Not just Black and White (Guest blogger: Dr. Anni Reinking)


As an early childhood professor, one of the courses I teach focuses on families, collaboration, and community engagement. As I go through the process of teaching and preparing, I also bring in my personal experience. As a mother of a biracial son, I understand the importance of conversations in early childhood classrooms focused on multicultural topics.

Conversations with children are important, especially when considering implicit bias, which refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. It is important to recognize that everyone has implicit biases and that implicit biases often result in individuals favoring their own “group” (i.e. race, gender, religion, ability, etc.) and conversely having negative perceptions about other groups. While biases are often seen as an internal negative characteristic, implicit biases are malleable through interactions and conversations.

The importance reflecting on personal implicit biases became evident in a research study conducted by Gilliam, et al. (2016), who published a study with the Yale Child Study Center.  “What we found was exactly what we expected based on the rates at which children are expelled from preschool programs,” the lead research Gilliam stated to NPR in an interview (Turner, 2016). “Teachers looked more at the black children than the white children, and they looked specifically more at the African-American boy.” This was evident with both black and white teachers. Therefore, reflection, conversations, and acknowledgement of implicit and explicit biases are concepts that will continue to grow as more research is conducted and presented.

But now, stepping out of my researcher and professor position and into my position as a mother, I also understand the importance of conversations focused on many topics that impact children in the diversifying nation. As stated several times in research, our nation is becoming a majority minority in the next few decades. As a mother of a biracial son and educator, I know that some voices are not yet in the conversation. Therefore I wrote a book depicting my vulnerable reflections as an educator and mother.

Not Just Black and White, ( is a book that discusses my own journey through the process of racial discussions in my life and the wider conversation. It is a book that is meant to spark conversation, influence reflection, and maybe add one more voice to the dialogue.

While I have written many pieces about the book, I think this review is a better summary than I could ever provide:

This is a different kind of memoir. Many memoirs are glossy overviews of the author’s life, with the high points highlighted, glory days re-lived, and the low points touched on only when they have a greater message or meaning. People generally do not write a memoir that blatantly exposes their own weaknesses, failings, or ignorance, but Dr. Reinking does just that in this book. She makes no excuses for her actions, and uses her experience to educate the reader about interracial relations in and out of the family setting.

Her details the first 30-odd years of her life, focusing mostly on the years between 15 and 30-something, and her interactions with people outside her own racial background, in the United States and in Kenya, where she served as a missionary. After returning to the US, Dr. Reinking, a white woman, married a black man and gave birth to a biracial child. While married, she had to navigate as a dual-minority (a white person and a woman) in a mostly African-American community in Chicago. When her marriage ended, she found herself a single mother, trying to raise a child of color without access to any of the cultural heritage found within the African-American community. Her struggles to recognize and respect her son’s racial heritage, while raising him as the only member of color in a supportive extended family, are touching and poignant. She makes no excuses for her ignorance and begs forgiveness for any unintended offenses in her quest to educate herself and her son.

In relating her experiences, Dr. Reinking exposes her own vulnerability. She has no direct cultural knowledge to impart to her son regarding how to be a person of color in the racially-charged dynamic that pervades the United States today. She reaches out to friends and acquaintances within the African-American community for answers, praying that even the act of questioning does not cause offense. She shares the choices that she makes, the victories and the defeats, the three-steps-forward-two-steps-back dance that she does while trying to straddle a racial divide that some still feel should be enforced. Her overwhelming desire to be a “good” parent – to raise a child prepared for the world, armed to defend themselves against any challenges the world may present – is palpable within her volume. The fact that she must do all of this AND deal with any racial onslaughts her son may face, as well, makes her learning curve as a parent that much greater.

The dilemmas posed within these pages are ones that should be discerned and contemplated, as no one is immune to how they interact and react to people outside their own racial circle. Dr. Reinking’s experiences can be taken to heart by the reader, and the lessons she has learned can easily be incorporated into one’s own zeitgeist.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who has interaction with a multicultural person, whether that person is a friend, relative, loved one, co-worker, neighbor, or cashier at the store. How we recognize and respect our differences while celebrating our greater, global community is more important now than ever. Dr. Reinking’s book establishes a discussion platform for just this in a racially-charged, divided atmosphere.

