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EmbraceRace

Nurturing Resilience & Joy in/among Young BIPOC Children, Part 2

US society is too often unkind to Black and Indigenous children and children of color (BIPOC children), raising the risk that these children learn to be unkind to themselves and each other. If we are to raise a generation of BIPOC children who fully recognize their own humanity, and that of their peers within and across lines of race and ethnicity, we need the entire village involved: aunts, uncles, and grandparents; mentors and coaches; children's book authors and publishers; toy manufacturers; television and film, and video producers. And more.

The roles and responsibilities of parents, caregivers and educators are especially crucial for our youngest children. For Part 1 of this conversation, we focused on the role of parents and caregivers. For this second part of the conversation, we focus on the role of educators in answering the following questions:

  • What are the big challenges educators must meet if we are to nurture young children who are resilient, joyful and recognize each other's full humanity?
  • What tools, resources, and community do we need to help meet those challenges?

We're pleased to be joined for this conversation by two long-time educators and consultants in the early education and equity space, Lisa Gordon and Debbie LeeKeenan.

EmbraceRace: We're really excited about our two guests tonight who can come on. Lisa Gordon. Hello, Lisa and Debbie LeeKeenan. Both of these educators have just such impressive and long bios, and I'm just going to read a little bit and we have plenty of resources to share about what they do that'll be helpful to you. So, Lisa Gordon has worked in early childhood education for the past 25 years, designing and delivering professional development, training, technical assistance and programs at both the state and federal levels that facilitate the wellbeing of children and families. She is a co-founder of Colorful World, a woman-owned diversity educational consulting firm, whose mission is to facilitate the creation of inclusive learning environments that empower all children and families to succeed.

Lisa is currently a partner with the Children's Equity Project at Arizona State University that works at the intersection of research to policy and practice to close opportunity gaps and ensure that all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, income, language, and/or ability reach their full potential. And there's so much more including Bank Street and Head Start and on and on. Lots of very rich experience. Lisa lives in Reston, Virginia with her husband and two sons. Welcome, Lisa.

Lisa Gordon: Thank you.

EmbraceRace: Glad to have you. And then, Debbie LeeKeenan is a long-time social justice educator, early childhood consultant and lecturer and author. She has been in the field of early education for over 48 years. I don't believe that. She is a former pre-school special education and elementary school teacher. She has been a member of the early childhood faculty at Tufts University, at Lesley University and the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, which is around the corner from us here. Her most recent co-authored books include Leading Anti-Bias Early Childhood Programs: A Guide for Change, which she co-wrote with Louise Derman-Sparks and John Nimmo. And another one is From Survive to Thrive: Leading an Early Childhood Program. She's a member of a multiracial family and an active grandmother. Welcome, Debbie.

Lisa, what do we need to know about you to know why joy and resilience in children of color and Black, Indigenous, Asian, Latino, multiracial children is something that's important to you?

Lisa Gordon: Yeah. Thanks so much, Melissa and Andrew and welcome everybody. So excited to be a part of this dialogue tonight. Really, I think I have to start at the beginning, my own childhood and really this direct correlation to the nourishment, the support and encouragement of my own resilience and joy that I received as a child from my own family, extended family and community and all the relationships that were really cultivated within that circle. My parents were social justice advocates and made every opportunity to really ensure that my brothers and I had a real strong sense of who we are culturally, that really helped to dispel any of the deficit narratives or messages that may have told us otherwise.

And this is really critical. I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts. And many of you on the call know Massachusetts, but it was a predominantly White community. And there was our church, our family members that really provided those strong role models for us. Many of my family members and role models were the first in their respective profession, right? First African-American visiting nurse. My dad was the first Black administrator in three different communities throughout New England. So, there was always that sense of role model and relationship there, but that relationship extended beyond my immediate family, right, to what we call extended family. And extended family were people from different backgrounds who worked alongside my parents to be social activists for fair housing, to bridge greater understanding and dialogue amongst diverse groups.

And so, people in my circle weren’t spectators. They were activists and they all participated in bridging differences. So that's, I think the first thing, and the second thing I would say is that because of that experience, I understood the importance of social-emotional development and learning, and my culture is totally at the center of that. And part of that is really that capacity of knowing, of kind of having that self-knowledge, knowing one's place in the world and our own cultural identity. And as I moved into the professional world and started to see the absence of that in learning environments for children, I could not help but say, "Got to do something about it."

