Multicultural Principles for Early Childhood Leaders

Staff Diversity Matters

Culturally sustaining programs recruit, hire, and support program staff who reflect and affirm the cultural diversity of their community and families.

Why It Matters

Teacher sitting on floor supporting a toddler.The population of young children participating in early learning programs is growing increasingly diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, and language. It’s critical that the culture, language, and lived experiences of families be reflected and affirmed by program services and staff.

  • A racial and cultural match between education staff and children is linked to greater understanding of social and learning behaviors and improved individualizing for child learning needs.
  • Employing education staff who speak the home language of the children is a first step to providing high-quality teaching and learning services for children who are dual language learners (DLLs). Bilingual staff need specific training to move beyond conversational use of the home language to provide direct instruction and intentional scaffolding of learning.
  • The ability to express empathy and willingness to learn and understand the cultural practices of children and their families helps staff develop more successful partnerships with families and better individualize for children.
  • Research suggests that an educator's beliefs, life experiences, and experience with cultures other than their own influence their caregiving and teaching practices. Personal beliefs about the value of learning multiple languages may limit or increase the use of home languages in the classroom. Educators who support inclusion and view children with disabilities more positively provide more support to families than educators who do not.
  • Removing barriers to higher education and certification for education staff — with special attention to staff representing racial, ethnic, and language groups who have been historically marginalized — increases the quality and diversity of the workforce.

Connections to the HSPPS

In this section, learn about example indicators for this Multicultural Principle and how they are supported by the Head Start Program Performance Standards (HSPPS). Think about your program and your learning setting. Then, consider ways you already do these practices and ways you can more closely align to improve your practice.

Example IndicatorsConnections to the HSPPS

Recruit and hire staff who reflect the community and families served.

Create apprenticeship programs to recruit, train, and hire parents and community members.

Personnel policies, 45 CFR §1302.90(c)(1)

Staff qualifications and competency requirements, 45 CFR §1302.91

Offer ongoing professional development to staff so they can build the knowledge and skills needed to effectively serve diverse communities.

Training and professional development, 45 CFR §1302.92

Management system, 45 CFR §1302.101(b)

Example Indicators and Practical Strategies

A smiling man talking to a woman.Review practical strategies drawn from research and Head Start programs that promote a programs capacity to reflect and affirm the cultures of the children and families it serves.

Download the Try It! worksheet and choose one practice to focus on for one month. Use the prompts to thoughtfully plan how you will use the practice. The worksheet also includes tips for reflection after using the practice for one month.

Programs design recruitment and hiring processes to eliminate bias and strategically recruit staff reflective of communities they serve.

  • Evaluate and address potential bias in the recruitment and hiring process by considering where and how job postings are placed, which candidates are screened in and out of the interview phase, and who participates on interview panels.
  • Write job descriptions that highlight the program’s commitment to diversity, equity, belonging, and inclusion.
  • Advertise open positions where the community will see them, such as on social media, to reach candidates who represent the children and families served.
  • Eliminate names and addresses from resumes before initial reviewing to address unconscious bias.
  • Consider skipping the resume review altogether and instead ask applicants to respond to a work-related situation. Evaluate the responses without knowledge of the applicant’s name or address. Score answers on a standardized rubric.
  • Create interview panels with diverse staff members.
  • Include interview questions that give insight into the candidate’s applicable skills, non-traditional training, and experience working within the community, in addition to education and employment history.
  • Use a structured approach for gathering interview data, such as an interview question rubric, to capture interview panel reflections, guide debrief discussions, and inform the hiring decision.

Programs use apprenticeships to recruit people from within their own community so that the culture, language, and lived experiences of children and families are reflected in program staff.

  • The program helps get the necessary qualifications and find employment within Head Start programs. For example, substitutes, floaters, or bus monitors might become apprentices to progress to a classroom teaching position, after they have met the requirements.
  • Programs form partnerships with high schools, community colleges, and other higher education institutions to encourage staff to complete degree or credential requirements.
    • Reduce barriers by offering classes outside of normal work hours, and teach them in the language staff know best, which may be a non-English language.
    • Use professional development funds to encourage cohorts of staff to enroll in the same course and participate in peer learning groups.

Practice Example: A Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program sometimes enrolled families from Oaxaca, Mexico who spoke Indigenous languages such as Mixtec and Mixe, completely unrelated to Spanish. The program partnered with the University of Oaxaca to have university students work at the program for a few months to support children who spoke the Indigenous language.

