New Graduate Education Course Starts with Mindfulness on the Path to Greater Equity

August 26, 2020

Image from before the COVID-19 pandemic

A K–12 classroom brings together many individuals from diverse backgrounds, giving MBU-trained educators daily opportunities to promote equity and inclusivity. 

A new online graduate-level course set to debut in 2021, The Mindful, Bias-Aware, and Reflective Teacher will examine inequities and forms of discrimination present in today’s society and educational settings, and then give teachers tools to help increase learning outcomes for every student.  

Image from before the COVID-19 pandemic

Mindfulness techniques — including reaching out with compassion, being judgment free, and stopping to reflect upon one’s thoughts, actions, and reactions — enable teachers to become more aware of their biases and understand the role those predispositions have upon their interactions with students. Then they can introduce strategies to reduce bias in the classroom.

“We know from the research that teacher bias can lead to treating individual students differently, based on their backgrounds or ethnicity,” said Stephanie Sebolt, assistant professor of education, who has developed the course and will be teaching it for the first time this spring. “Mindfulness and reflection can help foster a positive learning environment for all students and can help build strong relationships with all students.”  

Think of a challenge that a teacher may encounter in the classroom, such as disruptive behavior from a student. Sebolt’s course will equip the teacher to pause, reflect on context for the behavior, and react in a more positive, holistic way than resorting to quick anger or frustration. 

“This course is meant to help educators see and also manage challenges, and gain strategies so that all of their students can thrive as individuals and as contributing members of society,” Sebolt said. 

Stephanie Sebolt (left), assistant professor of education, and Tynisha Willingham (right), dean of the College of Education

And with teachers bringing these strategies both to their practice and into their curriculum, the benefit of mindful and bias-aware interactions will extend through students’ own individual relationships. 

“The College of Education not only prepares the next cadre of teachers but also develops education professionals who are committed to contributing to local and global educational equity and social change,” said Tynisha Willingham, the new dean of the College of Education, who started her position at MBU this summer. “Our programs underscore our dedication to addressing education issues regionally and nationally to ensure equitable educational opportunities for all learners. It is our responsibility to create learning experiences that encourage us to explore the meaning, purpose, and significance of education in diverse community contexts.”

With expertise in literacy practices in diverse settings and community engaged learning, Willingham will deliver a keynote presentation and strategies on educational equity for the upcoming virtual conference Moving Forward with Serenity: Weaving Social Emotional Learning and Content on September 30–October 1, hosted by The Region One Education Service Center of South Texas.