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PODCAST EPISODE 6  |  8.10.2020

The "Breaking Bias" Project

Helping Students Identify Bias and Understand Diverse Perspectives

Breaking bias

Together, the Breaking Bias team discusses, in-depth, what the project is all about; why it was so important to connect this project across multiple schools; how they designed the project with equity in mind for students; how students have reacted to the project; and both the positives and the challenges they faced during implementation.

About our guests

Joining the discussion today are Josh Baldwin, a history teacher at Liberty North High School in Liberty, Missouri; Liz Ruddell, an English teacher from Liberty North; Tara Harvey, an instructional coach also at Liberty North; Rachel Harcrow an English teacher at Young Women’s College Prep in Rochester, New York; and Samuel Texeira, a high school history teacher at the Henderson Inclusion School in Dorchester, Massachusetts.

Full transcript

Stanley: Today on The Project, we were talking with a group of teachers about their new joint venture called Breaking Bias. It's about PBL interrupting bias and shifting to emergency remote teaching and learning. We first heard about this project from our colleague, Alicia Peletz, a PBL and instructional coach from Rochester, New York. We decided we had to talk with y'all because the work is just so incredible.

Laureen: Yes. Welcome everyone. Let's start off with introductions. Who are you? Where are you? And what is your role?

Josh Baldwin: Yeah, I'll start. My name is Josh Baldwin and I am in Liberty, Missouri teaching at Liberty North High School, and I teach history.

Liz Rudell: My name is Liz Rudell. I am also from Liberty, Missouri. I'm at Liberty North High School and I teach English.

Tara Harvey: Hi, my name is Tara Harvey and I am the instructional coach at Liberty North High School in Liberty, Missouri.

Rachel Harcrow: Hi, my name is Rachel Harcrow. I am in Rochester, New York, and I am an English teacher at Young Women's College Prep.

Sam Texeira: Hi, everyone. My name is Sam Texeira. I'm calling in from Boston, Massachusetts, and I am a high school history teacher at the Henderson Inclusion School.

Laureen: Awesome.

Stanley: Great.

Laureen: Thank you all again.

Stanley: Yes. Thank you all for being here. So first of all, tell me about the project. What is it all about?

Josh Baldwin: Yeah, so the title of the project is Breaking Bias. And so we wanted to challenge our students with this idea of one, identifying what biases and understanding what it is as a concept and an idea. And then two, making progress towards what can we do about that now that we know what it is identified it either in our own life or other places around us, how can we go about making a positive change?

And so, a lot of where this came from too was with one section of our students we teach the humanities as our overarching subject, Liz and I do. We collaborate together. We have our students for a block of time, so an hour and a half, every single day. And with one section of our students are sophomores, this was the second year that they had been in the program. So they had already kind of been introduced to some really cool stuff. Last year, we partnered with the school and the Kansas City public school district East high school, and got to do some cool things with refugees there. And so we wanted to springboard their learning from that forward into this final project, because they're not going to be in the program next year. And so we really wanted it to be an impactful.

And so I know for me, when we started talking about this idea of bias, it was challenging to me because it's something that I had never taught before. It was something that I had never in the classroom directly addressed with my students. And so Alicia really and Tara and Liz and I, we were really challenged to create something that we could, one, have those conversations in a safe place, but two, really get down to the heart of it. And so with Rachel and Sam, both being able to come alongside with their classes as well and have a different perspective than what our students would have, and their students sharing what they thought on these subjects, it was a really, really cool place for learning. And I know, I think we got a lot out of that, our students.

Stanley: I really appreciate how you're talking about having those conversations in a safe space. It is so important to be able to have that.

Laureen: Can you tell us a little bit more about the why. So why did you think it was important to connect to this project across schools?

Josh Baldwin: Well, I know for us personally the demographic of our school, we were in a suburb of Kansas City. It's higher middle class, predominantly white student body. I think we're about 97, 98% white. And so it was an area that obviously has come up in media, social media specifically. But we thought this could be a really one, the purpose of humanities is to make a change. We want them to go out and be humanitarians after they leave high school. So this topic probably being something uncomfortable for them to talk about and address initially, we wanted to challenge them with that. And to be able to, if they're in a situation or in a spot later on in life where they can go back to this thinking and either have an impact on what other people think or make a change in something that they see as a need for change, we wanted them to have those opportunities. And getting to hear from a much different demographic at the other two schools, I think gave them light as to, "This is real. This is something that maybe I don't go through a lot of these hardships that other people are talking about on an everyday basis because of where I live and who I am. But they're out there and I need to be aware of that and I need to make that change."

