Educators for Social and Racial Justice: Creating classrooms where all children thrive

Kinder lernen lesen mit Erzieherinby Nar Doumbya, T.E.A.C.H. Counselor

In early education, it is widely accepted that children learn in the context of a healthy responsive relationship with their caregivers. Rightfully so, those of us who’ve been in early education classrooms can attest to the importance of relationship in learning and psycho-social development during and beyond the early years.

Yet, relationships do not always come naturally, especially when we serve children and families whose racial, cultural or linguistic backgrounds differ from our own. When it comes to engaging in racial and social justice discussions and learning, early educators often agree that it can be challenging even when we have seemingly good relationships with children and their families. Besides the many feelings (e.g., guilt, fear, shame, among others) these topics invoke, I often hear educators say that they do not know where or when to start, what’s developmentally appropriate or individually responsive. This despite decades of research that shows the importance of talking to children about race and identity.1 Our collective confusion and reticence show just how difficult this task can be. Nevertheless, it is something we can learn.

What is Deep Culture?
As a former childcare teacher and administrator, I believe my success with engaging children and families stemmed from the genuinely respectful and responsive relationships I strived to develop. To me, relationships are catalysts for families to more easily let us into their deep culture. That is to say, who they are beyond race. Deep culture relationships take us beyond the more superficial moments of intake, drop-off, pick-up and ritual events such as the annual family night. Through authentic connections, we come to understand families’ goals for their children, their hopes and dreams, their strengths and challenges. In so doing, we expand and enrich our understanding of the children in our care.

Standards exist – but we’re called to go further
In Wisconsin, licensing standards, the quality rating and improvement system, and Head Start performance standards all uphold the crucial role cultural identity and relationship play in learning and development. Consequently, educators routinely receive training in cultural awareness, curiosity, or competence, culturally-responsive child guidance, and parent engagement. Often, such training focuses on culture more superficially by emphasizing externally visible aspects such as attire, artifacts, or holiday customs.

We seldom delve into issues of equity and social justice because we may rightfully feel that we don’t yet have the competence or resources to address them. While there may be social and racial justice policies and procedures in place at the system and center levels, teachers are daily confronted with opportunities for ensuring that every child is provided with an environment that mirrors how much they are valued in the classroom community. An environment that conveys the message “I see you and value what you bring to our classroom community.”

Take time and practice – with support – at the WECA Conference
Developing and strengthening the ability to have conversations about race and social identities and becoming an equitable educator takes time and practice. That’s why we are calling all educators who embrace social and racial justice work to attend this year’s WECA Conference.

Our social and racial justice track will offer space for critical self-reflection, support you in promoting equitable learning environment, and provide you with the tact and know-how to engage in social action

You won’t want to miss Prof. Janean Dilworth-Bart, PhD., from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Janean-Dilworth-Bart

Janean Dilworth-Bart, PhD., University of Wisconsin-Madison

She will challenge us to reflect on our own identities and personal experiences with school and our childhood communities and how that influences our roles in relationship with children and families today. We will examine the impact of class, race, and culture on building authentic relationships and how we apply these concepts to support and care for all children and families. Her session will challenge our assumptions, engage us in important conversations, and provide us with tools and resources to better understand our roles in shaping the future of children in the context of the world today.

While at the conference plan to visit our interactive display designed for gathering ideas, and incorporating the concepts of diversity, culture, and peace into your program. Come expand your knowledge, connect with other professionals, and leave with a renewed passion to provide an equitable learning environment all children!

Reference
1. Winkler, E. N. (2009). Children are not colorblind: How young children learn race (Vol. 3). Pace.

What it Means to Teach Infants and Toddlers

What it Means to Teach Infants and Toddlers

by Carla-Littel-Hildebrand, T.E.A.C.H. Counselor

Have you tried to explain to others outside the early education field what it means to “teach” infants and toddlers? As a fellow teacher, I know we fight against the “babysitter” label and claims that we are not really teaching.

iStock_000019609330XLargeBut the research and our own experiences tell us differently. Teachers of infants and toddlers develop responsive care routines, build a trusting relationship with the child and family, design safe, engaging environments, and create developmentally appropriate experiences that expand learning. Young children require these experiences for healthy brain development.

“The vulnerable baby is dependent on relationships with adults for physical survival, emotional security, a safe base for learning, help with self-regulation, modeling and mentoring social behavior, and information and exchanges about the workings of the world and rules for living.”1

It is truly an awesome, and fast-moving responsibility. Have you ever taken a long weekend or vacation and upon your return, the children in your care have made significant advances in one or more developmental domains? As an Early Head Start Teacher, this is one of my fondest memories. The child that didn’t walk is now trying a few steps.  Another can roll over and yet another child is beginning to use the “baby signs” you have been diligently modeling.

As a reflective caregiver, you observe these milestones and assess the needed environmental changes, create opportunities to scaffold on new learning, and assess the social emotional needs of the children as they embark on skill acquisition.

