The Harvard Implicit Association Test: MTEC-SFBA’s Unique Approach to Incorporating ABAR Training

The Harvard Implicit Association Test: MTEC-SFBA’s Unique Approach to Incorporating ABAR Training

At the embarkation of a lifelong journey speaking out in the face of oppression and inequality, the American Montessori Society (AMS) Board of Directors voted to make Inclusion and Equity a strategic priority of the organization in 2018. As part of their active anti-bias, antiracist (ABAR) campaign, AMS has developed tools, policies, and systems to support these efforts. A particularly influential policy was implemented on July 1, 2022 with the update of the AMS Teacher Education Handbook including new language requiring that all AMS-affiliated teacher education programs (TEPs) require 12 hours of ABAR training.

In line with their foundational ABAR beliefs and principles and in accordance with AMS’s new ABAR training policy, the Montessori Teacher Education Center of the San Francisco Bay Area (MTEC-SFBA) began inaugurating the Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT) as part of their ABAR curriculum in the summer of 2021.

The IAT is a self-directed collection of 15 free, online tests that encourage self-assessment of unconscious attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. The subjects for some of the tests include topics such as gender, sexuality, race, and religion. Within these subject areas, the IAT “measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., Black people, members of the LGBTQIA+ community) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy)” to aid individuals in identifying implicit biases. The IAT is research-based on Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald’s work during the 1980s at Ohio State University in the emerging field of “unconscious cognition” and in the 1990s by “implicit cognition.” Thousands of research studies have been conducted since the development of IAT revealing a “disassociation” phenomena wherein “good people” hold opposing views in their reflective/conscious mind and their automatic/unconscious mind.

According to program director, Dr. Pamela Zell Rigg, MTEC-SFBA has chosen IAT to share with their adult learners “Not a trend that may come and go with changing trends, but a reality which will hold-up over time: individuals hold bias[es] that are unconscious to them. These biases are different than their conscious positions on some issues. These may be identified and brought to conscious reflection.” MTEC-SFBA’s goal is to begin an individual self-reflection process with their adult learners as they believe this is the first step in the transformation of the teacher, an invaluable phenomenon of which Montessori often spoke.

Completion of the fifteen IAT tests counted as three instructional hours of ABAR training for MTEC-SFBA adult learners. Learners were then placed in triads within their course levels (Infant/Toddler, Early Childhood, Elementary I, and Elementary II) for a one-hour follow-up discussion about their experience within each of the tests. Rigg states that the benefit of this classic teaching technique “is the identification, the reflection, and the change of unconscious biases in our adult learners.” This type of group discussion is one of many ways that people can begin identifying, reflecting, and working to change unconscious biases they might hold. An adult learner from the program, Nadia West, stated that this group discussion portion of the ABAR training was very interesting as it allowed the members of the cohorts to compare their results and what they perceived to be biases, or lack thereof, both before and after taking the test.

MTEC-SFBA has also developed an eight-hour class around the underlying premise of the IAT, providing adult learners with eight additional instructional hours culminating their ABAR training. The book Blindspot, Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald has been selected as the assigned reading for the class. In the book, Banaji and Greenwald, developers of IAT, explain in detail how and why the test identifies unconscious biases. Blindspot also provides the organizational framework for the class, covering topics including the shades of truth, looking into one’s blindspot, the us and them principle, and the hidden costs of stereotypes. West stated that she found the book and follow-up class meetings to be very intriguing. Having completed the IAT, the group discussions, and the culminating class surrounding Blindspot, she feels confident in engaging in deep self-reflection to help her proceed with less bias and hopes her colleagues feel similarly empowered.

Although Rigg and her team at MTEC-SFBA recognize they are continuing to feel their way through the ABAR training process and will regularly review and update their policies and procedures, they are excited to share their experience and their unique approach with others. AMS’s current policy outlines the need for TEPs to infuse ABAR throughout their programs. With that being said, TEPs are free to offer additional training as valuable learning experiences for their adult learners such as content offered as part of their classroom leadership course component. MTEC-SFBA’s 8-hour course component is but one way to integrate ABAR training at the TEP level. Their course component supports deeper discussions with adult learners about antiracism and anti-bias throughout all curricular areas, policies, and procedures in an on-going effort to continue doing their part to support global initiatives for inclusion and equity, harnessing education’s innate power for evoking peace. After all, as Maria Montessori reminds us, “education is the best weapon for peace.”

About the Author

Heather White

Heather White, EdS, is a Montessori coach and consultant, content creator, and educator for adult learners, as well as a moderator and manager for the Montessori at Home (0 – 3 years) Facebook group. Formerly, she was a Montessori teacher, in-home caregiver, Lower Elementary coordinator, and associate head of school. She also has experience as a school psychologist intern. She is AMS-credentialed (Early Childhood, Elementary I) and is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP). Contact her at

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The opinions expressed in Montessori Life are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of AMS.

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