Stamp Out School Bias

The consequences of implicit bias or implicit social cognition may be particularly salient in the hierarchical environments of schools. Specifically, implicit bias likely perpetuates socio-economic, gender, and racial gaps in educational outcomes such as academic performance, engagement with school, course and primary choice, and persistence in higher education, particularly among historically disadvantaged and underrepresented groups such as low-income and racial minority students. These gaps in educational outcomes then manifest in similar workplace disparities in pay, promotions, and employment.

Okonofua and colleagues studied an intervention that encouraged middle school teachers to empathize with students’ experiences and worldviews. The authors found that empathy is malleable and that teachers who used empathic discipline forged better relationships with out-group students. Of most import, student suspensions in the treated group fell by 50 percent. Second, Carnes and colleague evaluated a 2.5-hour workshop based on “wise-intervention” principles. The workshop, provided to STEM faculty at the University of Wisconsin, increased faculty members’ awareness of their own biases and implicit bias, an essential first step toward reducing the harms associated with bias.

Several theoretically informed, evidence-based design features of these and similar teacher-facing, wise interventions are worth noting, particularly as schools, districts, universities, and other public and private organizations consider adopting or designing such interventions. These principles apply more generally to everyday interactions and decision-making within organizations.

1. Nurture employees’ motivation to reduce implicit bias by building an awareness of one’s own biases without shaming or blaming

2. Develop an awareness of the shared psychological basis for implicit bias and of the fact that implicit bias is a naturally occurring, physiological phenomenon

3. Evaluate individuals based on their unique attributes and not through their group membership (social, demographic, or otherwise)

4. Reduce the anxiety created by cross-group interactions by increasing the frequency of such interactions, particularly in low-stakes settings

5. Encourage empathy and perspective-taking

6. Build partnerships and teams that reduce the out-group status

IINII uses a revolutionary Design Thinking process to help your school community gain an understanding of one’s sense of self, as well as developing an understanding of students’ values; having an understanding of one’s values matters because research has shown that it is linked to better well-being, less stress, and increased confidence in one’s ability to succeed.

Understanding students’ values can be developed with culturally responsive practices that reflect a student’s identity and experience. Particularly helpful is focusing efforts on cultural competence and relevance and providing opportunities for students to practice bridging differences between diverse identities in a safe environment. To learn how you can create a dynamic learning environment that honors your student community, visit our website at, or contact us at or 1800-507-2502.

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