“You are Never too Little to Understand Your Culture”: Strengthening Early Childhood Teachers through the Diné Institute for Navajo Nation Educators

There is international and widespread recognition that early childhood education must be fully inclusive and based on the language, culture, and epistemology of local Indigenous communities (Kitson, 2010). Early childhood education (ECE) programs can only deliver on the promises ofculturally responsive schooling (Castagno & Brayboy, 2008; McCarty & Lee, 2014) when “staff members understand cultural expectations, relationships, and the subtleties of communication, including non-verbalcommunication” within the community (Kitson & Bowes, 2010, p.86). Furthermore, we know that “culture affects the ways children respond when entering early childhood settings” (Kitson & Bowes, p. 83; see also Ball & Pence,2000). But all too often, educational programs are developed and implemented as if culture either doesn’t matter or is universally shared. In this article, we offer an alternative example. Specifically, we describe one effort to strengthen early childhood teaching in schools on the Navajo Nation. We center the work of two teachers (the second and third authors of this manuscript), and we situate their work within a program attempting to support teachers in the development of academically rigorous, culturally responsive curriculum across the Navajo Nation. Through these teachers’ narratives, we suggest that self-determination and nation-building ought to be the guiding principles for early childhood efforts in –and especially with and by–Indigenous communities.