The Implicit Bias Test

Recently, I took Harvard’s implicit bias test and found that I have “a slight automatic association for American with European American and Foreign with Asian American.”

I was born and raised in Ottawa, where I was one of two Asian Canadian students in my entire grade all throughout elementary school (what up, Ricky Yamamoto?!). English is my first language and growing up, my parents actively encouraged us to “assimilate” into Canadian culture. Only speak English outside of the home. Make Canadian friends. Don’t hang out with Asian friends outside of school. Ok cool, I got into that. On weekends though, I was allowed to be exclusively Asian and participate in my Korean heritage and culture. Not confusing at all for a young girl! Saturdays, my mother would coerce me into attending Korean language school. Unfortunately, I was an incessant whiner (apparently, kids are really good at this?) and after enough complaining she finally gave in and let me quit (one of my biggest regrets by the way). At home though, she would often speak to me in Korean and I would respond with limited skill (“I’m hungry” “I’m full” “I’m tired” “I want to eat candy” “Why not?!”). Every Christmas, we had Korean Santa dole out gifts to all the children at our church. Wait a second, Santa was never Korean in the Coca-Cola ads! And at that young age, I prided myself on knowing early on that Santa was a fraud (I felt very mature also in that I never told any of the other kids at school that I knew the truth!). And. I also have more than a few memories of students asking “what are you?” as if I were an extraterrestrial, of young boys on bikes calling me “chink” and telling me to “go back to China!”

All that to say, I guess I’m not terribly surprised that I associate “foreign” with “Asian American.” Given my upbringing and experiences, I considered myself more than a little foreign, even if that’s not the word my young brain would have conjured. It has made me wonder how and when I have unwittingly made students in my class feel foreign, unwelcome, or less than. And though the introspection hasn’t been easy, and has revealed just how much hard work I need to do, it’s also sparked the light at the end of the tunnel. Because the difficulty with identifying our unconscious bias is just that…it’s unconscious. Having even just a bit more awareness means I can take steps to fight that implicit bias. But, a reminder to be kind to myself. Mistakes will and have been made. I will forgive myself and continue moving forward. One step at a time.

Reflections on Mindsets and Responses for Pandemic Leadership

In the past few weeks, I’ve been learning more about, and reflecting on the topic of pandemic leadership. What are some mindsets and strategies that might help us navigate the challenges of this crisis? And I wanted to share just a few key reflections and learnings so far.

1. Pandemic leadership across the board.

It’s become very clear to me that we must value and expect leadership from everyone, not just from the top. Every teacher will likely take on a larger degree of autonomy and shared responsibility in navigating the challenges of teaching this year. It’s okay and necessary to rely on one another to share the burden of the incredible amount of problem-solving and innovation that must be done.

“Distributed leadership has become the default leadership (Harris, 2020).”

“Leadership is not a title but an action, a behaviour, a practice, a doing and a way of being, and the current scenario has provided a crucible for teacher agency, agility, resilience and innovation…Teacher leadership…is happening now as teachers work to find teaching and learning solutions for their students within the parameters of their particular national, local, school and classroom contexts. (Netolicky, 2020).”

2. Dump perfection, hold onto flexibility and forgiveness.

“The current disruption to education has schools and education systems considering the humanity of education, rather than its measurable outcomes…In a crisis such as the one in which we are currently existing, perfection is the enemy of progress (Netolicky, 2020).”

I’m a classic case of “paralysis through analysis.” I feel this intense need to perfect every detail of every lesson/activity/project/etc. weeks and months in advance. My tendency is to also expect that same level of quality from others. I don’t think the right approach is to completely forego the high standards we teachers set for ourselves and our students. But, I think we’ve shifted to approaching everyday with flexibility and forgiveness in mind…I won’t be able to plan that far in advance, it’s okay for things to just be “good,” and I need to be kind to myself, my colleagues, and my students when work/focus/etc. doesn’t meet pre-COVID expectations. @kobrien‘s post about getting rid of shoulds really nails it too.

3. Wellness isn’t just a fad.

My fear is that as schools enter into a “groove,” focus will shift back towards teacher/student performance. I think we need to ensure that wellness stays at the forefront for our schools and communities, even once the pandemic is over. Only when I take care of myself can I take care of others.

4. Write a user manual for yourself.

Since opportunities to meet in person are so limited, write a handbook on yourself to help others understand how to best work with you. Add fun facts that help people get to know you. I got this idea from my husband–his company regularly uses this strategy to build trust and authenticity within their remote teams. As an example, here is the Steph Letham Guidebook (she is an amazing math teacher at my school and gave me permission to share this with you all).

5. “Subversion” might be necessary for innovation.

For whatever reason, you might be faced with roadblocks to innovating in ways that are necessary for pandemic teaching. In Cult of Pedagogy’s interview with Melinda Anderson, Anderson states that subversion can be as small an act as finding a resource that really resonates with your students. Her interview touches on how she uses subversion to bring more inclusivity and equity to her classrooms, but also rings very true for our reality right now.

6. Short and frequent check ins.

The more I level with friends, family and colleagues, the more I realize that every. single. one. of us. is struggling somehow. Speaking of time, it’s also at a serious premium right now. But, checking in with colleagues doesn’t have to take long and can make a huge difference. Short, frequent communications with friends, family and colleagues really help me feel like there is continuity to my relationships. When that closeness is retained even through the pandemic, I’ve been able to rely on those relationships to help steer me through my rough days.

That’s all for now! I would love to hear what mindsets or strategies you have found to be or think would be effective right now!


EDIT: I wrote this post before attending yesterday’s webinar with Grant Lichtman. Wow. I walked away with so many more lessons and insights on effective leadership through crisis. If you haven’t already, this is a must watch.