One part of my job is occasionally leading parent workshops. I think they are so important, but they give me so much anxiety. I will spend several hours planning for a 1 hour workshop. I will rehearse what I am going to say over and over, because I want it to be perfect. At least that’s what I tell myself. But in truth, what I really want is to fill the time to avoid parent questions. Because I hold this assumption that parents are angry we teach math this way; I assume our parent community thinks more traditional methods, quick repetitious pace, and rote instruction is what is best.
And that’s implicit bias. I was adopting a single story of what these parents are like because it has been fed to be over and over. Author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns us of accepting a single story in this brilliant Ted Talk. What’s more, this single story and Chinese education is wrong. In fact, according to this Quartz article, in typical Chinese math classes there is more time spent on collective learning and less time using an individualistic approach. The whole class does not move on until the entire class has the concept. In a sense, collaboration and support of one another is nurtured.
At the most recent ES math parent coffee, my co-presenters and I did our best to be inclusive of the parent community. Many of the slides were written in English and Mandarin, they were able to collaborate, we provided materials for them to take in both English and Chinese, and we used several visuals to accompany our slides. We created space and access for our parents to not just sit and get but engage. And the 40 parents that attended were beautiful examples of learners. They explored the mathematics problems, listened to one another, collaborated, had a laugh, and took risks. Not once in the oral or written feedback did I hear anything about parents wishing we didn’t teach math this way, nor was there anger or frustration that math class looks different now. The sentiment was appreciation for the opportunity to learn this way.
Now I don’t want to sugarcoat it, I’ve been at ISB for 5 years now and I know that the parent feedback about our approaches to teaching math has not always been this positive. But, if our parents have shown us that they are willing to change, why are we still holding these negative biases about what we think they think? Have we been as willing to grow, change, and shift as our larger parent community?
So. I hope next time you feel that discomfort when a colleague says something about our parent population, or a group of students, or a cultural group, in seriousness or in jest, that you’ll remember that people can grow and change. And I hope it encourages you to say something.
We have a responsibility as educators to move our community towards cultural proficiency. I know it can make things awkward. I know it can make people uncomfortable. I know it takes bravery. Brené Brown, a prominent research storyteller says, “courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.” Seems like something worth doing, doesn’t it?