Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education: Teacher Leadership

Professional Development Topic
Teacher Leadership
1 hour

This module is part of a 4-part seminar. The four modules in this seminar are based on the original version of our Critical Practices publication, published in 2014. Learning for Justice released the new edition of Critical Practices for Social Justice Education in 2023. The new edition is informed by the current social and political landscape, and it acknowledges the ways educators have been challenged by increased political scrutiny, censorship and debate about what can be taught in schools. Please stay tuned for updated professional development resources around this publication.

You need:

  • ability to access audio and video on your device;
  • pen and paper;
  • your lesson book for reference throughout;
  • and about one hour.


Culture refers to a wide range of identity and community characteristics. Culturally responsive pedagogy engages identities and identity issues across all groups and communities: gender, ability/disability, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, language and nationality.

Culturally responsive classroom culture exists when students are seen, valued, cared for and respected as their full selves.

In looking more directly at teacher leadership, keep in mind that culturally responsive pedagogy:

  • uses student-centered learning that values students’ lives and what they bring to their own learning;
  • teaches students to engage critically with meaningful social issues and to build bridges across differences (within and outside of school);
  • addresses a range of learning styles and multiple intelligences; and
  • requires  authentic, holistic evaluation that is consistent with anti-bias and social justice values.

In this professional development, learners will: 

  • Increase self-awareness and cultural competency
  • Identify skills to speak up against and respond to prejudice, bias and stereotypes
  • Explore building allies
  • Define leading beyond the classroom


Take a moment to think about today’s objectives independently. List 10 words or attributes you associate with teacher leadership in a culturally responsive classroom. 

Working in a cohort? Share your list with a partner.

Self-Awareness and Cultural Compentency:

Let’s begin by looking specifically at self-awareness and cultural competency. Working toward these types of awareness is a deeply personal process, one that includes several key elements: 

  • Asking oneself how issues of sameness, difference and power affect interactions with colleagues, students and families 
  • Genuinely seeing diversity as a strength and an opportunity, rather than an “issue” or problem
  • Understanding how one’s own life experiences can help build relationships with students and enhance curriculum 
  • Thinking about what each of us still needs to learn and engaging in relevant professional development, dialogue, study or personal reflection
  • Developing skills and attitudes that can help bridge cultural differences. These include empathy, flexibility, listening without judgment, appreciation for multiple cultural perspectives and cross-cultural communication 

Self-awareness and cultural competency mean that the teacher is aware of her own perceptions and how they affect others.

Go Deeper:

Think about yourself as a teacher. Life experiences leave everyone with biases and prejudices, but it is our responsibility as teachers to recognize them and adjust our actions based on our own self-awareness.

Teachers want students to learn, and many make an effort to be particularly responsive to racially and ethnically diverse students. Many of the beliefs we hold and lessons we are taught about racially and ethnically diverse students and how to best faciliate their learning have positive effects. Others, however, while seemingly sensible and well-intended, can have negative consequences.

Read each statement on the Common Beliefs Survey and complete the “First Thoughts” section after each statement. Try not to “over-think” the items, answering instead with your “gut response.”

Next, read the entries for each statement on the Discussion Prompts. As you read each discussion prompt, reflect on your initial response in “First Thoughts,” and write down additional thoughts, along with possible action steps that might help you better serve students.

Working in a cohort? Complete discussion prompts in small groups.

Speaking up and Responding to Bias and Stereotypes:

The next piece will look specifically at speaking up against and responding to prejudice, bias and stereotypes. True responsiveness has several key features:

  • Learning proactive responses to injustice and addressing incidents of bias, discrimination, exclusion and bullying in a timely manner
  • Intervening every time students tease, bully or use slurs and stereotypes
  • Speaking up against jokes and criticism about different identity groups
  • Avoiding assigning roles for group work that may privilege or pigeonhole students based on identity
  • Pointing out unfairness when it comes up in class discussions
  • Finding respectful and open-hearted ways to stand strong when faced with familial resistance to “controversial” curriculum topics, such as race and LGBT experiences 


One key component of speaking up against and responding to prejudice, bias and stereotypes is the use of visual supports and symbols of inclusion and safety.

Teachers can display posters, stickers and signs in their classrooms to signal their commitment to standing against bias, discrimination and bullying. These materials offer messages like “Hate-Free Zone,” “Safe Space (for LGBT Students),” “Bullying Stops Here,” “All Families Welcome” and “No One is ‘Illegal’.” 

Here is a poster example to print and hang up. 

Go Deeper:

Conduct an audit of your classroom space. What visual signals inform students that your room is safe and welcoming for all?

Are they be placed in a prominent location? Can you add any others to your environment?

If no signals are present, what symbol(s) can you add that would benefit your population?

Add at least one new visual symbol to your classroom environment.

Working in a cohort? Share your thoughts with the group.

Building Alliances:

In the next section, we will look specifically at the importance of building a network of allies. Building allies is about making connections and working together toward a common goal with common values, supporting one another’s ideas and creating a sounding board for anti-bias curriculum planning. By building allies, a stronger foundation is laid for more significant work to be done.


Building alliances is about working together, giving and receiving support and creating a sounding board for anti-bias curriculum planning. Alliance-building also gives teachers space to discuss critical practices for anti-bias education. 

Diversity and social justice topics such as race, immigration and LGBT issues may be difficult or uncomfortable to talk about. Having a critical mass of support can help forward the agenda and provide support in the face of resistance. If the ally group includes a diverse range of members, the work won’t become identified with the perceived interests or agendas of a specific group.

