Early childhood educators come from diverse backgrounds and cultures and have different perspectives and lived experiences, just like the children and families they serve. To govern the profession and guide the College’s work, a Council that brings together people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives is crucial.
We spoke with Nerene Virgin about her experience serving as a Council member and the work she is currently doing to help implement the College’s Statement of Commitment to Anti-Racism by building inclusive governance practices.
Nerene is a former teacher, media personality, and journalist and is currently the President of Cabinda Consulting, a firm that is dedicated to educating organizations on how to foster inclusive environments that build a sense of belonging for all.
Nerene was one of the first public members appointed to the Council when the College was formed in 2009 and she served until 2019. Reflecting on her term on Council, Nerene admits that being one of only a few racialized Council members was sometimes a challenge. “It took some time to feel comfortable sharing my personal perspective as a Black woman about the public that we were serving, to bring that voice to Council”, she admits.
Nerene understood, however, that her voice was important and that by sharing her perspective, she opened opportunities for learning and healthy conversations that would ultimately benefit the early childhood education profession as well as the children of Ontario.
She drew on her experience of facing racism, stereotypes and exclusion throughout her career, both as a teacher and in media. “I know the challenges that I have faced as a Black woman professionally and understand that the profession of early childhood education is probably going to be no different than what I experienced.”
While serving on the College’s Complaints, Registration Appeals and Executive Committees, Nerene was able to encourage others to think about the potential for racism and bias and bring her unique perspective to the issues and cases considered.
Education plays a big role in Nerene’s life. “It’s through education that we open minds. We open hearts. We open people’s eyes”, she says. “That was a golden opportunity for me to educate others on Council as they were educating me.”
After her term on Council ended, Nerene returned to work with the College as a consultant in 2020. She conducted educational sessions for staff and Council about Black history in Canada and the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion. From these discussions came the College’s Statement of Commitment to Anti-Racism.
“Diversity is just a fact,” says Nerene. “But inclusion is an action…It’s what communities, groups, organizations do; how they act in terms of ensuring that people from differing perspectives, different areas, different ideas, ensuring that they feel welcomed, that they feel valued and that they feel supported as members. That’s inclusion.”
Nerene is currently working with Council to ensure that Council is not just diverse but is also inclusive, so that the perspectives of all members are welcomed and valued. She explains, “if you’re going to serve and protect the public, then you have to understand who is your public. What are their perspectives? What are their needs? What are their experiences? And to do that you need to have those voices. Those opinions. Those lived experiences among the people on Council who are going to put systems, policies, and procedures in place to serve the public and regulate the profession of early childhood education in an equitable way.”
Diversity, equity, and inclusion, however, are not about getting a face that represents a particular group, Nerene clarifies. Sharing perspectives, courageous conversations and a commitment to learning are what matters most.
Nerene’s advice to RECEs, whether on Council or in their communities is “Know that your voice is important. Have the courage to put yourself out there. Do it and look for allies around you. Don’t do it alone.” Sharing perspectives provides opportunities for learning and growth and positively impacts the work you engage in.
Looking back on her Council term, Nerene says that one of the high points was contributing to the development of the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, which incorporated the diverse perspectives of hundreds of RECEs as well as Council members. The breadth of consultation and the work to incorporate feedback “produced a document to guide the profession of our registered early childhood educators and provided a solid foundation for the College’s work overseeing the practice and conduct of RECEs in the pursuit of excellence.”
For more information about Council and the role of Council members, visit https://www.college-ece.ca/about-us/council-and-committees/