SEEC’s Diversity and Anti-Bias Journey

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.


Representation matters. Our infant rooms put up images representing diversity in locations that accessible to our crawlers.


Similarly, in our older classrooms, the environment reflects the beauty in the differences of our world through bulletin boards, books, artworks, and more.


In all of our classrooms, but particularly in the infant rooms where the children are preverbal, but need to be picked up often, faculty practice language of consent. Before picking a child up to play or take them to the changing table, educators tell the child what they’re going to do, “I’m going to pick you up and bring you to the changing table.” While an infant cannot respond verbally, the educator will wait until the child looks at them to acknowledge they have heard.


Our toddlers work on anti-bias goals through empathy building and perspective taking. They begin to notice when their peers are upset and take action to make them feel better, often through a hug or pat.


“We’re all the same, we’re all different” has become a common phrase at SEEC to help celebrate our similarities and appreciate our differences. Examining our individual skin tones is one way we build a child’s positive sense of self and joy in the diversity that makes us all unique. Our faculty has used Synecdoche by Byron Kim at National Gallery of Art and books like, The Color of Us by Karen Katz to explore skin tones further.


Recently, one of our preschool classes explored how they could be community helpers through their words and actions. They thought about how they could help people by raising their voices when they noticed things were unfair. To read more about their week, visit the blog post here.


Recently, one of our preschool classes has been exploring the human body, starting with the brain. They learned that the cerebrum helps control the words we say. They connected this to Malala Yousafzai and Martin Luther King Jr, and their words that have helped to change the world. The children each took a turn using their cerebrum and voices to choose words that might change the world, including, “Keep the world safe” and “schools for everyone.”

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!