Taking Notes: Commit to Being a Bias-Conscious Leader

A principal offers takeaways from a recent webinar that examined how cognitive biases affect decisions leaders make on a daily basis that impact students, staff, schools, and the community.

Topics: Equity and Diversity

NAESP and NASSP cohosted a skill-building webinar, “Commit to Being a Bias-Conscious Leader,” presented by Amy Jin Johnson, executive director, Project Implicit. It’s the second in a two-part series in partnership with Project Implicit to build on our commitment to expand race and equity resources and professional learning opportunities for our members. We asked one elementary school principal—Shanessa Fenner—to take notes on what she found most inspiring from the webinar, resources she learned about that she’d like to learn more about, and top takeaways she can implement right now in her school. Here’s what she had to say.

What was the webinar’s main message?

The main message of the webinar entailed being a bias-conscious leader who is aware of the eight cognitive biases that can have a tremendous impact on the dozens of decisions that are made on a daily basis that affect students, staff, school, and the community.

What was the most inspiring or eye-opening quote?

The most eye opening quote was “The human brain does most of its work outside of our consciousness.” It is default thinking in which our brains are on autopilot. There are processes that are taking place, and we are not consciously thinking about them. We are processing about 200,000 times more information than we are actually paying attention to.

What is one strategy that will help you with instructional leadership?

The one strategy that will help me with instructional leadership is to examine what groups exist in my school. There are various groups such as certified, classified, admin, VIF teachers, cliques, etc., and, as a leader, I have to make sure that certain perceptions, biases, and opinions are not made or assumed toward certain groups.

What’s one resource you learned about that you’d like to look into?

The one resource that I learned about and would like to look into would be the research studies about stereotypes. For example, there is a study in which male African-American students are asked about their race before they take a test. It reminded them of the stereotype, and it reduced or lowered their test scores.

What’s one strategy you learned from this webinar that you will incorporate into your equity planning?

The strategy that I learned about and would incorporate into my equity planning is the halo/horns effect in which we have positive or negative impressions of people that affect our feelings in another area. For example, some individuals have certain perceptions or stereotypes of children from low socioeconomic backgrounds and they have lower expectations of these students when in all actuality high standards and expectations should be held towards these students.

Any other lessons learned?

I learned that there are so many places we are exposed to stereotypes such as computer games, books, the internet, and television. They are considered to be a kind of environment that surrounds us like smog in the air and I consider that to be a form of pollution.

Shanessa Fenner is principal of W.T. Brown Elementary School in Spring Lake, North Carolina.