What should early educators know about ableism?

It’s the last Real World Wednesday of 2015 and we are so excited to learn from and with Ana Maria Menda!10400782_1663068440649550_4756358930619636765_n

Ana is a trilingual qualitative researcher interested in the intersectionality of bilingualism and special education. Ana has 15 plus years of teaching experience with students from the elementary to the doctorate level, and is a mother to the coolest 11 year old boy who happens to be in spectrum for Autism.

We asked Ana, what should early childhood educators know about ableism?

Here’s her heartfelt and thoughtful response:

I was sitting with a psychologist, the pre-k teacher, the school counselor and the assistant principal when I was given the news that my son was in the spectrum for autism. Professionally, I had been a public school teacher for years and was working towards my doctorate in special education, so I was not new to the schooling or diagnosing context, however, no amount of experience in education could have prepared me to be on the receiving end of my child’s diagnosis.

The multidisciplinary team was kind. Noah’s pre-school teacher knew what she was doing, and Noah had already been flagged with a developmental delay through the Birth-3 team, which made the actual diagnosis not so shocking. But it was then, in the stoic schoolroom behind the main office that I felt the floor under my chair drop.

Unfortunately, there is no intervention in the literature that can help mend a mother’s broken heart from witnessing the labeling and exclusion of their child. Because attached with that label, often times, as I am still learning, come things like discrimination and isolation. Sometimes the manifestation of isolation is as simple as never receiving an invitation to classmates’ birthday parties, or play dates. Sometimes discrimination is being told by the teacher that seeing tears in your child’s face made her happy because she realized that kids with autism have “emotions” too. Luckily, the heart is a strong muscle, and we learn though the missteps that there are also patches of solid ground to stand on and that there’s people that can support us.

So, as a mother, here’s what I wish early childhood educators knew about ableism:

  1. Discrimination is not always blatant. It can exist in tiny spaces even within the most caring and inclusive environments. When party invitations are shared, or conversations about those events are taking place. When teams are formed during playtime outside. In how kids choose to sit in the rug for whole group instruction or on how they select partners to work with. As a mom I wish I could sprinkle a dash of magic dust on my son that would instantly make him feel accepted. But as teachers, you can work some of that magic in your classes. So I wish you could explicitly talk to your class about reaching out, including and learning from friends who might be different, even outside the boundaries of your room. And that you talked to your students about this every day, in an honest way.
  2. A child’s label says little about that child. When you connect in a sincere way with your students, learn from them, and work collaboratively with their families, you might be able to see growth and potential that looks nothing like the language in their individualized educational plans. Really. You have the power to make an incredible difference. I’ve seen my son’s behavior change so drastically according to how his teachers treated him, that the goals in his IEP became obsolete. You have superpowers when kids walk into your room. You are their superhero. Use that power.
  3. Love what you do. Kids can smell the difference. If working with children with disabilities is a means to an end, your students will know. Be real, own up your desire to do something else, but don’t become the bitter teacher that dreads the kids who are difficult. Your superpowers also work in the opposite way and you could emotionally break a child who needs the right support from a genuine teacher.
  4. True and tried interventions are important, but so is your intuition and critical sense. If you have exhausted the strategies in your toolkit, reach out. Parents don’t always have the answer either, but a team can help you before things escalate. Don’t be scared to ask for help.
  5. Most importantly, believe in your students. In all of their ability to grow, to connect and to be happy. At the end of the day, that’s what we want for our children, more than the academic achievements, more than green behavior chart, we want our child to be happy, to feel accepted and to accept who they are.

Thank you so much, Ana!  Your perspective is so important!


Join our virtual book club!

The now classic book, Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves, by Louise Derman-Sparks & Julie Olsen Edwards invites early childhood caregivers and educators to grapple with the question: What can we do to raise the next generation of young people who know and are proud of who they are, are able to be in equitable relationship with others, can recognize and name unfairness in the world around them, and are ready to take action to address it?

NAEYC’s Diversity & Equity Education for Adults (DEEA) Interest Forum would like to invite you to our virtual book club as we embark on an informal, 13-week exploration of this question together. Together, we will discuss critical issues in the field–including racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism–and build community. Join us!

Structure and Guidelines

Open discussion on our Facebook page will begin each week on Monday with a new chapter of the book and will continue throughout the scheduled week. Over the course of each week, the club’s facilitators will moderate the discussion, posting summaries of the chapter and posing open-ended questions to stimulate discussion. Participants are welcome to post their reactions, thoughts, questions or other topics of discussion. In short:

  • All levels of engagement are welcome!
  • Productive, respectful dissent is appropriate
  • Ask questions, post responses, share quotes to participate in discussion
  • Facilitators will post 1-2 questions each session, but other forum members are welcome to post as well.

