Episode 215 – Teaching about race starts in child care. As a leader in ECE, you are in a unique position to be a resource for your staff, the parents that you support, and the children in your care. In this episode, we interview Re’Shaun Webb, Founder of Rainbow Institute of Childcare Education, about different strategies to educate all the stakeholders that are part of her center’s social ecosystem. She shares her tips and advice on how to create a safe and racially inclusive space for everyone to learn in.
- Rainbow Institute for Childcare Education
- Connect with Re’Shaun at RainbowChildcareLearning@gmail.com
Getting the children to play with each other, no matter if the child is in a wheelchair or a walker or has a cane or anything, we allow that child to play. How can we tweak the project, tweak the toy, tweak the learning experience so that way all children feel like they’re included?
Re’Shaun, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!
Thank you so much for having me, I appreciate this opportunity very much!
It’s our pleasure! To everyone out there, we have on the show today Re’Shaun Webb. She is the founder, CEO and head trainer at Rainbow Institute of Childcare Education. She’s also the director of a preschool program in San Antonio, also an instructor at Penn Foster College. [We are] delighted to have her on the show today. Re’Shaun, let’s start off learning a little bit about you and how you got so involved in early-childhood education.
Yes, absolutely. So, it all started when I was a little girl myself. I remember being in middle school and helping the parents at the church that I was going to. And the pastor would specifically call on me to help the parents so that they could listen to the teachings while I was able to work with their children.
And it just grew from there until when I was in high school, I made it a profession. And my first official job… I had my own babysitting business, but my first official job was my junior year of high school, working at a daycare center right around the corner from my house now. And I started in the infant toddler classroom, and that has been my first love.
And so it just took over. And I always said I wanted to be a director, I wanted to get my CDA [Child Development Associate credential] and own my own business. And that was it. And so it just went from there. After I got my CDA I took one class and I was like, “Oh, gosh, I’ve been bit by the bug!”
And so I started going to school and I kept going. I was still working in preschool programs [and] after-school programs. And I graduated with a bachelor’s from the University of the Incarnate Word. And I by then I had already had my own center. I was in different positions within the YMCA and other organizations.
And so in 2017 I received my masters from Wilder University in early childhood and adult education. I fell in love with teaching adults. I started teaching and coaching adults before it became popular and I fell in love with it. And people were coming to me, asking me questions. And I was like, “This is pretty cool!” And I was just young but vice presidents and presidents of colleges were asking me questions.
And I fell into and I fell more in love with it. So, I became an early childhood coach before I knew it was that. And so I’ve been with it ever since. So, it’s been about 20, 22 years now I think that I’ve been in this business. And I’ve done everything you can think of: I’ve planned, organized; I’ve opened centers down; I’ve helped close them down; I’ve worked side-by-side with licensing inspectors.
So, I’ve done everything: taught at conferences; I’ve coached one on one with directors and owners. I mean, I’ve just done everything. And I love this profession. I love how it’s changed. I loved how when I went to school and learned the science behind it and I was able to bring it to the childcare-daycare world, so to speak, and implement some of the things that I’ve learned and some of the things that I’ve been able to teach other teachers and directors that may have not had the chance to go to college and learn at a scientific level.
And I’ve had that opportunity and I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve loved every minute of it. And so over time, things change. I became an author. Life happens and you become an expert at certain things. I became an author; I have my own T-shirt line for essential workers. Things just started progressing. And so I’m just going along with the progression.
Very cool. And one of the topics we wanted to discuss with you today was around microaggressions in early-childhood education. Let’s start yet maybe just with the question of what are microaggressions, generally?
Yes, absolutely. So, the term “microaggression”, which is a pretty popular term. And a lot of people have seen it and may have not have recognized it. But microaggression is simple: it’s verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative racial slights and insults to a target audience or group.
So, basically you’re speaking to someone and you may say an off-comment because of their race or their gender or their socio-economic status. That is considered microaggression. For me, for example, I am a proud African-American female. And everyone says, “Oh, well, you don’t talk “black” ”. And I’m like, “Well, what does that mean exactly? What does talking “black” mean?”
So, right there, that would imply you already have a stereotypical thought of how an African-American person should talk. And so that’s pretty much the overall term of microaggression. But then you start to dive into what the specifics of microaggression is and it kind of steps on people’s toes a little bit.
