- Explain your role in honoring and creating equity in child and youth programs.
- Define and implement program-level policies and procedures that support equitable programs.
- Describe ways to support staff members with implementation of culturally responsive strategies.
As the Program Manager, you set the tone for your program. Children, families, and staff members look to you as a model for best practices in implementing program policy and supporting the needs of the center, children, and families. Your role in supporting equity in your program, includes a responsibility to:
- Set the tone for creating and sustaining an equitable program.
- Examine program-wide policies to see where they are and are not aligned with equitable practices for all children and youth.
- Support your staff during the learning process.
- Lead the team through discussions about culturally responsive teaching and equity in early childhood programs.
- Oversee implementation of strategies and availability of resources throughout the year.
One of the main roles of Program Managers is to ensure that staff members understand and support the creation of culturally responsive and equitable programs and remain committed to that goal daily and throughout the year. If your program will be pursuing culturally responsive caregiving and equity for the first time, staff members may look to you to determine the level of dedication to this work. By demonstrating your own excitement and eagerness to learn and change, you create a culture that values lifelong learning, growth orientation, and appreciation for diversity. When you show that you value this work and make your efforts visible, your staff will likely do the same. As you have learned throughout this course, real commitment and a collaborative effort is required when creating and sustaining culturally responsive and equitable programs. While it may feel challenging at first, the increased level of engagement and motivation from children and youth in your program will make the effort well worth it.
It can be very exciting to pursue something new, and equity work is no different. As you embark on the journey of creating and sustaining equitable child care programs, you may find that your motivation is high and that your staff is equally excited to do this important and necessary work. However, in time, you may find yourself questioning whether this should be the priority at the moment, or you may find that some staff members or families question the value of what you are doing. That may tempt you to return to old patterns that did not benefit all the children and youth in your program. If this happens, ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I carefully examining the voices that are present in the program and the ones that are not?
- Am I utilizing the prior knowledge of children and youth and connecting their experiences outside of the program with the learning taking place within the program?
- Do I value and appreciate all styles of communication?
- Do I appreciate and honor racial and ethnic diversity?
If your response to any of these questions is “no,” then you are not pursuing equity within your program. In addition, if you have not questioned societal inequities or if you do not consider how real-world events impact children differently based on various identity markers such as race, ethnicity, gender, social class, religion, sexual orientation, and appearance, then you are not pursuing equity within your program. Lastly, if you are not intentionally creating a safe space for children and youth to discuss these important issues, then you are not pursuing equity. In other words, equity is not simply something that exists in theory. Equity must have action steps that can be seen and felt. There must be evidence that demonstrates that culturally responsive teaching and equity work is taking place. In addition, we know that equity requires an ongoing commitment to be effective. A program cannot be equitable if its admissions process is inequitable or if its disciplinary practices are inequitable. Assessments within programs and the content of curriculum must also show equity. Equitable and culturally responsive programs are consistent in their messages and recognize that equity is more than just mission statements that mention words like diversity, inclusion, belonging, and/or fairness.
As a Program Manager, your staff will notice how you demonstrate equity, and they will follow your lead. It is very important for you to decide, as a team, what equity will look like in your program and clearly define the role that each staff member plays in achieving that goal. Accountability measures will be essential for every member of your team, starting with you. One of the components of culturally responsive teaching is that all children are held to high expectations. Child care professionals must provide support for each child to reach those expectations. For example, consider a child with an individualized education plan (IEP). Sometimes, when children have IEPs, child care professionals may feel tempted to set lower expectations for them with the belief that easier work is more accessible for them. The problem with that, however, is that assignments may be adjusted for children with IEPs before a pre-assessment or informal assessment is completed. The only thing that is used to determine what a child can or cannot do, is the assumption of the educator who thinks the work is too difficult. That is not an example of equity or culturally responsive care because the child is not being held to high expectations and their prior knowledge or experiences are not being factored into the decision of the educator.
Examine Program Policies
If you examine your program-wide policies right now, what would you find? Would you be able to point to evidence of culturally responsive practices? Would you find signs of equity? After learning about culturally responsive care and equity, what do you need to do to make your program’s policies equitable for all children and youth and how can you support your staff as they adjust to ensure that the policies, once changed, remain equitable for every child and youth?
