2017 Higher Ed Forum

For those of you who were able to attend this year’s Higher Ed Forum in Bloomington, you know how informative it was. It was also great networking with all the others in the state of Illinois who work with teacher preparation! We are so fortunate that Gateways to Opportunity has been able to provide us with this venue to learn and work together. With funding uncertainty, this may not always be possible, at least in its present form, so taking advantage of it while we have it is so very important.

Competencies was definitely the “buzzword” for this forum. Gateways to Opportunities has done much work in this area with the help of Nancy Latham and Johnna Darragh Ernst. This is the direction that the field seems to be moving so learning what these are, how they will effect teacher preparation, and when they will go into effect are important for institutions of higher education to know as they are implementing their new programs.

Speaking of new programs, the time to implement new programs is approaching fast. If you have not already redesigned your early childhood teacher licensure program, you will need to know what needs to be done and by when. One of the presentations at the forum was about this timeline.

Everyone recognizes that all of those involved in teacher preparation have multiple demands on our time and energy. What that means is that, even if we wanted to attend, we are not always able to do so. That is where we are doubly blessed! Gateways videotaped all the sessions and will be posting these videos on the HERO website (http://www.ilfacultyresources.org/ – videos should be posted soon). If you missed the entire event, you can view the various presentations; if you came but could not go to all the breakout sessions you wanted, you can view the ones you missed. Either way this is a great resource!

I have talked about the HERO website in past blogs. It is a great resource to those of us working in preparing early childhood educators. You must register on the site in order to access all its components but the registration is simple and FREE! In addition to the videos from the 2017 Higher Ed Forum, there are lots of other items to explore.

Lastly, I have been honored to be the ILAECTE blogger for the past two years. It has been an interesting journey, learning how to blog (style, length, etc.) and how to navigate the program that Western Illinois University uses for blogs. I have enjoyed doing this and hope that the blog readers feel they have been better informed because of the blog. I am turning over the mantle of blogger/webmaster to Dr. Boh Young Lee, my colleague at WIU. She will be the one organizing the ILAECTE blog and website and I am sure she will do a great job.

The blog, however, does need all of your help in two ways. First, we are always looking for guest bloggers. If you have a particular pedagogy strategy that has worked for you, share it. Any research you have done? Share it! Any new and/or important information on early childhood education statewide or nationally? Share it! Lastly, this blog was developed to provide you, the teacher preparation faculty in Illinois, a way to share your voice. Even if you do not want to write a blog, you can still comment on those written by others. Our desire is for this blog to be a two-way communication venue for our members. Share your thoughts!

Farewell and thank you for this opportunity!

Debbie Lee recently retired as an associate professor of early childhood education at Western Illinois University. She has worked in the field of early childhood for more than 44 years, doing everything from running a licensed day care home to teaching on the college level.

Aesthetics – Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder?

When I originally planned this blog I was thinking about the importance of aesthetics in the Reggio Emilia preschools. I DO want to talk about that, but I would like to broaden the scope when discussing aesthetics to bring up some ideas I have had over the past few years.

I mentioned in earlier blogs that three things struck me when I visited Reggio Emilia last spring: rights, lights, and aesthetics. The aesthetics are so very much a part of the culture of Italy. Even when driving through poorer parts of cities there, I saw flower boxes. The Italians seem to have a very deep-seated appreciation for beauty and accept it, even expect it, throughout their lives.

The example above is beautiful to see but we would never see it in the United States. Our society has become so litigious that we have veered far on the side of “safe.” It makes me wonder what our children here in the U.S. are missing. Maria Montessori, another Italian early childhood educator, believed that an organized and aesthetically pleasing environment called children to become engaged and taught them to care about their surroundings. Could our children learn to handle glass and mirrors if they were exposed to such at an early age? I wonder.

We here in the U.S. have thought about aesthetics in the past few years. When I started in this field, preschool classrooms had a red, blue, green, yellow color scheme. Those bright colors were supposed to project a happy place. More recently the trend has been to the softer more relaxing colors of nature. This has also extended to the materials used. We are seeing less plastic and more natural materials wicker, wood, etc. Is what is evolving a new sense of aesthetics in our early childhood classes?

In my methods classes I talk about how to make materials for a classroom. No preschool classroom has unlimited funds and being able to make materials that cost 4-5 times as much in a school supply catalog is an important skill. However, maybe there needs to be more emphasis on not only making the materials but making them such that they are aesthetically pleasing. The use of the materials may not change because of the beauty of them but their ability to engage young children might. After all, we are more likely to buy a book with a pleasing, interesting cover than one that has only the title and author’s name.

Will we ever reach the point where the Reggio Emilia schools are in regards to aesthetics? Probably not. Their sense of aesthetics is so ingrained into their culture that it would take centuries for us to be there. However, it is interesting that our sense seems to be changing. I wonder where it will take us.

Any thoughts or comments? Share them with us!

Debbie Lee recently retired as an associate professor of early childhood education at Western Illinois University. She has worked in the field of early childhood for more than 44 years, doing everything from running a licensed day care home to teaching on the college level.