And you’ve been in the field of early-childhood education for many years. Why is it important for us to educate ourselves on microaggressions in the specific context of early-childhood education?
Well, it is important because we live in a time… and we’ve seen the videos where individuals have blasted out loud, “I’m going to teach my granddaughter, my grandson, to hate black people.” And they’ll use that word. And so it’s important to educate ourselves because we are going to be raising, we’re going to be teaching, educating these children who are going to be with us from 5 to 6, upwards of 10 to 12 hours a day.
And they’re going to bring that environment to the school. Just because Mom and Dad is not around, that doesn’t mean that environment goes away. And so anything that they’re taught or anything that they have been instructed at home, they’re going to bring it to the center. So, we must educate ourselves on what to look for and to debunk in that environment because those children are around a plethora of children that may not look like them. They may not talk like them and act like them.
And we have to do our best as educators to educate parents, families and teachers on the correct way to handle what happens when you address someone that may not look or talk or act like you do due to their ethnicity or their social-economic background or their status.
So, we definitely have to educate ourselves and educate the families. The family is the first teacher; the parents are the first teacher-instructor for those children and we are the second. And so we have to do our best to encourage families to educate.
And we don’t have to blatantly come out and say, “Oh, you need to educate,” or, “Oh, you need to do these things or others.” No, we find resources that we can that slide, so to speak, into the parents and into the classroom and into our resource center just so that way parents can look at things a lot differently.
Yeah, so there’s sort of several stakeholders here that you’ve mentioned. So, maybe we can talk to each of them individually. I guess, first of all, you’ve got the teachers. And then secondly, you have the parents and the families. And then thirdly, you have the children themselves.
So, let’s start off with teachers. If I’m an owner or a director of a childcare program, how can I educate my teachers on microaggression and educate them on it and its importance and start there? Because that is, I think, sort of the central point for the conversation, would be my guess.
Sure, yes. And one of the things I will say [in terms of] what I do with my staff: The best way I’ve learned, the best way to get people to be less rigid and to hear what you’re saying is to provide them with food and snacks and things that kind of keep their mind going – chocolates and different other candy items.
So, I always have those tough conversations with my staff around food. Especially if it’s something that we have to do during the lunch hour or at the end of the day, they are hungry. And so I always kind of… if I’m going to have that tough conversation, I do my best to provide my staff with something I know that they love and they like.
And so we sit and we discuss what’s going on. And microaggression is a hot-button topic right now. And so I start them off with, “Okay, what do know? What do you know about microaggression? What have you seen? What have you heard?”
And so from there, I start. I begin to, based on what they’ve seen and what they’ve heard, I begin to debunk what they’ve seen and heard with facts, with videos, with literature, with website that they can go to [in order] to learn on their own more about microaggression. Because at the end of the day, as a director, I’m also their teacher, their mentor, their educator. I’m all things to them.
So, dealing with staff members, because of the different children that come into the center, they’re going to already have their own opinions and biases about the children that are in our care. And some will admit that they don’t but in actuality, they do. Behind the scenes – in their heart, at home, in their car – they have their biases on the children that they have their feelings towards.
And so I use that time to talk with my staff about microaggression. I give examples and I say, “If you’re guilty, we need to find other ways to express ourselves where we don’t use microaggression to describe a child, to describe a family member or to describe a family.” And it’s so easy to do, so easy to do. And we’re not aware of it a lot of times because we think, “Oh, that’s a stereotype. That’s what they say or that’s what we say about them.” But in actuality, that is microaggression at its finest.
And how do you create a safe space where people feel comfortable contributing to that conversation? Because I think one of the challenges with conversation on race, is a lot of people just don’t want to talk about it. They’re very uncomfortable with that conversation. Are things that you can do? I like the food example, it’s a very practical idea. Are there other things that we can do?
Absolutely. One of the things I’ve always done is, whatever class I’ve taught or whatever center I’ve been at, I’ve always taken on the philosophy of saying, “This is a safe space. This is a judgment-free zone. You are able to say what you think, what you feel. You are able to be yourself. However, of course, within reason, otherwise we have to have a come-to-Jesus meeting in my office.”
