Unconscious / Implicit Bias

What is Unconscious/Implicit Bias?

Think about the students you teach and reflect. Have you ever favoured boys over girls when teaching math because subconsciously you believe boys are better at math? Have you ever favoured girls over boys when teaching literacy because subconsciously you believe girls are better at literacy? Have you ever subconsciously believed that girls behave better than boys? If you have, then you have demonstrated implicit bias. In fact, all humans are biased to some degree which makes it important for each of us to become aware of our own biases and work to eliminate them.

Take-home Messages

  • Implicit biases are unconscious attitudes and stereotypes that can manifest in the criminal justice system, workplace, school setting, and in the healthcare system.

  • Implicit bias is also known as unconscious bias or implicit social cognition.

  • There are many different examples of implicit biases, ranging from categories of race, gender, and sexuality.

  • These biases often arise as a result of trying to find patterns and navigate the overwhelming stimuli in this very complicated world. Culture, media, and upbringing can also contribute to the development of such biases

  • Removing these biases is a challenge, especially because we often don’t even know they exist.

What Is Unconscious Bias

Run Time: 1:07 - May 12, 2017

What is Implicit Bias?

Run Time: 0:59- May 20, 2019

Unconscious Bias Defined

Run Time: 3:30 - Aug 24, 2017
Challenge: See if you can spot the unconscious bias in the video - scroll to bottom or click link for the answer

What is Implicit Bias: Article

What is Unconscious Bias.pdf

Teacher Bias Explained: Article

Teacher Bias - The Elephant in the Classroom.pdf

Examples of Implicit Bias

Implicit Bias Tips.pdf
Source: Website

Overcoming Implicit Bias

What Can I Do to Overcome Implicit Bias?.pdf
Source: View Article for Sources

Podcast: Unconscious Bias in Schools

Many educators struggle with unconscious bias in their roles at school, and often in ways that can unknowingly perpetuate racism and negatively affect students. In this episode of the Harvard EdCast, Tracey Benson, and Sarah Fiarman, offer ways to address these issues directly, and outline how educators can start this work in their schools. They are authors of the book, Unconscious Bias in Schools (see below).


Source & Transcript: Harvard Website

Dear Teacher - Advice

Run Time: 1:52 - Aug 28, 2015
Children with a formal diagnosis, such as autism, Asperger's, ADHD, learning disabilities, Sensory Processing Disorder, and Central Auditory Processing Disorder - along those who just need to move while learning - often find it challenging to shine in a traditional classroom. The children who collaborated to write and star in this "Dear Teacher" video represent such students. So, they wanted to share with educators how their brain works and offer simple ways teachers can help. Let's not be biased against them!

Our Hidden Biases

Run Time: 4:44 - Nov 12, 2019
Adult biases can have lifelong implications for children. This video was developed to spark dialogue among child-serving professionals. Even on our best days we may not be mindful of our thought processes and biases. And the decisions we make can have negative effects on our work and those we serve.
There's a great conversation guide that accompanies this video. Click here to download it.

Snapshot of Bias in a Math Classroom

In a 1:28 period filmed in her classroom, Loewenberg Ball counted 20 separate micro moments when she had to decide how to react. She calls them “discretionary spaces,”
This clip should begin at 1:20.00. (If not scroll to 1:20.00). It will show the 1:28 film of her classroom and then an explanation of 3 of the 20 separate micro moments that took place - May 4, 2018
Source Website: Hechinger Report

Implicit Bias/Racism in the Classroom

Run Time: 3:12 - Jan 18, 2017
In this mix of live-action and animation, a young boy of colour navigates bias in the classroom and its impact on his future. The film also includes the voices of other children sharing their experiences, at school and at home, as they grow older.

Bias Strategies - Early Years

Implicit Bias Strategies.pdf

More Types of Unconscious Bias

Different Types of Unconscious Bias.pdf

Seven Types of Bias Teachers Are Vulnerable To

Click/Tap to Read More

We all succumb to bias in one way or another, and many times this can ground us in ways that make us feel comfortable and secure. Within each bias however is the danger that whomever our bias goes against can be misrepresented, misaligned or in the worst cases, treated unfairly.

For teachers, this can make a huge impact on how we deal with, teat and work alongside students. These biases can be seen in our schools every day; like most aspects of human frailty, they are often easier to spot in others than ourselves. How many do you recognize in your School...yourself?