Overall, as early childhood educators, it is important to keep the conversation going in our classrooms, in our organizations, and with our children. Race is a difficult topic to talk about for many people, but it is also a reality that needs to be acknowledged.

Dr. Anni Reinking is an assistant professor in the early childhood program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Her research focuses on teacher preparation, virtual training, and multicultural education.

The Power of Our Mind’s Eye (Guest blogger: Anna Owen, M.S. Ed)

As I was scrolling through my social media feed late one evening, I came across a quote that someone had shared by a gentleman named Wayne Dyer that said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

This quote made me stop scrolling and I began to think about the many ways that it spoke it to me.  If you know me personally, you probably know that in addition to my passion for early childhood, I also have a great passion for photography.  From the moment that I began to look at life through the lens of my camera, I began to see things differently.   Suddenly, that old tree in our front yard that I had probably looked at a million times before was more beautiful to me.  My camera helped me to slow down and to observe this world more closely. I began to notice the tree’s textures, it’s lines, it’s colors, the way the sunlight illuminated it’s leaves at different times of day.  I noticed how the tree’s beauty changed through the various seasons.  My camera forced me to slow down and to truly “see” things.  Now I find myself appreciating the beauty around me even when my camera is not near. My family will often hear me make comments when we are out such as “Wow, look at how the light and shadows are hitting the side of that building, isn’t that pretty?”  It’s just how I see the world now.   I am so thankful for photography as it has given me the gift to slow down and to notice details that I might not otherwise have seen.

As I reflected on the impact of photography in my own life, I began thinking about how our mind’s eye really shapes everything that we experience in this life, both personal and professional, including our work in the field of early childhood.

The way in which we, as adults, “see” children certainly shapes our interactions with them.  Do we slow down to notice and appreciate what is unique and beautiful about every child that we work with?  Do we approach each day with a fresh curiosity that allows us to be more “in the moment” and to observe children more closely?  This can be extremely difficult to do during the hustle and bustle of the typical preschool classroom.  If we did this more intentionally, what might we see?  What might we learn?  How might this practice affect our relationships with the children?  How would the climate of our classroom change if we made seeing in this way a priority?

How do we “see” the children that might have more difficult temperaments or children that exhibit ongoing challenging behaviors? Do we view those children negatively and/or respond out of stress?  Or do we choose to “see” a beautiful young soul that needs some help getting through a difficult moment?  The way that we “see” shapes the way that we act.

It can be difficult to train our mind’s eye to see differently.  It’s a journey and it takes time, reflection and intentionality.  In my own photography practice, I have committed to doing a “365 project” in which I take one photo daily.  This commitment forces me to look at my life more creatively and I have to be intentional about seeking the beauty in my everyday moments that might otherwise seem mundane.  When I’m not intentional about challenging my mind to see differently then I’m just not growing.

In addition to preparing teachers with the skills and knowledge that they will need to implement developmentally appropriate practices and teaching methods, I’m wondering how we might also help them to nurture their mind’s eye as they grow professionally?   What tools can we give educators to continue to reflect on how they choose to “see” as they go to work with children each day?

Our mind’s eye will shape our methods.  Our methods will impact children.  We need to always ask ourselves, “Am I modeling the dispositions (habits of mind) that I want to strengthen in the children that I work with?”  The way that we “see” will certainly impact how the children “see,” as well.   Just the other day, my five-year-old daughter said to me, “Mom, isn’t the golden light that is shining on my wall just so beautiful?”  I loved that she paused to notice that detail as she was playing in her room.  As we continue to take the time to notice and appreciate the beauty in each of our children, it is more likely that they will also notice and appreciate others in the same way.  Don’t we need more of that in the world that we live in today?


Anna Owen, M.S. Ed., is an Early Childhood Resource Specialist with STARnet Regions I & III. Anna has been involved in the field of early childhood since 2003.  She received her Master’s degree from Western Illinois University in 2013.  Her previous job titles include training coordinator, parent educator and preschool teacher.  In her role as an Early Childhood Resource Specialist, she provides technical assistance and training to early childhood professionals and families. She is passionate about the arts and serves as the co-chair for the Creative Expressions Art Gallery that takes place biannually at the statewide Sharing A Vision conference.  She provides professional development on a variety of topics related to curriculum, assessment, lesson planning, intentional interactions and much more.  In her spare time, she enjoys photography and spending time with her husband and two young children.

