An article in Education Week, provides a look at teacher biases and school culture in shaping discipline. Research has consistently shown that racial disparities exist in school discipline, with Black and Latino students facing harsher and more frequent disciplinary actions compared to their white counterparts. A study published in December 2022 shed light on the significant role of bias in contributing to these disparities in two interconnected ways.
Anne Gregory, a professor at Rutgers University, emphasized the need to support teachers in reflecting on their relationships with students and identifying their implicit biases. She advocated for moving away from a perspective that blames teachers and instead focusing on improving and reflecting on their practices.
Jessika Bottiani, a professor at the University of Virginia, highlighted the long-term strategies of diversifying the teacher workforce, investing in culturally responsive teaching, and promoting social-emotional learning. These approaches contribute to creating school cultures of belonging and respect, which can proactively address misbehavior.
There is also a need for a shift in mindset regarding the purpose of school discipline. Rather than emphasizing control and conformity, Bottiani argued for a focus on understanding and meeting students’ developmental and psychological needs, as well as leveraging their cultural strengths to enhance engagement.
Two Rule Philosophy, supports the research evidence collected in prevention and intervention when addressing school discipline and culture. The practices, procedures, professional development and systems in Two Rules Philosophy is a positive step in development of eliminating several of the areas we have been working for decades to improve.
Two Rule Philosophy, which emphasizes self-discovery and understanding of how teachers’ actions impact the lives of students they serve. An activity from Two Rules, “How do we see?” fosters discussion among staff, where they create visual representations of students and share details about them, encouraging reflection on biases and perceptions.
The implementation of the Two Rules Philosophy emphasizes choice as a foundation. Students begin by utilizing questions to ask themselves to understand how to problem-solve before making a choice. Responsibility, consequences, accountability, and leadership are the “what” for students; making a choice is the “how” they solve, and the “why” is reflecting on all of the steps leading to the point where they are right now. It takes a little longer to work through, but well worth the time. As students learn how to do the process, the problems they face are handled better with all of the skills they are learning.
During the “How do we see?” activity where staff members create visual representations of students and share their perceptions, it can be a powerful moment when someone stops and recognizes a pattern. In the scenario described, a staff member pointed out that all the students created were depicted in a negative light. This realization highlights the potential presence of implicit biases within the group. My team had an ah-ha moment.
Such a moment provides an opportunity for reflection and discussion among the staff. It is important to create a safe and non-judgmental environment where individuals can openly express their observations and concerns. Encourage staff members to explore why their collective perceptions may lean toward negativity and what underlying biases or assumptions might be influencing their views. Pointing out the good, bad and sometimes the ugly is all good when we are working to continue to improve.
This awareness can serve as a starting point for addressing biases and promoting a more equitable and inclusive perspective. Staff members can engage in discussions about the impact of these biases on their interactions with students and how they can work towards more balanced and fair assessments of student behavior and potential.
Additionally, this realization emphasizes the need for ongoing professional development and training that focuses on cultural competence, implicit bias, and fostering positive relationships with students. By fostering an environment of reflection, learning, and growth, staff members can strive to create a more inclusive and supportive educational experience for all students—the model for your staff that you would like to see in the classroom. You are the facilitator and allow them to lead toward self-awareness, self-discovery, self-management, relationship skills, social awareness, and decision-making. The core areas mentioned previously can be worked on during a single activity when the facilitator asks simple questions like: “Tell me more. How would you do that in the classroom? What else?” Having wait time is so important during this time, so everyone has time to think.
Take these opportunities to build up and not tear down. As I have stated, “Education is something we do with children, not to them.” At our institutions, our primary focus is to provide the strong academic foundations needed for each child’s growth. Along this journey, we strive to assist them in gaining the skills required to become the best versions of themselves. However, academic excellence and the development of healthy engaged individuals cannot be achieved without addressing all areas of students’ needs. Each day, we witness the mental, physical, and social traumas that our children face. As responsible adults, it is our duty to acknowledge this and provide the necessary support systems to address these challenges. We work collaboratively with parents, families, schools, communities, and organizations, pooling our efforts to ensure success at every stage of life. The failure or success of a child is not solely the responsibility of one entity but rather the collective commitment to providing the best opportunities for all.
The following are pages to utilize to prepare a “How do you see?” Activity for your staff or team. The materials you need for the activity depends on the number of staff and room you have available. We used construction paper, string, yarn, scissors, glue, buttons, magazines, pipe cleaners, markers, pencils, and any scrap art supplies you may have available to use. Then you have to decide how you will display the works of art. We had plenty on wall space to help us put them up.
The discussions you have as a result of the activity is the most important part of the activity. I am a little older so I will reference a couple of visuals for you to utilize during the activity. Use what will work with your team and time you have. All of this is a resource for you to utilize. If you want more clarification on how to approach, what to say and any what if’s, just contact me. I am happy to help you make this activity work for you.