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Implicit Bias and Cultural Sensitivity Training

STRATEGY: Prioritize implicit bias (toward colleagues and students) training to ensure cultural sensitivity.

Implicit bias refers to attitudes or stereotypes that affect individuals’ understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Effective school leaders prioritize implicit bias training to ensure cultural sensitivity so that predictability of academic success or failure based on social, economic, or cultural factors are inconsequential. By prioritizing implicit bias training, school leaders support development of cultural sensitivity as a precursor to culturally responsive pedagogy. Through implementation of implicit bias training, school leaders advance culturally responsive teaching methods that mitigate unfavorable biases and improve student outcomes.


Left unchecked, implicit bias contributes to cultural insensitivity, which creates barriers to inclusion, performance, and engagement. To interrupt the impact of unfavorable implicit bias on learning outcomes, school leaders need to leverage training that supports teachers in exploring the following: * Individual biases and how to adjust them * Benefits of cultural sensitivity and culturally responsive pedagogy * Negative implications associated with ignoring implicit bias * How schools address implicit bias in decision-making and pedagogy Cultural sensitivity precedes culturally responsive pedagogy, and implicit bias training supports development of cultural sensitivity. Benefits of culturally responsive pedagogy include positive effects on teacher expectations, student achievement, cross-cultural communications, and the design of learning experiences. School leaders who leverage implicit bias training to promote cultural sensitivity understand that effective teaching is culturally responsive.

First Steps to Consider

Prioritizing implicit bias training to ensure cultural sensitivity supports teachers in responding positively and constructively to diverse students. After completing implicit bias training, teachers are more prone to engage in ongoing self-reflection and analysis of underlying assumptions. Through these practices, teachers gain greater self-awareness of implicit biases, develop greater cultural sensitivity, and understand the importance of implementing culturally responsive pedagogy for the success of all students. Quick wins

  • Align school policies, practices, procedures, and inclusion practices to accelerate and support development of cultural sensitivity and interrupt entrenched systems that contribute to a lack of cultural sensitivity.
  • Implement a systematic approach to raising awareness of implicit bias to ensure cultural sensitivity and subsequent
  • culturally responsive pedagogy so that every student has the opportunity, access, and support needed to achieve success.

  • Leverage data systems to pinpoint how cultural sensitivity is either supported or constrained by implicit bias.
  • Respond positively to diverse perspectives and create connections among diverse groups of individuals in a way that promotes cultural sensitivity.
  • Facilitate intergroup contact between teachers to reduce implicit biases through shared experiences.

First steps

  • Ensure that implicit bias training effectively achieves increased levels of cultural sensitivity by providing job-embedded professional learning that is collaborative, classroom-focused, data driven, and sustained over time.
  • Establish a common understanding of implicit bias as a springboard for developing cultural sensitivity and culturally responsive practices.
  • Commit structured time to examine how implicit bias affects instructional practices and apply strategies to minimize impact of implicit bias.
  • Provide psychological safety for students and staff members by reaffirming and supporting positive action in relation to cultural sensitivity.
  • Recognize decision points that are vulnerable to implicit bias and when implicit biases are most likely to be activated, such as when under stress and time constraints, multi-tasking, or needing closure.
  • Demonstrate cultural sensitivity to inspire, influence, and generate trust so that both collaboration and engagement increase, benefiting all learners.
  • Engage in data walks to collect evidence of culturally responsive pedagogy to share as exemplars with staff members.
  • Use protocols to support discussions and reflections about implicit bias and set a clear purpose and goal for discussions about the same.
  • Schedule recurring, small discussion groups after initial implicit bias training in support of revisiting and reinforcing expectations associated with the prior learning.

Complexities & Pitfalls

When prioritizing implicit bias training to ensure cultural sensitivity, leaders may encounter differing perspectives around the benefit of the training as a strategy for promoting cultural sensitivity, although research findings indicate the opposite. Implicit bias training supports development of cultural sensitivity; oftentimes, this perspective is rooted in the fear that improperly conducted training can increase biases in schools, resulting in greater polarization between groups. Common pitfalls

  • Approaching implicit bias training and cultural sensitivity as a compliance measure.
  • Failing to communicate the rationale, or “why”, for implicit bias training, thereby limiting participants’ level of emotional and personal investment in the learning.
  • Ignoring varying levels of comfort among staff members regarding talking about implicit biases, which in turns limits the level of active engagement and learning during the training.
  • Failing to remember that differences in communication styles can lead to misunderstandings when talking about implicit bias.
  • Failing to provide practical, actionable strategies after the implicit bias training.
  • Failing to implement proactive measures to eliminate invisibility, stereotyping, imbalance or selectivity, fragmentation or isolation, and linguistic bias in addition to engaging teachers in implicit bias training.
  • Normalizing implicit bias, thereby reducing potential for meaningful change.
  • Limiting implicit bias training to teachers versus the entire staff.

Guiding Questions

  • What qualities do culturally sensitive schools, classrooms, and teachers have?
  • What immediate, short-term, and long-term goals for cultural sensitivity will be set at the school, classroom, and teacher levels?
  • How does implicit bias manifest itself in schools? How do school leaders raise awareness of implicit bias among staff members to reduce unwanted disparities?
  • What level of cultural sensitivity exists in the school and how is it demonstrated?
  • What skills or dispositions are important when leading conversations about implicit bias?
  • What types of strategies or tools will be implemented to help teachers acknowledge their own biases? What types of support are available to address those biases?
  • Following conversations about implicit bias, what strategic actions support better learning experiences and outcomes for students?
  • What opportunities exist for teachers to learn more about their students’ cultural backgrounds?
  • What expectations exist for engaging teachers in examining curriculum and learning materials for implicit bias?