“His name sounds funny.” “Her hair doesn’t look like mine.” “Why do they dress like that?”
When students make comments like these, it can be difficult for teachers and parents to know what to say. However, in a presentation to Cove’s staff, Anti-Biased Training Expert Susan O’Halloran stressed how such moments are opportunities to provide children with alternate choices by recognizing their own biases and learning that our differences make us beautiful.
O’Halloran spoke to Cove’s teachers and faculty as a part of our year-round professional development focus on creating an inclusive environment for all Cove students, families and staff.
O’Halloran expressed the importance of understanding how stereotypes and scapegoating are passed down in order to put a wide array of people into a single group, creating an “us vs. them” dynamic.
Moreover, while overt acts of discrimination are easier for students to understand, power is often yielded over others through “micro-inequities.” An easy way for younger students to think of micro-inequities is to consider how something they say or do might be similar to giving someone a mosquito bite by hurting them for being different.
Once we’ve pointed out biases when they occur, we can works towards building a true sense of community within our classrooms. O’Halloran suggested helping students think of people like icebergs, where there is more to someone than what they see on the surface. Our goal, for our students and ourselves, becomes “lowering the waterline.”
O’Halloran said if a student makes a discriminating comment, we can let them know we don’t hurt people in this way, but instead appreciate and value the differences within our community.
Cove Social Worker Jody Berkelhamer expressed the importance of facing issues of discrimination in ourselves and others even when doing so can be difficult or uncomfortable.
“It is the parts of ourselves that remain unexamined that often trip us up,” Berkelhamer said. “By bringing awareness to our inherent biases, which we all have and should not feel guilty about, we can acknowledge and move beyond them for inclusive teaching and learning.”
Executive Director Sally Sover said participating in events like O’Halloran’s presentation provide our staff with the tools to be proactive when they spot disparities and micro-inequities.
“We are committed to helping our students and each other work towards an understanding and respect for our differences, and we will continue to do this so that our whole Cove community continues to feel welcome within our doors.”