Name-calling, slurs, put downs about race, ethnicity, gender, perceived sexual orientation, and gender identification are all forms of intolerance and can be blatant or subtle. If you have witnessed or overheard biased comments you may have wondered if and how you should respond.
Some Things to Consider...
- Don’t guess...Assess your School Climate
- Know your school policy. SCSD policy prohibits discrimination and harassment
- Messages need to occur repeatedly and consistently at the beginning of the year and throughout the school year (back to school night, school assemblies etc) that SCSD is no place for hate, bias and discrimination.
- Know the SCSD code of conduct
- Build empathy. “Make empathy training as central to your lesson plans as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Empathy can be taught effectively with role-playing and role reversal exercises, and research suggests that greater empathy is significantly associated with reductions in prejudice, aggression, and interpersonal conflict.” (Understanding Prejudice, Tips for Elementary School Teachers)
Best Practice Recommendations
- Have ready responses that allow you to speak up against bias, for example;
- “That offends me.”
- “I don’t find that funny.”
- “I’m surprised to hear you say that.”
- “What do you mean by that?”
- “Why would you say something like that?”
- “What point are you trying to make by saying that?”
- “Did you mean to say something hurtful when you said that?”
- “Using that word as a put down offends me.”
- “Using that word doesn't help others feel safe or accepted here.”
2. Prepare Your Students:
- Language and Context (to help students become people who speak up against bias)
- Generate ready responses with your students and post them in the classroom
- Have discussions about why some words hurt
- Build context around words to help students understand their power to hurt (historical, psychological, literary)
- Classroom Community (some teachers report this is at the heart of anti-bias work)
- Build meaningful relationships in the classroom to help empower students to speak up for themselves.
- Develop rules for communication with students at the beginning of the school year and reference the rules when an issue comes up- don’t wait until a biased comment or incident occurs.
- “Researchers have found the single best way to eliminate bias is by having students of different races, ethnicities, abilities and socioeconomic backgrounds work together on successful projects.” Speak Up At School, How to Respond to Everyday Prejudice, Bias and Stereotypes. A Guide for Teachers
- Modeling Behavior For Your Students:
- Respond quickly and unequivocally when a student seeks help.
- Be consistent. Speak up against every biased remark, every time it happens.
- Interrupt it every time in the moment. Try not to let the moment pass. The more often the behavior is interrupted the more likely it will stop. “No anger, no recriminations, no lecture- just a calm, straightforward ‘stop, that’s not ok”. Speak Up At School, How to Respond to Everyday Prejudice, Bias and Stereotypes. A Guide for Teachers
- Question in a gentle “tell me more” way, which allows the speaker to think about his/her language and bias.
- Educate about why the word or phrase is offensive. Give the speaker the benefit of the doubt, and allow them to make a change. Sometimes kids know a word is negative so they use it as a put-down without understanding the true meaning. Use the opportunity as a teachable moment. 1:1 discussions and whole group lessons can be useful means to educate. Role play with students about how words can hurt and the importance of being an ally.
- Echo the first person who interrupts the bias by thanking them for speaking up or reiterate what he/she said. When one person speaks up it’s powerful, but when 4 people speak up it can have a bigger, more influential impact.
- Speaking From Authority. Don’t assume silence from the person making the biased remarks means understanding. Watch for further behavior and be ready to speak up again. A lack of action sends a huge message to the audience, so speak up every single time. It has a ripple effect and it sends a message that hurtful language is not allowed.
- Speaking to a Peer. Teacher to teacher and peer to peer. Things to consider:
- How close are you?
- What is the nature of past interactions?
- How does this person best receive communication? Text, e mail, in-person?
4. Speaking to a Parent or Visitor. Be quick, calm, firm and straightforward. Reference the school policy or classroom rules.
5. The Location:
- In the Classroom: Teachers have the benefit of authority and time. Teachers can stop instructing and interrupt the comment. Teachers can also require follow- up action from their students including writing a letter of apology, or writing an essay about the meaning of the word.
- In the Teacher’s Lounge: Keep communication open and non-aggressive in order to help someone realize the impact of their biased comments, jokes etc
- In the Hallways and Common Areas: interventions need to be quick, clear and direct. Have comments ready to go, be prepared. There is strength in numbers so be in the hallway with other adults during passing and all adults should feel empowered to say something
- In the Cafeteria: This can be a hotspot for racially biased comments. If you hear something, consider taking a seat at the table and using strategies previously discussed. Adults who have relationships with students can make a more meaningful impact. You can also speak privately with a student who makes biased comments.
For more information on how to incorporate lessons on race, religion, ability, class, immigration, gender and sexual identity, bullying and bias & rights and activism go to https://www.tolerance.org/topics
- Lessons on how words communicate bias for grades 6-8
- Strategies for reducing prejudice:
- Curriculum: Empowering Students, Challenging Bias
- Lesson on Privilege: