- Describe how coaches impact equity in early childhood programs.
- Create a routine to help staff reflect on their assumptions and biases.
- Define racial literacy development.
- Understand and explain ways to support staff with anti-bias, anti-racist, and culturally responsive teaching.
Equitable early childhood programs require a deep level of self-reflection, honesty, commitment, collaboration, and trust. Staff, children, and youth will need your support as a coach as you create more equitable programs and hold your program accountable to anti-bias, anti-racist, and culturally responsive practices. Equitable early childhood programs will require honesty as you and your staff continually reflect on your biases and assumptions. You may discover things that cause discomfort during your journey if deep self-reflection practices are new for you. This can make it hard to continue the process. Therefore, it is important to implement strategies to help you navigate this journey because your assumptions and beliefs have an impact on the way you see yourself, which affects your interactions with the people you encounter, including colleagues, staff, children, and families in your program. It is often easier to identify flaws in others than to recognize flaws within ourselves. If you find it challenging to engage in self-reflection around your biases and assumptions, it is likely that your staff will also find this work to be difficult. Thus, your ongoing support of staff members will be necessary so this important work can continue.
When we are already questioning our own thoughts and opinions, comments or questions from colleagues can feel like personal attacks. But these feelings and reactions can be used as opportunities for us to dig deeper and ask ourselves important questions. The reflective work that is required when creating and sustaining equitable early childhood programs is an opportunity to hold a mirror up and look deep within ourselves. If you have ever been asked to do this, you know it can be particularly challenging. Recall from the lesson on the stages of racial identity development that our beliefs and values typically begin in childhood and are connected to the people we love and respect most. Remember that all people are receiving messages that get internalized and passed down through generations, which is concerning if we don’t take the time to question them and consider new perspectives. By examining the assumptions and biases that have helped to form your worldview, you can help change that trajectory. It will be critical for you, in your role, to create a routine where you engage in self-reflection on a regular basis and help your staff to do the same.
Diversity is everywhere, yet it can be viewed as negative. In your role, you can help to shift a negative view of diversity by helping your staff reflect on the many benefits that diversity brings personally and professionally. As a Training & Curriculum Specialist coach, staff will look to you when considering how to create a more equitable early childhood program. If you talk positively about equitable programs and describe them as an asset to pursue, it is more likely that your staff will see it in a similar way. If you talk about equitable programs and show signs that you are not certain that the work is worth your time and effort, the opposite may occur, and staff members may brush it off and/or display indifference. Additionally, if you talk about equity in your early childhood program but you do not include actions to support your equity work, your staff may see it as something that you do not truly value and, following your lead, they will most likely put in little effort. In other words, if equity is a value that you want to pursue and make permanent in your program, you must also create systems that will allow this work to happen. Equity should be something that children, youth, and families can see and feel in your program.
Consider how you will make equity a central part of your program rather than an afterthought or a value that lives on the periphery of your mission statement. Equity, when pursued effectively, will be apparent in your program. It will be extremely difficult for you to help staff recognize and acknowledge the benefits of diversity if you do not believe that diversity is in fact a good thing that your program should strive for in every aspect. If you cannot see the benefits of having a diverse staff, diverse students, and diverse families, then it will be hard for you to convince your staff that these benefits exist. Thus, the reflective work that we discussed in Lesson 1 regarding examining your beliefs, values, and assumptions about different identities will be something that you must incorporate into your regular practice and support your staff as they make it a part of their regular practice. To begin, consider the colleagues that you work with and ask yourself the following:
- Which racial and ethnic identities are represented among students and staff?
- Are different socioeconomic statuses represented among students and families?
- Do all of your colleagues identify as the same gender?
- Does everyone have the same sexual orientation?
- Do all staff members practice the same religion?
- Do any of your staff have a disability?
- Is power equally distributed among staff?
- What do you notice about the demographics of the people in power?
While it may not be possible to know the answers to all these questions, you can use the information you do know to see what patterns are present. Some of the questions may feel more sensitive than others, and there is no need to ask these questions of your colleagues. You should utilize the information that you already have based on insights that colleagues have shared in the past. In order to consider new perspectives about individuals, you must have an awareness of the biases and assumptions that already exist within you and may exist within your staff.
Since society sends negative messages about diversity on an ongoing basis, your effort to examine and reexamine your beliefs about different individuals and about yourself must also be ongoing. Once you have started the work of self-reflection, you will find that it is easier to recognize when an action is inequitable and/or reduces individuals to stereotypes. You will find that with the ongoing practice of examining your assumptions and biases, it will become easier for you to identify things about other people that might have gone unnoticed previously. You may find that you are able to recognize humanity in colleagues, children, youth, and families in a way that you did not before. This will indicate that you are on the right track.