Status Quo Bias

  • Known as keeping things as they should be or have always been, at best this provides familiarity, at worst, complacency against any form of change. Where any change is seen as a loss, the emotive state of status quo bias can affect decision-making on a grand scale. Any teacher who has suggested some new initiative in a new setting to a response of, “but we’ve always done it this way” is experiencing this bias. Does this sound familiar? This is different to status quo ante, where there is a perception of superiority over a commonly-held viewpoint over a new systemic change. In Education this can pervade even the selection of reading material for a class.

Confirmation Bias

  • This is the tendency to favour, recall or interpret information in a manner which confirms our own beliefs. This can become more extreme and entrenched if someone is defending their opinion, even when greeted with the same information as another party. That troublesome lower group are being taught again, and when one student calls out, it can psychologically reinforce the opinion one might have of that group, rather than factoring in a multitude of environmental issues which might have caused this behaviour. Confirmation bias is pervasive in schools, and its impact cannot be underestimated. The biggest danger with confirmation bias is seeking out information which proves an in-built hypothesis, ignoring any evidence to the contrary.

Macabre Constant

  • This is a relatively new term, explored by André Antibi, which suggested that teachers and lecturers unconsciously assumed three groups of ability within any group — high, medium and low, no matter what the actual ability of the group themselves. This can create an artificial hierarchy of students.

Publication Bias

  • We are largely hungry animals for new information, ideas and practices as teachers, but would be wise to view our diet of literature using the lens of publication bias. There is a certain diet which publishers and course providers feed, and this is based on interest as well as need, thus perpetuating publication bias. Take as an example the term Outstanding. Introduced by OFSTED in 2009 as the highest of its four Inspection categories in England, this word quickly grew in popularity.

  • Indeed, research into its prevalence in the United Kingdom showed strong growth roughly two years after its introduction, where the use of Outstanding in other English-speaking country searches showed static use. This extended to Publishing houses and Educational suppliers, where using ‘Outstanding’ has almost come to represent ‘this will get you through a successful inspection.” For the sake of disclosure, I should admit to doing this myself.

Cognitive Bias

  • This is perhaps the most commonly-known types of bias, demonstrated in patterns of illogical judgement, based around an perception of social reality. In reality, it is the brain’s way of using rules of thumb to make decisions and inform our life. In the book Freakonomics for example, it was shown that swimming pools killed more children in the US than handguns. This is at odds with our available information, assumptions (pools are good, guns are bad), and even the lack of statistical data to support this argument available to us. The statement has an impact precisely due to our cognitive biases toward both pools and guns. Cognitive Bias covers a much wider area, taking into account many of the areas covered in this section, but can be seen as the umbrella term for irrationality. It is also notoriously difficult to correct, especially in view of the range of addictions supported by irrational thoughts. One area of exploration in cognitive psychology has had the most success when those with a cognitive bias are held fully accountable for their attributions.

  • Cognitive bias can be seen within an Education setting in a macro or micro environment — from Education Ministers pushing forward proposals on the basis of their own schooling experiences rather than grounded research, to teachers refusing to use more appropriate means to deliver lessons.

  • To blame everything on cognitive bias however is to stand by a fire rather than trying to put it out or discover what caused the fire in the first place. It is easy to rally against what could be simply described as human nature, but genuine impact is made when someone stands and says, “so what can we do about it?”

Observer Bias

    • No overview of bias in education would be complete without examination of the observer bias, and this is included as an important bias to be aware of in our surroundings rather than a politicised rant against observation of teachers or students in the classroom (where, interestingly, one seems legitimate and the other morally wrong).

    • Although this dovetails with confirmation bias, observer bias technically is better described as the observer-expectancy effect, where the observer directly or indirectly influences those being observed to confirm their own hypotheses, sometimes ignoring adverse information.

    • A similar bias can be seen in the Hawthorne Effect, where participants behave differently due the very act of being observed. How often do we change when teaching and a visitor walks in? We in effect start delivering the type of teaching we believe they would expect to see. Even aware of this, I have noticed that I tend to ‘liven up’ with another adult in the classroom, speaking louder, clearer and with more enunciation. I am effectively presenting a better me, when of course my students should be getting a better me as a matter of course.

Attribution Bias

  • This is a common bias within Education, and is essentially a judgement made around someone based our own beliefs or assumptions. Those situations where we are frustrated by someone’s behaviour because we wouldn’t do it that way is a classic example of attribution bias.

  • These judgements can impede collegiality, damage working relationships and also encourage the silo-like nature of teaching both within a setting and in a wider nature. This bias even threads back to biblical misattribution; “treat others as you would like to be treated,” should logically read, “treat others as they would like to be treated.”

