Our second posting in our Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion Series.
People familiar with Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion (DEAI) will often describe it as a journey or a process. Now that I am a couple of years into my own DEAI experience, I can finally say that I understand what they mean. Each time I feel like I make some headway, I find that something comes along and reminds me that I still have work to do.
Such was the case at a recent educator workshop I was co-leading, Never Too Young. Going into the workshop, I was feeling confident and prepared. Overall the morning went well and there were many meaningful conversations. During the section where we discussed relationships with families, we asked participants to split up in small groups and talk about one of a variety of scenarios that we described as, “difficult conversations.” As each group shared their thoughts, it became clear that some of the participants were uncomfortable because the scenarios portrayed lifestyle choices with which they disagreed. It was a conundrum; the focus of the workshop was to help educators create an inclusive environment where children can develop a positive sense of self. Yet, I could see that the discussion made some people uncomfortable and moreover, these participants had stopped listening.
As a facilitator, I recognized my role in their discomfort and I felt like we needed to reconsider our approach – we were talking about inclusion after all. I had several questions:
How do we navigate conversations when peoples’ ideals are not aligned with inclusivity? Was it my role to challenge those ideas? What are SEEC’s priorities when providing these types of training? And most importantly, how do we keep the children’s best interests at the center of what we do?
At the next session of the workshop, I made a few modifications. We added inclusive language to our introduction so that participants knew what to expect and understood we would talk about some issues with which they many not agree. Before the scenarios, we reiterated the role of the caregiver as the decision maker and the role of the educator as someone whose role was to make a child feel safe and loved. I think this helped, but we are definitely still thinking things through.
DEAI and Educator Programs
In addition to this specific experience, we have been thinking about our entire menu of educator workshops through a DEAI lens. Some of the changes are small and obvious, and others are still in the “thinking” phase, but as I said….it’s a journey. Below is a list of ways we are thinking about DEAI in terms of our professional development options. These perspectives are with us as we rethink content and introduce new conversations to our educator programs.
- Demonstrating how objects can tell stories of similarities and differences.
- Exploring ways community visits can:
- Provide children with experiences to connect with peoples and cultures that are different or similar to their own, which may not always be the case in their classroom.
- Create opportunities for children to build social emotional skills, especially in terms of empathy and considering perspectives other than their own.
- Provide real-life examples of people working for change.
- Provide real age-appropriate experiences for children to make change.
- Considering how the museum community views families and young children and how we can help museum professionals understand that children are capable and should be respected. Helping museums think through how to make their spaces accessible to families, and how to support family learning.
- Strategies for talking to children in age appropriate ways about history, culture, and current events.
- The role silence plays when educators don’t acknowledge bias in the classroom.
- Ways of building classroom lessons and environments that authentically weave in diversity and inclusion, and avoid tokenism.
- How educators can build strong relationships with families to establish a community in which everyone feels respected, even when there are disagreements.