But when we start the meeting off, I always start the meeting off with letting my staff know, “You are allowed to say what you need to say. I would rather you say it here where it’s safe so that way I can guide you in the right way and we can work on what you need to work on, versus you going home, blasting it on social media, blasting it to other people who won’t see it the way we do because they’re getting it [as] secondhand information.”
So, I do my best to start the meeting off with a positive. Food, of course, is always appropriate, food and drinks and all that and snacks. And then I just kind of ease them into what we’re going to talk about. I already let them know in advance what the conversation’s going to be about. But because for my group, we are an African-American and Hispanic group here at our center and so we’re already, we’re always going to be the hot topic of conversation because we’re considered minorities.
So, we’re always mindful of when we have those conversations. This is the conversation, this is a mindset we’re coming from. We don’t tear anybody down; we’re not going to discuss ugly things about each other’s race and ethnicities and so on. We’re here to lift each other up and get a better understanding. I think if people understood the term “getting a better understanding”, they will be able to see, “Oh, my thoughts and my thinking has been off because I haven’t gotten a better understanding.”
So, I usually start the meeting off with letting my staff know, “We’re here to get to an understanding, a better understanding of what you need to know and how you need to carry yourself in a professional manner.”
Yeah, the non-judgment thing I think is pretty key because the reality is, for better or for worse, everybody is starting from a different place in terms of their level of understanding.
And so that’s teachers. And I think that one might be a little bit easier in that, to your point, if you’re the director or owner, they see you as the mentor. And this is maybe even viewed as like a training. But when it comes to parents and families, that’s a little bit more tricky. So, how do you navigate that conversation with them?
Well, with parents, again, it’s all about being a resource. And every teacher, director or owner I’ve ever taught or mentored, I always let them know, “We are a resource. We’re not God; we’re not the end-all-be-all. But we are a resource.” So, that it requires us to have a little background knowledge of hot topics so that way, if it darkens your door, you know how to handle it.
Thankfully, I have never – and I thank God – I’ve never had to deal with any racist parents. I’ve never had to deal with any parent that have questioned my professionalism or my degrees or my success based on the color of my skin or my hair or the way I conduct myself. I’ve never had that happen.
But in doing so, I’ve always had resources available for parents. And so if they say, “Hey, Ms. Re’Shaun, I need to know X, Y and Z,” I’ve always been able to say, “Well, you can go here, here, here.” Or if I didn’t know, I have no problem saying, “Well, I don’t know. But here is a colleague of mine that does.”
And so I’ve been able to answer questions for all of my parents. I’ve been able to accept all my parents where they are, who they are. I don’t get into their personal [life] unless they decide to divulge it to me. And then it stays with me.
But I’ve done my best to be a resource for parents who want to add their culture to our center. Especially with Black History Month, we try to do things with the kids about Black History Month. We try to do things when it comes to Hispanic Heritage Month, Chinese New Year.
All of those different things, we’ve done our best with our limited resources to add to the center so that way children are aware that “there is more than just myself in this world.” Children only see their color, their hairstyle, their everything. But once they become of age – which is usually about 2 or 3 – they start to realize, “Oh, my friend looks like me. Oh, my friend, her hair is different from mine. I want to do my hair like hers but I can’t.” So, I do my best to be a resource to both parents and children.
Yeah, I like that, what you said sort of about, “We’re a resource,” right? You’re positioning it from sort of like an educational perspective. And, “We’re here to provide resources for you as one of various options for you to get information.” It’s very well done; it’s not an in-your-face sort of thing.
And then what about, most important of all, the children? So, is there certain things we can do to create a space for staff to have these conversations and make this part of the classroom?
Absolutely. So, one thing we’ve always seen growing up, we’ve always seen one ethnicity or one culture when it comes to displays and posters in the classroom. And so we can start with that. We can start with adding pictures of the Hispanic families or the Mexican families or African-American families, even families that are from Africa, from India, from all the different countries and all the plethora of beautiful people in the world. We can start with that. We can start by adding, encouraging pictures and posters in our classroom that represent an African-American family.
We can also add books in our literature section. Those centers to our NAEYC [National Assocation for the Education of Young Children] accredited, one of the requirements for NAEYC – and I want to say Catch a Rising Star – is they have to have a multicultural… they have multicultural puppets, dolls, posters, as well as books and literature in their reading area.