  • Programs are planful in the hiring and use of bilingual staff.
    • Hire bilingual staff to meet the language needs of children and families, most often in group-care and home-visiting settings.
    • Ask about interpretation and translation skills in job announcements and interviews so programs understand how new bilingual staff can help the program’s language needs.
    • Carefully consider the work bilingual staff are asked to do, ensuring staff use their language skills within their roles and responsibilities, not just because they speak the language.
    • Avoid bilingual staff burnout. Programs should avoid asking bilingual staff to perform translation and interpretation services outside of their job duties. In addition, a person’s ability to speak a language doesn’t mean they’re skilled or comfortable with interpreting for someone else or translating the written word from one language to another. Design communication systems, including translation and interpretation services, in response to community and self-assessment data.
  • Programs develop systems to determine degree and credential equivalencies, including those earned in countries other than the United States of America. 
    • Use the HSPPS staff education requirements to determine that staff are qualified for their positions.
    • Create a system for determining and justifying how employees meet qualification requirements for education.
    • Review the HSPPS equivalency provisions for the following positions: education manager, Early Head Start center-based teacher, Head Start center-based teacher, family child care provider, and home visitor.
    • Check to see if your state professional development system or quality rating and improvement system (QRIS) training may meet or exceed requirements for national child development associate (CDA) credentials for Head Start programs. Review Steps Local Agencies Can Use to Determine Credential or Degree Equivalency for more information. Seek the support of external consultants to determine equivalencies for degrees and credentials earned in other countries. For example, the U.S. Department of State works with the National Association of Credential Evaluation (NACES) and the Association of International Credential Evaluators (AICE) as for the credential evaluation services for individuals who were educated outside of the United States.

A child points to a large poster that a man is holding up.Offer ongoing professional development to staff so they can build the knowledge and skills needed to effectively serve diverse communities.

  • Supervisors or human resources specialists create Individual Professional Development Plans (IPDP) with staff as a part of onboarding and ongoing professional development. Keeping a qualified, diverse workforce means helping them grow. Professional learning works best when it’s intentionally planned connected to practice, supportive of program goals, and offered to all professionals who work with children, regardless of setting. IPDPs help staff and supervisors figure out what steps and resources are needed to complete credentials or a degree, or to gain knowledge and skills in an area of interest. Program leaders create programmatic supports for staff from communities that have been historically excluded from credential or degree attainment, as a retention and succession planning effort. Program leaders offer opportunities for staff to reflect on how personal beliefs and life experiences influence their teaching and home-visiting practices.
    • Promote consistent and regular access to reflective supervision, peer consultation, and mentoring.
    • Encourage staff to share information about their own culture, beliefs, and practices.
    • Plan opportunities for staff to learn about other people’s perspectives and experiences.
    • Discuss with staff how social and political conditions, such as discriminatory rules and harsh immigration policies, may impact the lives and experiences of children and families.
    • Help staff engage in self-reflection by examining their assumptions, beliefs, and biases.
    • Provide professional development on family engagement and strengths-based approaches to working with families.

Voices from the Head Start Community

In this section, a Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program shares practical strategies to engage community partners to provide culturally responsive services to children with disabilities and their families.

During the summer months, Migrant and Seasonal Head Start programs must meet special education standards set by the Head Start Performance Standards and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Both require that children with suspected disabilities are screened, evaluated, and identified to receive special education services from Part C or Part B agencies within a specific amount of time. School districts are responsible for running the special education programs, but they are usually closed during the summer. However, programs must still offer the proper services.

To meet this requirement, one Migrant and Seasonal Head Start program contracted with state-licensed bilingual speech-language pathologists who had been migrant children themselves to support a program-based practicum experience for college students. The program recruited bilingual speech-language pathology students to complete their practicum, conducting language assessments with Migrant and Seasonal Head Start children.

The speech-language pathologists knew the importance of timely evaluations for families on the move, and they understood the migrant family lifestyle. When meeting with families, their conversations were rich with cultural insights, including the importance of preserving home languages. The students could explain the need for early therapeutic intervention and help families if they were reluctant to participate in the program. These conversations were perfect preparation for the school years ahead. To make sure their child received services, parents learned they could give schools their child’s official Individual Education Program if they moved to another state.

These state-licensed bilingual professionals wanted to give back to their community. At the same time, they provided quality services without much interruption to Migrant and Seasonal Head Start children. It was a win/win situation for all.


Early childhood programs can use the following questions as a starting point — to take a look at the challenges they face and the approaches they might use to promote culturally sustaining and equitable practice across service delivery areas. The questions listed below are designed for self-reflection and critical assessment of practice and can also be used with groups of staff, with families, and with community partners to spark dialogue. In order to go deeper into some topics in a group setting, programs may benefit from session leaders who are skilled facilitators either among their staff or from outside their program.

  1. How does your program reach out to, recruit, and hire staff, parents, volunteers, or consultants who reflect the families and the community?
  2. How do job descriptions include specific responsibilities for working with children who are DLLs and their families?
    • How does the program check the language abilities of job applicants to make sure they can communicate well with children who are DLLs and their families?
    • Does the program offer a salary incentive for staff who speak the language(s) of the children and families in the program?
  3. Do human resources procedures include helping staff or job candidates get transcripts of coursework taken in other countries, which could be accepted by higher education institutions in the United States?
  4. Does staff training and professional development include:
    • research-based training about first- and second-language development?
    • cultural practices and beliefs related to children with disabilities, health, and mental health services?
    • strategies for working with families to bring home-culture practices into the classroom?

Deepen Your Learning

Explore these useful resources to learn more about ways to support of a diverse workforce.