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PLC Series: Stereotypes as an Enemy of Equity


Welcome to the Heinemann Professional Development Professional Learning Community (PLC) series. Each month, we'll share a post designed to provoke thinking and discussion through a simple framework, incorporating mini-collections of linked content.

Use these as learning modules during your professional development time, whether in a team, a PLC, or on your own!


by Jaclyn Karabinas

“...the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie



Take a moment to think about a time you entered a space where you received the message that others had already defined you based on one or more stereotypes.

Next, allow yourself an honest, vulnerable moment to name a time when you were the one who created the stereotype and consequently, sent messages to someone that held your assumed stereotype.



Think carefully about the above quote about stereotypes from author and speaker Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Keep this guiding question in mind as you work through this learning module: How do we as teachers create “single stories” about students—and how does this create barriers to their success and perpetuate inequity?



In his new book, We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be, Cornelius Minor talks about how kids are constantly communicating to us who they are and what they need — and that in order to best reach them, we need to know them. In order to do that, we have to listen.

In his recent podcast, he explains:

As I've worked in my own classroom and work through many people's classrooms, one of the things that I have to really resist doing is using this shorthand of seeing, where if I've got the kid that's the teacher pleaser, I've seen 20 other teacher pleasers before. And so if I meet a new kid that is a teacher pleaser, I start to treat them like all of the other teacher pleasers that came before them. Or if I've got a defiant kid, I start to treat that defiant kid like all of the other defiant kids before them.

And what that does is it erases a kid's identity. I don't get to see Rosa or Marshall or Virgil for who they are. I see them as this composite history that I've experienced, and that's not who kids are. So I think that we can best reach kids when we can look at Marshall and see Marshall for who he is. And so even if Marshall might be resistant, he's resistant a different way than last year's resistant kid was, and I can optimally teach Marshall when I labor to understand why he does what he does.

Listen to the full podcast below or read the transcript here.  As you listen, note anything that gives you pause or begins a shift in thinking as Cornelius tells stories about listening (and not listening) to students and how this process impacts both students and construction (or deconstruction) of barriers.



Go back to your memories about stereotypes from the very beginning of our learning module. Give yourself time to write about how things might have gone differently in the spaces or situations you named if stereotypes were not the default starting point—and what it would have taken for that to occur.




Find one student to be your focus for a bit. Walk through the school day (or class period) in your mind as best as you can as that student. Think through these questions:

  • What do you know about this student? What questions do you have?

  • What kinds of verbal and nonverbal communication are used?

  • When are elements of this student’s identity most evident? Most silenced?

  • What does this student have in common with a previous student? How is this student different that the previous student?

This can be challenging to pull from memory, so if the opportunity is possible in your school setting, commit to a few days of kidwatching this student. Keep brief notes and observations throughout the day to really try to see the day—the schedule, curriculum, procedures, policies—through that student’s eyes.

Gather with some colleagues, either in person or virtually, to talk about what you noticed.  Do the roles of the teacher and school in this student’s life create pathways to success? Were these roles and the student’s life or approach to learning contradictory? Did you notice anything that you might consider including, shifting, or omitting from your interactions with this student as a young person and a learner?




Read this short piece from Cohort 3 Heinemann Fellow Irene Castillon: “Building the Scaffolds to Support First-Generation Latinx Students”. You will want to read it at least twice. On the second reading, read it through the lens of someone who feels as though they have been stereotyped, or been referred to as “the exception to the rule”.



 Dig further into the guiding question by applying it to Irene Castillon’s story. How might the creation of a “single story” have had an impact on the differing graduation rates between whites and Latinx students, per the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce Report she referenced’?


The work of breaking down stereotypes—especially those rooted in racism— takes daily, personal work and reflection from teachers. This work cannot be cosmetic, as author Sonja Cherry-Paul and others talk about in a recent podcast episode. It needs to be personal.

In his book, Cornelius Minor tells us:

“Education is about two things—teaching young people to create opportunity for themselves and teaching them that to do that work responsibly—with respect to our environment and to the myriad communities of people that share our planet.

Anything that abridges opportunity or compromises our responsibilities to one another is our enemy. As such, if we are not doing equity, then we are not doing education.

Acting on stereotypes by default in our classroom, therefore, is an enemy of equitable education. Where does this enemy persist for a student or subgroup of students in your school?

Now that you know, what will you do about it?

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For Further Reading:

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Looking for more PD? 

Online: Our On-Demand Courses are self-paced and full of opportunities to experience video-modeling, practice on your own, and reflect and share in the forums. Browse through categories of Reading, Writing, Math, Literacy, and Fountas & Pinnell.

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Off-Site: Many of our Spring 2019 One-Day Workshop dates are now on the site, including Cornelius Minor, in Georgia and Illinois.

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On-Site: Heinemann’s Speakers & Consulting Authors, including Cornelius Minor, are trusted experts in how to create successful classroom and school environments based on respect, collaboration, empathy, and positivity.

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Topics: Cornelius Minor, Heinemann Fellows, PLC Series, Identity, We Got This, Listening, Irene Castillon, Cornelius Minor Podcasts

Date Published: 11/27/18

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