1. Tell us about yourself and what you are passionate about.
My name is Dolisha Mitchell and I’m the creator and curator behind the Little Black Book Nook. I am a former teacher and social-emotional learning coach. I am currently a training and curriculum specialist for an educational management company where I develop and provide teacher professional development and find diverse children’s literature to address social-emotional learning and social justice.
I believe that reading diverse books promotes empathy, understanding, and respect for others while offering unique perspectives and information outside of our personal experiences. I’m super passionate about creating literary resources that help teachers and parents prepare children to be the empathetic, courageous, and thoughtful changemakers we need in the world.
2. When teaching inclusion to early childhood education teachers, how do you start the conversation?
I usually begin by asking them what their personal schooling experience was like. For some people school was an amazing place where they shined and excelled, while others have traumatic experiences of being isolated or chastised for being different. There’s something about teachers hearing their colleagues share the unfortunate experiences they endured in school that resonates and often makes them truly reflect on how inclusive their classrooms may or may not be.
3. This can be a big change for them. What is some advice or tips that you give them?
Most teachers honestly want to do what is best for children. I always encourage them to build a strong sense of community first. It is essential to not one build one-on-one relationships with each of their students, but also to help students get to know and care about each other. When this is done correctly it creates a school family dynamic that can make everyone feel at home and invested in what happens in and out of their classroom collectively.
4. Are there any roadblocks or mental barriers that teachers have to work through when creating inclusive environments in their classrooms? How do you tackle this?
Oftentimes the barrier is a lack of knowledge or understanding that we as teachers need to be flexible in our thinking about how learning and a classroom should look in 2020. When we rely on our schooling experience we are leaving out many factors that should be guiding our instruction, classroom routines, and interactions. Some teachers are most resistant to change because there’s comfort in routine and doing things the way they have always been done, but when that way is no longer working or is harmful to children it is time to rethink the true purpose of school and education.
I normally tackle this with educational research and pedagogy to show the correlation between student success and having inclusive and welcoming learning environments. The numbers don’t lie and most teachers then realize it’s time to try some new strategies. I’m also a believer in giving small steps that lead up to big changes that are often more sustainable.
5. How can parents reinforce inclusion at home?
Children are often like sponges, so I encourage parents to always lead the way in modeling any behavior they want to see, including being inclusive of others. Parents should reflect on their own behaviors and how they interact with people before setting expectations for their children. Once they do this, they can start conversations about why it’s harmful to intentionally ignore and exclude others. They can share personal experiences if they have any and ask their children if they have ever felt excluded and how that felt. These conversations can be facilitated through picture books, Sesame Street, and other educational media sites that offer excellent visuals on the topic.
6. Can you explain what anti-bias curriculum is and what it consists of?
Anti-bias curriculum or anti-bias education is an approach to teaching and learning in support of respecting and embracing differences included but not limited to race, language, ability, learning styles, ethnicity, family structure, religion, sexual orientation, gender, age, and socioeconomic differences. The National Association of the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) provides four core goals of anti-bias education:
- Identity: Teachers will nurture each child’s construction of knowledgeable, confident, individual personal and social identities.
- Diversity: Teachers will promote each child’s comfortable, empathetic interaction with people from diverse backgrounds.
- Justice: Teachers will foster each child’s capacity to critically identify bias and will nurture each child’s empathy for the hurt bias causes.
- Activism: Teachers will cultivate each child’s ability and confidence to stand up for oneself and for others in the face of bias.
7. What are some ways teachers are able to achieve it?
I think most importantly they have to identify and understand their own personal biases, then examine how they may be showing up in how they interact with the students in their classrooms. While doing this, it is important for teachers to find educational books and professional development to support their learning and unlearning process. I often recommend exploring the Teaching Tolerance website where they have professional development materials on school climate that address anti-bias education. Next, I suggest reading books like Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum and Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom by Lisa Delpit. Being and teaching through an anti-bias and anti-racist lens is a life long journey of learning and growing in approaching every engagement through this lens. It is not a destination you reach, it’s more of a movement towards creating equitable learning environments for all to thrive in.
8. How can parents support their child’s social-emotional learning development?
They can start by helping children build their emotional vocabulary. When their child cries or stomps, they can say “How are you feeling right now?” or “You look upset, can you tell me what happened?” instead of telling them to stop or be quiet. Teaching them to identify their feelings can be helpful in identifying how to help them process their emotions and learn strategies to self-regulate or self-manage emotions. It is best to teach vocabulary and strategies when children are calm and ready to learn, not in moments of emotional outburst. Using a mirror can be helpful for children to see what their faces look like when they are feeling different emotions. It can also be helpful when you introduce other SEL competencies such as social awareness. When children identify their own feelings and expressions, you can begin to teach them how to notice others and develop things like empathy and perspective-taking of others.
I’ve found that using social stories often lends a hand in this process. Sometimes children are able to make connections to characters and talk through situations that are similar to experiences they have had. It is also important to remember that social-emotional learning is not just about emotional intelligence, but it includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. Talking through social and emotional experiences with their children should involve more listening and understanding than focusing on the behavior and giving punishments.
Take some time to validate their feelings and see their point of view. When they’ve calmed down a bit then it’s your turn to voice your concerns about how you are feeling and how you both can work together to make things right. By doing this parents are modeling the empathy and understanding they want to see in their children.
9. You share so many great book selections on your blog and social media. What things do you look for to determine if a book is of good quality or not?
For children’s books, I always start with a picture walk and really examine the illustrations looking for diverse characters and/or experiences, including race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and ability to name a few. Next, I look through the text to see what themes, morals, or lessons can be used for learning. Some books are simply hilarious and fun, others historical and fact-based, and others dive into a variety of themes. Ultimately my approach follows Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop who wrote “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books. (1990, p. ix)”
Details on the source of the quote:
(Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom. Vo. 6, no.3. Summer 1990.)
10. Thank you! Can you share your most valuable piece of advice for parents?
Model the behaviors you want to see and be vulnerable enough to admit when you make mistakes. It’s important for children to see mistakes as simply a part of life that you grow and learn from. Be just as patient and kind to yourself as you are and try to be with your children. Develop flexible thinking and know that everything will not always go exactly as you planned and sometimes Plan B and C are just as good.