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Mel Gravely

Multicultural Principles for Early Childhood Leaders

We here at The Gravely Group recently started piloting a new training on the Multicultural Principles for Early Childhood Leaders. We’ve been using this document for years, incorporating its lessons into many of our trainings, such as on ERSEA and Family Engagement. But we recently decided to review it again in its entirety after our blog series on the “Supporting School Readiness and Success of African American Boys Project.” The Project relied heavily on the multicultural principles as the foundation on which they built their entire framework for supporting African American boys. So after taking a new look at the Principles, it just felt right that we should incorporate it as another offering in our training catalog.

The Multicultural Principles guide itself has been a part of the Head Start canon for decades, first premiering as a small handbook in 1991. The original document stood as a challenge to programs to focus efforts on individualizing services so that every child and family feels respected and valued. It stated that “home language is a key component of children’s identity formation,” and “successful programs respect and incorporate the cultures of children and families.”

In other words, “every individual is rooted in culture.” In our opinion, this phrase is so simple and elegant, that just hearing it makes you think a little bit about how you do things. This phrase is the first Multicultural Principle, and it would go on to guide Head Start agencies for the next 30 years.

In 2008, the document was extensively reviewed and expanded upon. The result is the 83-page “Revisiting and Updating the Multicultural Principles for Head Start Programs Serving Children Ages Birth to Five,” which gives us 10 separate principles that expand on the original principle first revealed in 91.

Below we will list and discuss the 10 Multicultural Principles for Early Childhood Leaders and how your staff can implement these principles into your program.

Principle 1: Every individual is rooted in culture

Culture has an influence on the beliefs and behaviors of everyone and is passed down from generation to generation. Studies show that culture influences every aspect of human development and is reflected in childrearing beliefs and practices. For Head Start programs, it is absolutely necessary to respect and incorporate families’ cultures into the systems and services provided. Think about what you remember about how you were raised and how your personal background or upbringing might influence your thinking about children’s development.

Principle 2: The cultural groups represented in the communities and families of each Head Start program are the primary sources for culturally relevant programming.

Families and community groups can provide accurate information. Culturally relevant program systems and services enhance children’s learning. Programs must take into account issues relevant to all cultural groups within their service area. How are families invited to share aspects of their culture(s) with other parents and children in classrooms, during socialization times, during other program activities, or in other settings?

Principle 3: Culturally relevant and diverse programming requires learning accurate information about the cultures of different groups and discarding stereotypes.

Stereotypes and misinformation interfere with effective Head Start program services. Program staff have an individual responsibility to acquire information about cultural groups in their community. Children’s development is impacted by this choice. Staff should think about what kind of conversation starters can be used in your program with English speaking parents. Ask yourself how you could go beyond the initial questions asked at the beginning of the program year in order to develop a deeper relationship.

Principle 4: Addressing cultural relevance in making curriculum choices and adaptations is a necessary, developmentally appropriate practice.

Children’s learning is enhanced when their culture is respected and reflected in all aspects of the program. Programs must accommodate various learning styles of children. Children benefit from active, hands-on learning experiences that include frequent opportunities to make choices. Think about what skills and behaviors parents in your program value in their children, and how their personal backgrounds or other experiences might influence their thinking.

Principle 5: Every individual has the right to maintain his or her own identity while acquiring the skills required to function in our diverse society.

Children need the cultural identities of their families to be recognized and honored. Children need to learn a variety of skills in order to function effectively in a diverse society. Children have the right to grow up in environments where differences are expected and respected. Family culture is a source of strength, especially for young children. Think about the ways the systems and services of your program reflect information about the cultural groups in your service area? Have the demographics of your service area changed recently?

Principle 6: Effective programs for children who speak languages other than English require continued development of the first language while the acquisition of English is facilitated.

Language acquisition is a natural process based on discovering meanings. Use of children’s first language facilitates learning in the preschool years. Research indicates that developing and maintaining a child’s first language supports and facilitates learning of the second language. Talk with your staff about the importance of having written policies on the use of home language and English throughout your program’s systems and services.

Principle 7: Culturally relevant programming requires staff who both reflect and are responsive to the community and families served.

The Head Start Program Performance Standards require grantees to hire staff that reflect the racial and ethnic population of the children enrolled in the program. Incorporating cultural relevance and support for the continued development of children’s home language is the foundation for a good program. How are families invited to share aspects of their culture(s) with other parents and children in classrooms, during socialization times, during other program activities, or in other settings?

Principle 8: Multicultural programming for children enables children to develop an awareness of, respect for, and appreciation of individual and cultural differences.

Diversity within classrooms and home based socialization experiences can be the starting points for planned learning experiences and discussions about individual differences. Cultural information should be integrated into everyday environments and learning experiences rather than taught as an occasional activity. An important goal is to develop children’s capacity to communicate effectively with people who are different from themselves. If your program serves infants and toddlers: How does your program gather information about the caregiving practices of families?

Principle 9: Culturally relevant and diverse programming examines and challenges institutional and personal biases.

Program systems and services should be reviewed for institutional bias. Skills to deal with bias must be taught to children. Understanding culture involves the way we acquire it and personal, social, and emotional aspects. How do the preservice and inservice trainings in your program address and provide opportunities and information for staff to develop their abilities to examine and challenge institutional and personal biases?

Principle 10: Culturally relevant and diverse programming and practices are incorporated in all systems and services and are beneficial to all adults and children.

To achieve Head Start goals and maximize child and family development, these principles must not be limited to the education component but must be applied to all aspects of the program. Examples of specific aspects of leadership include key elements of a culturally competent service system, family as the focus of service delivery, and development of both short and long-term plans and processes. Does the administrative leadership represent the population you serve? Do you build in administrative leadership by providing professional development on issues of culture and home languages?

Overall, it’s important to account for the differences in culture amongst the families in your program and to take that into account with each and every interaction so that you’re serving them in the best possible way. The Gravely Group can help you do that. If you are interested in a training on the Multicultural Principles for your agency, please contact us.


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