Meet Darbi Shannon, a fifth-year doctoral student at the Anita Zucker Center. An early childhood educator with 10 years of experience, Darbi is passionate about translating her experience and knowledge from the classroom and the doctoral program to meaningfully impact research, policy, and practice related to the implementation of early childhood professional development. Darbi stopped in to talk about her work at the center, what motivates her to work in early childhood, and what she hopes her legacy will be in the field.

Darbi Shannon

Alexis Brown: Hi Darbi! Thanks for agreeing to speak with me. Let’s start off with talking a little about your background.

Darbi Shannon: My professional background, and honestly my personal background has always been tied to education. My mom’s a teacher, my sister’s a teacher, and it’s always what I wanted to do when I grew up; I actually served as a classroom teacher for 10 years before I came back to get my doctorate. I was [a teacher] in pre-K to third grade [classrooms] and I really loved working with young children and their families. So, this [work at the Anita Zucker Center] was just logically the next step for me.

AB: What were your favorite aspects of being a teacher?

DS: It’s hard to describe — but it’s kind of the look that you see on either a family’s face when you find something that works for them, and clicks — or when you help a child to learn a new skill. For instance, if they were never able to use their words to ask for help before, the moment they do it independently, you’re like, ‘Wow, what a difference this is going to make in their life!’ The whole world is opening up for them. I’m thankful that the research and professional development work I’ve been involved in through my work with the center has allowed me to continue to work closely with teachers, children, and families.

AB: Can you describe your journey to become an early childhood educator?

DS: Sure! The program I was in as an undergraduate student was an early childhood program, at Florida Southern College. We had a lab school right on campus, so from my first day, I had the opportunity to work with young children and families. That center served children that were 1 1/2 to 5 years old, so I had lots of hands-on and applied experiences both in the lab school, as well as in community programs and schools. I feel like that was a really important part of my development — not only to learn about what’s best in education from the books, but also in practice.

Now, I think about my role as an early childhood educator a bit differently, because I am often supporting teachers to provide high quality interactions and instruction to children and families. This includes things like thinking about how we can support teachers and families to access and use evidence-based practices with young children and how we can build systems of support into school districts so that teachers are participating in things like workshops and coaching that will benefit them and the children they work with.

AB: What’s something interesting about early childhood that most people don’t know?

DS: I think that a lot of people think of education as starting on the first day of kindergarten. Many people who are outside of the field of education don’t realize how critical those first five years are, nor the importance of a trans-disciplinary approach child development— an approach that includes the family, childcare provider, pediatrician, and other service providers who interact with the child.

A girl playing with a toy bucket and shovel.

AB: What’s the coolest thing about your work at the Anita Zucker Center?

DS: The people I work with! From a student perspective, that can’t be overlooked. I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing mentors whose names in the field are tremendous — but, beyond that, they’re still doing the work. They are very hands-on about the research projects that they’re working on, so I have the opportunity to not only read their work, but then also work alongside them and learn from their interactions with children and families, school districts, and policymakers.

AB: What’s a way that your work at the Anita Zucker Center has impacted your perspective about early childhood?

DS: Coming from the classroom, I always felt like policy was something being passed down to me as something to implement. As a classroom teacher, I think that’s something really easy to feel — that policy is coming down on you and not something that is a bi-directional partnership. I think that through the research here, I’ve really had the opportunity to learn about the intersection between policy, practice, and research. The research that’s happening here is applied, and it’s occurring in the context of children’s homes, or in classrooms. When you do strong research that’s in applied settings versus clinical settings, you can really advocate and talk to teachers, school districts, and policy-makers about how not only do we have a good bit of evidence that these practices work, but we know that they work in the “real world” with children and families.

AB: What’s a challenge that you’d like to tackle for the benefit of children and families?

DS: A lot of the research that we publish out of the center is thinking about on average: ‘What’s best for most families and most children?’ Really, that’s what evidence-based practice is about — as a noun. But as a verb, evidence-based practice is really thinking about the process of taking what research has told us is going to work for most teachers, children, and families, and then thinking about how we can individualize it for the person sitting in front of us. I enjoy thinking about what types of modifications or tweaks can we make to connect what research tells us is effective with the people who need those supports.


Story and Portrait by: Alexis Brown

Special Thanks To: Darbi Shannon