Website redesign announcement from the Illinois Early Learning Project (Guest blogger: Dr. Rebecca Swartz)

On behalf of the staff of the Illinois Early Learning Project , I am pleased to announce that our website has been redesigned. The Illinois Early Learning Project was started in 2001 and is funded by the Illinois State Board of Education. The web site is a source of evidence-based, reliable information on early care and education for families, caregivers, and teachers of young children in Illinois. We have resources in a variety of formats including our well known, easy to read tip sheets, videos, and information about the Project Approach. Our website includes many resources to help individuals and communities understand the Illinois Early Learning Guidelines, the Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards and most recently, the Illinois Kindergarten Learning Standards.

We hope you will find the new layout to be a user-friendly and useful resource for your teaching and for your students. We also encourage you to let the families of young children in your community know about our resources through community agencies and resource fairs. Our materials are free and can be shared via print, email, and social media. A link for ordering printed materials is here located on our homepage.

We have some new materials on the website that we want to highlight so you can integrate them into your teaching and outreach work. Our selection of graphic tip sheets has grown. These colorful, one-page tip sheets are great for posting on bulletin boards, sharing on social media, and easy to read. Teacher educators may wish to use them as prompts for assignments. Student can be encouraged to to reflect in small groups, discussion forums, or essays on how they might use the tip sheets as a tool in sharing child development and early learning information with families. Our new Early Learning Moments series is a resource for teacher educators presenting infant-toddler content. Use them for classroom instruction or assign them as self-study lessons.

During the process of our website redesign, we carefully reviewed all of the materials on our website to ensure that we are providing current, evidence-based information in up to date and useful formats. You may find that certain links have changed. We encourage you to use the “search” field located in the upper right corner of the website. You can type in keywords to search all of our project resources. If you encounter further difficulty, our project staff would be happy to assist you via email.

Another way to search our resources is to use a database search. Click to search resources by topic and you can search our data base by keyword, language, audience, and type of media. We encourage you to show your students the different ways to search the website so they can find materials that will help them in their coursework and teaching of young children. We will continue to develop new resources and welcome you to send us ideas for resources that would meet your needs as teacher educators. You can send your ideas via our user survey. We will also be at the Sharing a Vision conference in October! Our shared session with the Early Intervention Clearinghouse will provide help in searching for resources online and our new workshop, Junkyard Math will be a hands-on workshop that will introduce the redesigned website while we explore IEL’s mathematics resources. You can also visit our table to pick up printed materials, say hello, and tell us about your work and needs as teacher educators.


Dr. Rebecca Swartz, an early learning specialist for IEL, completed her doctorate in human development and family studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Rebecca’s research and outreach work focuses on infant-toddler care, home-based child care, and the social-emotional development of young children. Her goal is to help parents and early educators by providing evidence-based resources on child development and early learning.

Do early childhood educators need degrees?

Recent news such as this article, regarding new local regulations that include requirements for teachers and directors in the Early Childhood Education Community in the District of Columbia to have degrees by 2020 (Clairmont, 2017), have reignited the conversation of the value of degrees in the early childhood field.

There has been much debate about the “good” teachers without a degree versus those with a degree. Some people question if all degree programs are high quality and provide students with the knowledge, skills and disposition to be more confident and competent in their work with young children, their families and colleagues. Other people say that the question should be not the degree but the skills and knowledge that make teachers successful at supporting the growth and development of young children. Additionally, some people say that the question should be how to provide an appropriate salary that reflects the professional credentials. Other people say that the real question should be what is the cost to have teachers with degrees in Early Childhood Programs, especially in Community-based Organizations in under resourced neighborhood, who will pay the cost and How.

Here is another article, examining the idea of apprenticeships as a vehicle for addressing some of the PD, equity and pay needs for the early childhood education field (McCarthy, 2017).

What are your thoughts on this subject?


Clairmont, N. (July 11, 2017). D.C.’s misguided attempt to regulate daycar: Requiring child-care workers to have college degrees will likely widen the capital’s economic disparities. Retrieved from

McCarthy, M.A. (June, 2017). Rethinking credential requirements in early education: Equity-based strategies for professionalizing a vulnerable workforce. Retrieved from


Dr. Boh Young Lee is an assistant professor of Early Childhood Education program in the department of Curriculum and Instruction at Western Illinois University.