Documenting Your Self-Reflection
At times, self-reflection may feel frustrating, or you may find that it requires a level of honesty that you are not yet comfortable with. Having a space to journal your reflections can be very helpful. This can be written, or in the form of short audio or video files that are only for your use. Noting your reflections gives you a place to return to see how your journey is progressing. Journaling can be a very helpful way of working through challenges, especially at the start of self-reflection. Some days you may feel extra motivated and other days you may feel as though you are stuck and not making much progress. You may find it helpful to encourage staff to join you in self-reflection. This will offer opportunities for you to do this work collaboratively, motivate each other during rough times, and celebrate successes as a team.
How often you engage in self-reflective practices, such as journaling, will be up to you and your staff, but the priority will be to create a consistent routine of doing so and providing the time needed to fully engage in the practice. Perhaps self-reflection work might be something that you incorporate into your weekly staff meeting, or maybe you create a special monthly meeting around it. Start off by offering five to 10 minutes of journaling, followed by a discussion based on a topic someone wrote and wanted to share. Or share or a comment or question that was posed by one of the children or youth in your program. Providing time to engage in this work sends a clear message that it is important.
Other than time, consistency is another consideration when reflecting on equitable programs. The topic of diversity is large and does not refer to just one aspect of someone’s identity. It encompasses many aspects of identity, and since some aspects of our identity are fluid and change over time, we need to create the space to make sure that our conversations about diversity are ongoing. In addition, we need consistent practices of self-reflection since new children and youth join our programs at various points of the year or move to new classrooms or learning spaces from year to year. A consistent routine around self-reflection ensures that we are thinking about ways that we can better support the growth and development of the children and youth in our programs.
Keeping the Commitment
To create equitable early childhood programs, a strong commitment to the work must be evident; otherwise, you will find that there is always something more pressing that needs to be addressed. At first, equity work may seem exciting and the energy around the work may be high but, in time, that may change as conversations get more challenging and/or colleagues question why they still need to talk about diversity. You may find that equity work gets postponed or delayed due to an upcoming holiday or special event, or as staff struggle to manage the “uncomfortable” feelings generated by difficult and necessary conversations. Therefore, equity work requires a deep commitment to make sure you do not begin the work simply to abandon it shortly thereafter. A quick or hasty approach to equity work will not be effective and can end up causing more harm than good as you send a contradictory message that it is important to recognize and honor the various identities in your program, but not on a permanent basis. If you truly want to create an inclusive early childhood program where every child feels safe and knows they belong, then you must sustain equity in your programs.
Collaboration and trust are both needed to create equitable early childhood programs. As previously discussed, honesty is required to engage in self-reflection around our biases and assumptions. Engaging in this work as a staff also requires collaboration and trust to know that you are doing this work in a safe place with colleagues who are also striving to create and sustain equity. This is how systemic changes happen.
It is important to note that when using the word “safe,” we are not saying that harm may not be caused at some point. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, it is likely that something harmful or hurtful may be said or done during this process. Considerations should be made for how to proceed after something harmful or hurtful has been said or occurred so that you do not abandon your progress. This is also where collaboration and trust come into play. It is not just enough to collaborate and build trust to engage in this work, it is also important to have a sense of collaboration and trust when things threaten to derail your efforts. You and your staff must all find a way to trust the process and each other, if you truly want to create an equitable program that will serve to benefit all children and youth in your program.
Navigating Difficult Conversations
As you pursue more equitable programs that center anti-bias, anti-racist, and culturally responsive practices, you will inevitably find yourself in the middle of difficult conversations. One way to support your staff is to engage in role-playing situations where you act out various scenarios that may come up to inform future responses to such situations. While it may not always be possible to have the right words to say as a situation is unfolding, role-playing can give you opportunities to practice your response to challenging questions or comments that might arise. In the Explore section, you will have the opportunity to think through a few examples and use them to reflect with staff members.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to handling difficult conversations since the context behind each one is important and there are always many factors to consider. One of the best things that staff members can do is to listen carefully when information is being shared with them, ask questions about how specific situations might look at home or in other settings (if they are also happening outside of your program), and create an action plan with the family for how they can move the conversation forward. As a coach, you should model appropriate and thoughtful conversations with families for staff members. For additional information on ways to do this successfully, visit the Positive Guidance and Family Engagement courses.
Racial Literacy Development
Does the term racial literacy sound familiar to you? How would you define it? If your definition included words like racism, power, or oppression, you would be on the right track. There are several definitions for the term racial literacy, but they all examine race and racism as it exists in society and include strategies for Black children and youth to use forms of resistance to survive the racism they will find in the world (Curenton, 2022). “Racial literacy is a skill and a practice by which individuals can prove the existence of racism and examine the effects of race and institutionalized systems on their experiences and representation in U.S. society” (Sealey-Ruiz, 2021). Racial literacy includes:
- The knowledge, vocabulary, skills, and awareness needed to talk thoughtfully about race and racism.
