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Is Bias Pushing Schools to Open?

A few years ago I came across a chart called 12 Cognitive Biases That Impact Search Committees that fascinated me. It was based on research from Minnesota State University and to be honest, I thought it was refreshing to see research from a source outside the usual East Coast universities. And I must have stared at it for 20 minutes considering all the ways bias was operating in my life at the time (20 minutes in the age of Twitter is a loooong time!).

While the chart focuses on hiring (a critically important moment to consider how bias operates), as we think about reopening schools during a global pandemic, I think we should consider just two: Choice-Supportive Bias and Zero-Risk Bias.

After a long spring, we are at a crossroads with how we teach. The last few months of the year taught all of us that we can do school in a different way. And yet, many administrators are in a fury measuring rooms and figuring out social distance to re-open in the fall. For many schools, that choice has been made NOW (early July) when the pandemic is growing apace with the social pressure to open. So, in the choice-supportive bias, if new data arises in the coming months indicating school should not open, our bias, fueled by grueling hours of moving desks, creating staggered schedules, and setting up temperature taking stations will confirm that the original choice must stand. At that moment, new information is not welcome because you already CHOSE to reopen and you don’t want to throw good work out the window. My caution here is to be open to new information that may change your plans and be ready to throw.

With Zero-Risk Bias we may look at the choice that is the lowest risk and ignore the benefits of trying something new that might be more effective. For example, we never would have thought we could teach Kindergarteners on Zoom or Google Classroom. Yet, many teachers who teach at the level were able to incorporate play, engage families in the class projects, and redefine “screen time” as “the teacher is here while you work” rather than staring at a screen. And I believe that we have been given a tough but rich challenge to think about how we do school. Instead of moving away from the skills we have learned and say last spring was a bad dream (Was it a dream? Ah, no...) we can embrace what we learned and continue to try new things, only this time with more thought, planning and care for each other.

The 12 Cognitive Biases are worth a look if you are a school leader. At least for 20 minutes.

Book Bag Learning offers one-on-one coaching and workshops for schools across the country Contact us if we can help you.

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