Teaching and Learning

Being Explicit about Implicit Bias

In my opinion, implicit bias is the number one barrier to student achievement. And unfortunately, there is nothing that a student can do about it. It is an adult issue, and it is prevalent in our schools, classrooms, policies, and practices. It is often the invisible glass ceiling that prevents teachers from realizing their potential to inspire and impact the lives of students of color. It robs students of what could have been because the adult in the classroom was unable to recognize how their own bias impacted how they were able to relate to a child.  I don’t need to cite research to make this point. I am the research. At some points in my schooling career, this was my life.

implicit bias

Many times when race and ethnicity came up in the classroom when I was a child, some teachers would act as if they did not hear the discussion or glossed over a topic so a discussion wouldn’t spark. This made me feel insignificant as a student because we would spend time talking about things that I could not connect with or relate to, but the time when I had something to say or offer about what we were learning, we had to quickly move on so other students wouldn’t ask questions that would make the teacher or students feel uncomfortable. Fortunately, I did have some teachers who, whether they were aware of it or not, checked their implicit bias at the door before entering the classroom. Below are the observable strategies I remember seeing when I was a student.

Care about their story. Not all students of color have the same story. Don’t ever assume that just because students come from a similar race or share an ethnic background means they have the same story or experience.  This marginalizes your students and minimizes their existence as an individual. It is important to get to know your students. Care about who they are and get to know them individually not just a member of a larger group. All students have lessons to teach us if we are willing to listen and learn.

Be authentic. Acknowledge, even if it is only internally, that you will never know what it is like to be a student of color. After you are able to make that acknowledgment without making any justification for it, you will then be able to empathize and then strategize ways to ensure that students in your classroom or school are not marginalized. Accept the fact that marginalization does happen in schools every day, even if it is not on your watch, and then be the voice and advocate for students of color.

Couple high expectations with support. A child’s zip code, race, or ethnicity should not be a determining factor for the quality of education they receive. We should have high expectations for all students. The bar should be set and the only thing that should every move is the level of support that is provided for each child. Be careful not to let your implicit bias and perspective about race lead a student toward the stereotypical paths that have been perpetuated in our society. More importantly, do not push them away from ideas or issues that are a part of who they culturally. All students, I mean ALL, have strengths and talents. They may not be apparent to them yet, but your job as a teacher is to help them discover what those talents and strengths are and how they can use them to reach their dreams. If they don’t have any dreams, help them create them.

My post may not be researched-based, but it is human-based. It is my experience and the experience of my children. Not all things have to be studied. It’s unfortunate that learning how to relate to students of color has to be a class, textbook or seminar. When it comes to interacting with people, it is my opinion that we can move the needle by caring about the children we serve as if they were our own, and by being open and honest about who we are, what we believe, and how that impacts the students we serve each day.


Originally shared via Larry Ferlazzo’s Edweek Column 





Teaching and Learning

The Power of Setting Goals With Students

On a daily basis in schools across the country, adults in the building review data to determine what action steps need to take place to help students achieve.  Unfortunately, far too often students are left out of this conversation. If it would be unheard of to discuss the progress of a weight loss plan without the voice and participation of the person who is executing the plan, why is it the norm to not include students in the process of reviewing their academic progress and goals? As educators, we need to rethink our approach to setting academic goals and reviewing student progress. 

For this post, I want to use the letters in the word G.O.A.L. to discuss the importance of reviewing academic progress and establishing goals with our students. 

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Growth. Without setting goals, how will students know when they are learning and improving? We certainly cannot rely on grades to be the only measure of growth. In fact, grades measure compliance more than student growth. The assigning of grades is a teacher task and involve little collaboration or input from the student. On the other hand, goals should be collaborative decisions made by the teacher and the student and include various measurements of progress along the way.

Ownership. Students become owners of their learning through goal setting. They are not able to be passive participants who wait for the teacher to determine if they have mastered the learning objectives. When students own their learning, they understand the standards that have been set, and through scaffolding and support from the teacher, they have a clear path on how to improve. Standards should be written in student-friendly language so that students can articulate exactly what is expected of them. Students should be given exemplars for self-evaluation and reflection, as well as a place to collect evidence that demonstrates their progress toward the learning standards. Lastly, when students are able to facilitate a student-centered conference about their progress, it gives them the opportunity to share their learning with their parents and teachers.