- The ability to identify racism when it happens.
- Strategies to counter or cope with racism.
- Understanding the role that racism plays in society.
As a coach, you can help staff and children understand the inequities that exist in our society. Your actions and words matter and talking honestly and directly about race and diversity helps build the foundation for racial literacy.
Racial literacy is important in creating equitable early childhood programs because, as previously discussed, children and youth have identities that exist beyond our programs, and it is our job to recognize those identities so we can honor and celebrate them every day. Racial literacy development is one way that we can engage in this work. While all aspects of a person’s identity should be recognized and celebrated, you may find that some parts of our identities are easier to discuss than others. Gender (e.g., sexism) and appearance will usually feel safer to discuss than race, ethnicity, social class, and religion. Since our society typically silences conversations about race from a very early age, the topic is often avoided, which makes it very difficult to carefully examine biases and assumptions, unless you are intentional about it. For this reason, it is important to know how to define racial literacy and to develop your racial literacy so you can move from talking about racial incidents to being an interrupter when you see or hear something based on racist ideas that cause harm and trauma.
It is important to note that, when we talk about racist ideas, we are not only thinking about individual acts of racism, but that we are also thinking about racism from a structural level—looking at how race and racism are embedded in every aspect of our society, including health care, housing, employment, and education, to name a few. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz has created a framework to support individuals to develop their racial literacy. It takes individuals from self-reflecting on their biases and assumptions to a final stage that focuses on interrupting racism (e.g., allyship). The framework can be used as a guide to support your staff as they work to create more equitable programs and center anti-bias, anti-racist, and culturally responsive teaching. Staff and children can say and do things that hurt, which often derives from biases and negative assumptions about race and ethnicity. By developing our racial literacy, we are able to read, write, talk, and think about race and racism in all its complexities, and support the children and youth we work with to help them develop tools to combat the racism they will encounter throughout their lives.
As the term literacy implies, reading will support the development of racial literacy. There are numerous books that help generate rich conversations about systemic racism, and that can help you and your staff gain a better understanding about various racial and ethnic groups and how they continue to fight for their civil rights. These books can offer valuable insight, especially if conversations about race and racism are new for you and your team. Since some or most of the information learned may be unfamiliar to you, it is important to engage in conversations with colleagues who can serve as thought partners on your journey to achieving racial literacy.
During this process, consider how you can share this skill and practice with the children and youth in your program. Stephanie Curenton has developed a racial literacy development model (Curenton et al., 2022). While the model was specifically designed with Black children in mind, it can also be beneficial to other racially marginalized groups. In Curenton’s model, racially affirming storybooks are used to engage young children in a shared reading experience followed by a conversation about race with a trusted adult. The shared reading experience offers vocabulary around race and racism, places racial events from the past and in present day in a context that children will find less abstract and more concrete and uses a character of which the child may be able to relate to present the issue or racial encounter. Racial literacy development for children and youth cannot be effective if caregivers are not racially literate themselves. Thus, racial literacy is essential for staff, coaches, administrators, and children and youth. Similar to implementing anti-bias, anti-racist, and culturally responsive teaching, you also would not want to engage in racial literacy development with a timeline or deadline in mind. Equity work is ongoing; thus, it requires a deep commitment and effort to sustain it for the long term.
Reflect on the following scenarios and consider how you would respond to the staff member and what you might do to support the staff member in being culturally responsive.
See, Say, Do
Scenario 1: Language & Voice
Antonio, a preschooler who is learning English as a second language is attempting to engage with his peers, but the other children continually ignore his attempts.
The teacher approaches the group and says, “When he learns English, it will be easier to play with him.”
Scenario 2: Doll Play
Two children are playing with dolls in the dramatic play area. One of them says to the other, “You can’t be the mom, because these dolls don’t look like you.” A staff member overhears the children and asks that the other child take on a different role.
Scenario 3: Drop-Off
You are observing the toddler room as families are dropping off their children. Several times, you’ve heard one of the child care professionals comment on how “cute” the girls look when they arrive.
Supporting Staff in Anti-bias, Anti-racist, and Culturally Responsive Teaching
In your role as a coach, it will be important to model how anti-bias, anti-racist, and culturally responsive teaching looks in practice. We know the important role that books and materials play in this work, but language and daily interactions are also important. As you begin to rethink your curriculum, it will be helpful to model activities and interactions for staff on an ongoing basis, especially in the beginning as your staff becomes more familiar and comfortable with this way of teaching. If your program has made the commitment to create and sustain equitable early childhood programs, in time, staff will find it easier to teach this way and it will not require as much thought or effort for them to plan their curriculum to be anti-bias, anti-racist, and culturally responsive. You may find that the children and youth in your program are more engaged throughout the day as a result.