Multicultural Education in Early Childhood: What? Why? How? (Guest blogger: Anni Reinking)


What is multicultural education? If you ask various people, you may get similar but different answers. Some may say it is studying cultures of various countries. Some people may say it is bringing in the holidays and traditions of students home life to the classroom. While others may say that it is the inclusion of diverse students and families into schools. While all of these touch on the definition of multicultural education, none of these definitions speaks to the complexity of the term or curriculum. Multicultural education is a term used to describe educational practices that include race, class, and gender, along with disability, sexual orientation, language, and religion (Sleeter & Grant, 1994). Multicultural education is a curricular mindset that incorporates the assets or strengths of students through integration into every aspect of the classroom (Swidler, 1986).

A well-known multicultural researcher, Paul Gorski (2010), developed a working definition of multicultural education, which states that there are three strands to multicultural education. Each of the strands focuses on the commonly shared multicultural goal of social change. First is the educators’ transformation of self, usually through the process of reflection. Second is the goal of student-centered classrooms that support the learning of all students. Third is changing society through social change, which can be met through the incorporation of service learning projects in early childhood classrooms.


But, why? Why is multicultural education something to pay attention to? Why should educators be focused on implementing multicultural curriculum? There are multiple studies and statistics that support the reasoning behind the “why.” Overall, student demographics in schools are becoming more diverse, and therefore so are families (Gollnick, & Chin, 2009). Families in today’s society are very different from families in previous generations (Berger & Riojas-Cortez, 2012).

  • By the year 2020 students of color will comprise fifty percent of the school population, while teachers will likely remain predominantly White and female (Gollnick & Chin, 2009).
  • The Census Bureau (2008) has also projected an increase in the minority population in the United States stating, “by 2023 minorities will comprise more than half of all children.”
  • By the year 2043 there will be a Majority Minority, which means that white individuals will be the minority group in the United States (Maxwell, 2014).


How do we implement multicultural education into early childhood classrooms? There are multiple ways, however below are some suggested steps and resources. (This is not an exhaustive list).

First, professionals in the early childhood field need to go through the process of reflection to understand personal explicit and implicit biases. An educator is unable to effectively teach with a multicultural lens until he or she is able to understand how personal perspectives influence classroom interactions. Continual self-examination needs to occur as situations change and evolve in society and the school environment (Gorski, 2010). Part of this process is also professional development for teachers focused on reflection, as well as strategies/activities to use in order to implement multicultural curriculum. After this is completed, here are some ideas for teachers to incorporate multicultural curriculum into early childhood classrooms.

Bring in the Books!

Books are a great way to bring children into the conversation and for children to”see” themselves in the classroom. Below are some suggestions and resources:

  • If you are looking for books on a specific topic, a great website is: http://kidslikeus.org/
    • On this website you can search for any topic from interest level, to genre, to content area. They also have put together “recommended book sets” for various ages.
  • When choosing books for a lesson or classroom library, make sure to check for the following:
    • Are all the children in your classroom represented by the books displayed and read in your classroom?
    • Is the author and/or illustrator from the same racial or cultural group discussed in the book?
    • Does the book display a strengths based mindset for the topic being addressed? Does it accurately display traditions and values?
    • Is it historically correct? Does it use correct language to describe the topic being discussed?
    • Does the book display diversity of experiences within a given group of people? Does it provide different representations of people from a specific group?
  • These questions help guide teachers through the process of learning and reflection when choosing books for lessons. Furthermore, teachers want to make sure that the chosen books are at the appropriate reading/comprehension level for the students.

Social Change through Service Learning

Service learning is a strategy that combines meaningful community service with learning experiences. Additionally, service learning incorporates 21st century skills including problem-solving, critical-thinking, collaboration, and decision-making, all of which are important for students to learn.

Service learning is also a great way to incorporate multicultural topics through hands on learning experiences. When planning to implement service learning remember the following:

  • Teachers need to do a little research to understand the community and know what is available for service learning projects.
  • Let children brainstorm and decide on a project to build a sense of ownership and civic engagement.
  • Service Learning Ideas:
    • Is your school in a food desert? Have children research healthy foods. Plant a garden and/or set up a free “food library” for the community.
    • Does your community have a homeless population? Have children research social service agencies that help homeless people and donate hand-made tie blankets.
    • Encourage reading through “leave and take” lending libraries around the community.
    • Help raise money for a cause the children are interested in. Ex: local charities, St. Jude, Clean the World, Share our Strength, and many more organizations that teachers and children can research together.

Dr. Anni Reinking is an assistant professor in the early childhood program at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. She has written and presented on the topic of multicultural education for several years after teaching in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Kenya. She continues to write and research early childhood classroom environments focused on multicultural education, as well as teacher training and STEM in early childhood classrooms.


Berger, E. H. & Riojas-Cortez, M. (2012). Parents as Partners in Education: Families andSchools Working Together (8th Ed). Pearson: Boston.

Gollnick, D. & Chin. (2009). Multicultural education in a pluralistic society. Boston: PearsonMerrill.

Gorski, P.C. (2010). Multicultural reform: Stages of multicultural curriculumtransformation. Retrieved from http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/curriculum/steps.html

Maxwell, L.A. (2014). US school enrollment hits majority-minority milestone. The Education Digest, 80(4), 27-33.

Sleeter, C., E., & Grant, C. A. (1994). Making choices for multicultural education (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Pretenice-Hall.

Swidler, A. (1986). Culture in action: Symbols and strategies. American Sociological Reviews, 51(2), 273-286.

United States Census Bureau. (2008). An older and more diverse nation by midcentury. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/population/cb08-123.html