Optimistic Leaders Own Their Wisdom: Modeling Equity for Children

(From left to right) Gina Kodger and Marneshia Cathey, co-directors of the West Point Christian Preschool in Mississippi, engage in conversation. Marneshia will join as a panelist in LFC’s upcoming webinar (details and registration below).

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

We all have headwinds and tailwinds — factors in our lives that either propel us forward or draw us back. As we prepare for our March Leading for Children (LFC) webinar, we invite you to think about these headwinds and tailwinds in the context of wisdom, considering how your personal and professional experiences shape your understanding of the wisdom in yourself and in others.

At Leading for Children, we understand wisdom as more than knowledge. It is not so much a product of formal learning as it is a natural outgrowth of accumulated life experiences. Everyone, no matter their background, has inherent wisdom, and it is our job as Optimistic Leaders for Children to discover collective, collaborative ways to build on each other’s wisdom and amplify our voices.

Power and Inequity in Early Learning

Too often, though, our early learning systems only elevate the wisdom of a select few. As data from the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment shows, women make up much of the early learning sector workforce, and many are women of color. Members of these groups who experience both historic and systemic marginalization may face barriers to having their voices heard when advocating for change in early learning systems. Faced with multiple barriers to expressing their wisdom, many find themselves without opportunity to shape the way that these systems function.

Power and equity go hand-in-hand. It is often imbalances in power that lead to inequitable relationships, as interpersonal and societal power structures influence others’ decisions and the choices available to them. In some cases, individuals exert power directly over others; in other cases, power imbalances are built into our social systems. When power imbalances rule our interactions with others, we may fail to hear voices that — for reasons of race, class, education, ability — have been historically undervalued. Yet when we intentionally amplify these voices, with an eye to equity, we are on our way to creating early learning systems that operate through our collective wisdom.

Building on Each Other’s Wisdom and Creating Strong Teams

As a participant in a past LFC webinar put it, “equity is the highest form of respect.” For us to build an equitable early childhood ecosystem, we first need to grow our awareness of equitable interactions and exercise intentionality in our relationships with others. LFC’s Learning Network model offers methods for creating an equal playing field for all of the adults in the early childhood ecosystem — including educators, caretakers, and everyone else who contributes to children’s early education and development. In this environment, everyone can feel comfortable in sharing their experiences, perspectives, and best practices.

As the Learning Network elevates individual wisdom and voices, the wisdom of the group as a whole grows stronger. We build on each other’s wisdom, acting on our understanding that each person in a group knows something that no one else knows, and we develop a deep, multi-rooted knowledge of effective early learning practice. We invite others to think together, to overcome impulses to criticize, to ask questions, to call new participants into the discussion. As we learn with and from each other, we create strong teams.

Teams built on the act of owning our own wisdom and elevating that of others are critical to creating a shared vision for effective early childhood programming. We find shared strength in the sum of our parts, and from there, we are primed to be the architects of sustainable systems change.

Modeling Equity for Children

For all of the adults across the early childhood ecosystem, there is a responsibility to teach children to value all people, creating the foundations for a more equitable society. Optimistic Leadership is central to this pursuit of equity. It is based in belief in the value and wisdom of others, in considering the impacts of your actions, in challenging biases, in building intentional relationships, and in staying curious about the unique wisdom that others have to offer.

By internalizing these principles and engaging in collaborative conversations, all of the adults in the early childhood ecosystem come together to establish coherent paths to quality, mutually agreed among educators, caretakers, and others. Not only does this help to establish best practices across the early childhood landscape, but it also helps adults to become models of equitable relationships for children.

The children in our lives mirror the behaviors they see in us. When they see us expressing our own wisdom with confidence and elevating the wisdom of others, we are passing this commitment to equity and shared wisdom on to the next generation of leaders.

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

Optimistic Leaders Own Their Wisdom: Modeling Equity for Children

March 25, 2021 from 4:00–5:00pm EDT (3:00–4:00pm CDT)

Click here to register

© Leading for Children, 2021.

Judy is the Executive Director of Leading for Children, a national nonprofit that empowers early childhood professionals to be leaders and learners.