So, they are encouraging ethnic diversity; they’re encouraging socio-economic diversity. And that allows the children to get to know other people, the children other than themselves. And so they can start with that. They can start with adding in different games or coloring activities or art projects that resemble what someone from Poland might do or what someone from France or Paris might do. They can set their dramatic play up to be a cute little French bistro that they may have never seen here in San Antonio, but they can act like they’re in Paris.
And so now we’re teaching them about another culture, another language, another way of doing things and other social economic class. Well, there’s a lot that we can do. And there’s tons of resources and websites out there that can help the teachers expand – especially the dominant culture – to get them to expand past themselves.
Because sometimes we get stuck in our own culture and our own way of doing things. And we don’t want to think outside the box or think of other cultures because we’re stuck with ourselves. But we are doing a disservice to ourselves, to our students and our parents by saying, “I’m going to stick with this culture, this race, because I’m comfortable.”
Same thing with an African-American lead teacher. If she decides to stay with her culture, her race in the classroom, she’s doing herself a disservice. So, it’s our job to add in the multicultural, to add in the different games, art projects, cooking experiences, cooking projects. Oh, my gosh, so much that you can do with that, just to add in diversity so that way everyone can feel like they are a part of the classroom.
Yeah, it’s interesting. And you sort of forgive my ignorance here, but part of what you’re seeing is – and what I’m taking away from this, which totally makes sense – for young children, they don’t really understand what a microaggression is and probably… it’s kind of hard to explain that to a two- or three-year-old. So, for in the classroom, it’s more about exposing them to all the different culture and races of the world, views with adults it’s a more nuanced conversation around what are microaggressions and how you should educate yourself about them.
Right, absolutely. And then even with the children interacting with each other, you may have a child that will say, “Well, I don’t want to play with you because you’re darker than me,” or, “Our skin color is different.” And some children are taught that.
And I say, in the most professional manner I can, shame on those that do that because that child is taught not to play with that child because of the color of their skin. That is something that the child didn’t learn on their own – they were taught that.
And so with the classroom, we say, “No, no, no, you’re all friends. No, we’re not going to do that. Everyone’s going to play together.” And so inclusion is important. Inclusion is not just for the school system or school districts, but inclusion starts in early childhood, getting the children to play with each other, no matter if the child is in a wheelchair or a walker or has a cane or anything. No, we allow that child to play. How can we tweak the project, tweak the toy, tweak the learning experience so that way all children feel like they’re included?
So, that kind of gets me thinking about a little bit of the conversation we were having before, which is, in this case of the child, for example, who says something like that, do you go to the parent and have that conversation with them? I’m challenging a little bit my own comment earlier of not too in-your-face. Like, maybe we should be creating that tension with families if those situations are rising.
Yes, absolutely. And one thing, my mother has taught my brother and I to get along with everybody. You don’t just sit with one group of people, you get along with everybody. So, I agree on your challenge that if there is a situation in the classroom where someone does say that, it’s time to bring that parent in for a conference. It’s time to have that conversation because that means that child picked that up from somewhere.
And I don’t think a lot of adults realize that even though you may have said something real small in a five minute conversation, but that child soaked up the whole conversation, probably better than they did being in the conversation.
And so talking with those parents, letting them know and not coming from a standpoint of, “I blame you,” even though, on the inside, “I’m fussing, that’s my daycare baby. I can’t believe you did that as a parent.” But on the outside, as a professional, as a professional person, I’m saying “Hey, this is what we’ve noticed. Have you noticed anything at all?” Putting it back on the parents, “What have you seen? What have you noticed?” And then having them come clean about what they’ve seen.
And let them know, “She or he did not pick that up here. We don’t believe in that. That is not our motto; that’s not how we how we teach our children; that’s not how we love on our children. So, they have picked it up from somewhere.”
So, over time as that tension begins because once you bring that to the forefront – okay, now there’s a little bit of tension there, there’s a little bit of blockage there – eventually, the real truth of where it came from is going to come out. So, we bring that to our parents because we keep that open. That open line of communication is so key. Even if it’s sticky, even if it’s uncomfortable, keeping that open line of communication for the sake of the children is the number one priority.