Laureen: And just a little bit of background on Josh and Liz, who do teach in a pretty traditional high school, but they are not traditional teachers, they teach in a PBL format.

Stanley: I'm really curious about how did you design this project with equity in mind for students not only just for the experience of students in the class, but just like an equity view of the world and society?

Sam Texeira: Sure, absolutely. So one of the things that we wanted to really focus on was creating everything around the norms that we had talked about. So listening to understand, being open-minded, critiquing ideas and not people. And just even little things like students being aware of background noise and making sure that we can see their faces so that we have a project that sort of looks the same from class to class. And then the other thing that we knew is that we want it to really disarm our students. And in thinking about what disarming students looked like, I realized that as a teacher of color, as a black man teaching students of color, I had a particular place that I could speak to young people about the subject matter. And that white educators teaching white students also have a very particular experience and ability to speak to their students in a way that sort of makes people comfortable.

I think that a lot of people are afraid to talk about race, and it was very important for us to have those conversations as an education staff before we included our students. And so I think that we did a lot of work around that. We really did, I think two or three sessions before kind of just being open and honest with each other about where we were all coming from, what we thought our students would feel. And we started with helping students to think about this in a way that didn't necessarily begin with race. Because I think that in our sort of social construct, we often get afraid to talk about race, naturally. And so one of the things that we started the conversation with, or at least tried to, was reminding students that everybody has implicit bias, whether you're a person of color or white, a man or a woman, old or young, we all carry these biases that are just inherent with our life experiences.

And so one of the first things that I always do, and then I encourage others to do is just to ask students, for example, "When you think of a construction worker, do you think of a man or woman?" When I say construction worker, almost everybody thinks of a man. It doesn't mean that you're a sexist. It just means that this is the social construct that we live in, that most of us are accustomed to this. We could say the same things about, for example, the word nurse, when people hear nurse, they traditionally think of a woman. And so I think that by having the conversations first that help students to understand and process what implicit bias was without making it about race, it helps students to not feel attacked. And it helps students to understand that this is something that we all live with and that in order to solve the problem, we have to be honest about where we're all coming from.

And then the other thing that we did was we included videos on sort of the harm things like not seeing race. That a lot of us sort of grew up with the idea that saying, "I don't see race," was a good thing because it meant that we're not prejudging people. But instead that when we don't see race, we're kind of hiding the problem, we're kind of ignoring the problem. So we had videos on that, we had videos that help students to understand microaggressions. And the videos were sort of humorous and I think that they help students to understand things in a way that they didn't really feel pressured.

And then lastly, I would say that we were very flexible with time and technology, particularly given the real challenges, given the pandemic. We understood that things were just very different from school to school. Our schools look fundamentally different. This is something that no school has really ever had to do or deal with. And so we understood that many of our students were going through things that were brand new for them as well. And so it was important for us to be flexible.

Stanley: One thing, but I just love that you were talking about was you all as teachers really doing the project in some ways to be able to approach and think about your own biases and having that discussion. Because I always like to say the teacher needs to do the project first to be able to understand what the project is. And so I really appreciate what you were saying about that. Thank you.

Laureen: Absolutely. So I think it's really interesting and super impressive that you were able to do this project across three different schools in three very different areas of the country and then in a pandemic. How does this type of project benefit students? How did technological tools help support the project? And then I think the question that many teachers and leaders are going to have is how did you make time to plan across schools?

Liz Rudell: So how the project we felt really would benefit students as similar to what Sam was saying, bias exists everywhere in our world. We all have implicit bias. And so we really wanted this project and we think that it has succeeded and showing students just generally what bias is and how we can interact with bias. So we can be better when we meet people who are different from us, in whatever aspect that might be.

And for us, particularly, we focused on some of the history of racial bias in each city. So that way students not only had a connection with the history of their city. They also had a connection with these other cities, from which the students were also from. So they kind of develop this personal connection, both with those students and with their own cities and these other cities in the United States.

We also really focused on reflection and at the very beginning and very end of the project, we did a Padlet. And at the very beginning we talked like, "Do you know what this is? What's your experience with this?"

And then at the very end, you could really see how it benefited them because they said, "I know what bias is now. I know how to recognize it and how I can change or how I can act in those types of situations better than I did at the very beginning."

Rachel Harcrow: I would say that we immediately adapted this project due to COVID. It was already in the works prior to the pandemic, really reaching the United States. And what really kept this project going is the fact that the issue that we were focused on it really matters; it matters to the students. And this space allowed us to really have an impact on how these students think, how they view, how they interact. We first kind of built a common ground with some similarities, which gave us space for us to have the impactful conversations about difference and about bias through the Flipgrid.