In addition, we will be hosting a Google Hangout each week so that participants can discuss the book face-to-face.


Monday, Dec. 7th, 8am to Friday, Feb. 19th 2016 at 8pm

Week 1 (December 7-11): Introductions
Week 2 (December 14-18): What is anti-bias education?
Week 3 (December 21-25): Children’s identity development
Week 4 (December 28 – January 1): Becoming an anti-bias teacher
Week 5 (January 4-8): Creating an anti-bias learning community
Week 6 (January 11-15): Learning about culture, language and fairness
Week 7 (January 18-22): Learning about racial identity and fairness
Week 8 (January 25-29): Learning about gender identity and fairness
Week 9 (February 1-5): Learning about economic class and fairness
Week 10 (February 8-12): Learning about family structures and fairness
Week 11 (February 15-19): Learning about different abilities and fairness
Week 12 (February 22-26): Learning about holidays and fairness
Week 13 (February 29 – March 4): Closing


To register, click here.


To view and/or share the event flyer, click here.

Microaggressions in Early Childhood

This Real World Wednesday, we have the honor of learning from and with Elena Jaime!Elena RWW

Elena has taught in early childhood and early elementary settings for the past thirteen years. She is passionate about her mission to develop “angelic troublemakers” in the school communities in which she works. Elena’s work is grounded in the belief that young children are capable of developing a critical lens and can engage in reflection and action around anti-bias work. Elena has presented at a number of local and national conferences, and has partnered with teachers across New York City as they work to examine the ways in which they can fully integrate equity work into early childhood curriculums. Elena also co-founded the CARLE Institute for White educators, an institute designed to provide white faculty members with the necessary historical framework, interpersonal skills, and curriculum development strategies they need to teach a diverse student body. Elena teaches second grade at the Chapin School in New York City. Elena received her B.A. in psychology from Wesleyan University and her M.S.Ed in early childhood general and special education from Bank Street College of Education.

Elena wrote this powerful piece about how she used storytelling in the face of a microaggression that happened in her classroom: https://tobreatheispolitical.wordpress.com/tag/education/

Given her experience and expertise, we wanted to ask, “What are microaggressions and why do they matter in early childhood care and education?”

Here’s Elena’s thoughtful response:

As an early childhood educator, I have always valued the importance of creating safe spaces for my students, spaces in which children feel invited to bring their full selves each morning. The Responsive Classroom approach to teaching is an approach that is based on the premise that social-emotional growth and academic success are interdependent. Embedded in this understanding of education is the idea that children learn best when they feel a sense of belonging in a community. This sense of belonging, however, is undermined when a community does not think critically about the ways in which each member’s identity is embraced or marginalized.

Children notice difference. They are hardwired to observe patterns in their world, and as they develop, they begin to ascribe meaning to those differences. They do so by tapping into the messages that are communicated about the ways in which our society values or devalues different identities across race, gender, sexual identity, class, ability, etc. These messages, unless interrupted, become part of the lens they use to understand and interpret their world. As a result, the interactions that the students have with each other and with the adults in their schools and learning communities are infused with those messages. A kindergarten child being told that their skin looks dirty because it is black, a first grader telling her classmate that it is impossible for her to have two moms, or a teacher consistently confusing the two Asian students in her class are examples of moments in which a piece of a person’s identity is marginalized. These acts of marginalization based on a person’s identity have come to be known as microaggressions.

Microaggressions are often described as “small paper cuts” that represent all of the times that someone says or does something that further marginalize you because of your identity. As a queer, Christian, able-bodied, traditionally educated, English-speaking cisgender, woman of color in the United States, I will experience privileges that come with being a member of groups which wield power (political, social, economic, etc.), and I will also experience the marginalization that comes from being a member of groups that do not wield power in my American context.

If, as early childhood educators, we believe in the importance of creating safe learning spaces, where children can take risks, and if this necessitates that each child feels that they belong, then we have a responsibility to interrupt microaggressions that we witness and perpetuate in our learning environments. When we name those experiences for young children, we are helping them develop a lens with which they begin to see identify those moments of marginalization, and in turn, interrupt them. An important piece of this work belongs to the adults who must model what it means to bring their full selves into the classroom. When we do this, we are explicitly sending the message to students that each piece of who they are is valuable and belongs, and that the classroom would not be complete without every last piece.