Message from ILAECTE President

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

As we are all working feverishly to get the fall semester up and running smoothly, I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a wonderful and rewarding year! What a privilege to be able to serve you in this new role as president of ILAECTE for the next couple of years (and as past-president for many more!). I will always remember moving to Illinois five years ago with very few connections, and finding this dedicated and passionate group of early childhood teacher educators working tirelessly on behalf of their students as well as the young children and families of Illinois. I observed an authentic tenacity among the leadership team with Pat Steinhaus and Cathy Main at the helm that resonated deeply with me, and inspired me to stay connected with ILAECTE even when the demands of academic life were pulling me in many other directions. Those that have come before me as leaders of this great organization have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to supporting the work of all Illinois early childhood teacher educators, even in the midst of their own demanding lives. As a result, as we enter the 2016-2017 academic year, ILAECTE is a recognized leader and respected voice in the ongoing conversation about how to best serve the needs of young children and families in our state.


For those of us that have been in the field of early childhood education and care for more than a couple of decades, viewing the field in light of the national landscape can cause us to feel that we are moving in circles without enough forward progress, as we continue to have similar conversations year after year. However, for Illinois early childhood teacher educators, there is much to celebrate as we reflect on the past several years:

  • The IBHE Early Childhood Educator Preparation Program Innovation grant program resulted in newly established and enhanced partnerships among four-year and two-year early childhood programs. These partnerships are creating a pipeline for attracting and retaining diverse teacher candidates. This great work represents a huge stride forward in early childhood workforce development, and is documented in a monograph authored by several of our members:
  • Many of our members completed a full revision of their early childhood teacher education programs, to include greater emphasis on preparing teachers for diverse and inclusive classroom settings. The effects of these efforts will be far-reaching as our candidates become even better equipped to meet the needs of all of the children and families they serve.
  • We are now transitioning from a benchmark based model of early childhood teacher preparation to a competency based model. This work is currently underway, and has been moving forward at a remarkably rapid pace thanks to the contributions of countless ECE leaders under the leadership of ILAECTE Past President Nancy Latham and others. In her words, this transition will “…sustain and enhance…high quality preparation as well as connect ECE professional evaluation and professional development to the same competency expectations.” For more, check out Nancy’s guest blog post
  • The Illinois National Academy of Medicine (NAM) team led by ILAECTE past-president Cathy Main conducted a state-wide Early Childhood (EC) Workforce Supply and Demand Survey Summary to examine the relationship between Illinois supply of qualified EC teachers and assistants and the demand across targeted age ranges, program types, and funding sources. The survey included perspectives and experiences from the field related to recruiting, hiring, and retaining qualified staff. Preliminary survey results will be reported at the Governor’s cabinet on Children and Youth quarterly meeting on September 7, 2017.


Each new year is an opportunity to build on previous accomplishments to continue the progress we have seen. As we survey the current EC landscape in Illinois, the ILAECTE leadership team sees the following items as priorities for the coming year:

  • Continued cultivation of a community of practice, in which members inspire and encourage one another by sharing from their own experiences in program development, curriculum, school partnerships, community partnerships, research, student mentoring, consulting, etc.
  • The development of creative ideas to promote ECED/ECSE programs among our own institutions (including leadership), student populations, local communities, etc.
  • Continued engagement in the conversation regarding requirements for entry into EC teacher licensure programs, as well as other initiatives impacting EC teacher preparation (ex: SB 1829).
  • Continued engagement in the conversation about the early childhood workforce through the leadership of Cathy Main.
  • Continued work toward nurturing and strengthening the relationship between four-year and two-year programs / ACCESS.
  • Collaboration on the development of recommendations regarding the creation of a Kindergarten endorsement.

Many of these issues are agenda items for state workgroups and committees. Huge thanks to our colleagues that serve as members of these groups in addition to their active participation in ILAECTE, maximizing our collaborative advocacy efforts.

As Cathy has shared previously (, national attention on the work that we do as early childhood teacher educators is increasing, and there is much to be hopeful about as we look to the future of ECTE. I hope that you will engage with ILAECTE even more deeply this year as we work together to advocate for the most valuable and vulnerable members of our communities. I look forward to our work together!

All the best,

Rebecca Pruitt

Rebecca Pruitt, Ph.D., is Associate Professor and director of Early Childhood Education programs at Lewis University. Before joining Lewis in the fall of 2012, she served children, families and educators for 20 years as an early childhood teacher and program director, parent educator with Healthy Families and Parents as Teachers, kindergarten literacy interventionist, university researcher, and department head of Early Care and Education at Oklahoma State University Oklahoma City. She holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum Studies, an MS in Family Relations and Child Development, and a BA in Early Childhood.

