Voices From the Field: Interview with Lillian Durán

Lillian Durán

Lillian Durán has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Minnesota and is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Special Education and Clinical Sciences at the University of Oregon and an Associate Dean of Academic Affairs in the College of Education. Her research is focused on improving instructional and assessment practices with preschool-aged multilingual learners. She delivers presentations focused on recommended practices in assessment and intervention with young children of Color with and without identified disabilities who are immigrants and/or speak languages other than English

How did you begin your career in early childhood?

I began my career as preschool special education teacher for children with moderate-severe disabilities in Maryland after completing an Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) funded early childhood special education training program at George Washington University. From there I moved to rural Minnesota where I was a home visitor in a Birth- Three program and supported Latino families who were 30-40% of the population. I was the only early childhood teacher in nine school districts that spoke Spanish. This is where my interest began in serving dual language learners (DLLS), and when I began focusing more on evidence-based work and culturally sustaining and linguistically based practices.

What efforts have you been involved in to improve the quality of early childhood programs and services?

I have received three grants to improve our work at the University of Oregon. One training grant is to prepare future educators to support bilingual practices at home for children and families that speak a language other than English, including bilingual assessment and intervention and practicum experiences supporting bilingual infants and toddlers and their families in their home language development. Another, Project I LEAD, is a training grant for doctoral students to lead with equity and improve the quality of future professors who will be working in the field to prepare educators. These scholars will become experts in diversity, equity and inclusion; and as faculty will incorporate this into their course work and research so we do a better job of preparing future educators to promote equity and improve outcomes. I also conduct research and am developing Spanish preschool language and literacy universal screening tools to help practitioners better understand a child’s skills in their home language to ensure their skills are not underestimated when they are only measured in English.

What are some of the challenges you have experienced in your work with DLLs and what strategies have you tried to overcome them?

In my experience, the challenges are often in working with the adults who serve DLLs; changing the mindsets and getting at some core philosophies that interfere with providing services that would be the most effective such as increasing the use of home languages, hiring bilingual staff, and providing culturally sustaining outreach that supports families in promoting and fostering the ability to sustain their child’s home language and culture to maintain the connection with the family. I have tried to overcome these challenges of providing effective services by seeking continued funding to improve preservice preparation, designing assessments that can be solutions in the field by measuring children’s home language, and delivering national training for in-service teachers to improve their practice. I advocate for DLLs and their families on all platforms I am involved in.

What suggestions do you have for others interested in improving early childhood services for DLLs and their families?

I think that each individual needs to take responsibility for the content needed to better serve DLLs and their families. Don’t just rely on those that we deem “experts,” we all need to be experts in equity, diversity, and inclusion. This includes DLLs and their families. We need to take responsibility and ownership of the content and infuse the information into our work. We should no longer consider DLLs and their families as a subpopulation, but as part of the total population that we serve. I recommend that you get out into the community and meet these children and families. Embed yourself in the community, attend cultural events, become invested in the community, develop personal and professional relationships with people from other backgrounds. Seek training opportunities if you feel you need more information. OSEP funds grants to support personnel preparation so learn about the universities that have grants to take advantage of these opportunities. Recruit more multilingual and multicultural staff, and develop strategies that allow these individuals, which have traditionally been marginalized, to enter training programs. For example, in my new grant we will be offering a distance learning option which allows this vision and dream to be a reality for some scholars.

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