And that's really what really started my part of advocacy and investment was that people needed to understand that culture is at the core, that culture is what children know and are, is related to their culture. That is the rules that shape their relationships. And so, knowing that, that was really where my advocacy really started and really launching Colorful World as a consulting business to try to help educators understand that. In 1995, a lot of people didn't get it. They were like, "Diversity, multiculturalism, why? Why should we really care?" And so, that was really, I think, a part of the grounding for me, I would say those two things about what you might want to know.

EmbraceRace: I was doing a lot of mm-hmm-ing there. Yeah.

Debbie, what about you? Why do you do what you do as a personal investment?

Debbie LeeKeenan: Yes, of course. And it's both personal and professional. I feel I've come to my anti-biased, anti-racist work really from my professional experience as an educator, but also my personal experience as a third generation, Chinese-American, originally from New York City. So my last name, LeeKeenan, I'm the Lee. Keenan was my husband's name. He's Irish-American. So, we put our names together. We have two adult biracial children, and then we have three multi-racial granddaughters who also have some Latinx and Indian heritage as part of their family. So, personally, looking for communities that would support my family when I was a parent was a big part of influencing who I was.

But again, my own experience, growing up as a third generation Chinese-American, I didn't see myself in the tools of school always. And I remember clearly, we lived in New York City but then my parents moved to New Jersey, supposedly for a better education. And the experience that stands out in my mind is when, the first day we were on the playground, I was in third grade and a child came up to me and said, "Last year we had a Mexican. What do we have this year?" No one said anything. Not any of the children, not any of the teachers, not any of the playground monitors and everyone just stared. I mean, it's still a very powerful moment to me when I remember thinking, I'm going to be a teacher when I grow up and I'm not going to let anyone feel the way I felt at that moment.

So, fast-forward, some 60 years, I am actually part of three generations of teachers. My mom was a public school teacher in New York City, and my daughter is a teacher now also. And we just vowed that would be a part of our experience. So, this has been this intersection of both my personal and professional life. I've been, from being a Head Start teacher, an early childhood teacher, pre-school teacher, elementary teacher, special education teacher, had the opportunity to be director at a lab school at Tufts University, the Elliot Pearson Children's School, where I helped lead that program to become a center for anti-biased education and becoming higher education faculty. But all of that has always kind of centered my focus, my personal experience really centered my professional experience on the ideas of inclusion, equity and social justice. So for me, it's both professional and very personal.

EmbraceRace: Just knowing from the start, wow, there's a lot missing here and the interesting experience of some people don't know it's even missing, right? Thank you for that. Debbie that playground experience is an instance of when it's not working well. Now, Lisa, you were nurtured, right? You talked about the family, extended family, the role models, the activists, your two brothers. You talked about the importance of cultural identity.

Had we known the young Lisa, in the bosom of this incredibly nurturing, extended family and network, what would we have seen that would have shown us what it looks like for a young girl of color, African-American girl to be nurtured?

What would you have seen that would have let us know this is going well, whether it's with respect to you or all the children, families, young people you know, especially of color?

Lisa Gordon: That's a great question Andrew, because as I think about that because of all that nurturing I exhibited, and that Lisa that you would have met had uninhibited enthusiastic wonder and curiosity about the world. I had no hesitation to take risks, to try something new, right? To solve problems within the community of my peers and adults who I knew I could use as kind of a secure basis to be able to support my inquiry. That's what would've seen from that Lisa. Whenever there were messages that may have been contrary to the way I was nurtured, I would go back to my family and ask that question and they would help me make sense of it and understand. But again, really developing my healthy sense of self in my culture, who I was culturally.

And so, that didn't deter my curiosity. I think what unfortunately you see today is kind of that opposite where children's curiosity can be shut down by negative stereotypes, microaggressions or something we call the stereotype threat. Children start to listen to messages and attitudes about them and internalize it and begin to feel a certain way about those negative messages. Other children chime in on those negative messages. We see a lot of that with boys in particular. I do a lot on looking at the school readiness and success of boys of color. And we see that boys often get this label because of who they are, or because of their sense of energy, curiosity. I just mentioned curiosity and seeing that as a negative, where adults might want to shut down that energy.