“I have been doing my job over 25 years, and I believe I know what I am doing”

Here is Jin, now an 8-year-old girl. She was born in America, but her parents were from China, and until the age of three, her mother took care of her at home. When she was 4, she began attending a Montessori school, and it was her very first time to attend any type of day care center. Until then, she had barely been exposed to English. She often told her mother that she didn’t want to go to school, but her mother thought that time would fix everything. Also, her teacher assured her mother, saying, “Jin is doing fine, so please do not worry.” Three months later, Jin was very sick and had to stay at home for 1 week. On her first day back at school, Jin’s mother brought Jin to class and watched Jin through the window without letting Jin know she was there. Once Jin stepped into the class, she stood still in the middle of the classroom. There were four children and two teachers. One teacher was doing an art activity with two children, the other teacher was cleaning up, and the other two children were playing in the block area. The teacher working with two children said, “Good morning, Jin, choose what you want to play” and then continued to work with the other children. Jin, speechless, just kept standing still. According to her mother, Jin stayed like that for almost 10 minutes, but no teacher came to her. Her mother told me, “You know, Jin had been absent for one week. Couldn’t they at least ask her if she was feeling better? Watching my child standing still alone for 10 minutes was just heartbreaking. I just couldn’t stand it, but I had to leave her there and go to work. Instead, when I picked her up, I told one of the teachers what I saw in the morning and how I felt. Of course, not in a straightforward way. You know what? She told me, “My teaching philosophy is to pursue child-centered, child-initiated activities and to help young children develop their independence. I do not tell my children what to do. Children will find what they want to do by themselves. I have been doing my job over 25 years, and I believe I know what I am doing. Please trust me. It’s her first time at day care, so she will need some time to adjust. That’s all. Besides, Jin knows I love her.” I had no choice but to trust her, but I still can’t forget that day.”

As an early childhood education teacher, yes, it is very important to have professional concurrent knowledge of early childhood pedagogy and state and national level of standards, policies, guidelines, and mandates. In addition, teachers’ educational backgrounds and experiences should be valued in any degree. However, teachers need to remember they cannot put anything over the value of a child. Every child is different and unique. Yes, early childhood teachers/educators know the importance of implementing child-centered, child-initiated activities. Early childhood teachers/educators believe those activities are developmentally appropriate for young children. However, if their “great” teaching skills have worked for other children, but not for one child in their classroom, then, they need to find a better way to help the child, not just simply trying to make the child fit in their way.


Dr. Boh Young Lee is an assistant professor of Early Childhood Education program in the department of Curriculum and Instruction at Western Illinois University.

Resource: photo was found at

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 ( – 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:
    • 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

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

Advocacy Matters! (Guest blogger: Joyce Weiner)

Most of us have been advocates at some point in our lives. We may not have called it that but many of us have spoken up on behalf of a specific cause or issue that we believed in or we have acted on behalf of others that we felt needed protection or support. Early childhood advocates work to inform and influence the opinions and actions of policymakers who make decisions that impact the lives of young children and their families.

State and local elected officials compose laws, work with state agencies to draft rules that define state policies, and authorize funding for education, health and public safety programs that impact children. They want to know how specific decisions and funding choices will impact their districts and constituents. Early childhood teachers, program leaders and families in their districts are the experts who can educate them about local needs and concerns both in Springfield and in Washington, DC. Teachers are impactful messengers and recognized for their role in developing our future labor force and civic, business and educational leaders.

As Michael G. Fullan highlights in Why Teachers Must Become Change Agents (1993) teachers and those who work to prepare our future teachers are, by definition, social change agents. People who feel compelled to make a societal contribution in their careers are often drawn to teaching. Teachers frequently see themselves as career-long learners and, in turn, inspire their students to be continuous learners.

To me, the role of a teacher preparation faculty member is an overwhelming yet remarkable undertaking. In addition to the expected tasks that faculty are responsible for conveying pedagogy, supervising field experiences, promoting culturally and linguistically responsive instructional practices, responding to institutional and accreditation requirements, there is a unique opportunity to empower our future teachers to be change agents. Providing the next generation of teachers with opportunities for understanding and experiencing the connections between advocacy, political decision-making, and the impact those decisions have on local resources, program eligibility for families and educational funding can encourage life-long social involvement both in and out of the classroom.

One strategy for giving your students the opportunity to directly experience being an advocate is to participate in an organized early childhood advocacy day in Springfield. This year, the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s Early Childhood Advocacy Day will be on Tuesday, May 9, 2017. Every year, advocates from around the state meet in Springfield to speak up for children and urge legislators to support high-quality early childhood programs and services. In this uncertain budget climate, advocacy efforts are more important than ever as children and families experience harm due to the budget impasse.

On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, early childhood champions will return to the capitol to press lawmakers to continue funding programs for Illinois’ youngest learners and their families. On Advocacy Day, your students will have the opportunity to:

  • Advocate for early childhood programs and funding at the state capitol
  • Speak directly with their legislators about the importance of ensuring that all children have access to the high-quality early experiences they need to thrive
  • Learn about current legislative and budget issues involving Preschool for All, home visiting, child care and Early Intervention.

This year, the Ounce will also offer an advocacy webinar in late April. Webinar details will be posted on the Advocacy Day page once a date is selected. A save the date flyer can be downloaded from the Advocacy Day page, and registration will open on that same page in mid-March.

In addition to participating in Advocacy Day, the ideas below offer more opportunities for incorporating early childhood policy into teacher preparation curricula:

  1. Have students identify their state/federal legislators and research whether those officials serve on educational committees and what legislation is being introduced. Committee assignments are on legislator websites or for state officials go to
  2. Identify and track a piece of legislation throughout the legislative session.
  3. Research a legislator’s voting record in an area of interest.
  4. Sign up for the Ounce Action Alerts at .
  5. Have students prepare a draft letter to the editor or opinion-piece outlining the importance of early learning programs.
  6. Rehearse planning for a legislative visit to a program where students are working. What information would they emphasize for visitors? Which aspects of the quality learning environment should be pointed out and explained to policymakers?
  7. Have students plan for an early learning coalition that can influence decision-makers. What is the goal of the coalition? Who can contribute important perspectives and should be invited to participate? What organizations are currently working on these issues?
  8. Encourage students to attend a legislative Town Hall meeting.

Thank you for all you do to help build this next generation of change agents!

Joyce Weiner is a Policy Manager working on both the Illinois and National Policy Consultation Teams at the Ounce of Prevention Fund. She has worked in educational, medical, and legal settings as a program developer, training director, and advocate on issues impacting the lives of young children and their families. Her work at the Ounce includes planning and partnering to implement educational and professional development systems that result in diverse, well-prepared teachers and administrators for the birth to eight workforce. Joyce holds a Master

Standards, Benchmarks, and Competencies…Oh My! (Guest Bloggers Nancy Latham and Johnna Darragh Ernst)

If you have been participating in any state ECE meetings over the last two years you have no doubt seen us on our road show talking about the work that has gone into and the process involved in developing the new Gateways ECE Competencies. We are seriously considering setting our presentation to rap and adding choreography. We really can visualize a “Hamiltonesque” potential to it! For those of you that know us well…you can picture this, if you don’t…please don’t be afraid!

The Gateways ECE Benchmarks have, for more than 15 years, uniquely positioned Illinois to be a national leader in the preparation of early childhood professionals. As we looked ahead to the next 15 years and beyond, early childhood leaders in the state came together to move toward a competency based system that could sustain and enhance that high quality preparation as well as connect ECE professional evaluation and professional development to the same competency expectations. We are so fortunate in this state to have so many dedicated ECE leaders who were willing to give their expertise, time, and influence to this process.

The Gateways ECE Competencies…drum roll please!

The 347 benchmarks that make up ECE Credentials Levels 2-5 were analyzed over an 18-month period by teams of ECE experts. This analysis included examining each benchmark and matching it to the professional level where it became vital in terms of knowledge and performance, sorting them by content areas and lastly, looking at them in terms of knowledge level, application level, and leadership level expectations. At each stage of this analysis, groups of ECE professionals vetted and provided feedback to inform the process. The result was a re-packaging of the original 347 Benchmarks into 56 competencies. All of the original Benchmarks are aligned with the 56 competencies and can be used to provide deeper understanding of each competency.

Where are we now?

