This post was written by Meredith McMahon, SEEC’s Executive Director.
Just over two years ago SEEC started on a very purposeful journey to bring an anti-bias approach to our work with young children and increased diversity and equity to the SEEC community as a whole. Our journey is one that’s still at its beginning stages, and we’re excited for where we’re headed! As part of our journey we want to document our process and actions, both as a way of sharing with others, and reflection for ourselves. Periodically we hope to highlight different aspects of our work and share different voices from across SEEC, and to start, I want to share what got us here and where we see ourselves headed.
I think SEEC has long been thoughtful about respecting children and giving voice and validation to their feelings, but we had not thought in terms of anti-bias education (ABE). Before we started our journey I’d guess that most of us here would have agreed about its importance, but we hadn’t thought explicitly about how we could – or should – integrate this approach into our own work. Our thinking changed in very real ways when our faculty had several incredible opportunities to spend professional development days at the National Museum of African American History & Culture in 2017 and 2018. Our early education colleagues there, especially Anna Hindley and Julie Olson Edwards, shared their experiences and understanding about the importance of anti-bias education with young children in ways that were eye-opening, inspiring, and challenging. I think as a faculty we walked away each time with both a stronger sense of the importance of anti-bias work and actual strategies to use in our classrooms. I think many of us also walked away with the sense that we couldn’t just look at how we develop curriculum – though it’s a place where we could make immediate changes – we need to look across all of SEEC for more places where we must learn and grow.
So where did we start? Well in the classrooms we’re embracing those questions that adults often see as taboo and shy away from – we want to turn them into moments when we can explore differences in ways that are positive, open, and accepting. We believe children are capable learners who can grasp complex ideas much better than they’re often given credit for. We’ve never shied away from introducing children to big ideas, we just look for developmentally appropriate ways to do it. This long-standing belief has allowed us to embrace the goals of anti-bias education as something we’re capable of incorporating into our curriculum development, even with our littlest ones. Across the school our classes have purposefully looked for ways to explore identity and differences with the children, and you can see and hear that reflected in their interactions.
What else are we doing? We’re looking at the shared language we use across SEEC, those phrases and strategies we draw upon when guiding children’s behavior – we want to include concrete ways to talk to children about differences, identity, and equity, a resource that could aid both our faculty and families. We’re planning out how to completely review SEEC’s library – we want to look for unintended messages in both the illustrations and text, and the conversations we might need to include, should we continue to use some books. We want to know what our library is lacking so we can purposefully add more titles that promote equity and diversity. Since children’s literature is a mainstay in every early childhood classroom, we expect this to be a very impactful way we can make change right now.
Beyond the classrooms we know we know there’s more to think about and lots of room to do better. From a big picture perspective, SEEC’s Board of Directors is working to revise SEEC’s mission statement to include our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We’ll also include both our short and long term goals in our strategic plan. Increased diversity within our faculty is an important, immediate goal, and we’ve identified some ways we can improve our recruitment and hiring practices right now. We also continue to think about next steps for professional development – we’ve had sessions on mitigating our own biases, as well as classroom strategies, but we know we’ll always have more to learn!
Perhaps most important in all of what we’re doing, we’ve realized, is transparency & communication! We know that our efforts must include the whole SEEC community, and that means we need to make clear what we’re doing, especially for our families. As we continue this journey we’ll need continued buy-in from our faculty and support from our families – we’re not going to get the review of our library done without some assistance from parents! We also want faculty, families, and our Board to all have opportunities to share their perspectives about what’s important for us to consider and prioritize as we continue this journey. We’ve had one big meeting for our community already this school year, and we anticipate more to come in the next few months. We want to keep this as an open dialogue that informs our next steps, with the idea that the growth and changes we make now will be lasting, embedded in the fabric of SEEC. We know we’re not alone in focusing on diversity and equity with young children – many of our early childhood colleagues are similarly working on this, and what we can learn from others is of great importance to us. We hope that our approach and process might be enlightening for others, so we want to share it. We’re just at the start of our journey, but we hope you’ll follow along, share insights that would benefit us, and maybe even join us to see how far we can go!