Professional Development through "Equity Talks"

Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative (ELNC) and First Steps Kent, two leaders in early childhood education, have partnered to help advance educational equity in West Michigan. On Tuesday, November 8, the two organizations partnered to host “Equity Talks - How Identity is Formed and Changing Families.”

The three-hour professional development training was designed to address the current realities facing families, and educators of young children. Sara Johnstin M.Ed, ELNC’s quality assurance director and Interim director of Early Head Start, was one of the event facilitators. She said, “Equity Talks is very much needed right now. It’s an opportunity to learn from each other about the importance of having early conversations about the importance of identity in the education process.”

“It also looks at how the families we serve, the children, and teachers have changed over the past few years. The hope is that our teachers, site directors, and team members will be able to reflect on the information in a way that influences immediate, as well as long-term shifts.”

The in-service was based on the award-winning four-part video series bearing the same name - Equity Talks. During the event, the group watched videos that addressed two topics: How Identity is Formed and Our Changing Families. First Steps Kent designed the video series to empower parents and educators to feel confident that they can teach children to embrace those different from them and confront their own biases.

“I’m thankful that First Steps Kent is shining a light on the issue of diversity, equity, and inclusion. ELNC has been beating this drum for a long time, and the video series is allowing this conversation to happen on a much larger scale,” said Dr. Nkechy Ezeh, Founder/CEO of ELNC, who also served as a panelist for the event. “ELNC has always believed in the importance of cultural competency. It is one of our core values. This in-service is giving us a chance to keep learning and challenging ourselves. It’s creating a space for us to continue to grow.”

The workshop encouraged attendees to reflect upon their experiences, perceptions, and questions of their own or the children with whom they work.

“Young children are ready to have conversations much earlier than adults often realize. Research shows babies younger than six months old recognize racial differences and children can develop biases by the time they are in preschool,” said Jennifer Headley Nordman, President of First Steps Kent. “These films were developed so that adults can learn how to encourage and respond to questions about race, different cultures, family structures, and more.”

The Equity Talks videos have proven to serve multiple purposes. They have been a tool to spark meaningful conversations amongst early childhood education students at local colleges and universities. They also can be used by caregivers and other service providers so they are better equipped to help young children and their families understand and appreciate differences. They also will be available to parents, to strengthen their own understanding and help them navigate what often feels like intimidating or taboo topics with their children. This is the first time the films have been used in a professional development setting, and if you feel a group that you’re a part of would benefit from an Equity Talks in-service, please reach out to

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