom. I hope you’ll hear me out.  

Image credit: https://unsplash.com/@abhishek_archie

A 3-pointer in basketball is a shot scored anywhere outside the three-point arc. A shot made from anywhere outside the line to the baseline on the other side of the court counts for three points (thanks Wiki for helping me contextualise that one). I think it is quite magical, and I remember many times when my son’s team would score a three point shot in a nail biter of a game.  Everyone would leap up from the bleachers screaming and shouting with excitement until we were hoarse. The sociologist in me screams and shouts the same way when it comes to social and educational stratification.  Specifically smashing bias and classism, and enacting social justice in the classroom. These are the three thinking points of a three point shot.  The Slam Dunk, obviously is what I hope you’ll take away from this reflection. 

Image credit: 21stcenturyphilosophy.wordpress.com

Thinking Point 1: Unconscious Bias

That image above is powerful! I hope you will pause and take it in for a moment before you continue reading…

If you google the term bias, you will find a list a mile long!  A bias is a disproportionate weight in favour of or against an idea or thing, usually in a way that is closed-minded, prejudicial, or unfair. Biases can be innate or learned. People may develop biases for or against an individual, a group, or a belief (Steinbock, 1978).  Biases can be conscious or unconscious, and it is the unconscious biases that are so deeply ingrained in us that we often don’t even realise that we are contributing to the continuation of a bias as we go about our social interactions, day to day. Unconscious bias (also known as implicit bias), refers to attitudes or social stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions—without our conscious awareness. 

We ALL have BIASES, both conscious and unconscious.  We are wired culturally and socially to make generalizations about all kinds of things that often bias our judgements and decision making. In many situations, these unconscious biases are a normal, healthy aspect of our cognitive ability. For example, perhaps you have been burned by an open flame as a curious child that reached out to touch the dancing flame… I am sure you learned very quickly from your experience that placing your hand over a flame is surely going to burn you and you won’t deliberately do that again! 

There are other times when biases can cause us to act in ways that undermine our consciously perceived personal values and goals. Most often these are unconscious biases that cause us to make assumptions about a person because of an aspect of their identity such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, level of ability, etc. For example, perhaps you are a lone woman in an elevator that stops on the next floor after you get in, and two men of a certain racial profile enter. That moment when you unconsciously cast your eyes down, and make yourself very small in the back corner of that elevator so as not to draw attention to yourself, is unconscious bias.  Even when you outwardly feel confident that you are in no danger and have never experienced any personal violence from this particular race or gender, you’ve acted upon an unconscious bias.  If you look again at the image of the ‘shadow’ figure turning the man’s head away as he walks past a homeless man in the street… that is an example of unconscious bias. It is often a them and us scenario without you even realising that you are doing it.  

Photo by Niklas Kickl on Unsplash

We can also have unconscious biases that either favour those who match our own identity and look or act very much like us, or sometimes we favour the identity that we identify is most culturally privileged.  These are learned biases that we’ve absorbed over time. They go deep and they are widely systemic.  I encourage you to watch the documentary Coded Bias on Netflix for an eye opening experience of what I am talking about here. 

You can watch a trailer of this documentary here.

Here’s the rub, and reading this next bit might sting a little…  We all have ingrained biases and beliefs about others that affect our students. Many educators struggle with unconscious bias in their roles at school, and often in ways that can unknowingly perpetuate bias that severely and negatively affects learners. Let’s face it, admiting that we are biased is extremely painful personally, and a hard pill to swallow. When it comes to inequality in schools, it’s easy and tempting to focus on external factors like socioeconomic status as the main culprate that contributes to inequality (don’t worry, this is covered in the next section… I try to be thorough).  Learners are often talked about by teachers who make assumptions based on the student’s perceived status, called ‘confirmation bias’ that renders the student unworthy, unteachable, and/or unsuccessful. Have you ever overheard or participated in one of these conversations? It has to stop… But, it’s much more uncomfortable to tackle a topic like teacher bias, and so many of us just don’t.

