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“Listening is where love begins: listening to ourselves and then to our neighbors.” – Fred Rogers
In the field of early care and education there is no shortage of terms, trainings, articles, and books highlighting the need to develop cultural awareness and competence. While many of these resources are excellent and essential, the content can sometimes feel overwhelming. Leaders can memorize the terms and definitions, attend the trainings, and read books and articles on the topic and still feel inadequately prepared to work with the diverse staff, parents, and children in their early care and education programs. I know I certainly did when I started teaching and in my work as a program administrator. Listening became the key to fostering stronger relationships with those around me and becoming a better leader.
During my first few years of teaching, I worked at a center-based program where many of my students recently immigrated to the United States from Mexico. I was eager to celebrate the children’s Mexican heritage in the classroom, and I assumed that Cinco de Mayo would be one time to do that. I started to explore different activities that could be connected to the holiday. My co-teacher, who was of Mexican heritage, told me that the children and parents in our classroom likely did not celebrate Cinco de Mayo in the ways that I presumed. The holiday is not ubiquitously celebrated and observed throughout Mexico. Her insights made me step back and think more critically about my assumptions. I learned that I needed to ensure that families had the space and opportunity to inform me about their culture. This meant asking questions and actively listening to the parents and children in the program.
Below are tips for engaging with and listening to children, families, and staff to foster strong relationships and promote understanding in culturally diverse environments:
The world is complex and diverse. A single country may represent dozens of native languages, ethnicities, and cultures. Such diversity necessitates engaging with the world around us in new and more sensitive ways. Listening provides an invaluable opportunity to learn from and celebrate our programs’ children, families, and staff. As program leaders, we should always take the time to listen and learn from those around us; these connections are often the most critical path to becoming more culturally competent.
Alanís Iliana, Iruka, I. U., & Friedman, S. (2021). Advancing Equity & Embracing Diversity in early childhood education: Elevating voices & actions. National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Head Start Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center. (2022, July 6). Multicultural principles for early childhood leaders. ECLKC. Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/culture-language/article/multicultural-principles-early-childhood-leaders
Price, L. C., & Steed, E. A. (2016, November). Culturally Responsive Strategies to Support Young Children with Challenging Behavior. Young Children, 71(5). Retrieved August 2, 2022, from https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/nov2016/culturally-responsive-strategies
Nasser Nabhan, Ed.D., is Assistant Principal for Early Childhood Education at the American International School of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. For almost five years, he was an assessor and training specialist at the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership. Nasser holds a bachelor of arts in history and near Eastern languages and cultures from Indiana University, a master of science in early childhood education from Dominican University, and a doctor of education in teaching and learning from National Louis University. Nasser is an experienced educator, administrator, and assessor in the Chicago area and internationally.