“If caregivers are mindful of how a child’s whole experience-particularly the emotional tenor-influences the developing brain – they can provide caring relationships that help the child feel secure and open to an engaging world of exploration and learning throughout the early years.”

Teaching infants and toddlers requires a flexibility that is unique, with caregiving taking on the nature of a “dance” – with the teacher encouraging each infant to try out more complex steps so as to master new compositions, beats, and tempos.3

Training with an Infant /Toddler focus

It can be difficult to find training that specifically addresses the needs and concerns of Infant Toddler Teachers. Not at the WECA Conference! WECA has heard your voice and is offering a range of workshops November 10-11, 2017 at Chula Vista.

Pam Bennett and Cheryl Heiman will start us off with an inspirational Early Ed Talk followed by an innovative workshop, “Bebe Café.” We’ll come together for a facilitated conversation, sharing our wisdom, expertise, challenges, concerns, and passions in a collective learning experience.  Don’t miss out on this exceptional opportunity to learn with colleagues and dive deeper into the issues that are most relevant to you as an early childhood teacher.

To find out more and to register go to: http://wisconsinearlychildhood.org/conference/

Citations:
  1. Lally, J., & Mangione, P. (2017, May). Caring Relationships, The Heart of Early Brain Development. NAYEC, 17-23.
  2. Raikes, H. H., & Pope Edwards, C. (2009). Extending the Dance in Infant & Toddler Caregiving. Bear, DE: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Inc.
  3. Bredekamp, S. (2009). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs (C. Copple, Ed.). Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Additional Infant and Toddler Resources:

The Power of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math)

The Power of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math)

By Jeanne Labana, WECA Training Coordinator and Master Trainer

IMG_1716Gina Flynn’s classroom at St Robert’s school is alive with activity!   Groups of children have gathered plastic eggs, play dough, measuring tools and Unifix cubes.  One group is rolling the eggs, discussing the way they roll with respect to their shape.  Another group is creating patterns and counting.   Yet another group is stacking the eggs, trying to get height, unsuccessfully. The stacking group spies the play dough and tape and think they might be good binding agents.  They find they need too much play dough to stack very high.  Switching to tape is more difficult and needs more hands but the eggs are now higher. Soon the other groups have also started stacking, formulating plans for how to structure the stack for the best results.  Amid the thoughtful sharing of ideas, attempts and giggles the groups begin to compare the height and width of their projects with the measuring tools.  Meaningful learning is happening, thanks to STEAM.

The STEAM approach captures a child’s natural curiosity and fosters higher-level thinking through planning, reasoning, hypothesizing, predicting, theorizing, etc. For young children this is a vital stage of development.  Research reveals that young children learn most successfully when they are the center of a learning experience that includes physical, linguistic, social-emotional, and knowledge-rich components. When children are active creators of their learning with adults as their guides or facilitators they become excited and engaged.

In teaching, Gina Flynn prioritizes STEAM. In the egg project alone, children are developing skills with counting, adding, subtracting, 3-D design, and physical manipulation of materials. They are also growing their capacities to problem-solve, imagine, listen, work together with others, and persist when faced with difficulty. They are growing their social-emotional skills.

This year, WECA’s Annual Conference features a learning track on STEAM. Save Friday, November 10 and Saturday November 11 – when Gina Flynn and other experts will be sharing theory and practice on STEAM. There will be hands-on examples of activities for you to use – whether you teach infants, toddlers, preschoolers, or kindergartners.   Come!  Let’s learn together! See you at the conference!

Have you Registered for the WECA Conference Yet?

Wisconsin Early Childhood Association’s 56th annual conference begins in Madison in just one month from today! Have you registered yet? With over 60 sessions that have been designed to promote excellence in early care and education, the 3-day WECA conference is the place to be November 11-13.

This year’s conference theme is Nurturing Quality Together. Quality is on everyone’s mind these days. The WECA conference offers keynotes, featured sessions, networking opportunities, and exhibits to inspire quality practices in early education and care. Join WECA, Wisconsin Division for Early Childhood, and your colleagues to strengthen your business practices, create quality learning environments, nurture health and wellness, and boost your professional qualifications. Register now and don’t miss out!

You can also look to WECA’s annual conference for a one-stop shop for training in all YoungStar categories! To help improve your learning experience, we’ve organized our workshops into several topic areas- including sessions specific to YoungStar, family child care providers, directors, infant/toddlers, and more. Learn more here.

WECA Conference 2009 Highlights

The WECA annual conference for early education professionals in Wisconsin took place on October 22-24, 2009 at the Kalahari Resort and Convention Center in Wisconsin Dells. Close to 700 professionals joined together to play, learn, collaborate, and grow. Check out our highlight reel below, and plan on attending next year’s conference on November 11-13, 2010 in Madison!