It is essential that you examine all the program policies and practices in place to see how they align with your vision of equity and if and how they connect to your mission statement and vision. This will determine how the policies are enforced by various staff members. While direct care staff will have the most direct impact on the children and youth in your program, everyone in your program should be on the same page when it comes to culturally responsive practices and equity. This cannot be a goal that is pursued by 80% of your staff or only those who have the most direct interactions with children and youth. That practice alone is inequitable, as it may show a favorable bias toward individuals who are most directly connected to the children and youth. However, by enlisting the assistance of everyone on your team, regardless of their role and credentials, you can prevent unintentional actions that can derail many of your efforts toward equity. Imagine if all the direct care staff are engaging in monthly discussions around their racial literacy development to better support the diverse children and families in the program, but support staff are not included in these conversations. What if a front desk staff member makes a comment to or about a child that was racially insensitive? Do you think the child will still feel safe in your program or with that staff member?
While work around equity may seem most appropriate for individuals who are teaching children and youth or caring for them in the most direct way, it’s important to consider how every staff member has a role to play in bringing your vision of equity to life. Remember, equity is a full-time practice. If you pursue equity when recruiting children and youth for your program, then you must continue to pursue equity in making sure that those children and youth are given support to remain in your program and feel successful. As you pursue equity in curriculum, you must also pursue equity in the way that children’s learning is assessed. If your program is pursuing equity, then it must also pursue equity in how children are given consequences for their actions. In other words, if some children receive a gentle warning or no warning at all, then it cannot be equitable for other children to receive overly harsh punishments that expel or remove them from the program for a day, a few days, or permanently. Sometimes programs will avoid using language that includes expulsion or suspension when referring to the exclusion/removal of a child from their setting. Regardless of the language that is used to refer to this action, the outcome will be harmful to the child and their family. As discussed in previous lessons, too often, Black children, are inequitably disciplined. This is deeply problematic and must be carefully examined when considering your program policies and where and how equity is evident in them. When it comes to equity, every child must be present in your vision, otherwise you are not pursuing equity.
Lastly, when pursuing equity, you must consider how to recruit and retain a diverse staff. Hiring staff members to reflect a diverse team is not enough; you must also create supports to eliminate biases they receive from others and ensure that they can advance within your organization.
Supporting your Staff through the Learning Process
Initially, anything new can feel difficult or uncomfortable. This will be true as you and your staff embark upon the journey of creating culturally responsive and equitable child care programs. As a Program Manager, you can offer a listening ear for coaches, staff members, and families when they need it, and you can demonstrate humility by offering to share your feelings and struggles as you go through the learning process with them. Encountering unfamiliar information can feel challenging as we grapple with new insights and try to fit the new information into what we already know (or think we know) about a population, topic, or subject. This tension is referred to as cognitive dissonance and it is a perfectly normal part of learning and processing new information. While cognitive dissonance exists, so does the feeling of success or triumph when we begin to make sense of new subject matter.
Experiencing cognitive dissonance occurs in many new subject areas; however, people tend to treat new information about race, ethnicity, gender, religion or other aspects of diversity differently. Our desire to avoid difficult conversations around diversity isn’t that different from how we might feel tempted to give up or try to avoid a subject like math or science if we don’t like it or feel unsuccessful when we first try it. There are likely deep emotions when we talk about diversity that may cause discomfort, but we must see that as an opportunity to ask questions of ourselves and our colleagues, read about diversity, journal about our feelings and thoughts, engage in conversations, and then move toward action to challenge the societal and educational inequities that we see.
Another way that Program Managers can support staff is by leading them through discussions about culturally responsive teaching and equitable child care programs. After learning what culturally responsive teaching is and what it is not, hopefully, your staff will be excited to engage in the work needed to create that type of program. They may feel motivated and ready to create equity in your setting. However, some staff members may not be excited about this vision and commitment. As a manager, it is critical that you remain dedicated to this work and that you give it a high priority. The way you think, talk, and respond to your colleagues will make a tremendous difference in how effective your program is in terms of creating and sustaining a culturally responsive and equitable program. Below are examples of questions or comments that you might hear about your commitment to creating equitable child care programs:
- Why do we have to do this?
- I don’t want to do this. I plan to opt out.
- I don’t see color. All children are the same. So why do we need to talk about being equitable and culturally responsive?
- Talking about race and ethnicity (or any other aspect of diversity) makes me uncomfortable.
- The problems you are talking about have nothing to do with me; the Black and Hispanic children and families are the problem.
