According to cognitive scientists, we make most of our decisions without even consciously thinking about them. As a result, it’s important to take note of biases that may be negatively influencing our decision-making.

That’s the message Amy Jin Johnson, executive director of Project Implicit, delivered as part of a webinar co-sponsored by NASSP and the National Association of Elementary School Principals, March 16.

Titled, “Commit to Being a Bias-Conscious Leader,” the webinar sought to give school leaders ideas about the kinds of biases they might hold and some strategies for creating inclusive environments in their schools.

The brain is a formidable pattern-making machine, Johnson said. People sift through verbal and visual cues constantly and only consciously process 40 bits of information at a time out of millions presented to them. “The brain’s job is to keep us safe and comfortable,” Johnson explained. “Our brain creates unintentional profiles of people and causes us to act in ways we don’t want to. We cannot possibly evaluate every possible detail, so we use mental shortcuts to make decisions.”

Johnson took educators through eight types of bias they might be holding internally, including confirmation bias (only focusing on information that confirms our assumptions) and affinity bias (the tendency to gravitate toward people like ourselves).

After challenging participants to examine their own biases, she recommended six leadership practices:

  1. Ensure everyone is heard. People have different communication styles, so make sure to recognize others’ opinions. Give your staff guidelines for effectively communicating.
  2. Make it safe to propose new ideas. Be accessible in different ways and at different times, and be open to new ways of thinking.
  3. Celebrate the wins. Take note of a variety of small achievements accomplished by your staff members. Praise inclusive behavior.
  4. Give actionable feedback. Share specific ways others can make your school environment inclusive.
  5. Measure the sentiments and actions of your team. Survey your staff to see where they are at: Do they feel valued? Do students feel valued? Do they have meaningful relationships at school? Then use the data to improve your culture.
  6. Model inclusive behavior and actions. Understand that you have biases, and reflect on them to begin to change your behavior. Intentionally work to foster inclusivity.

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