Awareness. Typically, students become most aware of their progress during progress or report card time. On most occasions when students receive graded work, they often look at the grade without little thought about the learning that occurred. Goal setting helps students to be more aware of the learning they are expected to experience. This awareness helps students to be engaged in the learning process. Mastery-oriented goals give students the opportunity to focus on learning standards and their own growth. Without goals, student motivation and engagement decreases because students are not aware of what they should be learning and have no idea about their role in the learning process.

Learning. Learning cannot occur in the absence of feedback. Goal setting with students must be accompanied by individualized, targeted feedback. Goals without feedback will not increase student achievement. Choosing a limited number of goals will help teachers focus on the most important needs of the student and will help students focus on the most critical areas of their learning. Goals should be individualized for each student, and an entry point that is challenging but attainable for the student is a great starting place when it comes to setting goals. When students experience success, they are motivated to continue to push themselves.

Setting goals with students inform teacher practice, engages and motivates students during the learning process, and creates a partnership between the teacher and the student. Think about how you can begin to include students in the process of setting goals and reviewing academic progress. They are an essential part of the equation and they deserve to sit at the table.

Leadership Teaching and Learning

What Are You Trying To Measure?

I recently read an article written by a poet who struggled to answer questions on a Texas standardized test. As the author, one would think that she would be able to analyze and answer questions about poems she wrote. I found this article to be amusing, sad, and full of common sense wisdom. I read this article two days before the state of Texas released a model of district and campus A-F ratings to meet the legislative requirement of HB 2804.

Even in the midst of standardization and scrutiny of public education, which comes mostly from those who have never set foot in public schools, educators around the world are working hard to create memorable learning experiences that cannot be standardized or measured on a test.

A student at my school drew this picture from a photograph that was given to her by one of her teachers. The artistic talent that is displayed in this drawing blew my mind! How can this be the work of a 14-year-old self-taught artist?


When I saw this student during the passing period the next day, I complimented her artistic ability and workmanship. I also asked her what her fee would be for drawing a portrait of my children. At the conclusion of our conversation, I shared an idea with her that I had about creating a piece of art to remember our dear counselor who passed away in the fall. I already had a meeting scheduled with Andrew, the artist I use often, but I felt that having a student create the piece would be more meaningful. This student has proven to be a serious artist, and I know that she is more than capable of doing an exceptional job.

During my meeting with Andrew, I showed him the picture above and he was amazed. I went on to inform him that I had just reassigned a job I had slated for him to complete to my student artist. We continued our meeting, which led to us walking the building to look at some areas we had in mind for some upcoming projects. During our walk, we ran into the student artist we had discussed earlier. The conversation that transpired between the two artists was AMAZING! A student with a dream talking to a person who is living his dream of making a living sharing his passion and talent is what school should be about. This is learning. Schooling in the 21st century is about the possibilities and the realization of dreams, not how quickly content and strategies can be regurgitated to pass a test.

At the conclusion of the conversation, my student artist said that having the opportunity to talk to an artist who uses his talent to make a living was an answer to her prayers. She shared with us that she had been talking to her mother about what a future career would look like as an artist. I told her that with a little guidance and support, she could be a 14-year-old entrepreneur today! Her eyes popped out of her sockets, and she grinned from ear to ear. Passionate students, with the right influences and relationships, pursue excellence that positively contributes to making the world a better place. I am not sure what learning objective that is, but that is what I want my personal children to learn after 13 years of public education.

How would you measure the moment this student had? What letter grade can we put on this experience? Which experience would you want to have as a student? Furthermore, which experience do you want your children to have? I don’t know about you, but my school, my children’s school, my district, and my neighborhood are so much more than a letter grade. My children and the children I serve each day are greater than what a standardized test can measure, and the professionals who chose our worthy profession deserve more than a letter to measure their effectiveness, commitment, and dedication.

At the time when we need to be helping students find their passion and talents so they are equipped to tackle the complex problems of the 21st century, and are prepared for jobs that do not yet exist, we are using the most simplistic form of measurement to determine if they are ready. For those who need to measure the effectiveness of public schools, I would encourage you to choose your metrics wisely. Be sure your metrics can easily be explained, replicated, and not manipulated. As for me, I will take my chance on passion, creativity, personal stories, and connection over a letter grade any day.