A Shield of Armor

A Shield of Armor

What does it mean to be equitable in early childhood education? What does it mean to recognize, reflect upon and address any prejudices or biases that we bring with us in the classroom? What does it mean to teach in a way that values children's cultural gifts and experiences? What does it mean to teach each child not as other people's children, but with the zest, integrity, and love as if you were teaching your own child?

These are just a few of the questions that will be addressed in the blog series: Times Up!: Be Equitable. The first topic in the series is A Shield of Armor, in which we will now explore one of the first steps in creating a racially equitable learning and engaging educational experience for young children.

"I am Black and my momma said I'm wonderful!"

As I walk into my daughter's preschool classroom I am greeted by a decorative wall of self-portraits the children have created. This quote is what is under one child's delightful creation. Instantly I smile and I'm proud of her display of what professionally I would call a positive racial identity and personally, from what I know from my engagement with the family, acknowledgment of their intentional efforts to affirm her identity as a brilliant, awesome Black girl. For as long as I can remember, Black and Brown people have been subjected to racial terrorism in classrooms—explicit and implicit racism and bias—and have experienced massive assaults on our culture, freedoms and life—police violence, racial stereotyping and discriminatory practices. Yet even with such attacks, Black and Brown people remain culturally resilient and so do our children!

As a Black mother of 3 children and an educational equity scholar, I ask myself where do we begin or for some, how do we continue in the first steps towards racial educational equity? The very first step is to create a barrier of protection for young, Black and Brown children.

Here are a few starter tips for both teachers and families:

  1. When I look around the spaces children frequent, do I see positive images and representations of their race and culture?
  2. Do I have explicit conversations with children, even very young children, about their cultural ancestry of excellence?
  3. Do I compliment the physical attributes and uniqueness of children?
  4. Do I explicitly affirm the child every day? For example, "You have a giving spirit! Your smile is magical! Your brilliance amazes me!"
  5. Do I affirm what the child can be? For example, "You will be a change agent!"

Before we begin to address the various racial offensives on Black and Brown children we must first pause and ensure all children in our care can proudly say "I am Black and my (name or role i.e. teacher, caregiver, grandmother, etc.) said I'm wonderful!"

I do hope that you stay tuned for the next topic in this Be Equitable series titled Be Aware: Confronting My -isms which will focus on ways as early childhood professionals we can begin to examine our own prejudices and biases so that we can be equitable as we teach and learn from young children.

About the Author

Tonia Durden, PhD, is a clinical associate professor of early childhood and elementary education and is a program coordinator at the Georgia State University College of Education and Human Development. She is also a co-author of the book Don't Look Away: Embracing Anti-Bias Classrooms.


Additional Resources

Communicating Inclusively with Parents and Caregivers
Nurturing African American Boys in Preschool
Talking to Children About Racism
Strengthening Your Classroom Tapestry
Kindness Color Mixing Activity