Every student deserves to feel cherished, celebrated, challenged and supported in the classroom.

Perception Facilitator discussing inclusive and equitable education

creating inclusive and more equitable learning environments For schools and School Districts at all levels

Schools should be places where educators encourage curiosity, inspire passion for learning, and create environments in which students thrive. For our children, everyday matters. The vast majority of educators would agree with these aspirations. Yet, research reveals that schools differ in their ability to create environments in which students are seen, heard, and valued – and that educators are at risk of responding differently to students based upon race, ethnicity, class, gender, and other social identities in contexts ranging from assigning students to advanced classes to disciplinary outcomes. Teachers and administrators – who seek to enact their egalitarian values – are often perplexed and at a loss for how to chart a way forward.

Perception’s work is to use the mind sciences to help understand what explains these differences and to share the interventions that will lead educators to do their best work.

Research reveals, and our experience with teachers across the country confirms, that the areas of greatest concern are students’ trust in the fairness of the educators around them–demonstrated both by their investment in students’ growth and their ability to sustain positive classroom environments for all students–and how educators and school stakeholders engage in topics related to identity–shown by curriculum and interpersonal interaction across lines of difference.

We work with teachers to support them in providing effective feedback to students across race and ethnicity, to engage in thoughtful conversations about challenging topics, and to develop positive relationships with students. Perception also designs and supports original research in school districts across the United States to continue identifying how best to support students and teachers.

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Research shows that despite the progress, much work remains.

The American Council on Higher Education reports that in 2023, over two million students will receive college degrees with a record share going to students of color. Gains are especially strong in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. A majority of today’s college students are also the first in their family to seek a bachelor’s degree. Institutions of higher education must ensure that all students have full opportunities to thrive, and to feel a sense of belonging which has been shown to be necessary for student success and well-being.

Research shows that despite the progress, much work remains. For example, a 2023 study found that while Black students entering medical school are more likely than students of other groups to be interested in pursuing MD-PhD programs, they are the least likely to finish the PhD programs. The vast majority of Black medical students go on to become doctors, but the reports of maltreatment and discrimination impede their retention in the PhD programs and the innovations and contributions they were aspiring toward.

And the work necessary is more than ending explicit maltreatment. For students to excel, they must find teachers who will help them grow and learn through both positive reinforcement and accurate, meaningful criticism. Because of experiences with teachers throughout their lives, many students of color are unsure whether or not negative feedback is the result of bias or positive feedback is merely racial condescension. This uncertainty is called “attributional ambiguity,” and it holds students of color back by making responding to feedback from teachers and mentors an anxiety-producing minefield of potential conflict.

Focusing on this problem has led to the development of what is called “wise feedback.”  Wise feedback begins with a statement of high expectations, followed by a clear identification of how the student’s work shows the capacity to meet those expectations, followed by clear critical feedback. In the groundbreaking study of this form of feedback, 71% of Black students receiving this kind of explicitly worded feedback on an essay revised and resubmitted their work, while only 17% revised their work when the notes they received lacked this statement. 

Perception has worked with a broad array of institutions to bring these and other interventions directly to classrooms and students, with the goal of dramatically improving the experiences and outcomes at the college level.

Those of us who work in education experience a confounding paradox. We are committed to ideals of justice and fairness for all students, yet we see evidence of disproportionate outcomes in academic achievement and discipline that suggest we are failing to achieve those ideals.

The impact of implicit bias, racial anxiety, and stereotype threat on student outcomes