Starting Small is a volunteer professional learning community made up of Early Childhood staff at St. George’s Episcopal School. We focus on learning about and actively employing anti-racism and anti-bias practices in the StG Early Childhood Division.
Danielle Lobell is a co-lead teacher in the Pre-K3 Lily Room. This upcoming year will be her eighth year working in Early Childhood at St. George’s. She has her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and psychology from Tulane, and her Masters in Education with a concentration in mindfulness for educators and nature pedagogy from Antioch.
It was June 2020. We were all living the nightmare of being stuck at home, continuously confronted with the fact that people were dying from a virus gone insane and a society that has marginalized people of color since its inception. A New Orleans summer of heat, fear and helplessness.
A few of us decided to read "Starting Small," published by Learning for Justice. Right away, we recognized that many of us had very little idea what we were doing when it came to anti-bias and anti-racism work, but it felt imperative to try, so we decided to “start small.”
Start with our young learners.
Read research and professional articles.
Just Google it.
After many hours of conversations and reading, that book club evolved into the group we have today. We must acknowledge the many amazing experts and organizations in the field we learn from, such as Iheoma Iruka, Layla Saad, Patricia G. Ramsey, Louise Derman-Sparks, NAEYC, Learning For Justice, Overcoming Racism and many more. Moreover, conversations between colleagues have been our guiding light, showing us how to tailor this work to our program and the people in it. Similarly, our administration supports us all the way. As a result, we have run an internal survey, designed and planned several professional development opportunities for Early Childhood teachers, created a community shared resource folder, collaborated with local mutual aid efforts and created a long-term vision and goals for our work-- all with more in the works.
While we celebrate the “small” victories we’ve been able to accomplish, we acknowledge that we have so much left to learn and a long way to go. We know well that St George's lacks diversity-- that is, lacking diversity in both the voices and experiences of our staff and our students. We are committed to examining the reasons behind this, advocating for a more equitable future.
Between all the other COVID-19 and non-COVID meetings we have, Starting Small meets about every other week. The work moves slowly, perhaps because there is an ever-present fear of hurting feelings, causing more divisiveness or just straight-up doing it wrong. Each of us is also dedicated to our part- or full-time work of educating and caring for our students.
Mistakes have been made: activities sometimes fall flat. I’m sure we’ve offended people, and we haven’t always listened as well as we should have. These discussions can be pretty uncomfortable. Still, it’s not more uncomfortable than unequal access to health care, employment and education. It's not more uncomfortable than physical and emotional harm because of assumptions and biases against your identity.
Why do this work, then?
Mostly, we do this work because we love your children and the grown-ups they will one day be. How could we not? We spend approximately 1600 hours with them a year. In a small way, they are our children, too. And our children-- ALL children-- deserve to delight in who they are, free from hurting others or being hurt by others based on aspects of their identity. And there is joy-- a three-year-old wanting to grow up and fly to space like Mae Jemison, a request to listen to “Jazz by Ella Fitzgerald again, please.” There is the amazing work of so many before us and alongside us. There is hope.
It might not be better soon, but in early childhood education, we are used to sowing seeds, believing they will bloom, even if we may not see the entirety.
Danielle Lobell, Starting Small and your StG Early Childhood Division
Suggested Reading (books and articles):
- Early Childhood
- Faculty Voice