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By Crystal Williams, Ed.M.  

As a follow-up to OneOp’s 2018 Virtual Conference, the Family Transitions team produced a five-part podcast series, Moving Toward Inclusive Practice. In each podcast, Dr. Anne Phibbs shares tips and resources to help professionals become more inclusive and culturally informed. Dr. Phibbs’ content is designed to be relevant to professionals in any discipline. OneOp has developed five blog posts to help early childhood professionals apply these concepts to their work with children and families. Other blog posts in this series are linked at the bottom.

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 printable handout for this blog post here.

Engaging with Others

Dr. Anne Phibbs advocates that engaging with others is essential to changing systems to become more inclusive for people belonging to marginalized groups and that individuals should move past being an ally to being a leader in influencing change. Read the following 5 tips from Dr. Phibbs and consider how they pertain to your work as an early childhood professional.

  1. Avoid the “savior” mindset. Refrain from giving unwanted help or assuming your ideas are the “normal” or “best” way to do things.

As an early childhood professional, you may feel inclined to help others and provide them with information. However, it is important to reflect on how others perceive your help and to reflect on your own intentions. Consider the following example:

Liz is a new teacher in an inclusive preschool classroom. She learns that one of the caregivers of a child in her classroom uses a wheelchair. Liz thinks about how difficult it might be for them to unload their wheelchair, enter the building, and exit with their child and wonders what she can do.

Read the examples below and add your own ideas about what Liz should and should not do in this situation.

What should Liz avoid doing in this situation? What are some things Liz could do in this situation?
  • Tell the caregiver she feels bad for them.
  • Encourage the caregiver to use the bus services to make it easier on them.
  • Meet the caregiver outside to help them.
  • Ask the caregiver privately if she needs any assistance. If the caregiver answers “yes,” then inquire about how she (Liz) can help.
  • Elicit feedback from all caregivers about the pickup/drop-off procedures.
  1. Start conversations and invite others to join.

Every change starts with a conversation. Dr. Phibbs says diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work cannot be done in silos. Early childhood professionals should consider those with whom they have conversations and what their roles are in these conversations. You may engage in conversations with children, families, colleagues, or even professionals outside your setting. Your role in having conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion can be informal or formal. Consider the following options:

  • Invite your colleagues, children in your classroom, or families to share their perspectives on equity issues
  • Incorporate the topics of DEI into your lesson plans (e.g., discussions about how to treat others, identifying similarities and differences among individuals, etc.) but be sure to avoid the “tourist approach” as explained in this NAEYC excerpt from the book Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves.
  • Host a book club or movie viewing with other professionals that addresses a particular issue related to DEI
  • Hold a panel discussion about DEI with a facilitator well-versed in facilitating conversations about this topic
  • Share resources related to DEI with colleagues and the families with whom you work
  • Attend or help organize an in-service training related to DEI taught by individuals who are experts in the DEI field
  1. Join existing efforts led by individuals who have experienced injustice.

Dr. Phibbs suggests that individuals join existing conversations and efforts led by individuals who have experienced injustice themselves, rather than starting their own efforts, as this can lead to issues related to power and privilege. She also encourages individuals to ask themselves what it looks like to honor communities. Read the example below.

Hailey is a Caucasian parent educator who works in a community with a large Hispanic population. While she is conducting a parent-child interaction group, she hears some of the Hispanic families discussing discrimination they have experienced in the community.

Read the examples below and add your own ideas about what Hailey should and should not do in this situation.

What should Hailey avoid doing in this situation? What are some things Hailey could do in this situation?
  • Talk about the families’ experiences to other colleagues or other families
  • Start her own awareness group about Hispanic families’ experiences
  • Tell the families that she will help get them through this
  • Ask the families if she can join and/or listen to their conversation
  • Find out if there are existing groups in the community that already focus on these issues
  • Share information about local, statewide, or national groups focused on DEI that the families may be interested in joining
  1. Prepare for and withstand discomfort when engaging in groups to which you do not belong.

If you want to engage with others and take part in DEI work, it is important to be prepared to enter diverse groups, some of which you may not be a part of. Dr. Phibbs states that it is not always comfortable, and you may stand out in the group, but it is important to stay anyway. She says the goal is not to avoid feeling anxious, nervous, or uncomfortable but to withstand these feelings. Ask yourself the following questions as you prepare to engage with diverse children, families, and colleagues, especially in situations where you may be the minority in the group.

  • What groups am I comfortable/uncomfortable in?
  • What can I tell myself when I feel nervous, anxious, or uncomfortable?
  • Am I ready to do more listening than talking? How will I achieve this goal?
  • Are there topics about which I may have personal experience or knowledge?
  • What can I do to honor/support this group and their experiences?
  1. Don’t wait for issues to arise to change exclusionary policies. Advocate for DEI policies whether a particular group is presently represented in the organization.

As an early childhood professional, you have an ethical responsibility to advocate with diverse children and families for equitable and inclusive practices. Sometimes organizations only address DEI concerns when they arise. You can encourage your organization to address issues before they arise.

Complete the following table with your thoughts to begin reflecting on how your program supports DEI efforts and how it can improve.

How is diversity represented in my organization for children and families, staff, and leaders? In the physical environment (posters, bulletin boards, toys, books, photographs, etc.)? Examples: race, language, gender, sexual orientation, family structure, ability, etc.
What inclusionary policies, procedures, traditions, and trends exist in my organization? Examples: code of ethics, translation services, supports for families with limited resources
What exclusionary policies, procedures, traditions, and trends exist in my organization? Examples: IEP meetings are only scheduled during school hours, only the holidays of the majority culture are celebrated, only males are hired for leadership positions, male/female are the only options for restrooms and on forms
What steps can I take to improve DEI in my organization? Examples: talk to the leadership team, model acceptance of diversity, apply for a leadership position, apply for grants to improve services, start a petition to change a policy, attend staff meetings

Previous blog posts in this series can be found at the links below:

Seeking Out Stories to Build Cultural Competence in Early Childhood Settings

Practicing Humility to Build Cultural Competence in Early Childhood Settings

Listening to Build Cultural Competence in Early Childhood Settings

Asking Questions to Build Cultural Competence in Early Childhood Settings