Before doom and gloom sets in, there is hope! It has been found that attributional retraining can have a positive academic impact among students, especially where there is a recognition that internal factors have more effect than external factors (or excuses). Put simply, this correlates well with the recent growth in interest surrounding Mindset, and acknowledges that taking responsibility for self-influence rather than investing in a blame culture creates a more sustainable student outlook.

There is an awful lot to contend with when considering all the bias we may experience, or even demonstrate ourselves through our teaching. Some teachers are more aware of these habits than others, but awareness that they even exist is important.

Consider for the moment the last three important decisions you made. What or who had a bias on those decisions; were they genuinely down to free will or independent thought, or were you influenced by other means?

This is an extract from the book“Thinking about Thinking: Learning Habits Explored,” by Stephen Lockyer, published in October 2015.

PD: Anti-bias Education

Click/Tap Image to view article.
In this professional development, learners will:
  • Increase self-awareness and cultural competency
  • Identify skills to speak up against and respond to prejudice, bias and stereotypes
  • Explore building allies
  • Define leading beyond the classroom

Implicit Bias & Stereotyping

Run Time: 11:15 - Dec 11, 2018
Russell McClain examines the role of implicit bias and stereotype threat.

Book: Unconscious Bias in Schools: A Developmental Approach to Exploring Race and Racism

by Tracey Benson, and Sarah Fiarman (Authors)

Amazon.com: ISBN-13: 978-1682535851 / Publisher : Harvard Education Press; Revised edition (September 29, 2020) / 224 pages / Paperback

**Click/Tap to Expand**

In Unconscious Bias in Schools, two seasoned educators describe the phenomenon of unconscious racial bias and how it negatively affects the work of educators and students in schools. “Regardless of the amount of effort, time, and resources education leaders put into improving the academic achievement of students of color,” the authors write, “if unconscious racial bias is overlooked, improvement efforts may never achieve their highest potential.” In order to address this bias, the authors argue, educators must first be aware of the racialized context in which we live.

Through personal anecdotes and real-life scenarios, Unconscious Bias in Schools provides education leaders with an essential roadmap for addressing these issues directly. The authors draw on the literature on change management, leadership, critical race theory, and racial identity development, as well as the growing research on unconscious bias in a variety of fields, to provide guidance for creating the conditions necessary to do this work—awareness, trust, and a “learner’s stance.” Benson and Fiarman also outline specific steps toward normalizing conversations about race; reducing the influence of bias on decision-making; building empathic relationships; and developing a system of accountability.

All too often, conversations about race become mired in questions of attitude or intention–“But I’m not a racist!” This book shows how information about unconscious bias can help shift conversations among educators to a more productive, collegial approach that has the potential to disrupt the patterns of perception that perpetuate racism and institutional injustice.

Tracey A. Benson is an assistant professor of educational leadership at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Sarah E. Fiarman is the director of leadership development for EL Education, and a former public school teacher, principal, and lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

List of Resources/Articles About Unconscious/Implicit Bias

Click/Tap to Read More

Helping Students Understand Bias

What is Bias? - Introduction for Young Children

Run Time: 3:34 - Jun 22, 2020This video explores the basic understanding of bias for children.

Teaching Young Children About Bias, Diversity...

Click/Tap Image to view article.

Inspiring The Future - Stereotypes & Bias

Run Time: 2:07 - Mar 15, 2016This powerful video provocatively captures how, early on in their education, children already define career opportunities as male and female. When asked to draw a firefighter, surgeon and a fighter pilot, 61 pictures were drawn of men and only 5 were female.

Some Classroom Activities - Unconscious Bias

Classroom Activities on Unconscious Bias.pdf

Dot Exercise: Breaking Implicit Bias

Run Time: 2:16 - May 8, 2017
When we are born, we innately value justice and fairness. Prejudice, however, is learned and no one is immune. So how do we fight discrimination, bias and bigotry? How do we build communities that are inclusive and just for all? This is the story of breaking bias—one unlikely friendship at a time. What can be learned can be unlearned.

Like a Girl - Exposing Gender Bias

Run Time: 3:18 - Jun 26, 2014
"In my work as a documentarian, I have witnessed the confidence crisis among girls and the negative impact of stereotypes first-hand," said Lauren Greenfield, filmmaker and director of the #LikeAGirl​ video. "When the words 'like a girl' are used to mean something bad, it is profoundly disempowering.
Other Videos: What are girls made of?; You Run Like a Girl

‘A-ha’ Activities for Bias Awareness

Source Website: Include-Empower.com
This site has several good links to articles about bias

Download Resources

Answer to Question - Bias Defined

Spot the unconscious bias in the video?: The character with a gun was the only black figure in the presentation.

Go Back to video.