Addressing Microaggressions in K-12 Schools

Dec 26, 2020 by

Educators are committed to making our schools inclusive. However, inequality persists and many minorities continue to be marginalized. One of the reasons for this is microaggressions in PK12 schooling. These are brief, everyday interactions that indicate that a person or group is not valued or are seen as inferior.  Often, they are ambiguous but can have a tremendously negative impact on individuals, especially young people. Both students and teachers exhibit microaggressions and they are often unaware of it and the impact it has on others (Huber, 2011). Microaggressions are often experienced by students who have a disability, different sexual identity or religion.  Many students from racial minorities are often the subject of these behaviors. Researchers believe that there are several distinct types of insensitive behaviors within the category of microaggressions.

Microinsults– these are insulting words and gestures, that often denigrate members of a distinct group (Portman et al, 2017).

Microinvalidations– these are words and behaviors that deny the reality and validity of certain groups experiences and rights (Portman et al, 2017).

Examples of Microaggressions

This form of aggression is often very common. Here are some common teacher microaggressions.

  • Mispronouncing the names of students (Kohli and Solórzano, 2012).
  • Not recognizing religious or cultural traditions.
  • Inappropriate humor, for example, jokes about illegal aliens.
  • Denying children, the opportunity to talk about their identity and beliefs.
  • Not selecting certain students to answer questions in class.
  • Paying more attention to those who are from the same social or racial group.
  • Referring to stereotypes about marginalized groups (Huber, 2011).

Microaggressions often reinforce stereotypes and this can result in children from certain groups becoming even more marginalized, especially racial minorities (Kohli and Solórzano, 2012). If a teacher engages in microaggressions they will have a poor relationship with students. Insensitive behavior, by students, teachers, and other stakeholders even if it is unintentional, means that a classroom is not inclusive.

Facing Microaggressions

There are several ways that educators and school stakeholders can minimize these aggressions in their schools. This can ensure that they are not engaged in insensitive actions by adopting the following strategies.

  • Understand that microaggressions often occur unintentionally. If a teacher commits one they have to acknowledge it and if necessary apologize. Such small gestures can have enormous benefits.
  • It does not matter if you did not mean it. Individuals who engage in microaggressions have to take responsibility for their actions and commit to eliminating them.
  • Make other people aware that their behavior is unacceptable. Point out to them that they are displaying bias even unintentionally. Acknowledge that they did not mean offense but stress the negative impact of their insensitive remarks or behavior (Malone, 2019).
  • If a colleague continues to engage in microaggressions some follow up may be required. This may involve referring them to the school leadership and they may possibly be subject to disciplinary measures.
  • Every educator should acknowledge that they may have a problem with microaggressions. There is a need to accept that we all have innate biases’, and these can lead to insensitive remarks and actions that harm some students (Malone, 2019).
  • Work with other teachers and students to set down acceptable ways to discuss issues and behaviours.
  • Allow time in your class or school for students to have frank and honest discussions about the issue of microaggressions and this can help them to better understand the topic and allows them time to distinguish between intent and impact. These exchanges can reduce microaggressions and lead to inclusive classrooms (Sue and Rivera, 2010).

Microaggressions and K-12 Schools

  • A zero-tolerance of all forms of microaggressions. All stakeholders in a school need to contribute to an environment where everyone is respected and are not made to feel less valued or excluded (Malone, 2019).
  • A school should establish a definition of microaggression that reflects the diverse nature of the educators, the student body and stakeholders. Heightened awareness of the problem could help to reduce its incidence.
  • Schools could host workshops on microaggressions in K-12 schools and this will help to reduce insensitive behaviors and words.
  • Teachers and other staff members can be encouraged to use tools to recognize microaggressions and their impact. For example, the Microaggression Tool developed by D.W. Sue at Columbia University, can help educators to identity these insensitivities and how to tackle them, for the benefit of students.

Comment: Identity one to five microaggressions that you have witnessed in a school setting? Why is it important to identify microaggressions?

Keywords: Microaggressions, K 12 schools, education equity, inclusive classrooms


Huber, L. P. (2011). Discourses of racist nativism in California public education: English dominance as racist nativist microaggressions. Educational Studies, 47(4), 379-401. Retrieved from:

Malone, Celeste. (2019, Oct. 30). Addressing Microaggressions in Pre-K–12 Settings. NASP. Retrieved from:

Kohli, R. and Solórzano, D. G. (2012). Teachers, please learn our names: Racial microaggressions and the K-12 classroom. Race Ethnicity and Education, 15(4), 441-462. Retrieved from:

Portman, Joel, Tuyen, Trisa Bui, Ogaz, Javier and Treviño, Jesus. (2017). Microaggressions in the Classroom. University of Denver. Center for Multicultural Excellence. Retrieved from

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