This video by Rita Pierson is a MUST to watch. Seriously…

Below is a link to a blog that really gets into the nitty gritty of unconscious bias in the classroom/schools.  Specifically related to achievment, race classification, and perceived gender achievement in certain subjects. I encourage you to read it!  

Teacher bias – The elephant in the classroom

What more can we do?  Remember, we are educators who already devote so much of ourselves to teaching others and we have to be more aware. You’ve likely heard the quote ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.  Voltaire said it first, but Churchill made it famous.  Well folks… as educators, we have a duty and responsibility to search the crevices of our minds to find those unconscious biases and bring them to awareness.  Once you become aware of something, you can never again be ‘unaware’ of it.  When it comes to negative bias, make it your mission to make the unconscious conscious and then take action. 

Thinking Point 2: Classism

Photo by John Moeses Bauan on Unsplash

First, we should have a brief understanding of what social class is, as you’ll want to have an understanding of that in order to understand what ‘classism’ is.  Sociologists define a social class as a group based on similarities in income, education, and occupational prestige.  Members of the upper class have access to much more of all of these things, affording them many privileges based on their social class standing (Classism in Schools & Education, 2016).

Now, let’s talk about classism. Classism is a belief, a behavior and a form of systematic oppression of lower and middle class society to benefit and provide advantage to the upper class. Essentially, we treat people differently (more positively or negatively) based on who they are and where they come from… their social class position. It is a way of thinking and a way of acting toward varying social classes and is a form of explicit bias.  This causes differential treatment based on social class or perceived social class and is so ingrained as a societal norm that people often don’t even realise they are perpetuating it (unconscious bias). 

Watch this brief video for a better understanding of what classism is through the medium of film.

Classism.org explains Classism as a systematic oppression and control of perceived ‘lower’ class groups to advantage and strengthen dominant class groups.  Classism is enacted through systems of policies and practices that assign characteristics of worth and ability based on social class. These policies are set up to benefit the upper classes at the expense of the lower classes which ultimately results in drastic income and wealth inequality. Classism is a significant contributor to social stratification.  Remember, social stratification results from structural inequalities among social groups. 

Image credit: https://www.deviantart.com/theredhankie

Classism in the classroom

Listen, times are hard, I get it.  Many children experience the effects of classism the very first time they enter class.  As early as 5 or 6 years old, and sometimes even in pre-school or nursery school.  Many schools require supplies lists for children attending school at all levels, including pre-school.  These lists include crayons, markers, folders, paper, glue sticks, scissors, highlighters, index cards, even Kleenex, toilet paper, hand sanitiser, and sometimes school uniforms.  Some schools even require children to cover their textbooks with a specific cover that must be purchased, or worse… require the student family to purchase their own textbooks! 

Working class families, children of disabled or unemployed parents, and families living in poverty, homeless, direct provision are struggling to feed, clothe and house themselves and their children.  They aren’t able to afford many of the extras that schools require these days. Here is classism at it’s very worse… requiring children and families to enter school with their bags of school supplies to contribute to a stock pile in the supply cabinet.  Can you imagine how a child who isn’t able to provide these supplies must feel in front of their peers? Having to come into school empty handed, without a bag packed full of supplies.  It is humiliating and singles out the ‘haves’ from the ‘have-nots’ in an open display of inequity.  It is immoral and wrong.  Of course there are always families with the means who are willing to provide ‘extra’ supplies for families who do not have the ability to provide them, and I think this very generous and thoughtful… but bringing your child into the school laden down with bags and bags of extras is also perpetuating classism.  ‘Look at our family and what we have!’ still feels just as demeaning to a family without.  

Image credit: American Psychological Association

There are ways to promote equity in your classroom and honour your students… all of them.  There are always ways!  Why not allow families to drop off school supplies in a community box/bin before classes begin and throughout the year?  If your school is in need and cannot afford these necessary supplies for your students/classroom, why not use your privilege and your own education to act as an advocate and discretely petition organizations, businesses, etc to donate to your classroom.  Many organizations look for ways to help every year.  Isn’t it much more equitable for your students to at least enter the classroom on the first day all having the supplies they need already covered? 