Guiding Pre-Service Teachers to Build Relationships with Families (Guest blogger: Dr. Bernadette Laumann)

One of the most difficult relationships that beginning early childhood teachers encounter is creating trust with their students’ families. I have seen this in settings where pre-service teachers are nervous about greeting and engaging in conversations with students’ parents. Often the cultural and linguistic backgrounds of pre-service teachers may be quite different from their students’ families. This is true in many communities across Illinois, where families from a wide range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds live and work. Teacher educators must consciously prepare new teachers to be ready to engage with families from many different backgrounds.

Course assignments that include home visits, conversations with parents, and parent/teacher conferences help prepare new teachers for their future work with families. The more practice pre-service teachers can have meeting with families the better. When we talk about differentiating instruction for young children, we also talk about differentiating communication with families. Each family is unique and brings their own dreams and hopes for their child. Using technology helps facilitate ongoing communication with families about their child’s learning.

As teacher educators it is our responsibility to model open communication for pre-service teachers. Our communication with them and willingness to listen to their hopes and fears with an open heart demonstrates how they can approach the families of their students. Communicating with families can be embedded into pre-service teacher education programs in a variety of courses and practica. Our work is to prepare future early childhood teachers to be partners with the families of their students and to be open to learning from them.


* Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA), Engaging Culturally Diverse Families, a resource list with links to a variety of materials addressing cultural competence and promoting partnerships with diverse families

*The Illinois Families and School Success Project provides resources for school staff (PreK through 12th grade) and families to promote best practices in family engagement.

*The Illinois Early Learning Project focuses on resources that support educators of young children birth to age five years old and their families. Resources for families are available in diverse languages.

* IRIS Center Module: Collaborating with Families highlights information teachers need to understand when working with the families of children with disabilities.

Bernadette Laumann, PhD is the Co-Principal Investigator for two ISBE funded grants: the Illinois Early Learning Project and the Illinois Families and School Success Project. She has been a teacher educator, principal of an inclusive public pre-k program, and an early childhood special educator.

Smartphones, Tablets, and Screen Time – Oh, My! (Guest Blogger: Bridget Meis, M.S.Ed.)

Technology is around us from the moment we wake up until the moment we go to bed.  With the increase in the amount of exposure that children have with technology, there are many questions and ideas about what is appropriate. How much screen time is too much? What apps will help my child’s development?  Children get enough technology at home, should I even have it in the classroom? These are just a few questions that come to mind.

There are millions of apps available for download to smartphones and tablets.  When we look at these apps, we must consider several different features in order to choose quality apps that will enhance children’s development rather than just passively exposing them to screen time.

App Features to Consider

We want to look at apps that offer a divergent path and choice making opportunitiesfor children to be able to actively engagewith the app.  Think of the choose your own adventure books that you may have read as a child; these books gave you the opportunity to make your own choice during the story and then see what happens because of that choice.  When we think of apps that offer a divergent path, they provide that same opportunity for decision making, problem-solving, and exploring what happens next.

Children will go through stages of development when using apps, just like they do with real materials. First, the children will tap and explore cause and effect.  Through exploring, children will develop the confidence and skills to make certain things happen within the app.  Finally, children will be able to use the app as it was intended to be used.

So, with that in mind, we want to offer apps that are open ended and invite the children to explorethe features of the app in a non-threatening environment.  Find apps that children can tap and explore in any way that they choose, and there is not a wrong way to use the app.  Some apps that offer this feature are the Toca Boca apps.  There are several available where children can discover on their own what will happen as the interact with the screen.

Apps will never take the place of real-life experiences, so when you are choosing apps, try to find ones that will enhance hands on experiencesor children’s knowledge about the real world.  Give them a chance to take pictures and edit those pictures with games, such as Toca Hair Salon.  You can also find apps that allow children to take pictures of their artwork – the Keepy App with do this, or even create their own stories and save them as a PDF, such as Storybook.  Find apps that will be relevant to the children’s experiences.

We want to keep in mind that when we are giving children the opportunity to use apps with smartphones or tablets, that choosing a quality app is not enough when we look at the appropriate use of technology with young children.  We want to think about how we are interacting with the children as they use the app.  Are we there with the children as they play, to help facilitate and guide the child on how to use the app?  Are we there to encourage conversations and questions about how the app connects to the real world?

