Creating Equity for Children Statewide: Reflections on the Wyoming Learning Network

Today’s blog has been co-authored by Nichole Parks, Leading for Children’s Director of Programs.

National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones speaks in his TED Talk about finding ways to celebrate what’s right in the world. In a world with infinite perspectives, finding the beauty, the joy in each day is a choice. You can take a photo of a field of wildflowers, and the image can come out looking flat, uninspired and uninspiring. Yet turn a few degrees, change your lens, and suddenly you see it framed by mountains, directing your view down to the vibrancy in the valley.

When you change your lens, you’re activating your curiosity: one of the Five Commitments of Optimistic Leaders that Leading for Children supports adults across the early learning ecosystem to cultivate, helping them build equity into their daily interactions. For all of us who care for and educate young children, we have choices in the perspectives we take — we can either focus on what’s wrong or celebrate what’s right. Instead of focusing on a child’s behavioral challenges, we can activate curiosity to consider the child’s strengths, think about the root cause of the behavior, and use a blend of strengths and understanding to build toward solutions. Instead of “fixing” issues with a teacher’s practice, a coach can activate curiosity by learning about the teacher’s strengths, using observation and conversation and to find out what the teacher wants to learn. It’s only when we take the strengths-based lens that we are moving toward equity.

Moving Beyond Biases

Celebrating what’s right appears simple on the surface, but in many ways, it’s a radical departure from the narratives we see each day about our society, our relationships with one another, and our early learning systems. Recent research on equity in early learning shows that Black children tend to be seen as less innocent and more aggressive than their peers: an extension of criminal stereotypes of Black people, which contribute to harsher punishments for Black children in school.

Stereotypes and biases not only affect the ways teachers view students, but also how adults across the early learning ecosystem view one another. Many have faced some form of marginalization, whether stemming from race, gender, socioeconomic status, or educational attainment. As many of our systems function today, voices that have been marginalized in the past will stay marginalized in the future — unless we change our lens, activate our curiosity, and intentionally elevate all voices.

Activating Curiosity to Create Equity: Lessons from Wyoming’s Learning Network

As we look at ways to create equity for children statewide by activating our curiosity, our Wyoming Learning Network offers valuable lessons. In Wyoming, a geographically dispersed population created challenges for connecting with others, understanding diverse perspectives, and creating consensus to define a Coherent Path to Quality®. When the Learning Network began, many of its members were meeting each other for the first time. Our partners in Wyoming asked: “Could the dream of having one shared vision of quality in Wyoming be achieved? And, if so, how could it be done in a way that elevated the voices from the field?”

Learning Network members met across multiple channels, including full-Network convenings, smaller Implementation Team meetings, and regular text messaging. They shared scenarios from their day-to-day practice, sought each other’s perspectives, and elevated each other’s wisdom to think through solutions. Often one member would share a story, and others would build upon it with connections to their own experiences. Leading for Children facilitators were there to guide conversations, yet Learning Network members took the lead. As Nikki Baldwin of the University of Wyoming noted, “Experiencing that much respect from the person who is supposed to be the expert up in front of you, it powerfully changes the dynamic.”

By activating their curiosity, the Wyoming Learning Network collaboratively created a statewide Coherent Path to Quality. Throughout this document, its authors point to the act of noticing as a first step toward program quality: noticing others’ ways of interacting, understanding, learning, and communicating. Activating your curiosity is about noticing and acting on what you notice, and Wyoming Learning Network members harnessed this energy to create statewide pathways to equity for children. Even though they came from different local contexts, they stayed curious about the connections between their experiences, bridging geographical divides to find what they all shared.

Using the Five Commitments of Optimistic Leadership to Create Equity for Children

As we saw in the example of the Wyoming Learning Network, activating your curiosity is a stepping stone towards building equity in early learning. Yet this is just one idea to keep in mind as you build your equitable practice. We invite you to explore each of our Five Commitment of Optimistic Leaders to guide your thinking:

1. Think Impact — Before you act, consider how your actions might affect others. What can you do to ensure that everyone has a chance to share their wisdom?

2. Cultivate Self-Awareness — Think about how your background and past experiences may lead you to make assumptions about others. How can you ensure that you’re avoiding implicit biases in your daily interactions?

3. Nurture Relationships — Take the time to build trust with others. How do you show both adults and children that you value their voice?

4. Refine Communication — Look for ways to break down barriers stemming from entrenched inequities. How can you support those whose voices have been marginalized to feel comfortable in expressing their ideas?

5. Activate Curiosity — Think again about the idea of changing your lens. How can shifting your perspective help you learn about others and welcome them into the conversation?

By practicing each commitment, you’re changing your lens and deepening your perspective on the way in which your identity, your interpersonal relationships, and your role in groups can move us toward equity for children.

Join Judy Jablon and members of the WY Learning Network for our upcoming webinar to further explore this topic:

Creating Equity for Children Statewide: Reflections on the Wyoming Learning Network

May 27, 2021 from 4:00–5:00pm EDT (2:00–3:00pm MDT)

Click here to register

© Leading for Children, 2021.

--

--

--

Leading for Children is a national nonprofit that empowers adults across the early childhood ecosystem to be leaders and learners.

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

What Happens When Teachers Become Design Thinkers?

Education kills creativity, Ken Robinson’s TED speech

2020 Eaton-Hachigian Fellowship Recipients

Foundations for a shared future

A case for building awareness of informal learning

Three Ways to Get the Most from Online Learning Activities

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Judy Jablon and Nichole Parks

Judy Jablon and Nichole Parks

Leading for Children is a national nonprofit that empowers adults across the early childhood ecosystem to be leaders and learners.

More from Medium

The End (of Pre-Thesis)

My interview for Bold Modern

Getting to the Heart of Collaboration

Pregnant in the Backcountry