Approaching Awareness of Bias in the Elementary Classroom

“Unconscious bias” has become a heightened and sensitive term in recent years through the movements of #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, and #NoBanNoWall to name a few.  Many companies and institutions, education not excluded, have undergone and provided extensive training to help their employees unearth various levels and areas of bias that reside within each of us.  As we have become increasingly aware of the ways in which we view the world from a prejudiced stance, we are often left to wonder what impact this is having on our youth.  Are they old enough to be aware?  Are the subconsciously inheriting our biases by being connected to us?  Have they already started developing biases of their own through popular culture and the social circles in which they belong?

It’s difficult to truly know and negotiate the answers to these questions.  If you were to ask them, they’d likely say, “No.”  After all, these are unconscious biases.  At a more humane level, even if we do know bias exists within us, we don’t want to admit it to others.  Children are no different.  Yet, knowing the subtle and subconscious messages voiced through the media and relationships in every facet of our lives, we would be irresponsible to ignore this deeply rooted truth or pass it along as irrelevant to our youth.  While are children may not be aware, WE ARE!  And if prejudice is to be eradicated it must first start with awareness that moves into to action.

As this project works to raise that awareness in communities and ignite ways in which each child can take action to rectify a prejudice mentality, the texts Chocolate Me! and Mixed Me! serve as a perfect conduit into the conversation.  Written by Taye Diggs and illustrated by Shane Evans, a Kansas City resident, these texts serve as an age-appropriate and important entry point for students to begin thinking about slurs, stereotypes, and casual comments made that play into the perpetuation of African American and mixed race children as other.

Each story is told from the vantage point of a youth representing said racial demographic, and the words and actions imposed on them daily due to the color of their skin.  As you read, it easy to identify places in which you, too, have likely made racially inappropriate or insensitive comments that for too long have been accepted as the “norm” or a funny joke punchline.  We can all learn important lessons from Taye’s words in knowing how to enter the world with more empathy and a broader understanding of the ways in which we should celebrate humanity.

The links below will take you to an interview with him on the Today Show talking about the writing of Mixed Me and read alouds of each text (click on the book covers to be taken to the site).

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KC Kids Unite Teacher Spotlight: Katie Bruns

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This week we spotlight, Katie Bruns, 3rd grade teacher at Brookside Charter school.  She is joining KC Kids Unite for the first time this year, and we are thrilled to have her and her students’ participation in this work!

 

Katie describes her students as curious and very aware beings. They are full of energy and often misunderstood because of it. They have great strength with many of them overcoming tremendous adversity. She is in her 7th year, and this is her toughest and best year all wrapped up into one bundle. Her students are very curious to learn about people and how they are different, but also have expressed some uncomfortably in this as well. She’s hoping to enlighten them in this process.

As a teacher, Katie is committed to helping her class find just how powerful they really are. Many of them say things that would make an outsider think they feel hopeless. Katie is a teacher who wants every student to know they are important, that they can make a difference in this world, and that they matter. She has so much gratitude for each group of new students she gets as they teach her new things each year.  This year, she has learned the real definition of patience and has become a better teacher and person because of it.  She’s been forced to find balance between the academic learning side of school and the development and encouragement of the whole child.

In Katie’s class learning comes alive when it feels powerful and purposeful. It makes her feel like there is not anywhere else in the world she should be.

She establishes community as trusting partnerships. Before she always thought a community was where a person was raised, a group of people that came from the same place, raised in similar ways, and doing similar things. After moving to Kansas City and falling in love with her school, students, their families, and other organizations that she’s involved in, she has learned to understand that community can be any group of people, large or small coming together for the greater good of a cause. Her school and involvement in many different organizations in Kansas City has changed and shaped her definition of community. Teaching, feeding the homeless, helping at Harvesters, college organizations, alumni boards, NAATE, GKCWP… each thing that she does changes, enhances, and develops not only the definition of community but the feeling of it.

Because of this, her students have a very large sense of pride and community within her classroom and in the school for the most part. She would like her students to take a greater sense of self pride and acceptance in the ability to be a part of a greater community, in the school, in their neighborhood, and around the community. Factors that contribute to being a part of a community are some of the things that her students often talk about. They talk about trusting others, feeling safe to be themselves, feeling safe to look or talk the way they do in public, feeling accepted and cared for.  

Katie was drawn to KC Kids Unite because of the mission they have in place. The idea of encouraging kids to understand their value and other kids’ value (even when they are different than you) is a goal sometimes hard to achieve outside the classroom doors. She hopes her students learn about themselves and others and use that knowledge to see their community of peers differently than they did before going through KC Kids Unite.

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Welcome to the project, Katie!

 

Teacher Spotlight: Christa Jessup

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This week we welcome Christa Jessup, a 5th grade teacher at Line Creek Elementary in the Park Hill School District.  This is her 3rd year participating in KC Kids Unite and we are so fortunate to have her leadership in our work!

Christa describes her students as an eclectic assortment of beautiful souls.  Many students are siblings of students she’s had in the past.  The majority of the parents know her well. This is the best group of kids she’s had in ten years.  They are excited about learning and helping others. They initiate neighborhood service projects and lots of quality academic work outside of class to share with peers.    

As a teacher, most days, she feels confident addressing what comes her way.  There are days, here and there, when she feels the need to tap into the strong network of educators she’s encountered to gain insight.  She’s thankful for previous students that have challenged her and for the opportunities she’s been able to be a part of at the school and district level.  She’s definitely feeling fulfilled and like she’s doing what she’s supposed to be doing. Most of all, she’s thrilled to wake up and share each day with her students.

Learning comes alive when it feels meaningful… and fun. Can’t forget about fun!  

Christa believes community is fluid.  It’s any group of people or location that makes you feel a sense of comfort.  When she was younger, I felt like my definition of community was my hometown- more of a geographical location.  As I’ve gotten older, I feel like my definition of community grew because I learned and acknowledged that many places and people can provide a sense of community.  My understanding and definition of community changed because I changed. I’m sure it will continue to evolve.

Within a community, she’d love for her students to feel a sense of community within classroom, school, neighborhood, family, friend network, and organizations of choice.  The factors that create a sense of community are freedom to be self (acceptance), trust, emotional safety, and physical safety. These factors all lead to one essential element- comfort.

Christa has been drawn to KC Kids Unite since its inception.  The idea to encourage kids to feel valued and to value others is often the heart of any teacher.  Each year, she feels like her words to introduce and explain the KC Kids Unite Program to families pales in comparison to what is actually felt and experienced by families after participating in the KC Kids Unite Program.  She anticipates this year will be the same- her students will be emotionally impacted by learning and sharing about oneself and community, as well as connecting with other kids in Kansas City.

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Teacher Spotlight: Michael Jones

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Please join me in welcoming Michael Jones, a first time participant of the project.  He teaches 4th grade at Pembroke Hill Lower School (Grades K-5).  Pembroke Hill is a private school with a mission to work “together, cultivating the best in each, for the benefit of all.”

Michael’s students are primarily upper middle class, close knit, energetic, caring, curious, inquisitive, sharp, and open minded.  As a teacher he is joyful, vulnerable, loving, connected, and maintains high expectations of his students.  Learning comes alive for his students when learning is connected to daily experience in a meaningful way.

Michael defines community as a space where one feels accepted for who they are, what they believe in and how they present themselves. Community is where members have equal rights to responsibilities, ownership of accomplishments and have a full voice in their shared experience.  To create this in his classroom community strives to build a similar vision among his students. I also feel that the adults set the tone per respect, compassion, scholarship, integrity and belief in one another. Once that is put in place, the students feel the connectedness of their leaders and it flows to other relationships.

Michael was drawn to this work because he wants his students to integrate writing in real world situations as they connect and share their life experience with others that have a different reality. I want to expose them to other ways of living and how to relate with those who are different.  

He is hopeful the project will open the eyes of my students to new realities and have them hopefully stop and think about those around them in a more meaningful, compassionate and genuine way. I feel that the students can and could impact their parents’ perspectives as well and start to make change in their lives.

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Once again, welcome to KC Kids Unite!  We are so excited for the impact you and your students will bring to this work!

Teacher Spotlight: Jana Holt

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This week we introduce another new member to the project, Jana Holt.  She teaches 4th grade ELA at Union Chapel Elementary in the Park Hill School District.

Her students are amazing! She has two groups of kids for the first time. Her morning group is her homeroom, and the afternoon group is a group who looped with their teacher from 3rd grade and have been together for 3rd and now 4th grade. All of these kiddos are amazingly compassionate and many come from diverse homes.

Jana sees herself as a passionate teacher of reading and writing. She has high expectations and strives to create a classroom community that functions like a family.  In her family-like atmosphere, learning comes alive when students feel they have a voice, a choice and a purpose in their learning. They need to feel comfortable with asking questions and investigating within their learning. When their learning can carry over to the real world, students will become more engaged and inspired.

She defines community as a group of people living in the same area and who share places, beliefs and characteristics.  Personally, Jana grew up in a university town where the schools were the hub of the community. In a small town, everyone develops a closeness and commonality among each other.  She describes herself as a homebody who values togetherness. Moving to the city,  she misses this sense of a close knit community where people truly value each other.

At Union Chapel, community is fostered by striving to create consistency among the classrooms. They work hard to incorporate opportunities for cooperative learning and teamwork. This provides a sense of equity among students and therefore a sense of community.

Jana was drawn to this project because she was inspired by the idea of giving kids a view of their community outside of their school and their neighborhood. She values giving students a voice, and the idea of allowing my students’ voices to be heard around the metro area was an opportunity she could not pass up.

Welcome to the project, Jana!  We are so excited to have you!

Jana

Teacher Spotlight: Melody Gibeson

 

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This week on our blog we get to learn more about new participant, Melody Gibeson.  We are so excited to have her join this project!

Melody teaches third grade at Millennium @ Santa Fe Elementary School in the Hickman Mills Consolidated School District 1.  She has a wonderfully diverse class of 18 students who represent 4 languages and six countries. They are super eager to learn and are very intrinsically motivated.  They love science, poetry and art. They are eager to learn new things and love to explore others cultures as well as learning about their own.  

Learning comes alive for her students when it pertains to the real-world for them.  As such, I am a proponent of project-based learning and teaching.  I feel when you give the kids something they care about, then they will learn more from it.  I also try to make as much of my work as I can be cross-subject rather than subject specific. Millennium @ Santa Fe Elementary is a Project-Based Learning STEAM School and I try to teach accordingly.

As a teacher, Melody has taught 17 years in grades 1-4, all in Hickman Mills.  I believe the key to success for students is respect and belief.  You have to respect your students at all time and they will show the same back.  Also, you must believe in your students. No matter the challenge or trauma a child faces, they will rise to the expectations you set for them.

Melody defines a community as the people and cultures of whom you are surrounded.  Those cultures and people can be the same or different from your own self and culture.  As a white teacher who lives in the community she teaches in, it has helped me understand my students better.   

Community is built in multiple ways.  First, there is the community that students live in.  This is a part of who they are and I, as a teacher, need to familiarize myself with it.  Also, community is built in the school and classroom. The principal sets the tone for how students will be treated and how we work as a family.  Teachers model the community with how we interact with each other. Then there is the crucial part of the classroom. Helping kids recognize and build upon their uniqueness is key to making a community in the class.  When students feel confident enough to ask questions and make mistakes without fear they will get made fun of, then I know I am on my way to being successful.

 Melody became interested in this work because she has only ever taught in Hickman MIlls.  Many of my students only have experience with this neighborhood and area.  I hope that this work will help me be more culturally aware and relevant for my students.  By leading by example, I can encourage my students to see and reach out to other cultures as well.  I hope my students feel confident and proud of their own individual cultures and see how they and their community fits into the Kansas City area and the world at large.

Welcome, Melody!

melody gibeson

 

Here We GO! Launching KC Kids Unite 2019

Today, as I type, I’m blissfully exhausted from spending the past 5 days with incredible educators who embody a wealth of knowledge and passion in our field.  NCTE 2018 in Houston did not disappoint, and even more exciting for the KC Kids Unite project, we were afforded the privilege to present our work while there.  As we prepare to launch our 2019 cohort, I wanted to share a bit of that presentation to provide background on the racial roots of Kansas City and its perpetuation of the Troost Wall.  “Our Divided City” is a documentary developed through a local production company, KCPT, and addresses the unanswerable question: How do we begin to combat crime and restore communities within a racially-divided city and overall broken system of equity?

Our Divided City

KC Kids Unite does not presume to have the answer, but we do hold a strong belief that in the desire for dramatic change we must begin with our youngest generation.  We also believe the first step in taking action is knowing the city’s truth, facts typically hidden or omitted from conventional Social Studies texts.  It is with these beliefs and in capitalizing on our resources that we work to draw students closer to their identities and therefore, into their communities as youth activists ready to enact that change.

Looking Like Me by Walter Dean Myers is pivotal text used to help students navigate their own identities, but also learn who they are to those around them.  You can click on the picture below for a video version of the text.  As we prepare to meet the teachers leading this cohort, we too, are asking them to develop an “I Am Jam” to share at our first teacher workshops.  As you prepare to surround yourself with loved ones in the coming holiday season, we encourage you do the same.  Just ask those around you, “Who am I to you?”  You’ll be amazed at what you hear, and experience for yourself just how much more closely you feel connected to individuals and your community.

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Teacher Spotlight: Tina Mecklenberg

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Tina Mecklenburg joins us this year as a 5th grade teacher at Renner Elementary in the Park Hill School District. Her students are a very energetic, diverse group of kiddos who try super hard, but have many social/emotional issues standing in the way at times. Knowing that each child as the capacity to learn and grow, she teaches with high expectations for all and believes strongly in having a growth mindset.   She was drawn to this work because of her love of writing and how it allows students to express themselves.  She also wants to learn new ways to incorporate cultural responsiveness into her teaching and students’ learning.

She believes a community is a group of people who live in the same area and support each other when needed.  In her classroom community, learning comes alive when students make connections to what they are learning and their questions guide the lessons.  Her classroom community has not happened by accident.  She has worked intentionally to have her students get to know one other to build trust, and by following the school’s hashtag motto this year,  #choosekindness.  They also strive to accept and celebrate each person’s diversity and uniqueness, and develop heir own identify as being part of a bigger whole.   

 

Stay tuned for more in the weeks to come!