And so, that stereotype threat just zaps that curiosity when it is innately a piece of who we are. So, that's one thing that I see and I love this quote that Zaretta Hammond has. And I don't know if those if you who are participating have read Culturally Responsive Practice and the Brain, but it really sets in motion this whole notion of strong sense of self and relationship and how that ties to brain development and learning. And it really says that the brain feels safest and relaxed when we are connected to others who we trust to treat us well.

And when we're in those trusting relationships, we can explore the innate curiosity that children have, innate curiosity that Lisa had, that I had, could be explored. Obviously later in life, I've had experiences that may have shook that, but because of the nature and the foundation of what I had, I could always come and walk away from that. The only other thing I guess I would just add to that is this sense of sort of, I guess I would say psychological and physical safety to really bring myself into my learning environment.

I could come to my classroom, I could come to school and not be inhibited or ashamed of who I was because of the nurturing, but that isn't always the case for children, right? We know that children should be able to bring their culture, their language, their ways of being, and knowing into the classroom to be celebrated and for other children celebrate as well. But we know that doesn't happen. I don't know if I have a quick moment of a story, because I know we need time to keep moving, but just a quick explanation of that, in a classroom.

I was a literacy coach in this classroom and a family had adopted a young girl. She spoke Mandarin and she would come into this classroom and cry every day. Every day she cried and the teachers tried to console her. The children in the classroom tried to friend her and she just cried. And at the time I said, because of my company, I had all these multicultural and diverse resources. And I was like, "Oh, I have some things in Mandarin. I have some music. I've got some books. I've got some things." So, I brought that in and Christina just lit up. It wasn't the fact that it was separation from her families, which the teacher thought. It was the lack of continuity from what she knew. Her language was not even validated. And so, the crying was out of isolation. And when that was brought in, she just lit up. Needless to say, within about a week, she was already speaking English as well as Mandarin. But it's just an example of when validation happens, how awful that is to that psychological and physical safety to be able to bring our whole selves into the environment.

I do a lot on kind of looking at the school readiness and success of boys of color. And we see that boys often get this label because of who they are, or sense of energy, curiosity. I just mentioned curiosity and seeing that as a negative, where adults might want to shut down that energy. And so, that stereotype threat just zaps that curiosity when it is innately a piece of who we are.

Lisa Gordon, Early Education Specialist

EmbraceRace: Lisa that's wonderful. I'm hearing is that kind of safety, that validation, that embracing who you are culturally and otherwise, that the child who feels that is also willing to express that, to bring that part of himself /herself/themselves to the classroom, to interactions with not only peers, but adults. I love the vibe about it, sort of adventurousness about sort of respectful curiosity.

Debbie, maybe you got your mission call on that playground and that with other aligned incidents. So, 60 years later, as you say, lots of inter-engagement with families and the kids trying to speak up, right? Those adults who didn't speak up, you're going to speak up and do much more. When you go into a classroom now or school what catches your eye that makes you say, “Something good is happening here?”

Debbie LeeKeenan: So, I have four anti-biased [behavior] goals and I look for in children.

1) How do they express their positive social identities, feeling good about who they are, the color of their skin, the language they speak, the culture, their food, their rituals, and of course their families. So, I want to see that.

2) I also want to see them being comfortable to negotiate, to initiate with people who are different than them, people of different color, people of different ways of being. Do they feel comfortable? Do they have the curiosity and they are willing to take risks in doing that?

3) And I also really want to see children being understanding what fairness is, what it looks like and what they can do about it. And particularly for our Black and Indigenous and children of color, are they able to stand up for themselves, to speak up for themselves when people say unkind or unfair things about them. As a child, that was hard for me.

Well, of course, my family loved me. I always felt that, but I didn't feel that in school a lot of the time. There were periods of time where I didn't even see myself as being Chinese. As a matter of fact, if I saw someone else who was Chinese, I turned away because I saw myself as White. I didn't see myself as who I was. So, it's the opposite of that, of what I'm looking for when I see children of color who feel really good about themselves! Some of you, I'm sure on the chat are familiar with these ideas of these goals, but that's one way to look for those. Identity, feeling good about who you are and your family, right? Diversity, feeling able to interact and understand people who are different than you.

