Research aims to help teachers engage in crucial conversations

K-12 public school teachers in the United States face significant psychological barriers to discussing issues of race and racism with their students, according to new research led by a social psychologist from the United States. University of Massachusetts.

Linda Tropp, professor of psychology and brain sciences, examined how teachers’ implicit racial biases and concerns about racist appearance can affect their intentions and confidence to engage their students in racial discourse. The results were recently published online by the journal Social Psychology of Education.

“This research was conducted to try to understand what can sometimes prevent the best intentions of teachers from wanting to talk about race with their students,” says Tropp, who has extensive experience working in schools and seeks to help teachers involve the students. in conversations about race and other important and sensitive topics. “How do we equip teachers to engage in these conversations? We hope that the results of this research can be used to inform future professional development programs for teachers, so that they feel better prepared to “go for it” with their students. “

By analyzing data from two large surveys, each including responses from more than 1,000 K-12 teachers, Tropp found that teachers’ implicit racial biases and their explicit fears of being perceived as racist independently contributed to declining intentions to discuss race with their students. These psychological barriers are still evident, even after Tropp takes into account many other variables such as the teachers’ years of experience, their demographics, the characteristics of the schools in which they teach, and their own prior exposure to training in the diversity.

Recent teacher training and professional development programs have generally focused on educating teachers about implicit racial bias – that is, unconscious racial biases they may have and know about. limited — without sufficiently addressing teachers’ conscious concerns about how they may be seen, or how their comments may be interpreted, Tropp explains.

“It’s not just something unique for teachers, but something we all experience in our society, where people are very quick to judge what we say,” Tropp says. “It’s understandable that we have concerns about how what we say might be perceived or received by others.”

Tropp points out that future training efforts must consider how implicit racial biases and conscious concerns about being perceived as racist can dampen teachers’ willingness to engage students in meaningful and productive conversations about race. Tropp’s article states, “As we examine potential barriers to teachers’ engagement in racial discussions with students, we must also learn how to effectively support teachers when called upon to facilitate these discussions.”

In light of current political and social debates about race-related topics in school curricula, Tropp says there’s a growing urgency for teachers to discuss race in the classroom to help students process what’s they see and hear outside the classroom. She notes: “By providing opportunities for students to engage in meaningful discussions about race, teachers can prepare them for respectful exchanges of views with others and for full participation as engaged citizens in a increasingly multifaceted and diverse society.”

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Material provided by University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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