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Jan 22, 2020 |
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When it comes to student achievement, one educational resource has a heavier impact than any other. It’s not new technology, assessment data, or even anchor charts--although, of course, all of those things help. Instead, it’s educators. They have the greatest influence on learner success. 

And that doesn’t just apply to learning outcomes. In working to affirm student differences and build a learning environment in which all students feel safe, it’s still the educator that has the greatest impact. But what happens when unconscious biases get in the way?

From disproportionate suspension rates in public schools to discriminatory hiring practices after graduation, unconscious biases unquestionably threaten the success of America’s most at-risk learners. And teachers’ implicit beliefs about their students have been shown time and time again to directly influence outcomes. This is what makes facing our own bias so important--it’s essential to making school a safe place for all students.

Facing biases can be difficult and uncomfortable, but it’s an essential step in affirming student differences. An educator who reflects and evaluates their craft regularly is an educator who will grow and increase their impact on students. The practice of reflecting on personal bias is no less important. 

So where do we start? Here are a few ideas:

  • Take an implicit bias assessment. Project Implicit has several options. Unconscious bias is often tough to get rid of because it’s just that--unconscious. An implicit bias assessment can help educators find places to start on the journey to facing personal bias. 
  • Become aware of both positive and negative stereotypes and generalizations--they’re both harmful to students and families. 
  • Take steps to grow empathy. Talk to your students about their lives. Learn from them about their families and cultures. If possible, schedule a home or community visit to learn more. 
  • Be intentional with words. Reflect on word choices, and strive to use inclusive language that will help students feel affirmed and safe. 
  • Explore bias with students. There are plenty of great resources available to help, including this one from Wonderopolis. Model for students how to discuss bias with others in a way that communicates respect and compassion. Make sure students feel comfortable talking about personal bias.
  • Consider discussing personal bias with our professional learning community. Use resources like this plan from Teaching Tolerance to encourage colleagues in their journey toward eradicating personal bias. 

It’s important to remember that all people form biases. The human brain is very good at recognizing patterns--and it uses that ability to categorize new ideas and people according to past experiences and understandings. That’s one of many ways the brain learns. But it’s necessary to face and actively work against unconscious biases, especially those that harm learners.

Have you ever been affected by another person’s unconscious biases? Or have you ever realized that your own unconscious bias was affecting others? We’d love to hear your story. Please share your experience in the comments section.


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NCFL Partners

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Toyota Family Learning Program

Toyota, one of the nation's most successful corporations, began a partnership with NCFL in 1991. In addition to a commitment of more than $50 million, Toyota has also contributed a wealth of in-kind support — including advertising, planning and management expertise — to form one of the most progressive corporate/nonprofit partnerships in the nation.

Three major programs have been developed through the Toyota partnership based on the family literacy model of parents and children learning together. These models have influenced federal and state legislation, leveraged local dollars to support family literacy and led to successful programs being replicated across the country.

Read more about Toyota's commitment to communities

William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

NCFL received its very first donation in 1989 from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to promote and implement family literacy programming, first in Kentucky and North Carolina and later nationwide. The Kenan Family Literacy Model in part laid the groundwork for 30 years of subsequent family literacy and family learning programming developed by NCFL.

Kenan has continued to support NCFL’s place-based family literacy programs since our inception. Most recently, they invested in the organization’s Innovation Fund, which will launch emerging ideas and programmatic evolutions in the multigenerational learning space.

Learn more about the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

Dollar General Literacy Foundation

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation began partnering with NCFL in 2006. A signature effort of this partnership is the National Literacy Directory, a resource that launched in 2010 and strives to reach the 35.7 million adults ages 18-64 who do not have a high school diploma by guiding them to better-paying, more stable jobs.

The National Literacy Directory contains over 10,000 educational agencies located across the United States and has a dedicated toll-free number to help support those wanting to pursue educational opportunities in their communities.

Dollar General also provides support for development of NCFL’s innovative family learning resources centered on financial literacy and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®.

Learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation

PNC Grow Up Great

PNC Grow Up Great believes deeply in the power of high-quality early childhood education and provides innovative opportunities that assist families, educators and community organizations to enhance children's learning and development.

PNC Grow Up Great has partnered with NCFL since 1994 to advance early literacy and learning resources for vulnerable families. Current efforts supported by PNC include a collaborative initiative in two at-risk Detroit communities that engages families to support vocabulary development for children under age 5.

NCFL's work is also featured on the PNC Grow Up Great Lesson Center website. The Lesson Center includes over 100 free, high-quality preschool lesson plans and research-based instructional techniques and strategies. All lesson plans contain Home/School Connections printouts, in English and Spanish, to help families extend and reinforce the learning at home.

Learn more about PNC Grow Up Great

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

NCFL was named a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s "Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge," which seeks to elevate diverse voices in order to broaden the conversation about the issues inhibiting economic mobility and generate deeper awareness along with actionable understanding. NCFL will develop and launch a podcast series that will highlight the remarkable stories of low-income, diverse families across the U.S. who have improved their communities through Family Service Learning.

Foundation Website

Goodling Institute

NCFL has partnered with the Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University since 2001, working collaboratively to further research, professional development, and policy efforts for family literacy and intergenerational learning.

The work of this partnership includes, but is not limited to, a strong research strand at NCFL's national annual convening, the Families Learning Summit; advocacy for family literacy and learning to further support for and inclusion of family-focused education in new and ongoing legislation; and dissemination of the latest research, resources, information, and professional development opportunities for literacy and learning practitioners and advocates, including the Certificate in Family Literacy provided by the Goodling Institute.

Learn more about the Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University