Rachel Harcrow: It's also important to note how we made it happen as we met weekly on Zoom every Thursday. And we were very responsive to what students were asking, how we could address their questions. We started off with the history of the three cities, like someone mentioned. And then we, after that first week, got back together and talked about the responses and plan the next steps together, before then taking those next steps and pushing them out to the students.

Laureen: When Stanley first was telling me about the project. I was like, "Wow, that's incredible." And all I could think about was, "How on earth did they plan this across schools?" It's so amazing.

Stanley: I'm sure are a lot of people in our audience want to know what the students think about the work. And so my question is around what has been the reaction of the students oto the project? I know you talked a little bit about it earlier, but I'm really curious about how their thinking has changed over the course of this project.

Josh Baldwin: For a lot of students, uncomfortable topic, they really embraced it and started to open up about what they truly felt about it, which is really, really cool to see. And as teachers, one of our goals we didn't want to overwhelm them with giving them weight, overloading them with work and making it a chore for them. We wanted them to really have an opportunity to reflect and to think before they answered questions. And so we worked kind of in a week's chunk worth of time. We didn't have every day something brand new that they were doing, we gave them a lot of this stuff up front and then gave them a week to kind of process through it.

And I've got one student, we had them at the end, reflect on a Padlet that we give them a series of five questions and we had this really, really cool response and they said to see race isn't a bad thing, they believe this now to see race isn't a bad think, going back what Sam said. A lot of our students would grow up thinking about this idea of, "Oh, I don't see race. We're all the same." And you saying the student is saying, "No, it's not a bad thing to see that because when you see that you realize that people are different. And if we say that it doesn't matter, then we're ignoring those differences, which is something that should be celebrated." This is something they're saying. And so that quote right there, I think it really speaks to the impact of this project and how students have grown in seven weeks of being able to learn about this topic.

Stanley: You're hitting on two of my favorite design elements for PBL, when is reflection, because I heard that all over. And then also just how authentic it is, because it's so important in terms of our society today to be able to consider bias and race and society. Thank you.

Laureen: So I think we heard a few positive parts of your experience with implementing this project, but let's hear from some other folks. What was some of the most positive parts of your implementation and then what were some challenges that you had trying to do this incredible project?

Liz Rudell: Yeah, I think one of the biggest positive is that we have was that we were able to really create a safe space through a variety of different applications or technology usage. So not only did students talk to each other, but they also the chance just to talk to their teachers, people they may be more comfortable with sharing their feelings. And that part of the project was great because I think a lot of people outside of not just in education, but outside of education throughout the world were just really scared to have these conversations because we don't want to be perceived as bad people. And I think that was really important in establishing. And I think it really was done well throughout, so students felt safe to share how they felt, whatever they felt, however they felt. And they knew that they were going to get a response to that.

It also allowed us to really think critically about the world that we live in. And it was a really visible learning because we could see their thought progression from week to week. We could see how it applied to real life. And that was really exciting because it is so relevant to where we're living right now. And the project at the beginning felt like a pretty high risk because it's complicated to talk about. And then with the pandemic, it seemed even higher because we didn't have that one-on-one personal connection in school. But I'm really thankful that we were still able to do it. And then it also gave us really high rewards. We had a lot of students say, "We shouldn't be judging people based on things they can't control or based on things that you've heard about them. You really have to get to know people better before you make assumptions about them." And that was incredible, that was the one thing we really wanted to see.

Sam Texeira: Yeah. And I would say speaking to the challenge, this is a really challenging time for us as teachers, for our students, for our families and communities. And so one of the things that was particularly difficult and that I'm sure it's difficult for educators across the country who aren't involved in this obviously, is just being sensitive to what's going on while also supporting our students academically. And encouraging them to participate and really expressing to them the importance of still being invested in their own education, even while they're not in the school building. And so on our end that had to be really not making judgments about why work wasn't getting done on time. I know in my case, I have students who are now working full time to sort of support family income, families who lost jobs. And so being sensitive to that.

And then a lot of the sort of niche messages in terms of what's coming down from both administrations and district. And this is not to point fingers, but just to say that we're in a brand new world, none of us really know what's going on and that includes our students. And so when we're not sure, that trickles down to students as well.

Laureen: Right. But that challenge of not making judgments about why students aren't doing work, I think that also fostered the safety that Liz was just talking about. Like, "It's okay. We understand. So I'm going to step in when I can." So I guess there was a positive and a challenge in one. As we know, reflection is an important part of PBL. Now that you all have completed the project, what would you have done differently? And what would you have done the same?