- My old program didn’t do this. Why do we have to?
- We never taught this way in the past. Why do we have to change things when they were working fine before?
- We have a great program. If those families disagree, then they can go elsewhere.
- Isn’t culturally responsive teaching reverse discrimination? How will this make White children feel?
- One of the families said they don’t want their child participating in any lessons on culturally responsive teaching or equity. Don’t we have to respect the feelings of these families?
- Our staff are highly credentialed, so why do we need to have more diverse staff?
Take a moment to re-read the questions and comments listed above. What do you notice about them? Do they have any similarities? Any themes? You may notice that all of the questions and comments seem to be rooted in fear and the belief that there is no problem with the program and staff. Present in the comments and questions is fear of the unknown, fear of making a mistake, fear of trying something new, fear of not having the right answer at the right time, fear of change, and fear of the reaction of a family that does not want their child to feel “uncomfortable.” As the Program Manager, you must be stronger than all of those fears, hold space for staff to feel their feelings, and then continue to move forward in the direction of equity, which we know will benefit all children, regardless of their race, ethnicity, social class, gender, religion, or appearance. Below are possible responses that you can offer to some of the questions and comments listed above:
Remind this person of the benefits of culturally responsive teaching and equity in child care programs and let them know that their collaboration and cooperation is extremely important to and required for the program’s success. Perhaps the staff member needs more support in curriculum planning or needs additional one-on-one time with you or a coach to feel better prepared for the goals of your program.
In addition, you can ask this staff member if their intention is to limit the level of engagement and motivation for some students. If their answer is no, then they cannot consider opting out of the work that you will all do as a team to teach in culturally responsive and equitable ways. How you respond to this comment is extremely important. If one person is given a pass to opt out, it is likely that other staff members will ask to opt out soon. Regardless of the reasons provided, opting out should not be an option, as it sends a dangerous message that you do not truly value the work and it is not urgent. When things are urgent, you pursue them relentlessly; you do not opt out. When things are valued, you put time and effort into them. While this comment might not appear to derive out of fear, it is very possible that fear is the reason for the hesitation. The staff member may not be comfortable discussing diversity because it is a new topic for them. Maybe they don’t want to feel judged or maybe they are scared of doing or saying something wrong. Another possibility is that this comment derives from a level of privilege that makes the work feel unimportant, since it does not have a direct impact on their lives. Whatever the reason, it is important to meet that individual where they are in the process and find out what supports they need to move forward with the work.
Just like opting out should not be an option for staff, it should not be an option for families to opt their child out of this learning when enrolled in the program. This is not an all-or-nothing situation. Since your program has made a full commitment to this work, it is impossible for children to opt out of the curriculum. What message would that send to the child? How might that child feel in terms of being a part of the community of learners? While it is true that we must respect the feelings of families, a strong collaboration and partnership with families should provide opportunities for you to have a conversation about their concerns rather than simply say “OK” when they ask to pull their child out of a learning opportunity. Programs are designed to encourage and develop learning, not limit it.
How you communicate your vision around culturally responsive teaching and equity in your program with families will be critical since explaining things well will reduce the number of questions that your staff receive from concerned or confused parents/families. Just like your staff will need support as you move toward creating equitable child care programs, families may also need support. However, the way the support looks for each group will differ. Staff members will most likely need day-to-day support to develop and implement lesson plans and assess their efforts regarding culturally responsive teaching and equity. Families may need support in understanding what you are doing, why you are doing it, when you will be doing it, and how it will impact their child. Most of the time when an individual seems hesitant about something, fear or confusion are at the root of their response. Every family should be involved in a discussion with you and staff about your reasons for teaching in a culturally responsive way and your reasons for pursuing equity. Share reading materials that outline the benefits of culturally responsive care and talk about the importance of providing equitable opportunities for all children. All new and prospective families should learn about your goals during the enrollment process, so they are not caught off guard or surprised once they begin attending the program.
Since racial and ethnic literacy development will most likely be unfamiliar to many families, in your role, you should create opportunities to engage in workshops/presentations, book clubs, journaling, or other experiences that will allow families to participate in conversations around race and ethnicity with you and program staff. Journaling will allow them to begin these conversations internally first, since so much of what we know and think about race and other aspects of diversity impacts how we view ourselves and other people. Relationships are important in your commitment and efforts to create an equitable program since a strong partnership with families can allow conversations to take place. Families may need support from you and staff members as you get started, but honesty and open communication between everyone is beneficial in supporting equity in your program.
