The Rev. Bryant Marks talks fast. He wears a bowtie. He is African American.
Any of those things could trigger an implicit bias, positive or negative, based on personal or cultural experiences, and Marks would say that is normal.
If you live in society and you have a brain, you have biases, Marks repeated over and over again at OSBA’s virtual conference Saturday. No shame in that. What matters is whether you can identify your biases and take steps to mitigate them for the good of students.
OSBA concluded its Summer Virtual Conferences series with “Raising the Equity Question.” More than 100 people registered. Marks was the featured speaker, with nearly four hours of sessions broken up in three parts.
OSBA Board President Maureen Wolf set the stage in the morning, pointing out that Oregon’s student body is becoming more diverse while the school workforce has not kept up. The past year has intensified schools’ focus on equity and racial justice. Some communities have drawn closer together while others have become deeply divided.
Wolf reminded people why they serve on school boards or work in schools.
“We all share … the same common bond, and that is we care deeply about our young people,” said Wolf, a Northwest Regional Education Service District board member.
Marks showed how caring isn’t always enough, though, when leaders aren’t aware of the ways their biases are hurting students or staff.
“Your job is to find which biases you have and how they are affecting people,” he said. He challenged attendees to critically examine themselves and their school systems and to take action.
Marks, an associate professor at Morehouse College, is the founding director of the National Training Institute on Race and Equity and has been doing trainings nationally for 22 years.
He stressed that implicit biases — unconscious associations that affect how we behave — are a natural part of the human condition. But they can also be overridden by conscious decisions.
“Implicit bias is much more about the machinery of your mind than it is the content of your character,” Marks said. As such, school leaders have a responsibility to own their biases, let go of the guilt and develop some management strategies, he said.
He told attendees to make finding disparity a standard practice and to keep bias as a top-of-mind concern. He stressed using data both to uncover disparities and to make unbiased decisions.
Wherever possible, he advised, remove unconscious bias as a basis for decisions. For example, remove names from job applications so the focus is on the qualifications.
He also recommended shifting the mental narrative by becoming educated about the positive accomplishments of groups targeted by biases.
Saturday’s all-day event included a look at how public school foundations can advance equity efforts and a deeper equity dive with the Corvallis School District’s journey. OSBA staff also shared ways OSBA can help districts with their equity work.
The four-part Summer Virtual Conferences series replaced OSBA’s traditional Summer Board Conference in Bend this year. Sessions on July 9-10 covered “School Board Essentials” and “Empowering Youth Voices.”
On Friday, July 23, OSBA held its “Board Leadership and Administrative Professionals Workshop.” More than 160 people signed up to learn best practices and to network with similar-sized districts.