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  • Writer's pictureLindsay Core

Have you considered auditing yourself?

I love using data to understand concepts and ideas. I love a good infographic. I love when I can gather some proof to back-up a concept.

I've been thinking about how data can help with social justice work. And I don't mean big data collection projects to look at trends in society. Rather, I mean collecting data in my own life to help me understand my own biases and areas for improvement.

A few years ago I decided to do an audit of my classroom. I felt I was doing a good job ensuring that all the students in my classroom had an equal voice. So, for one week, I kept track of how often each student spoke in class discussions with the intention of looking specifically at the number of times the female and male students spoke. This was not a detailed survey - I didn't collect data on the total minutes or number of words spoken, but just the number of turns each student took. To my great surprise the male students in the class spoke up and engaged with me about 50% more than the female students. My perception before collecting the data was that I tried really hard to ensure that both the male and female students had equal voice -- it turned out I was not doing a very good job. With this new information based on what the data revealed I was able to alter my course of action. First, I told the students what I had found, and then I adopted some new classroom strategies to ensure that everyone had an equal opportunity to participate in our classroom discussions.

This summer I participated in a workshop for SEED Leaders (The National SEED Project) and the facilitator talked about all the ways that SEED collects data. During New Leader's Week they keep track of:

  • the number of words spoken by BIPOC facilitators compared to white facilitators with the goal of ensuring that BIPOC voices are at the forefront,

  • the authors and perspectives represented by the readings, videos, and images that are shared,

  • the identities represented by the artists of music played during breaks,

  • and more.

This has gotten me thinking about some ways that I can keep using data to inform my Talking Together for Change work. So I've started collecting data to keep track of the author's identities of resources we share with affinity group participants, of the number of BIPOC, queer, and trans artists on our music playlists, of the images we use on our blog posts that are either neutral or represent diversity.

As a teacher I've also been doing a classroom library audit this summer.

I started by researching other book audits that libraries and teachers use to ensure that the texts they're providing and teaching provide many windows into other experiences and mirrors of a child's own experience. I went down a bit of a rabbit hole and found some really good existing audit forms and information: School Library Journal (this one is great!), Yellowhead Regional Library , Diversity Audit: A Practical Guide.

Then I proceeded to create my own audit form based on the things I wanted to measure and how detailed I wanted to be. My goal in collecting this information was to use the data to make a case for purchasing some new classroom books. In light of this, I wanted broad trends rather than specifics. I also considered some of the school's goals for the upcoming year like increasing Indigenous voices and stories towards fulfilling the TRC's Calls to Action that are related to education, and the demographics of our school and city.

In addition to gathering data about the perspectives represented, I also wanted to examine whether the books with diverse authors and characters were tokenistic or only about the struggle of overcoming prejudice and oppression. For example, if the only books about Black people highlighted the struggle against slavery, or if the only stories about Jewish people were about the Holocaust. In an article about #OwnVoices, Kat Rosenfield writes "gatekeepers who consider themselves anti-racist allies can have troubling preconceptions of what marginalized people's stories should look like, and will pressure writers with different backgrounds to stick with ‘issue books’ centred on oppression or injustice." It is important to therefore include books that are empowering and joyful, and about people’s everyday experiences rather than centering stories around their identity as a Black person, or a queer person, or a Muslim person solely in connection to oppression and discrimination.

It turned out I was overly ambitious with my classroom library audit. If I had used my original form it would have taken my whole summer to examine each book thoroughly. In the end, I used a much simplified version of my initial audit form which focused on broad themes like counting the number of books with BIPOC primary characters and whether those books were written by white people or from a white perspective. I ended up with enough data to make the case for some new book purchases.

By no means do the informal surveys I have conducted in my classrooms meet any tests of scientific rigour. But they have allowed me to see more clearly some aspects of my teaching practice that I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. They revealed my bias and helped me to make changes to ensure that my teaching and classrooms are more equitable. I read this article by Pew Research Centre about how women and men are represented by media in images, and it got me thinking about other informal surveys that teachers could undertake. For example, the number of Black scientists studied in grade 10, or the number of Indignous artists’ work taught in the music department. Sometimes we think we’re doing a good job at representing diverse perspectives and creating anti-oppressive learning environments when the data doesn’t support this belief, like when I thought I was calling equally on the male and female students in my class. It was only by counting and tracking that I found the bias in my teaching and was thus able to counteract it in a purposeful way.

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