Schools struggling to uproot deep-seated beliefs about race increasingly turn to antibias training for their staffs. In order to meaningfully change patterns of behavior, the leaders of these antibias training sessions must be prepared to confront the challenges that often inhibit productive dialogue: defensiveness, guilt, fear, and anxiety. In a climate like this, a single facilitator can struggle to remain neutral and supportive of all participants, reflect on their own feelings, and move the conversation forward.
But these challenges may dissolve when an interracial team of facilitators strategically divides the work in a way that plays to their strengths as facilitators and as individuals, according to an article by the Nellie Mae Foundation’s Gislaine Ngounou and New York City Leadership Academy’s Nancy Gutierrez — both experienced anti-bias facilitators. Since trainees will come from all backgrounds and beliefs, having multiple facilitators means that there may be more opportunities for participants to find a relatable and engaging way into tough conversations about race.
In selecting an interracial team of facilitators to lead the anti-bias training, district and school leaders are creating the best chance of safe and productive sessions for their staffs. They should keep in mind:
- Conversations around race and bias can be draining both for the trainees and the facilitators. Sharing the workload among team members with varying perspectives prevents facilitators from feeling overwhelmed or out of their depth. It also ensures greater balance, preventing certain voices from dominating conversations, and avoiding an oversimplified or monolithic understanding of race.
- Discussions can stall, especially, as the authors note, when the facilitator is “identifiably different” from most of the participants. Trainees will feel comfortable sharing their experiences if they feel the leader can identify with their experiences or will listen without judgment.
- An interracial team heightens an awareness of power and place, and the role individuals play in perpetuating systemic inequality.
- Facilitators need to be able to speak about racism and the experience of grappling with privilege. In normalizing the idea that everyone holds biases, it’s possible have a more open conversation and makes it easier for participants to share.
- The work is founded around uncomfortable conversations. A diverse team of facilitators can easily model how to address bias head-on and broach that discomfort.
- Once a group has learned to acknowledge that discomfort, an interracial team can provide a model on how to disagree productively, and how to acknowledge inflicted harm and talk about it in a way that encourages transformation.