More voices means a broader platform from which to deepen the impact in your classroom and school community.


Educators have many options for networking and building allies, some of which are listed below. 

Which of these options do you currently utilize or participate in? Which of these options will you consider utilizing?

Fill in the chart by placing an X in the column under “currently use” for those activities you participate in and an X in the column under “would like to use” for those activities you will consider participating in. 

Reflect on the items you put into the “would like to use” column, choose one to act on immediately. Some possible starting points include:

Name three support system details that are necessary to your success.

Working in a cohort? Share your thoughts with the group.

Leading Beyond the Classroom:

Let’s now look at leading beyond the classroom.

As advocates for social justice, teachers shape curriculum and demonstrate anti-bias leadership outside the classroom. This means discussing anti-bias education with colleagues, school leaders and powerful community partners. These discussions can benefit not only students, but also families, community members and the larger professional field.


In developing of confidence, navigating different groups in society, knowing where to direct one’s leadership efforts and in making a difference, demonstrating leadership beyond the classroom supports the four anti-bias domains: Identity, Diversity, Justice and Action. 

This work is unfamiliar—even uncomfortable—to many schools and communities. It may take advocacy and support to break through resistance related to time restraints, teacher overload, parent negativity and so on. Teachers also have the power to “lead by example” by showcasing their ongoing learning about diversity and justice and their commitment to creating a better world.

Go Deeper:

Some questions to ask when considering leading beyond the classroom are:

  • What is the role of the anti-bias education in our classrooms and schools? How can the curriculum’s focus on the four anti-bias domains (Identity, Diversity, Justice and Action) be woven through all aspects of teaching, learning, school climate and policy?
  • How does our own behavior (and sharing of personal knowledge) at school model values from the anti-bias curriculum? Would we like to do more?
  • Are there relevant community issues that we would like our classes or schools to actively address?
  • What successes, ideas or lessons from our work might interest immediate colleagues or the larger professional community?

It is important to have conversations regarding social justice.

Answer the following question while watching the interview with Tracy Oliver-Gary, 2011 Teaching Tolerance Award winner: 

How does conversation have a lasting impact on Ms. Oliver-Gary’s students?

Working in a cohort? Share your thoughts with a partner.


Think about how you could initiate a schoolwide conversation about social justice education in your school.

Can discussions be initiated in faculty and staff meetings? Are faculty meetings regularly held? Who makes decisions about training sessions and professional development?

Ongoing Reflection and Learning:

In the next section, we will look specifically at ongoing reflection and learning.


Ongoing learning and reflection support one of the four anti-bias domains: Action. Without ongoing efforts, anti-bias education becomes unsustainable and irrelevant. Personal exploration helps prepare teachers to address a broader range of anti-bias topics more deeply.

Ongoing learning and reflection can occur individually and within groups. Examples of such reflection and learning are personal reading, journaling, blogging, attending conferences, taking courses and joining a study group.

Pick one of the following suggested strategies to implement in the coming semester:

  1. Journaling: It may be helpful to keep a journal as a place to record evolving thoughts on anti-bias content and curriculum, classroom or school dynamics related to identity and diversity, personal experiences related to these issues and relevant insights from discussion groups and training sessions.
  2. Professional development: Professional development workshops and conferences can be a great way to keep current and build content knowledge, skills and leadership on issues related to culturally responsive pedagogy and anti-bias education.
  3. Critical friend relationships: Collegial friendships, such as those among allies within the same school, can provide safe, constructive opportunities to work through challenging curricular material, implementation issues or difficult interactions with students, parents/guardians or administrators. “Critical friends” can observe each other’s classes, review assignment ideas and openly discuss the joys and complexities of teaching. One of their most important roles is helping colleagues grow by pointing out potential oversights in content or process and by naming any biases or assumptions they observe. To be successful, all of this must be done within a context of mutual care, regard and trust.

Working in a cohort? Share your plan with the group.


At the start of this professional development module, we identified our objectives.

Let’s return to them now:

  • Increase self-awareness and cultural competency
  • Identify skills to speak up against and respond to prejudice, bias and stereotypes
  • Explore building allies
  • Define leading beyond the classroom

Take a minute to remid yourself of key ideas from each objective.

Working in a cohort? Share key ideas with the group.

Let’s review the critical practices for teacher leadership introduced here:

  • Self-awareness and cultural competency
  • Speaking up against and responding to prejudice, bias and stereotypes
  • Building allies
  • Leading beyond the classroom
  • Ongoing reflection and learning 

Take a minute to remind yourself of the key features of each practice.

What is one action you can take to implement the practice? Include reflection for each if necessary.

Working in a cohort? Fill in the table with a colleague. 

Lastly, let’s extend the exercise. 

What can you change tomorrow to incorporate one of the teacher leadership critical practices into your teaching? Keep in mind that this change should be something that takes very little (or no) money or outside resources.

What steps will you take to make this change? 

Before you go:

At the beginning of the module, you listed 10 words or attributes you associate with culturally responsive teacher leadership. Return to that list now, and cross out words or attributes you no longer feel apply. Add new words and attributes based on your learning here.

Working in a cohort? Share your thoughts with the group.

For continued reflection purposes, consider starting a journal where you can jot down your thoughts and ideas as you implement Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education. Remember that this work is not in addition to what you already do; rather, it should frame what you currently do so that you can be more inclusive in your work with students.


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