Being more aware of who is in your classroom matters… and actions matter. We have to start thinking equitably for ways to reduce classism in our classrooms.  Again, remember the quote I provided earlier.  ‘With great power comes great responsibility’ – Voltaire. We all have a duty and responsibility to fight classism.  We can do this, one classroom at a time! 

Thinking Point 3: Social Justice

PHOTOGRAPHY BY SHUTTERSTOCK / TYPOGRAPHY BY MICHELE PERRY @ local love.ca

I just love this definition of Social Justice by Bell (1997).  It nicely sums up what social justice is from philosophical standpoint as well as a point of action.  Social justice is both a process and a goal

“Social justice education is both a process and a goal. The goal of social justice education is full and equal participation of all groups in society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure. We envision a society in which individuals are both self-determining (able to develop their full capacities), and interdependent (capable of interacting democratically with others).”

Bell (1997)

Social justice is concerned with the ways in which benefits and burdens are distributed among the members of a society. This includes the fairness in which a society provides, protects and recognises the means and qualities that people require to live a good life. Whereas, social justice education is concerned with achieving equitable and quality education for all learners. The impact of education, particularly to improve the lives of the most disadvantaged, cannot be overstated. It is a Constitutionally-protected right for all and contributes to the well-being of our citizens. Investment in education at all levels and throughout the life cycle can deliver a more equal society and prepare citizens to participate in a democracy (socialjustice.ie). 

Are you beginning to see the connection I’m trying to make here?  How bias and classism is detrimental to a socially just process for learning and equally detrimental to a socially just goal for education and society?

Watch this short video to learn more about inequality and social justice.

The focus of our education system must be to ensure people are engaged and active citizens and have the necessary critical and creative skills to navigate an ever- changing employment environment, can adapt to transitions as they occur and participate fully in society. This is especially important for children and young people today who have had their education disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and who, upon leaving formal education, will be entering a very different employment landscape than that of their parents (social justice.ie).

I encourage you, if you are interested in advocating for and embracing a socially just classrooms, schools, education systems and community, go check out Social Justice Ireland. They are an independent think tank and justice advocacy organisation that seeks to build a just society. They provide independent social analysis and evidence-based policy proposals, with the aim of creating a sustainable future for every member of society and for societies as a whole. In all things, they focus on human rights and the common good.

Finally, below are some examples (and there are many more that you can google) of principles guiding social justice in education (Sensoy & DiAngelo 2009)… including the belief that:

  • Schools often reproduce rather than remedy the patterns of social exclusion and oppression seen in the larger society. Contributing to the perpetuation of classism, bias and inequity/inequality. Recognise it and respond!
  • There are very real differentials in access to social and institutional power between varying group members, and those differentials exist widely in education settings. Recognise them and oppose the acceptance of this societal behaviour.
  • While all people have socialized prejudices and can discriminate (here’s bias again), only the dominant group is backed by social and institutional power, which is multidimensional and constantly operating, being contested, and renegotiated, especially within schools. VOICE matters!!! If we have a voice and we have freedom to express ourselves, do it… no matter how difficult it feels.
  • Those who claim to be for social justice must also be engaged in self-reflection on their own socialisation into patterns of oppression and continually seek to counter those patterns. Reflect and enact a daily ‘self’ check. Believe me, it is important to your learners.

These are an essential element of lifelong learning, and is not achieved just because you’ve read an article, or completed a workshop, a conference or module in social justice. It is an awareness that must be practiced daily. Change begins with you.

Slam DUNK! … and the crowd goes wild!  

Reference List

Bell, L. A., Washington, S., Weinstein, G., & Love, B. (1997). Knowing ourselves as instructors. Teaching for diversity and social justice: A sourcebook, 299-310.

Classism in Schools & Education. (2016, August 31). Retrieved from https://study.com/academy/lesson/classism-in-schools-education.html

Sensoy, O. & DiAngelo, R (2009). Developing social justice literacy: An open letter to our faculty colleagues. Phi Delta Kappan, 90(5), p. 350.

 Steinbock, Bonnie (1978). “Speciesism and the Idea of Equality”.Philosophy.53(204): 247–256.doi:10.1017/S0031819100016582