Guest Post #2: Challenging our Unconscious Biases from Barb Everhart

26 years ago I was in the Math Ed program at the University of Minnesota with my friend mentorsBarb Schuler Everhart when our professor said, “I need 4 volunteers to do a practicum at Patrick Henry HS in Minneapolis.”  Barb and I wanted to be together and immediately raised our hands.  We knew nothing about the school or district when we volunteered.  Little did we know at the time that our choice to raise our hands would lead to our practicum followed by both student teaching at Henry and both being hired to work as math teachers there.  In addition it started both of us in a career long journey of looking at how to increase the educational outcomes of students of poverty and of students of color (who made up the majority of our first school).   In a previous post about my mentors I named Barb as one of them.  I am so glad Barb agreed to write a guest post on my blog.

Barb EverhartBarb is larger than life. She loves math but she loves students more.  Barb loves her own children and living an active life.  Those who know her well love that in the last few years she has been part of a women’s Roller Derby team (seriously, how cool is this).  Barb has recently worked as a leader of HS math for Minneapolis.  She currently consults with numerous districts and teachers around the metro area.  Barb is the co-chair of Minnesota’s Math Equity Task Force along with Lesa Covington Clarkson from the University of Minnesota.  For the last 10+ years Barb has committed numerous hours to being a learner about issues connected with equity.  If you talk to her about it she will tell you about where she is in her personal journey.  She is passionate about supporting all teachers no matter where they are in their own journey related to equity. It comes as no surprise that her first blog for me comes with a challenge connected to this topic for all of us.  I have and am taking her challenge.  I how you will join me.  Here is what my friend, Barb, has to say to all of us.

Challenging our Unconscious Biases

Barb Everhart


blink bookWhen planning for this year, I had the opportunity to read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink.  The book is about a person’s initial or unconscious first impression that spontaneously happens when you encounter something new.   Public reaction to Gladwell changing his hairstyle prompted him to write this book and explore the secret life of snap decisions.  As educators, we are returning to teach the youth our nation and part of our job is to examine our own biases and opinions. The lens through which we make sense of the world around us is the same one we use to motivate, encourage and discipline our students.

As a privileged white woman, I strive to become a more equitable educator, colleague and person.  Gladwell’s book inspired me to reflect and challenge my unconscious biases.  First and foremost, I acknowledge that I have unconscious biases.  As a human being, my upbringing, my environment, my schooling, my friends, my religion all contributed to the biases I hold. It is human nature.  But Gladwell’s research also shows that you can influence your unconscious biases.  People can change their unconscious reactions with training and repetition. It is possible to learn when to listen to your unconsciousness and when not to.  Our first impressions can be educated and controlled!  Knowledge is power!

Take the challenge:

In a few weeks, staff and students will be entering school with all the events of summer, front and center in their mind.  Teachers are prepping for those first few days, where students are welcomed and expectations are set for the year.  However, before those students arrive, set aside some time to reflect on a personal unconscious bias (*implicit bias tests can be found here: http://spottheblindspot.com/the-iat/ ).  Engage a colleague in supporting your learning around a bias, through conversations, observations or readings.


The 2016-2017 school year is upon us and the excitement is palatable.  Have a fabulous year. The sky is the limit!

Side-note: The Minnesota Council of Mathematics Teachers (MCTM) Equity Task Force will be discussing the book, Blindspot, by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald on Oct. 19.  Join the discussion!

Final thoughts (From Sara VDW):  As I said above.  I am going to take Barb’s challenge and will set aside time to reflect on my unconscious biases.  I also will be taking the bias test linked above.  As president of our state math organization I challenged our state’s math educators this spring to spend the year listening and learning, specifically around issues connected to equity.  We know it is more than listening and learning though.  We also know we must do something.  We must act.  I am so proud of the math teachers in MN who, like Barb, are committed to learning and doing more.  I am thankful that the MN math teacher community provides me with people who I can have open conversations with and more important to me name for me actions I take that support the privilege I have as a middle class white woman. I am happy I have many math teacher peers who hold me accountable & help me uncover my unconscious biases.  My great hope for myself is that I will continue to learn and use what I learn to do something.  My students deserve it.  

Thank you to Barb.  Thank you for continuing to challenge and mentor me.  If you are not following her on twitter yet, click HERE and follow her.  Let us know if you’d love to hear more from her.  She is amazing.

Sara VanDerWerf

I am Sara Van Der Werf, a 24-year mathematics teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools. I have taught math in grades 7-12 as well as spent several years leading mathematics at the district office. I currently teach Advanced Algebra at South High School and I'm also the current President of the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM). I am passionate about encouraging and connecting with mathematics teachers. I'd love to connect via twitter.  Join the community.  Tweet me @saravdwerf.

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