The unfairness one would be the third goal around justice, right? What's unfairness, what it looks like, that unfairness hurts.

4) And that fourth goal of course, is about action and empowerment. And some people think activism that is part of that standing up and speaking up. But I also see it as empowerment, again, particularly for people who have been targeted, that they gain those skills, how to speak up for themselves. And we, as adults can give them those tools. And I think that is the role of educators and families to help provide our children with tools to learn how to stand up for themselves.

How do they express their positive social identities, feeling good about who they are, the color of their skin, the language they speak, the culture, their food, their rituals, and of course their families... Do they feel comfortable? Do they have the curiosity and they are willing to take risks in doing that? And I also really want to see children being understanding what fairness is, what it looks like and what they can do about it?

Debbie LeeKeenan

EmbraceRace, Melissa: I hear that a lot in Lisa's story, right? Of her being raised by parents who were activists, who didn't think the world as it was, had to be? That they could put effort in and change it and felt powerful in that way. And that's really a really strong message. Andrew and I come from immigrant families where the message was different. I mean, Andrew maybe not, I'll speak for mine, that the message was sort of assimilate and we’re lucky to be here. We have to sort of move ahead here and learn all the rules. There isn't the support to sort of stand out really in any way or to embrace your culture.

I’m sure there are people on the webinar thinking about, as I was, incidents on the playground. And people who went back to those moments of, “Be ashamed of who you are. Don't bring that here.” So, very powerful story. You were talking Debbie about those four goals of anti-biased education. You talked about sort of identity, bringing your whole self, diversity, kind of being able to interact well with others and appreciating others, having a sense of fairness, and then action. Being able to take action around those things. What are the biggest challenges for early education teachers of reaching those goals and creating those circumstances for kids?

I want to encourage folks who are listening to offer one of your big challenges, especially if you're an educator, but we are understanding educator very broadly. So, as someone who may be trying to support in the ways that we're talking about, young children of color and Black and Indigenous children, one of the big premises of EmbraceRace is that there are great many people in increasing number we think, who are actually trying to do that but may not know how. What are the challenges to doing that work? Please put in the chat.

Debbie LeeKeenan: Sure. So, I think the first thing of course is creating these environments where every child is being seen, right? It's your materials, your books, your toys. But I would say it goes way beyond the environment. I mean, you need that, but to go beyond that environment, do your teachers see you? Do they see you for who you are, your culture, your language, your social identities? And where do we get our social identities and our culture and our language is from our home.

So, that connection of that concept of funds of knowledge, that every child comes to school with strengths, with dispositions, with skills and knowledge that they have learned from their families. And do we, as educators appreciate that? That's where often the disconnect can come from. And I think that when teachers do use this home language, these funds of knowledge and incorporate that in their classrooms intentionally and strategically, children will feel comfortable, will gain that confidence, will be able to take risks and obviously be able to learn. So, I think that idea of feeling comfortable with embracing and working with families, learning from, and with families and bringing that into classroom is key.

The second point I'll bring up is though, I think it's more than just activities. Many people think, well, I got to do anti-biased, anti-racist education. I'm going to get this book and do these curriculum things. If I do all this, I've done it. I think anti-racist work is way more than just curriculum activities. It takes careful self-reflection, careful education and really understanding your own social identities and biases. I was glad we started introducing ourselves who we are with that, because I like to say we carry our ghosts with us on our shoulders. And once we understand a little bit more about how our backgrounds and our social identities and our biases, we all have them, influence who we are as educators, then we can be better really meet the needs of our children and families.

And often when teachers are of a different social identity than the children and families that they're serving, there's even more disequilibrium. But again, I guess I'll say that disequilibrium, I see that as a good thing. We have to embrace complexity, disequilibrium, conflict, tension, because that's when real growth happens. One is that there's going to be this disconnect. There will be things we don't know. I think educators sometimes have a hard time with that, feeling comfortable, embracing this complexity and seeing it as an opportunity for growth. So, those are some first things that come to mind for me when thinking about, how do we support and nurture children of color in particular?

I think anti-racist work is way more than just curriculum activities. It takes careful self-reflection, careful education and really understanding your own social identities and biases... And often when teachers are of a different social identity than the children and families that they're serving, there's even more disequilibrium. But again, I guess I'll say that disequilibrium, I see that as a good thing. We have to embrace complexity, disequilibrium, conflict, tension, because that's when real growth happens.