Thank you, Elena, for this eloquent response and for all of the important work you do every day working with young children and their families.  They are so lucky to have you in their lives!  As are we!

Here are some additional reading on microaggressions:

Opportunities to Advance Racial Equity in the Head Start Performance Standards

From left to right: Megan Madison, Catherine Corr, Katherine Paschall, Deborah Daro, Leah Bartley, Alayna Schreier

From left to right: Megan Madison, Catherine Corr, Katherine Paschall, Deborah Daro, Leah Bartley, Alayna Schreier

This week the Forum’s co-facilitators Megan Madison (far left) and Dr. Catherine Corr (second to left) were busy attending the annual meeting of the Doris Duke Fellowships at Chapin Hall in Chicago. They are part of a small group of emerging scholars focusing on interventions and systems aimed to promote child well-being.

Given their collective expertise and experience with Head Start programs, the group engaged in a rich discussion about the newly proposed Head Start Performance Standards.

On our Facebook page, Katie (Katherine Paschall) shared her thoughts:

Clearly, it is difficult to create regulations and policies for such a diverse group of families, but it is my wish that Head Start programs can continue to be responsive to the needs of their local communities; the strengths of the proposed updates allow for greater flexibility and strength in addressing the needs of vulnerable families, as defined by local communities. The weaknesses are those that threaten the strength of local communities/grantees to deliver the most appropriate program to their community.

From my view, the proposed standards include several commendable and appropriate updates to current enrollment policies, implementation strategies and focuses; the updates guided by research evidence are the clear strengths. For instance, Head Start will open slots to pregnant women experiencing homelessness & foster children, and intentionally incorporate evidence-based strategies for promoting the development of these particularly vulnerable populations.

The largest and most publicized update is the movement from half-day to full-day care, which is a double-edged sword. I am concerned, as are many others, that this will reduce the number of children who can be served, and that this will be an impediment to currently operating programs. I agree with the National Head Start Association that this should be one option, offered with the full support of the Office of Head Start, rather than a mandate.

All in all, the way the standards are written include few mandates, with plenty of “wiggle room” for programs to adapt them to their populations. However, some of that wiggle room can be problematic, such as the de-emphasis on family engagement. I look forward to hearing from my colleagues and am so glad to have the opportunity to publicly comment on these standards!

The group then compiled their thoughts into a formal comment.  All in all, they identified multiple ways in which the revision of these performance standards provided an opportunity to advance equity in early childhood education.  To read the group’s formal comment, click here.

Building a Diverse, Anti-Bias Library for Young Children

Let’s start with some tips for being intentional as you assess your existing collection and build your library.  Check out:

Next, there are lots of online libraries and booklists to help you find the diverse, anti-bias children’s books you need:

It’s also important to note that despite the existence of all these fantastic resources, there is still a lot of work to be done.  For example:


The We Need Diverse Books campaign is actively working to improve the diversity in children’s literature (while simultaneously highlighting existing literature on their webpage and on social media).  And there are lots of ways for you to get involved!  Here are three ideas:

  1. Write your own story!
  2. Hop on social media using #weneeddiversebooks
  3. Sign this petition: https://www.change.org/p/book-publishers-and-review-journals-help-increase-diversity-in-books-by-asking-publishers-to-be-transparent-about-staff-diversity

Lastly–but certainly not least–it’s super important to remember that while ensuring that you’ve got a library full of diverse, anti-bias children’s literature is necessary, it is certainly not sufficient.  The really critical piece is what you do with these books.  Research has shown that simply increasing the diversity of books and other media that young children are exposed to is ineffective in reducing bias (Aboud & Levy, 2000).  Rather, parents and teachers must select and use these materials wisely and thoughtfully.  In short, the books don’t do the work for you; they simply provide opportunities to have the conversations you need to have, to model the kinds of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors you want your little ones to learn.

This piece was originally posted by Megan Madison on her personal blog.

Welcoming ALL Families

RWW with BillieThis week we have the pleasure of introducing Billie Deig!  Billie has a decade and a half of experience in the field, working in a variety of roles–from floater teacher to center director–and now works as a Resource Coach, training, mentoring, and coaching teachers in Head Start. Along the way, she has obtained both an AAS in Early Childhood Education and a CDA, and is currently working on her BA in ECEDU with a minor in Teaching Spanish! In her own words, “I love working for the CAP [Community Action Program] and the Head Start program along with course work and personal research has sparked a passion for everything this forum stands for.”