Josh Baldwin: Yeah, I'll start with the differences. One thing that would looking back on it had been really helpful and I think also rewarding for students is to have like a bigger Zoom kickoff. Maybe thinking about our launch is there a way that we can get everybody together and either have a little bit of time to just talk back and forth and know each other from the different schools get to maybe a more personal level. So that would be something that I would consider. Again, with it being what it was, it was one of those where technology can do different things. But I think we would give that a shot.

And then that really also comes from this place, we had a feedback form from students. And one of our students at Liberty had mentioned like we were calling this collaboration and they were saying, "It doesn't feel like it, because we didn't really have a chance to work directly with them." And so having some element to where it would be teaming up together from the different schools to be able to have the direct interaction.

But I think the things that we really want to highlight and that we would keep the same as one really cool aspect about this project, I know with PBL authentic audience is a really big deal. Some of the articles that our students read about Rochester were written by Justin Murphy, who's a reporter for the Democratic and the Chronicle, which is a newspaper in Rochester. And we read through the articles, students formulated some questions. We narrowed it down to a theme of about five different questions. And he participated in our Flipgrid and responded to those directly from his article that our students were curious about.

And we were looking back, on Flipgrid you can check the amount of time people have viewed a specific video or series of videos and his thread I think had over 575 views in total and about 24 hours worth of interaction. So we know that our students were getting involved with that and really enjoyed that because I mean, who, doesn't love to hear their question answered. If you have a question and someone goes out of their way to, to make a point to answer it, it feels really rewarding and really good. So definitely trying to keep some sort of authentic audience piece to where students know that it's not just us asking them to do things to do it. It's, "Yeah, no, you're going to get something back here. You invest in this, you'll get something deposited back." So that was really cool.

I would keep also the way we managed it having the weekly themes, like we've mentioned we had a theme on the history of racial bias in our individual cities. We had a theme of looking at and responding to ways that we can go about moving forward. And so having those themes were key in just keeping students on track and making sure that we didn't go off on a bunch of different avenues, which we very well could have, but that kept students really directed. And then the way that we gave information there was a mixture of reading articles, watching videos, listening to teachers, as they talked through some points. We all recorded quote unquote lectures for students to listen to as we kind of were presenting information. And so just giving them a variety, so they didn't get settled into something and then knew what to expect and would just kind of coast their way through it. The novelty of it each week really kept students engaged.

And so all those things worked again to help students get involved, stay involved. Because again, a lot of them had very little incentive to with things that were going on and other things that could happen. So keeping them engaged was really crucial and those things I think really did help.

Laureen: I love the idea of having an expert on Flipgrid answer questions. That's incredible.

Stanley: So I know that your project is just finished. And so, first of all, huge, huge congratulations for doing this project when you probably got the biggest curve ball that the world could have ever thrown you to be able to do this. So I'm really curious about what recommendations that you have for teachers that are teaching PBL online after the experience of doing this project?

Josh Baldwin: Yeah. I would say just that PBL can still happen outside of the four walls of your classroom. And not only can it happen, but it can be truly meaningful work that goes on. So don't think just because you don't have your classroom to work out of PBL can't happen. That that's definitely not the case and we saw that with this project.

Liz Rudell: I would also add to be flexible, especially in an online sphere. But also be willing to try new and a variety of technology, even if you haven't used it in your classroom.

Tara Harvey: I would add as the instructional coach who is always working with teachers who are trying to think differently, that it's important to ask questions that matter to your students, and that will heighten engagement a million times over. So much of school is jumping through hoops and our kids just aren't coming to play for that anymore. So we have to kick it up a notch.

Stanley: Yes. Thank you.

Sam Texeira: Everyone is shocked that as a millennial, I'm only 30 and people are shocked that I'm really bad with technology. So I would say as a teacher, we have to constantly be willing to learn ourselves and put ourselves out there and model that for our students and my students know that with tech. And so I'm transparent with them. And I always say, "If I can do this, you can." And also being very comfortable asking for help and knowing your limits as a teacher and knowing your boundaries of what you need support with.

Stanley: Thanks so much, all. This has just been inspiring to be able to hear the project. So thank you so much for that response.

Laureen: Yes. Liz, Sam, Tara, Rachel, and Josh. Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your story and your learning.

Josh Baldwin: Thank you guys for having us, it was a real pleasure to do this.

Liz Rudell: Yeah. Thanks so much.

Rachel Harcrow: Thank you so much.