Debbie LeeKeenan

EmbraceRace: I want to highlight a couple of the responses we're getting. Perhaps not surprisingly, we're getting responses that in a sense, locate the challenges, both in families, in educators and even in children. So, for example, "we have staff who have their own biases and/or don't think it's an issue," right? I think Debbie you alluded to this to some degree. You have some responses from educators saying that families present all kinds of obstacles themselves, especially sitting next to their kids online. The educators feel the families are sort of promulgating in the children, lack of diversity. We have one saying that some of the children themselves don't recognize differences, or at least don't express any recognition of those differences. So, that can be a challenge to work with. And then, I'll just mention one more. Someone who works in the school, she said that there were 40 different languages spoken and the school and she wondered how do you highlight culture when there's such a diversity of culture? Lisa, please, your thoughts.

Lisa Gordon: Yeah. Those are great, great, great comments. Where to begin? And it's interesting because Debbie and I are both parallel in terms of where we think the issue is, in terms of raising an awareness and confronting our own biases. Right? And someone had said that there's an issue where staff or individuals don't even think they have bias. That's the vulnerability where we need to be. And Debbie said it, and it's true. It's not only bias of children who are not a particular race, gender bias is huge. There was an African-American teacher who was in a professional learning opportunity around equity. And she said, "I don't know why we're here. You're kind of preaching to the choir." But as she stepped back, she realized that she had some issues with the socio-economic class of the children that she worked with and had issues about “these children”.

And she kept making comments about “these children” in this neighborhood. And she realized herself, "Wow, I have a bias and never realized it!" It totally changed her dynamics. It's the first step to really bring about that change. And Debbie spoke about that vulnerability that we need to have and the willingness to be able to start, be able to see the strengths of our children and families. And the other thing someone had commented about, so many different languages and so many different representations of ethnicities and cultures in a classroom. One thing that I saw that was beautifully done in a classroom. [In this case] The kids were really interested in superheroes. What children aren't, right?

So, they started to talk about superheroes, they dug and dived into the topic, and then she asked each child to find a superhero in their community, in their neighborhood. And she gave families that didn't have a camera at the time, because I'm dating myself, right, the disposable cameras but they took pictures. And so, they brought in and they had a heroes wall and it had heroes. They were Latino heroes. They were African-American. They were Asian-Pacific Islander. They were of diverse backgrounds, social classes. There were cafeteria workers and custodians, and they were in different languages that they would talk about these individuals that were heroes. And for those children, they could all see the diversity, right? And the unique ways of being, and knowing that came about from all these people that might look different, but inside they were heroes.

So, there was that commonality and a sense of community that was built. I think that's just a wonderful way when you can start to have children bring in pieces of lived experience into the community, talk about it and discuss it and have visual representation for them to be able to celebrate one another. The other thing I think I would just say is, as people were saying that it's not an easy task, right, to enter into the vulnerable space of what we don't know, of really being that which we hope to see, right? But it really requires that we really begin to be willing to take that step, that we are willing to bring about change. And the change really happens within what I like to kind of elevate is our dispositions, right?

Because you could change your attitudes and your feelings about stuff, but the dispositions is our motivations. It's our behaviors that when we know something and we learn something new, we apply it. So, as we're doing the hard work of examining and confronting our biases, we recognize that we have a sense of agency and responsibility, right, in this change process to be advocates for change for our children and families. It means that we create learning environments that nurture our children, their resilience, their joy and they're being recognized and validated and validating others' humanities. And dispositions are so key because like I said, you can change your attitudes or how you feel about something, but you cannot really realize true change until our actions and our behaviors change. So, we often talk about this culturally responsive practice and Debbie talked about how it's more, it's not just activities, right?

So, culturally responsive practice is really about validating and affirming children's culture and using it to and through, right? And using their strengths, their funds of knowledge as Debbie had pointed out to make learning more meaningful. But it’s also about caring. It's a caring for not just about of children of color, but about their families, about their personal wellbeing. So, there's a sense of action and empathy and commitment that comes with that. And that really means that we need to be advocates, that we advocate on their behalf, that we challenge systems of oppression, that we challenge negative narrative, deficit narrative. We challenge a systems that might not be equitable. We speak up. We continually reflect on ways that our own actions or inactions might perpetuate these inequities or help eliminate them. And challenge them. And that's really what it takes to be sort of an advocate for change, right?

