Putting our educational visions into practice requires ongoing, long-term commitment and persistence. Change efforts, which usually move one step at a time, must be strategic. What follows are suggestions for how stakeholders might begin to engage in efforts to make culturally inclusive, anti-bias early childhood education a reality.
Keep building your self-awareness, knowledge and skills. Examine your own biases and your culture, as well as the impact of both on your behavior with children, families, and colleagues. Develop skills in implementing anti-bias, culturally inclusive education and negotiating cultural differences. Gain an understanding of the impact of systemic forms of racism and other -isms on children’s development and on families’ access to resources. Become critical of early childhood education infrastructure and pedagogy and of the ways that the dominant culture directly informs the ECE canon and pedagogy. Seek insight into the connections between ECE work and larger societal dynamics and strategies for change.
If you are a student, take courses that address these topics—in your own and other departments. If no such courses are offered, find other students and faculty who agree that anti-bias education classes are necessary and work together to bring these courses to your school.
If you are a teacher, form a group for support, study, and action with other teachers interested in anti-bias, culturally inclusive education in your early childhood center, school, or community. In addition to creating a structure for building self-awareness, knowledge, and skills, a support group will enable you to share teaching experiences, assess and reflect on your work, and plan next steps—what Paulo Freire calls praxis (Pedagogy of the Oppressed). You only need five or six people to do this. (Several books listed at the resources link offer ideas about topics and techniques for these teacher groups.) One way to find people in your community who share your commitment is to attend workshops organized by local ,state, or national ECE professional organizations (e.g., NAEYC & AEYC Affiliates, Zero to Three, National Association for Family Child Care, and Head Start Associations). In addition, consider attending the conferences of national organizations that focus on diversity and equity issues. You will certainly meet other teachers who share your interests, and you’ll also find opportunities to review a range of published resources.
If you are a director of an ECE program, you play a key role in building anti-bias, culturally inclusive programs. You are in a position to facilitate strategic planning, foster a culture among staff that promotes anti-bias behavior and collaborative relationships with families, and carve out opportunities for teacher reflection groups. Bring together other directors in your city to form a group for support, study, and action and to strategize and support everyone’s efforts to integrate anti-bias education into their programs and to strengthen their self-knowledge. Your group can also work on ECE policy issues in your community and professional organizations. If forming a group like this is not feasible in your community, you can still work on diversity and equity issues in your local and state ECE professional organizations. Several local and AEYC state affiliates, for example, have diversity committees, and at the national level, NAEYC also offers various opportunities to work on these issues.
If you are a teacher trainer, offer opportunities for your students to gain the self-awareness, knowledge and skills they need to implement anti-bias, culturally inclusive education. Work with your colleagues to weave these topics into all aspects of teacher preparation and to create focused courses on anti-bias, culturally inclusive education. Attend conferences where you can deepen your knowledge and network with other teacher trainers who are committed to diversity and equitable educational practice.
All of us must keep in mind that, while our work with children and teachers matters greatly, transforming education is only one part of the larger, long-term work of ending systemic racism and other forms of advantage and disadvantage. As much as possible, we also need to join with others in larger social justice change efforts. And, while we cannot take on all of it, we should keep the whole web of change in mind while we focus on our own specific work and areas of influence. Listed below are strategies for doing just that:
- Be clear about the reasons for your educational work and engage a range of methods to get your message out to people within and beyond ECE. For example, find ways to make clear how the social-emotional and cognitive abilities promoted through anti-bias education increase the likelihood that children will be able to navigate the larger worlds of school and their communities constructively and effectively.
- When colleagues, the families you serve, or college students disagree with an anti-bias approach, or specific topics it addresses, it is essential that you engage them in respectful conversations. Thoughtfully listen to their concerns and then explain your reasons for using an anti-bias approach, the benefits it offers children, and what it actually looks like. (Sometimes, what people imagine when they hear “anti-bias” is nothing at all like what these activities actually involve.) Share information and resources about the research on children’s construction of identity and attitudes. While asking people to be open to considering anti-bias education, also explore possible areas of agreement as a starting point and keep engaging in dialogue. Talk with your support group about ways to work with specific people who oppose your anti-bias education work.
- Join with educator allies, both within and beyond early childhood education, who work on anti-bias and other social issues, such as bullying, as well as those who promote critical and constructivist pedagogy. We need to help each other to identify the connections that link our work
- Join in anti-racism efforts and other human rights, social justice movements in your community, city, or state, or nationally. When we do this, not only do we help change the world, we also deepen other people’s understanding of the unique needs of young children and their families.
Putting our visions of anti-bias, culturally inclusive education into practice will require a long-term effort. I often hum a refrain from “The Garden Song” (from Rise Up Singing) to remind me of the value of staying in for the long haul:
“Inch by inch, row by row,
Gonna make this garden grow”
Article: Putting Visions of Social Justice Education into Practice
References for Putting Our Visions into Practice: Challenges and Contested Ground
Resources for Putting Our Visions into Practice: Challenges and Contested Ground