This work has resulted in 56 measurable competencies that can be used to both assist programs as they design programs to prepare ECE professional as well as assessing how programs are meeting these competencies. The competency structure has also been designed to enhance and promote course articulation between two-year and four-year programs and create a system that removed some hindrances to articulation. Currently, tools and supports have been created (available through the Gateways website) to help institutions and professionals in using the competencies and aligning to them. These tools include:

  • Institutional Crosswalks. Institutional crosswalks have been developed for each entitled institution providing them an analysis of their alignment grid to the original Benchmarks to the new ECE competencies. These crosswalks provide a springboard for institutions as they work to align to the new ECE competencies.
  • Entitlement Application and Reporting Documents and Supports. Documents to assist institutions in application and reporting processes will soon be made available through Gateways. In addition, webcasts guiding institutions through better understanding the competencies and providing support in aligning and using the competencies are available on the Gateways website.
  • Assessment Toolbox. Lastly, a toolbox of sample assessments along with master rubrics has been developed for your use and adaptation as you align and utilize the competencies in deeper ways in your individual programs as well as between your articulation partnerships. Our hope is that this toolbox will continue to be added to.

What’s Next?

Next steps in the competency movement in ECE in Illinois is reflected in current work underway, duplicating the process described above and applying it to the Infant Toddler Benchmarks, the Illinois Director Credential Benchmarks, the Family Child Care Benchmarks, the School and Youth Age Benchmarks, the Technical Assistance Benchmarks and the Family Specialist Credential Benchmarks. Again, countless ECE professionals and leaders are contributing to and driving this work, and it is intended that contributions and examples from ECE professionals across the state will continue to build the toolboxes, resources and supports.

So, hopefully you will feel so inclined to contribute your examples and tools to this process as well as your feedback and expertise…and if you are so inclined, set it to music, choreograph it and join us in the touring company!!!!!

Dr. Nancy Latham joined the faculty at Illinois State University in August of 2004 in the School of Teaching & Learning and is currently a full professor in the Early Childhood Program. Dr. Latham has served in many leadership positions within the institution including Associate Director of Research, Associate Department Director and Assessment and Accreditation Coordinator. Her external leadership has included serving as President of IAECTE as well as serving as lead consultant on state-wide early childhood employment pathway efforts. Her research interests focus on teacher employment pathways and trends, teacher persistence in the field, and the impacts of teacher preparation models and practices on teacher retention and attrition.

Johnna Darragh Ernst, Ph.D., is a Professor of Early Childhood Education at Heartland Community College. She is the author of several articles and two books focused on inclusion, engagement, and collaboration. Johnna is involved in workforce development public policy work in Illinois, and serves on several state and national committees. Her work focuses extensively on workforce development, inclusion, family engagement, cultural competence, and competency development

Thoughts on the Purpose of Tinkering in Early Childhood Teacher Education (Guest blogger: Leslie Layman)

Truman College has added a Tinkering Lab to our Child Development Program teaching spaces. I have had the pleasure of acting as the coordinator for our Child Development Program’s labs, meaning I spend a lot of time mulling over small decisions such as, “What colors of paint do we need,” but I also spend a lot of time thinking about the philosophical and pedagogical purposes of the labs. Our Tinkering Lab was modeled heavily on the Chicago Children’s Museum Tinkering Lab and the Maker Lab at Lane Tech College Prep High School. Our lab will begin a “soft opening” this Spring semester for students and faculty in our Creative Activities for Young Children & Math and Science for Young Children.

What Does Tinkering Mean to Me?

I like the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary definition: “Tinker: to repair, adjust, or work with something in an unskilled or experimental manner: to repair, adjust, or experiment with.”

Tinkering is taking something apart to see how it works, trying to fix or make something better even if you are not really sure how. It covers everything from breaking open a toy to see its moving parts, to inventing a new type of toy and building a prototype, to just staring at something a bit wondering what to do next. To me, the concept of tinkering relates directly to what I believe to be the most important part of early childhood, play. It is the intersection of work and play in which young children live.

Why is the Child Development Program So Interested in Tinkering for Early Childhood Educators?

Early learners not only explore and learn through play, but they also ask real and important questions about how the world works-inquiry. Many of our ECE Students come to us with limited experiences in doing, making, and taking risks in the professional world. We hope to use the Tinkering Lab as part of our parallel process in teaching EC educators using the same philosophies and strategies that we want them to use with young children.
Exploration and Play

“There is safe and unsafe, there is works and does no