Finally, as you continue to support your staff throughout the learning process, it will be important to bring in outside voices to help further the conversation and growth of your team. Inviting experts on topics of diversity can be a wonderful way for your staff to engage in deeper discussions and to ask questions. They can also learn strategies to address concerns. Often, things will seem easy in theory, but we may find that they are not so easy in practice. Expert speakers can help motivate your staff (and you) during tough periods or when you question whether your new approach is working. Webinars and the expertise of colleagues in other programs can also serve as resources for you and your staff. There are many programs already deeply invested in culturally responsive teaching and equity in child care programs. Connecting with these programs throughout the year can be very helpful so staff members can share strategies and suggestions, pose questions, and see that the learning process never ends; it evolves.
Supervise & Support
A key role of a program leader is to ensure that staff members understand and support the creation of culturally responsive and equitable programs and remain committed to that goal throughout the year. Listen as Jenille Morgan, Research Associate at Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, and other experts in the field highlight ways programs leaders can create and model expectations and standards around equity.
After you have created culturally responsive curricula and designed an equitable early childhood program, you will need to work hard to oversee the implementation of your efforts throughout the year. Below are suggestions for maintaining your efforts:
- Have an open-door policy for staff and families so they know you are available to speak with them.
- Listen deeply to the concerns and questions that are brought to your attention.
- Share clear follow-up plans with staff and families.
- Be present in the hallways and in the rooms to support your staff.
- Observe lessons occasionally and offer opportunities for staff to self-assess their lessons. Offer feedback as additional support.
- Be an ongoing source of support for training and curriculum specialists coaches. They will do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of working with educators around lesson planning and assessments, but you can support that work. Since equity can also be seen in the routines and disciplinary practices of programs, continue to look for the evidence of equity in your program wide policies. Create regularly scheduled check-ins to assess how you and the staff are doing with your goal of equity.
- Carefully consider how you will support this work during the year. How will this look in weekly, biweekly, or monthly staff meetings? What will your topics for professional development be, and how will you ensure that equity is at the center of each one?
- Actions speak louder than words. Your staff will follow your actions more than they will follow your words. If you are constantly talking about equity without demonstrating equity in practice, then your staff may not take you seriously. Instead, show them what equity looks like by demonstrating it through your everyday interactions with children, youth and families.
Complete the Reflecting on Your Own Bias activity to better understand your personal bias. Use the activity in a staff meeting focused on addressing culturally responsive and equitable programs. If this is a new journey for your staff, use the activity as a starting point. If your staff and program are already working toward or successfully implementing culturally responsive programming, use it as a check-in with staff. Encourage staff members (and yourself) to share their thoughts.
As the Program Manager, there will be times when you have to engage staff members in difficult conversations about their attitudes, values, and beliefs, especially if these beliefs are not aligned with your program's commitment to inclusive and equitable practices. Use the Planning for Equity-Focused Conversations activity as a tool to guide your thinking before engaging in these conversations with staff.
This course has introduced many strategies for implementing anti-bias, anti-racist, and culturally responsive program practices. In Lesson Six, we offered a practice inventory for direct care staff. The Creating Culturally Responsive & Equitable Programs: Leadership Practice Inventory below is for Program Managers and coaches . Use this inventory to reflect more deeply about the program policies and practices that you use to support staff in creating a more equitable program. After completing the inventory, discuss with each other how you might improve some of your program practices.
Planning for Equity-Focused Conversations
Armstrong, A. (2020). Culturally responsive teaching in early childhood education. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/culturally-responsive-teaching-early-childhood-education.
Coaching for equity tools. Bright Morning. https://brightmorningteam.com/coaching-for-equity-tools/
Kampen, M. (2020). 7 Ways to support diversity in the classroom [with examples]. Prodigy. https://www.prodigygame.com/main-en/blog/diversity-in-the-classroom/.
National Association for the Education of Young Children. Position statement. Recommendations for administrators of schools, centers, family child care homes, and other early childhood education settings. https://www.naeyc.org/resources/position-statements/equity/recommendations-administrators
Samuel, A. (2019). 4 Ways administrators can create an equitable curriculum. NWEA. https://www.nwea.org/blog/2019/4-ways-administrators-create-equitable-curriculum/.