So, as we're doing the hard work of examining and confronting our biases, we recognize that we have a sense of agency and responsibility, right, in this change process to be advocates for change for our children and families. It means that we create learning environments that nurture our children, their resilience, their joy and they're being recognized and validated and validating others' humanities... [Culturally responsive practice] is about for not just about of children of color, but about their families, about their personal wellbeing. So, there's a sense of action and empathy and commitment that comes with that.

Lisa Gordon

EmbraceRace: How do we support teachers and educators more broadly who are doing this work? And Debbie we’ll come to you, you outlined some incredibly important challenges. And Lisa want to come back to you after that because you have these issues and, at the risk of being reductive, of disposition and caring, right? Even if we have the disposition, then what does it mean to care? And then, I'm thinking about tools and then you talk about validation, right? People come to us requesting tools, “Give me some resources. Give me some community.” How do we think about how we offer tools, community, and resources, etc. so they will be helpful?

Debbie LeeKeenan: Right. Sure. So, I think people, yes, we need the professional development. Educators need around anti-biased, anti-racist culturally relevant and culturally sustaining pedagogy, but it's more than the theory. We need to see what it looks like, okay, on a daily basis. I'm fortunate right now to be in the middle of creating actually a film about what anti-biased looks like in the classroom. And we've captured vignettes from different teachers actually doing it and reflecting on that process. And we hope to have that out next year. And we're going to just stream it for people to use because that's the message I've been hearing. It's, "Yeah, we have the books. We have the articles. Do the presentations," but people want to see, “Well, what does it look like? How do you respond to those questions that children ask?” I mean, that's a big deal. “How do you do it?”

So, to see people doing it, how it's very matter of fact. Yes, there are these big pieces, but it's also daily little interactions, not ignoring when children ask a question and even if we're uncomfortable to just listen carefully and say, "That's a good question. Let's get back to that." And again, empowering children, if they're a target, how to speak up around what happened and how they feel about that. And the other message I want to give is this idea of creating communities of practice or professional learning communities. And what those are, are opportunities for early childhood educators to come together to share challenges, successes, dilemmas, problems of practice from the classroom, and to get support about the process of teaching and learning for adults.

So, it's not just a one-stop thing, you to do a workshop or someone comes in to give you support. Yes, all these things are important, but creating these ongoing communities of professional learning communities on a regular basis. And the other piece I wanted to share about communities of practice is that this is not a new phenomenon. As a matter of fact, this type of learning, if you go back and look at it, has existed for a long time, as long as people have been learning and sharing experiences through storytelling. And that's a big part of, of course, of Indigenous and Black culture. So, I think it's kind of ironic that we're talking about this today. I actually thought about that, that we're focusing on this and that these communities of practice, which for some schools have been newer for, but some, but really it's not a new idea.

EmbraceRace: That is so powerful. I mean, it's a thing that we talk about a lot, about wanting to increase our capacity as parents, as grandparents, as teachers, to do this work. And it's almost like we've let someone else, in some cases, it's been professionalized as though we weren't the ones always doing it, and our families weren't the ones always doing it. So, there's sort of a reclaiming of that that I think is important.

Debbie LeeKeenan: And we can support each other. I think that's the key thing.

EmbraceRace: Debbie, you referred to this film that you've been working on, it's coming out, you hope early next year. Can you share with us more about it?

Debbie LeeKeenan: We visited different classrooms. We filmed in different classrooms, and we have reflections from teachers talking about it, both kind of the short term, the teachable moments, as well as kind of the bigger pieces. So, they've been films out there, but they’re a little bit older, and a lot of them had more talking heads. As a matter of fact, myself and John, we’re not even in the film, because the is the stars of the film, are the teachers and the children in the classroom and how that happens. And we're fortunate that we had a grant for it. So, we're hoping to just be able to disseminate it for everyone and we'll let you know.

Lisa Gordon: I am so on my edge of my seat, Debbie, about this film, because I have to tell you, though in the work that we do, we always try to give educators when we're doing professional learning experiences, whether they be communities of practice. Not once “drive by” kind of sessions, but there is the power of inquiry is great, right? That's what we really aspire to try to really help our children to grow to that deeper, higher order thinking. And so, we show examples. And I was looking for an example one day of children of color, engaging in emergent curriculum, right?

