Equity Forum Gathers Stakeholders for Discussion of Implicit Bias in Schools

By Josh Koenig and Rena Beltran


Last Friday, our Education Equity Project convened nearly 100 teachers, administrators, lawyers, researchers, policymakers, parents, and funders for the Chicago Equity Forum: Implicit Bias in Schools. With generous support from the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, as well as our hosts McDermott Will & Emery, the Forum featured a keynote from Dr. Gina Gullo, leading author of Implicit Bias in Schools: A Practitioner’s Guide.

Following Dr. Gullo’s keynote, attendees participated in two of three afternoon breakout sessions led by Dr. Chala Holland, Principal at Lake Forest High School, Dr. Jackie Moore, President of the Oak Park and River Forest High School Board, and Dr. Pamela Fenning and Miranda Johnson, professors from Loyola University Chicago’s School of Education and School of Law, respectively.

“I learned today that there is so much we can all do to change things within the system,” said one attendee, a high school teacher, on Friday. “But at the same time, there is only so much you can do in a structure that’s hegemonic. We have to build a new structure that’s not premised on hierarchy and inequity.”

What You Missed: 4 Takeaways from the Convening

Did you miss the convening? We’ve got you covered. Here are four key takeaways from the keynote and breakout sessions:

1. “I am not excited that implicit bias is doing things to hurt our kids. But I am excited that we can do something about it.”

Dr. Gina Gullo, leading author of the book  Implicit Bias in Schools: A Practitioner’s Guide,  shares recent research on implicit bias.

Dr. Gina Gullo, leading author of the book Implicit Bias in Schools: A Practitioner’s Guide, shares recent research on implicit bias.

In her keynote address, Dr. Gullo advocated for taking a “solution-focused approach” to implicit bias, highlighting the breadth of evidence-based strategies that can help schools combat bias and improve student outcomes. Using insights from her research and her book Implicit Bias in Schools: A Practitioner’s Guide, Dr. Gullo explained what implicit bias is, why it matters to our students, and what we can do to promote greater equity in our schools.

You can find Implicit Bias in Schools: A Practitioner’s Guide available for purchase here. The book also includes a chapter authored by Loyola professors Fenning and Johnson discussing the work of the Transforming School Discipline Collaborative (TSDC), of which Chicago Lawyers’ Committee is a steering member. Read more about TSDC by visiting the collaborative’s website.

2. “Every community has a history. Every school has a context that it operates out of.”

Dr. Chala Holland uses personal narrative, visuals, and key quotations from the literature on implicit bias in her afternoon breakout sessions.

Dr. Chala Holland uses personal narrative, visuals, and key quotations from the literature on implicit bias in her afternoon breakout sessions.

Drawing on her experience as a teacher and administrator at Evanston Township High School, as an Assistant Principal at Oak Park and River Forest High School, and now as Principal at Lake Forest High School, Dr. Chala Holland’s afternoon breakout sessions encouraged participants to remember that all schools have a history and existing climate. Dr. Holland also urged attendees to examine not just student groups who may feel “invisible,” but also the “hypervisible” culture at their school to best understand how to drive transformative change with respect to implicit bias. In concluding, Dr. Holland suggested that participants must also meet others “where [they] are, not where I want them to be” in their own understanding of implicit bias.

3. “When we are tired and stressed and have to make snap judgments, we are much more likely to lean on our biases.”

Alongside Miranda Johnson, Dr. Pamela Fenning (pictured above) shares perspectives on implicit bias from a legal and school psychologists’ perspective.

Alongside Miranda Johnson, Dr. Pamela Fenning (pictured above) shares perspectives on implicit bias from a legal and school psychologists’ perspective.

In their joint break out sessions, Dr. Pamela Fenning and Professor Miranda Johnson highlighted how pervasive subjective decision-making is in the daily discipline practices of schools, especially in times of uncertainty and stress. As the presentation made clear, this dynamic is still a feature of school discipline under SB 100 and must be addressed if we want to see more equitable outcomes for students. Both presenters then shared tools to help educators overcome bias by making discipline decisions more intentional and systematic.

4. “Student voices are critically important in the planning and implementation of their education.”

Oak Park and River Forest High School Board President Dr. Jackie Moore leads a small group discussion about how school boards and communities can help students push for racial equity.

Oak Park and River Forest High School Board President Dr. Jackie Moore leads a small group discussion about how school boards and communities can help students push for racial equity.

As President of the Oak Park and River Forest High School Board, Dr. Jackie Moore has empowered students to attend school board meetings and voice their opinions about important issues involving their education and experiences. During her breakout session, Dr. Moore shared that through meetings with district leaders and Students Advocating for Equity (SAFE) , a student-led racial equity course was developed and will be piloted in 2019. This strategy is an example of how building awareness around issues of equity and bias is foundational to counteracting the negative impact of implicit bias. Dr. Moore’s work also shows that young people are capable, and they deserve to be heard in shaping changes that will impact them. 

How to Get Involved

Want to learn more, or attend future events? Here are three action steps you can take today:

  1. Connect. Sign up for the Transforming School Discipline Collaborative newsletter, and for updates from Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.

  2. Learn. You can find and download each presentation from the Chicago Equity Forum here.

  3. Participate. Chicago Lawyers’ Committee shares many of our public events on our website here. We hope to catch you at an upcoming event!