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By Crystal Williams, Ed.M.

As a follow-up to OneOp’s 2018 Virtual Conference, the Family Transitions team developed five blog posts to help early childhood professionals apply these concepts to their work with children and families.

As you read each blog post in this series, you may find this Personal Storytelling Journal helpful. You can download it and complete it at your own pace after reading and reflecting on each blog post. You can also download a copy of today’s blog post questions and activity to complete here.

Seeking Out Stories

Stories are narratives individuals learn over time, which include perceptions, assumptions, biases, and learned stereotypes. These stories are influenced by one’s upbringing, social identities, and societal expectations. Stories impact how individuals interact with others; therefore, it is important for early childhood professionals to recognize their own stories, unlearn negative stories, and seek out alternative stories about others to become more culturally competent and inclusive of the children and families with whom they work.

  1. Recognizing Stories

Everyone has a social identity constructed of the various group identities with which they align (e.g., age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, social class, ability, sexual orientation, etc.). Think about your own social identity and upbringing, and answer the following questions:

  • What stereotypes and assumptions have been made by others about you?
  • How does your social identity impact how you see the world?

Think about the children and families with whom you work and answer the following questions:

  • What are the differences between yourself and the children/families with whom you work (e.g., race, sexuality, ethnicity, language, ability, SES, etc.)? If you notice yourself thinking, “I don’t see differences,” try to remember that noticing differences is not inherently wrong. In fact, noticing differences allows individuals to appreciate new perspectives, identify unjust treatment, and advocate for the acceptance and inclusion of all.
  • What stereotypes might follow the children and families with whom you work?
  • What assumptions do you have about the children and families with whom you work? Examples are provided in the table below.
  • How do your assumptions influence your interactions with these children and families?
  1. Seeking Out Different Stories

After we identify the stories we have about others, we can begin to address these stories. One strategy we can use is to reframe our assumptions by considering alternative possibilities. Review the assumptions on the left column of the table below. Consider 2-3 possible alternative “stories” that can explain each described.

Assumptions Possible Alternatives
Carey is always late. Her family must not have reliable transportation. Example: The family might have other children to drop off at different schools.
Teagan acts up a lot during school. He must not get attention at home. Example: Maybe I perceive Teagan as ‘acting up’ when he just has a lot of energy and I need to consider some fun, engaging activities to help him burn off this excess energy.
Lucía’s parents always talk quietly to each other in Spanish even though they know English. They must be talking about me.
Jayvon is blind. He needs me to hold his hand and put his coat on for him.
Dana is always dropped off by her grandma. Her mom and dad aren’t involved in her education.
Ben is Asian, so I shouldn’t make eye contact with his family.
Cecila is always tired. Her family must not have a bedtime routine.

By identifying other possibilities, we can train our brains to unlearn negative stories (e.g., stereotypes, assumptions, biases, etc.) Additional strategies for learning new stories are below.

  • Establish open lines of communication with families with whom you work. Intentionally ask families about their expectations for their children to ensure you are on the same page. Ask for family input about classroom experiences and expectations. These strategies will increase families’ trust and provide them with opportunities to share their beliefs and experiences, which can help professionals take on the perspectives of families.
  • Learn about other cultures and the lived experiences of others through books, blogs, videos, and other resources. Critically examine sources/resources where you find information about culture, race, etc. Ensure these sources represent recommended and evidence-based practices and/or are authored by individuals representing the group being discussed.
  • Sign up to watch this learning deck from the Division for Early Childhood, which discusses implicit bias in early childhood settings. By watching this resource, you will learn strategies that can help reduce implicit bias in your work with children and families.

Early childhood professionals should also intentionally help children unlearn negative stories by using the following strategies.

  • Discourage children from excluding one another from activities.
  • Encourage positive social interactions through specific praise (e.g., “You invited a friend to play!”, “It was nice of you to listen when your friend told you he was upset.”).
  • Model acceptance of all children and families. Refrain from making judgments and/or negative comments in front of children.
  • Read stories in which diversity is celebrated and characters represent a variety of social identities.
  • Teach students to identify emotions in themselves and others (e.g., characters in a book, classmates, teachers). As needed, reinforce inclusion and acceptance by talking about specific actions observed and how these actions make others feel.
  • Embrace (rather than avoid) conversations about differences. Read the following resources to help you prepare for these conversations with young children.