Yeah, and I think that this is a good conversation because part of it is you have to force yourself as a director, owner and maybe even a teacher to have those difficult conversations. And it reminds me of [when] we did a podcast on LGBTQ. And there was sort of a similar point of, if you’re very open and you don’t pass judgment about sex, sexual orientation or race. And there’s families that disagree with that. It is important that you have that conversation because maybe at the end of the day, your program’s not the right fit for them.
Right, absolutely. And that’s okay. One of the things that we’re taught is, you can either accept all the children in or you can do a vetting process because you want to make sure… we have the “All about me” questions and stuff and the children – at the time when the children could come in ahead of time – we allowed them to play with the kids while I talk with the parents, while we go through the tour just to see how they act, how they interact with the teachers, the children. And just to kind of go through that vetting process.
For them, they think, “Oh, this is so nice!” And it’s like, in my mind, “No, I’m vetting you out. I’m vetting out your child to make sure that we are a good fit because moneys will have been invested with the deposit and the registration fees and all that. And so I want to make sure that this is a good fit.”
And that’s okay. Not every child is going to be fit for your program. And that’s okay to admit and that’s okay to say out loud. And recognize that and just know that you have a standard and a way you want things done. And not every child or family is going to fit that standard. And that’s okay.
Yeah, the fit goes both ways for sure. It’s a good point, we can’t forget that. To wrap things up, as we’re running out of time, unfortunately, any other sort of words of advice or encouragement for audience?
I will say – and I was thinking about this last night and this morning – I will say, invest in the science of early childhood. And I say that because one of the things that we often use is daycare, childcare. But invest in the science of early childhood.
And what that means is, go to school, take some classes. We take our normal training classes because the state requires us to. And that’s for childcare licensing; that’s for daycare. But when you go to the college level, you’re learning the fundamentals of early childhood. You start from conception – what’s going on in the body, how they learn, what are they hearing – all the way until puberty, all the way until college and adulthood.
So, invest in the science of early childhood. Understand what that means – “early childhood”, they’re learning early. Early childhood, they’re having an experience of their lifetimes, being able to learn through science, math, technology, STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] and STEAM [science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics] through cooking projects. I mean, just a plethora of things.
And I will also say, don’t just stick to this daycare stereotype. I’ve heard people say daycares are getting a bad rap right now. And I’ll let them know, well, you can change that with your center. You can change that with the way that you do things and what resources and knowledge and understanding that you bring to your program.
At the end of the day, daycare, childcare, early child, we’re not baby sitters. We are professionals who love working with, educating and helping children grow. But at the end of the day, they’re going to one day be the adults they may give us our medication. And you want to make sure they give the right amount. They’re going to be the ones to write us tickets if we get pulled over for speeding. And you want to make sure that they can read the right thing.
So, it starts with us. Early childhood is us. We are early childhood. The child’s education and early years start with us. So, invest in it. Take the time. Take a class or two at a college level. Understand what that means. I promise you, it’ll challenge you to be the best teacher that you can be.
100 percent. Re’Shaun, if our listeners want to learn more about your work or get in touch with you, where can they go to get more information?
Absolutely. So, you can do it the old fashioned way, you can give me a call on my work number or my business line, which is 210-749-2855. You can also e-mail me at RainbowChildcareLearning@gmail.com. You can also find me on Facebook at RainbowEducationTX. Or you can just look me up, Re’Shaun Webb on Facebook.
I consider myself a library, a walking resource. It comes off the top of my head. I’ve been doing it for 20-something years. And so I pride myself on being able to answer questions at any time. So, those are the ways that you can contact me.
I also have my podcast, as well: Early Childhood Coach with a Childcare Experience. Or you can find me on my website, www.RainbowChildcareLearning.com. I would love to hear from you guys. I would love to know where you’re from, what you’re doing and how I can help. I’m a servant that would love to help your center grow. I will travel to you. We can talk by phone. I’m open to anything and everything. You let me know how I can help you.
Awesome, thank you for being so open to help out our audience here, totally appreciate it.. And [we] appreciate you joining us on the Podcast today, ReShaun. It’s been a delight having you and talking about such an important subject. And we could’ve went on a lot longer, I’m sure.
That just means we have to do a Part Two!
We can, we can totally do a Part Two! And we may take you up on that. Thanks so much, Re’Shaun!
Thank you so much for having me. I enjoyed it, I appreciate it. And everyone stay safe and do what y’all need to do!