01 SES 06 B, Bias, Democracy and Equity in Professional Learning
Unconscious everyday actions caused by false beliefs and over-generalisations about differences in boy’s and girl’s behaviour can have a negative impact on students and place restrictions on their behaviour and aspirations (National Education Union, 2017). Originating from local cultures and tradition, gender stereotypes can shape student’s self-perceptions and influence participation in the world of work (Institute of Physics, 2018). In a report by the National Education Union and UK Feminista, 25% of British secondary school teachers say they witness gender stereotyping and discrimination in their school on a daily basis (National Education Union, 2017). Teacher-learner interactions can be influenced by unconscious bias and this bias can cause teachers to have inequitable expectations of their students based on the gender of the student (Lips, 2016; Myhill & Jones, 2006). The association of exceptional ability and brilliance with achieving successful performances in particular subject disciplines can also discourage students from continuing to pursue a career in this field (Bian et al., 2017).
In Ireland, national trends of subject uptake at upper secondary level illustrate a gender imbalance in participation across subjects, e.g. home economics and music subjects were strongly female dominated in 2019, with only 3% (1513) and 4% (1974) of boys respectively of the total student cohort (56,071) completing the state examinations (State Examinations Commission, 2019). The male dominated subjects included Engineering and Physics, with only 1% (382) and 5% (2981) of girls respectively choosing to complete the state examinations. This gender imbalance in subject participation is an issue of both national and international concern and part of wider issues around equality and inclusion in education.
Smith & Hung, believe that creating a school learning environment that is as unbiased as possible is key for sustaining change in beliefs, attitudes or behaviours of students (Smith & Hung, 2008). Sustaining change at whole school level across all subjects with management, teachers and students is necessary to have an influence on creating an inclusive school culture and reduce the effects of negative unconscious biases and gender stereotyping. Providing students with opportunities to develop skills in gender stereotyped subjects is shown to motivate students and reduce harmful stereotypes (Master et al., 2017).
The objective of this study is to raise in-service teacher’s awareness of unconscious bias and the negative influence of gender stereotyping. The study aims to support teachers to embed inclusive practices in the Irish second level classroom across the ten subject disciplines. The research questions for this study are:
- How are teachers’ awareness of unconscious bias, gender stereotyping and careers addressed in their subject planning for the second level classroom?
- What is the impact of teacher’s approaches to addressing unconscious bias, gender stereotyping and career awareness on classroom practices?
This research will present a case study of second level teacher’s experiences (N=55) in addressing these objectives across a range of subject disciplines in an all-girls (aged 12-18 years) school in Ireland. Guskey’s approach to teacher professional learning was adopted in this study and articulated over five steps: i) Student learning outcomes – consideration of students’ subject choice at upper secondary level underpinned the motivation for professional learning, ii) New practices to be implemented – suitable resources were selected and implemented to create an awareness of unconscious biases and gender stereotyping backed up by research, iii) Needed organizational support – principal buy-in was necessary to foster a whole school effort create an inclusive learning community, iv) Educator knowledge and skills – reflection of teacher’s own assumptions around gender differences and knowledge of careers was necessary to start the conversation of the changes needed to be made to classroom practice, v) Optimal professional learning activities – creating a space where teachers can collaborate and take suitable actions to combat the issues they have highlighted, in the context of their subject department, was expected to reach a common goal for student learning (Guskey, 2014). The participating teachers were facilitated by the researcher to collaborate in small groups of 4/5 and form a professional learning community (PLC) based on the subject department they belonged to (Dana & Yendol-Hoppey, 2015). Two workshops were held with teachers over an eighteen-month period. The key objectives of these workshops were: to support teachers to critically reflect on their own gender biases; engage in professional learning about unconscious bias and gender stereotypes; identify biases or stereotype threats that may exist in their subject; design strategies to tackle biases in the learning environment; collect evidence of learning and reflect on the effect of their actions on classroom practice. At the end of this period, teachers shared the findings of their PLC and discussed the impact of their actions on their classroom practices as part of a whole school poster presentation. Findings from ten subject department PLCs are reported in this work. Qualitative analysis was carried out on the action plans and subject department posters of each PLC along with researcher field notes to examine what actions were adopted by teachers and what was the impact of these actions on classroom practice.
This study will discuss how teachers have addressed gender issues and adopted strategies in the teaching and learning of their subjects. Preliminary findings show that this approach has positive impacts for both teacher and student learning. In particular, 1) teachers report a heightened awareness of unconscious biases and gender stereotypes among students 2) teachers exhibit evolving practices and evidence of embedding plans into classroom practice to promote careers from a gender-neutral perspective and 3) teachers consider future implications on classroom practices and propose actions to sustain change in the school learning environment. This research emphasises how the process of reflection and self-evaluation of teachers, as part of a professional learning community, results in a change in classroom practice, which in turn influences student learning and contributes to teacher professional learning.
Bian, L., Leslie, S.-J., & Cimpian, A. (2017). Gender stereotypes about intellectual ability emerge early and influence children’s interests. Science, 355(6323), 389–391. Dana, N. F., & Yendol-Hoppey, D. (2015). The PLC Book. Corwin Press. https://files.hbe.com.au/samplepages/CO4483.pdf Guskey, T. R. (2014). Planning professional learning. Educational Leadership, 71(8), 10. Institute of Physics. (2018). Gender stereotypes and their effect on young people. http://www.iop.org/education/teacher/support/girls_physics/resources/file_72045.pdf Lips, H. M. (2016). A new psychology of women: Gender, culture, and ethnicity. Waveland Press. Master, A., Cheryan, S., Moscatelli, A., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2017). Programming experience promotes higher STEM motivation among first-grade girls. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 160, 92–106. Myhill, D., & Jones, S. (2006). ‘She doesn’t shout at no girls’: Pupils’ perceptions of gender equity in the classroom. Cambridge Journal of Education, 36(1), 99–113. National Education Union, U. F. (2017). “It’s just everywhere” A study on sexim in schools and how we tackle it. National Education Union and UK Feminista. https://ukfeminista.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Report-Its-just-everywhere.pdf Smith, C. S., & Hung, L.-C. (2008). Stereotype threat: Effects on education. Social Psychology of Education, 11(3), 243–257. State Examinations Commission (2019). State Examination Statistics, Retrieved from: https://www.examinations.ie/statistics/?l=en&mc=st&sc=r12
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