The frequency for which you model lessons will be determined by the needs of the staff and your schedule. This can include a discussion based on a prompt about something that occurred in the news for children, a conversation following a read aloud, or a discussion based on an image that you show the children to begin a new curriculum topic. It might also be helpful to record yourself modeling the lessons so staff can return to it afterward, and you can use it as a teaching tool by reviewing it together. You can find specific places to stop the video and engage in conversations, or give them prompts to consider, like “How else might I have handled the question or comment that was just posed by a child?” Or “What are some possibilities for following up on this lesson?” “What might be a good next lesson that builds on the one that we just reviewed?” These are all good ways to continue the conversation and bring staff members into the process by moving them from the role of an observer to a curriculum planner and collaborator.
After providing staff with the opportunity to observe as you model teaching lessons using an anti-bias, anti-racist, and culturally responsive lens, you can have them move into the role of teaching the lessons themselves. Since equity can often be thought of in isolation, help staff members identify whether and how equity is showing up in lessons and activities. Is equity being discussed in connection with a read aloud but without opportunities to practice it in real life? Or are you or staff members affirming identities found in books or learning materials, but ignoring opportunities to correct misunderstandings when children tease their peers or make inaccurate and insensitive comments about race or ethnicity? Be sure that equity doesn’t get lost or ignored in the everyday practices that take place in programs.
Training & Curriculum Specialists Coaches play an important role in supporting staff members with anti-bias, anti-racist, and culturally responsive teaching. Self-reflection, commitment, and collaboration are all key to this work. Listen as Iheoma U. Iruka, Research Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Founding Director of the Equity Research Action Coalition at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, and other experts in the field describe ways that coaches can improve their own knowledge and practice.
In your role as a coach, you can do the following to support anti-bias, anti-racist, and culturally responsive teaching:
- Help your staff create routines for examining their assumptions and biases on a regular basis.
- Provide professional development opportunities to learn about anti-bias, anti-racist, and culturally responsive teaching.
- Assist staff in developing curriculum that centers anti-bias, anti-racist, and culturally responsive teaching.
- Make connections in the community to serve as allies with staff.
- Discuss racial literacy development work with the staff and create a list of readings to inform your practice.
- Order multicultural books, videos, dolls, toys, crayons, bandages, and other materials that demonstrate a range in race and ethnicity.
- Create a plan with staff to address difficult discussions around race, racism, and other aspects of diversity as they occur.
While it may not always be possible to have the right words to say as a situation is unfolding, role playing scenarios can give you an opportunity to practice your response to challenging questions or comments that might arise when working with children, youth, and families. Use the Role Play Scenarios activity to address and reflect on possible situations with staff members. Then, review the suggested responses provided by staff members to further support your understanding of situations and outcomes.
Read the article Racial Literacy: A Policy Research Brief. Review the image of the racial literacy development framework within the article and carefully consider where you are located in the six components. Discuss your reflection with the Program Manager or another trusted colleague and listen as they share their reflections.
Review the Transformational Coaches handout to learn more about the key characteristics of coaches that are successful at supporting staff in implementing equitable classroom practices.
Racial Literacy Framework
Curenton, S., Harris, K., Rochester, S., Sims, J., & Ibekwe-Okafor, N. (2022). Promoting racial literacy in early childhood: Storybooks and conversations with young black children. Child Development Perspectives. 16:3-9. https://srcd.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/cdep.12440.
Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center. Strategies to support culturally responsive coaching. https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/video/attachments/cult-resp-strategies.pdf.
The Ohio State University Inspire Podcast. (2022). How to talk to kids about race. https://ohiostateuniversityinspire.podbean.com/e/how-to-talk-to-kids-about-race/
Sealey-Ruiz, Y. (2021). Racial literacy. National Council of Teachers of English. https://ncte.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/SquireOfficePolicyBrief_RacialLiteracy_April2021.pdf.
Sesame Workshop. (n.d.). Coming together: Talking to children about race, ethnicity, and culture. https://www.sesameworkshop.org/what-we-do/racial-justice.
Sesame Street in Communities (n.d.). What is racial literacy. https://sesamestreetincommunities.org/activities/what-is-racial-literacy/.
Young, S. (2019). Culturally responsive coaching is more than just good coaching. Learning forward: The professional learning association. https://learningforward.org/2019/12/13/culturally-responsive-coaching-is-more-than-just-good-coaching/.