Asking ourselves those tough questions
Whether we like to admit it or not, there is no question that we all hold certain biases about the world around us and people in general. At times, we may be aware of these biases but continue to hold on to the beliefs that we have because it helps us to make better sense of our lives and our place in the world. More often than not, the biases that we hold are at the subconscious level, therefore it is extremely difficult to be self-aware of what these biases are. It’s only through genuine reflection and asking ourselves tough questions that we can begin to better understand these biases and the role that they play in our lives and our teaching.
As educators, our teaching can be negatively impacted by certain biases that we hold making it our professional responsibility to invest the time in trying to uncover what these biases are in an effort to better understand and deconstruct why it is we think in certain ways. It is imperative to challenge these beliefs and in doing so, I believe that we put ourselves in a much better position to change the ways that we teach which will no doubt have a lasting impact on student learning.
I recently came across an excellent Ted Talk given by Verna Myers, a Harvard-trained lawyer, entrepreneur, author and cultural innovator. She has devoted her life to working with different firms and organizations helping people to better understand biases that they hold in an effort to increase workplace morale, productivity, and overall sense of togetherness. In her Ted Talk, Verna shares that she often comes across people who genuinely believe that they do not have a bias bone in their body. She likes to challenge these beliefs straight away and does so by sharing her own story of personal bias.
Verna explains to the audience that she was once aboard a plane ready to take off when she heard the voice of the head pilot making an announcement. The head pilot was a woman and Verna’s immediate internal response was “YES! Woman power!”. She went on to say how great she thought it was that a woman was in charge of this massive plane and responsible for the rest of her crew and all the passengers.
A couple of hours into the flight, they began to fly through some severe turbulence. She realized at this point that she was thinking to herself that this 'woman better know how to fly in such extreme conditions' and began to doubt her piloting skills. Her default setting was to doubt the woman’s ability to fly the plane in severe conditions. You can imagine how bad Verna felt having confronted the fact that she had just uncovered an injust personal bias that she had held.
Here she is a consultant travelling the world working with firms and organizations to help them uncover biases that they hold while all along she still held a damaging, personal bias of her own. Despite believing in her heart that women deserve equal treatment and access to the same professional opportunities as men, she realized that at a subconscious level, she held this negative stereotype about women.
As I continue to consult and work with lots of different teachers in various regions of the world, I have the chance to observe many of these educators in action in their own programs. I’ve been lucky to see some great teaching and really meaningful, relevant learning happening in their programs. However, I like to always remind teachers about the need to be very aware of the belief systems that we bring with us into our teaching.
Through high school and university, I was a competitive athlete having excelled in both golf and football. I generally picked up sports very quickly and had a lot of confidence when it came to playing sport both competitively and recreationally. However, when I first started teaching PE, I had a major skill and drill type of coaching mentality and because I had learned sport quickly myself, I had a belief system in place that all people should be able to learn skills easily if they narrow their focus and concentrate. To be honest, I didn’t have a lot of patience or understanding when students struggled. As a competitive athlete, I had a certain attitude that I brought with me into my teaching that I was not aware of. It was only a few years into my teaching, when I really began to question what it was I was doing and why I was instructing the way that I was.
In my observations of teachers over the past several years, I have seen this same mistake or personal bias come into play several times. Whether it be a PE teacher who is a highly skilled athlete themselves or extremely fit, there are times when certain biases are manifested in their teaching through comments that they make, how they set up their lessons, and what THEY feel is most important to teach their students. I've seen certain judgements passed on to students based upon beliefs that some teachers hold.
I’m not implying that these teachers are not well-intentioned, unkind or disrespectful. I know that they love what they do and are serious about teaching. However, I do believe that it is critical to reflect on our own belief system when it comes to physical education and why we have chosen this field. In doing so, we put ourselves in a position to better understand ourselves in an effort to identify any potential biases that we may hold about teaching, learning, fitness, sport and movement in general.
I challenge you to spend some time this week thinking about what defines you as a teacher and what you feel is most important for your students to learn. How do you set up your lessons? Are there any potential beleifs that you hold that may not align well with your ability to effectively teach? Thanks for reading.