Project-based learning where inquiry was just a flow in a fresh. Couldn't find one. I could not find an example where people could see it, but what I saw were examples of the rote learning, the examples of really stringent, strict environments that are not allowing for play, that aren't child initiated when it comes to Black and Indigenous children and children of color. That environments become not teaching children to be independent learners, but to be dependent learners, dependent on the teacher having control. And I love that Zaretta Hammond says that inquiry is the great cognitive equalizer. So, talking about equity and talking about diverse experiences and trying to make that opportunity happen, that's what we're talking about.

So, I totally agree with that. The only other thing I wanted to add to the dialogue, think about communities of practice and the voices like you say, coming together and dialogue is also the voice of families. Sometime we miss in the dialogue of trying to build our understanding, having a professional learning community or communities of practice with families. Bring them together, share their experiences, tell their stories about how they're experiencing early education. What has that been like for them? What is it like for them now, for their children? Come together to be authentic partners, right. Partners as co-educators and together to do this work. Right now, we're asking families to do a whole lot. It's a heavy lift in this hybrid virtual learning environment with COVID. We're asking them to do a lot, but we need to come together and really bridge the gap.

EmbraceRace: Giving us some great ideas here. We all have to talk and we're getting great ideas from the chat too. In your combined experience, do you see, even if it's not in early childhood, per se, have you seen examples of communities of practice that you think do it really well?

Debbie LeeKeenan: Yes.

Lisa Gordon: Absolutely.

Debbie LeeKeenan: Yes, definitely all over the country. I know groups in Seattle, Boston, San Francisco, they're all over. We used to meet in person, a lot of these groups, in early childhood. And sometimes I should mention, it really has to be dependent on the context. Some of them could be school-based or program-based and sometimes they could be across schools and across roles. I've been involved with communities of practice and include families and educators in the same group. Sometimes you want communities of practice that are just for people of color, but sometimes their mix is a little bit like affinity groups. I think the other key piece of successful communities of practice is that they use protocols to help structure the conversation. So, it was not just sitting around and kind of shooting the breeze around, I mean about serious stuff.

But we've found that the use of structured conversation, different kinds of protocols helps you slow down, really observe, really think, really analyze rather than rush to an answer. And also, everyone's busy. When you have a community of practice with an hour or two-hour meeting or a 90 minute meeting, you want to use every moment and you have to figure out how to do that. So, there are a lot of protocols that are out there that are very useful. Very good tools. I think of the School Reform Initiative, Making Learning Visible. There are a lot.

Lisa Gordon: I would add, too, the Ideal Trust for Learning, which we did a whole communities of practice in the city of New Haven, which was in the communities with families, teachers, social workers, Department of Health and Human Services folks. It was awesome. And Debbie, you're right with all the protocols but around a topic of inquiry that they felt was important.

EmbraceRace: We're so appreciative of everyone who participated tonight. Especially of you, Lisa and Debbie for coming on and sharing your expertise with us tonight. And for phenomenal work over a good period of time. Thank you so much for doing the work, for just doing the work.

Resources

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Protocols for educator/caregiver communities of practice

Lisa Gordon

Lisa Gordon has worked in early childhood education for the past 25 years designing and delivering professional development, training, technical assistance, and programs at both the state and federal levels that facilitate the well-being of children and families. She is co-founder of Colorful World, a women-owned diversity educational consulting firm whose mission is to facilitate the creation of inclusive learning environments that empower all children and families to succeed. Lisa is also a Partner with the Children’s Equity Project (CEP) at Arizona State University. She lives in Reston, VA with her husband and two sons.
Lisa Gordon

Debbie LeeKeenan

Debbie LeeKeenan is a long time social justice educator, early childhood consultant, lecturer, and author. She has been in the field of early education for over 48 years. She is a former preschool, special education, and elementary school teacher. She has been a member of the early childhood faculty at Tufts University, Lesley University and the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. She has written numerous books including Leading Anti-Bias Early Childhood Programs with Louise Derman-Sparks and John Nimmo. Debbie is a member of a multi-racial family and an active grandmother.
Debbie LeeKeenan