Case Study: Middle School

An urban middle school in the southwestern section of the country contracted me to present the keynote address to their annual cultural education conference. Two months prior to the cultural education conference I had in-depth conversations with members of the faculty planning committee (school counselors, teachers, and building principal) to discuss goals and the overall scope of the day.


The challenge was to present an opening keynote to the students and school community focusing on the impact of implicit bias on relationships as well as setting a tone for the interaction in the student-centered workshops which would follow the opening keynote.

Several ‘informed’ persons in this city told me that this middle school is behaviorally one of the lowest performing within the city. The staff I interacted with prior to the conference were excited, motivated positive focused professionals with such a positive attitude of their students and school.


The day started with my keynote presentation followed by a series of workshops focusing on cultural aspects of the school community presented by members of the local community as well as selected city officials.

I felt the excitement in the school the moment I arrived the morning of the event. Parents were seated on the entire front row and several had been given what appeared to be. I learned the headsets were for simultaneous language translation in order to accommodate the non-English speaking parents.

For this presentation as I so often do, I was seated in the audience section of the auditorium as the students, teachers and staff arrived. 700 plus students from grades 6, 7 and 8 enthusiastically entered the auditorium and took their seats some crossing in front of me as they prepared for the start of this annual community-building event.

Following my introduction, I began speaking with the audience from my seat in the auditorium. Students and everyone else in auditorium looked for where to person speaking. They let out a reaction of delight and surprise when they realized I was sitting among them. The time with the students, teachers, parents, staff and I went by so quickly. Together we spent more than an hour engaged in active learning. I utilized my many years of experience in stage presentation and performance skills to engagement the audience as well as incorporating American Sign Language, music and reading one of my 32 published books for children to the attentive packed auditorium.


The responses during and following the presentation from the students was enthusiastic, engaged perhaps even a bit magical. Several teachers and staff stated they have not seen the students here respond to a presentation with such enthusiasm. Students wanted to talk, interact and express gratitude for the presentation. Small groups of students or one on one shared stories of their personal experiences with bias. Some discussed and demonstrated some of the ways we discussed acknowledging when intent and impact are not aligned as we had covered.

An unintended outcome of the visit was an impromptu dialogue with approximately 10 students along with the principal and some staff members. The students related observations about “fixed and open mindsets” within their spheres of interaction, including school. They were able to demonstrate a clear understanding of the terms. They were also very clear in describing how these concepts can be manifested in a teacher’s behavior, as well as the impact the behavior might have on them. Our dialogue continued as the middle school students shared their perspective(s) of the culture and climate of the school. Afterwards the principal walked me to the door and shared, that she had never seen the students as expressive as they were during our dialogue. The principal and I discussed the possibility of several follow-up meetings with the students and staff within their district.