Taking Notes: Explore the Stories We Tell Ourselves

Two elementary school principals offer their top takeaways from a recent webinar on stereotype threats and resources you can use now to mitigate their impact.

Topics: Equity and Diversity

NAESP hosted a skill-building webinar, “Explore the Stories We Tell Ourselves,” presented by Amy Jin Johnson, executive director, Project Implicit. It’s the first 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 two elementary school principals—Jessica Hutchison and Eric Ewald—to take notes on what they found most inspiring from the webinar, resources they learned about that they’d like to learn more about, and top takeaways they can implement right now in their schools. Here’s what they had to say.

What was the webinar’s main message?

Ewald: The cause and effect of stereotype threat and how to mitigate its impact

Hutchison: Stereotypes allow us to move throughout the world more quickly, more efficiently, and we believe more safely. It happens without even consciously thinking about it as we process information in the world. Stereotypes can also impact how we “show up” in the world, or allow others to show up, limiting actual performance through stereotype threat. We can apply tools in our toolbox to different situations that come up to help “chip away” at the impact stereotypes can have on us and others.

What was the most inspiring or eye-opening quote?

Ewald: “We don’t breathe it because we like it. We don’t breathe it because we think it’s good for us. We breathe it because it’s the only air available.”

Hutchison: Where we sit in our social hierarchy increases our confidence to over-generalize and “stop paying attention” to the individualizing factors. “As principals and leaders, we sit pretty high up in the social hierarchy, which begs the need for us to consciously pay attention to those individual features and to not overgeneralize by way of stereotypes.”

What were the top 3 ideas from the session?


  1. We fill-in the blanks of the world around us based off of our experiences and understandings, which can lead to us oversimplifying things.
  2. One moment is all takes to change how you think about things, yourself, and others.
  3. Labels are limits that we put on people and things.


  1. Information that is easier for us to access often seems the most reasonable. We make decisions based on the easiest and most accessible information; sometimes the shortcut is outside of our awareness (like bias and stereotypes).
  2. When an individual is more acutely aware of the fact that there is a stereotype at hand (ie: worried that we’re going to confirm a stereotype based on our performance), we have less resources to use on the task at hand. It’s like “trying to slay a ghost in the room.”
  3. “Just try harder” isn’t an actual strategy. We think we’re giving encouragement, but when we say that to high achievers, it can backfire and contribute to the stereotype threat. Instead, having/building a growth mindset, reframing the narrative we tell ourselves, affirming our identities, and providing more effective feedback are actual tools which can be used to mitigate stereotype threat.

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

Hutchison: Ask reflection questions. Do you consider some people “safer” than others? How does someone’s physical appearance (and movements) influence your thoughts about them? Are some people more likely to look “smarter” or “more professional?” (Interrogate those things.) How do you think that information became available to you?

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

Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by Claude M. Steele

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

Ewald: Mindset matters. How do we work to ensure that we are developing and maintaining a growth mindset among us as the adults within our school building?

Hutchison: As we provide feedback that is effective (to students and staff) and which mitigates stereotype threat, hold to high standards and offer assurance that you believe each is capable of reaching those standards. This helps keep it objectively focused on the work and not on whether someone “likes them.” Have clear expectations, be transparent about criteria, provide specific feedback, and focus feedback review so behaviors that can be changed. By modeling this type of feedback for teachers, it hopefully increases their awareness of why it’s important to do the same with students.

Any other takeaways or lessons learned?

Ewald: I thought that the most powerful takeaway from the session was when it was shared how simply asking an African American student to write their race before a test can result in a lower test score for the student.

Hutchison: If you have an identity group, you’ve been affected by stereotype threat. If we feel we are under threat, we perform less well. We HAVE TO CARE about our performance — which is harder because caring more actually creates more of a threat!

Eric Ewald is principal of Van Allen Elementary School in Iowa.

Jessica Hutchison is principal of Avoca West Elementary School in Illinois.