Given her extensive expertise in working with families, we asked Billie for her suggestions for teachers who want to make sure they are welcoming all families into their classrooms and programs this month.  Here’s what she said:

The beginning of a new school year can create feelings of excitement, nervousness, and at times can be a bit overwhelming for teachers. There is a large amount of preparation that goes into setting up a classroom, preparing curriculum, and making sure the I-s are dotted and the T-s are crossed. There is a side of preparation that sometimes we as teachers can overlook and that is the side of our families. Our families may also be feeling excited, nervous, and a bit overwhelmed. With some planning and intentionality we can make sure that all our families feel welcome and confident going in to the new school year.
While there are so many things that can be done to prepare for families I have tried to narrow my long list down to a few suggestions:

  1. RESEARCH! Find out a little bit about your families through basic enrollment information. Does the child have siblings? Are there any special needs to consider? What is the primary spoken language for the family and the child? What does the family system look like? The answers to these questions can give us many ideas about what we will need to create an inclusive and culturally responsive classroom.

  2. Create a welcoming environment! By planning ahead we can make sure each child has a space for personal belongings in the classroom labeled with their name (correctly spelled) and a family photo. A simple survey sent out prior to the start of school can give us ideas about favorites to have on hand for each child. Bi-lingual labeling and paperwork will create feelings of inclusion for families and children that have limited English proficiency. Remember all that research we did using basic enrollment information? The environment is the place to apply it. Imagine walking into a classroom and you see your own photo along with your family’s and everything is labeled in a language you understand.

  3. Programs should have policies in place to include orientation for families prior to the start of school. Families that get to meet their child’s teachers prior to the first day may not have such strong feelings of apprehension or nervousness. It is important for children to see their family interacting with their teachers in a positive loving way. This will help the children transition easier which will in turn help the families with their own transition.

  4. Take time to really connect with each family early on; they must feel welcome and included. Families appreciate knowing that we are genuinely interested in the children and in getting to know them. Please be friendly! If a family thinks we are not fond of their child they could shut down and disengage. This is the last thing we want. Lastly, we must always respect our families. Try to remember that the parent truly is the child’s first teacher.

She also shared the following links to additional articles and helpful resources:

In closing, Billie reminded us that,

In my experiences I have thoroughly enjoyed working with families. I have made mistakes and have learned a great deal from them. A forum like this is exactly what we need to bounce ideas off of one another. Please feel free to comment with more great ideas or questions you may have. Thank you!

All of this fabulousness can be accessed here (Billie Issue Brief) in PDF form.  Enjoy!

Supporting Children’s Voices through Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

In honor of 25 years of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA), this week we have the pleasure of introducing Melinda Snodgrass. Melinda is a doctoral student in the Department of Special Education at the University of Illinois. Prior to returning to graduate school Melinda worked as an elementary special education teacher.

Melinda’s interests and current work focus on children who cannot use speech to communicate and instead need to learn other tools to express their unique thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs. Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) is critical to giving these children a voice. For young children who use AAC, many of the decisions about their voice are made by adults, as the grown ups often get to pick the AAC system and the words and messages to put on that system.

We asked Melinda, “What can we do (and avoid doing) to make sure we support children’s voices through AAC without infringing on their autonomy and unique identities?”  And here’s what she said:

Here’s a quick Top 5 list of ways to support autonomy and self-determination in children who use AAC:

  1.  Work as a team! — Having partners in this work will help ensure that the child is able to express his or her own voice through AAC.
  2. Select an AAC system that meets the child’s (and family’s) needs and honors the child’s preferences. — Help the child try different types of AAC systems (like an iPad and picture exchange) to figure out what works best.
  3. Include and teach words and messages that give the child the most bang for their buck. — Especially during the early stages, using core vocabulary (like “more” and “done”) gives the child the power to communicate across many situations while their vocabulary is developing.
  4. Make sure the AAC system is always within the child’s reach. — It can be so tempting to take an AAC device away from the child when s/he is babbling with it and disrupting other activities. BUT, that device is the child’s voice; to take it away is to violate the child’s human rights so be thoughtful about how to manage those situations.
  5. Respond to the child’s AAC use just as you would respond to a child’s speech. — Just as you would with a young child who is playing with early speech, respond and expand on the messages the child expresses with their system. In this way, you are honoring their voice and their right to be heard as they develop language and operational skills.

For more information, Melinda recommends checking out these resources: