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).

chocolate-memixed-me

KC Kids Unite Teacher Spotlight: Katie Bruns

teacher spotlight

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.

katie bruns

Welcome to the project, Katie!

 

Teacher Spotlight: Christa Jessup

teacher spotlight

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.

Christa Pic

 


 

 

 

Teacher Spotlight: Michael Jones

teacher spotlight

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.

jones picture

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