Technology is here to stay. Model appropriate use of technology with children as you use it and children use it.  Children are always watching what we are doing, and they will learn from the example you set.

Bridget Meis, M.S. Ed, is an Early Childhood Resource Specialist for STARnet Regions I & III. During her time with STARnet, she has presented on a variety of topics including: Apps and Assistive Technology, Social/Emotional development, Creative Curriculum, Teaching Strategies GOLD, Portfolios, Lesson Planning, Mathematics in Early Childhood, Science and Mathematics, STEAM and Family Engagement. Bridget has worked in the field of Early Childhood Education since 2003. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Illinois State University and her Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Erikson Institute. Bridget has worked in a variety of early childhood programs with diverse groups of children from as young as six weeks old to children in fifth grade. Bridget has served children and families in private childcare programs and most recently with Head Start.

Removing Systemic Barriers in Education Through Universal Design for Learning (Guest blogger: Jana Nicol, M.Ed.)

“Fair doesn’t always mean equal.”

As an elementary school teacher, sometimes it is necessary to help young students to develop a more sophisticated understanding of fairness. Part of building classroom community is helping students understand that we all have different needs, and that everyone has an equal right to learn. ​This picture usually comes to mind when I think of this topic:

In the first image of this picture, everyone is given the exact same support. They are being treated equally, but they are not being treated fairly. If we are striving to teach all of our students fairly, then some students may be given different supports which gives everyone an equal chance of success. This often results in accommodations, such as providing extra time, or printing worksheets in larger print for those who need it.

The picture above is definitely more widely distributed than this one:

The third image in this picture is an excellent example of Universal Design for Learning. The need for additional supports is eliminated altogether because the systemic barrier has been removed. For teachers who wish to implement UDL in their classrooms, we must think of ways to reduce the need for additional supports.

As teachers, we may not have the ability to completely remove the need for accommodations in our classroom, because we lack control over some of the systemic barriers that make learning challenging for some students. For example, we may lack funding for technology, or we may be obligated to follow a set regulations for the administration of standardized assessments.

But we can at least make the effort to empower ourselves to remove as many barriers as we can in our own classrooms in ways that are affordable and feasible. Here are just a few ways that we can help remove barriers in our own classrooms to benefit all students:

  • We can make classroom materials accessible – we can put materials within everyone’s reach, add labels with words and pictures, keep them in a consistent location so students can remember where they are kept, and make small purchases that increase accessibility in the classroom (e.g. left-handed scissors, magnifying glasses, fidgets).

  • We can offer flexible seating – we can have a variety of seating arrangements in the classroom to maximize comfort for all students (traditional desk and chair, stools, stability balls, yoga mats, standing desk, milk crates, etc). We can allow students to sit on the floor, under tables, anywhere where they feel comfortable, provided that they are following classroom expectations for work. We can also allow movement from one seat to another and provide movement breaks for the whole class throughout the day because some students need more movement than others.

  • We can offer accommodations to all students – not everyone will need them, but making them available to everyone takes the stigma away from those who rely on them and can benefit everyone. For example, taking away time limits from a test is not only beneficial for those who need more time, but it can also help alleviate anxiety for those who become anxious when they are being timed.


  • We can establish and follow predictable routines – many students thrive on routine, and they like to know what to expect. We can have well-established routines for passing out and collecting materials, transitioning between activities, getting ready to go outside, etc. We can post a visual schedule in a prominent area of the room and follow it. I use a visual schedule that is changed daily. Each card has text supported by visuals, which makes it more accessible to those who struggle with reading.

  • We can activate background knowledge before discussing a given topic. Students come to school with a diverse range of experiences and some students may benefit from learning a little bit about a topic before jumping into a lesson. For some students, skipping this step can make a learning activity completely inaccessible to them. And for other students, we can improve the quality of their work by refreshing their memory about a given topic. For example, if we are asking students to write out instructions for making a snowman, we cannot assume that every student has experience with this. Maybe their parents do not allow them to play outside, or perhaps they have moved from a warmer climate. Before the writing activity, we can discuss the steps involved in building a snowman, watch a video of children building a snowman, or take the entire class outside to build snowmen (if you live in a snowy climate).


  • Heighten the salience of goals/objectives – Some students need to have a sense of purpose in learning tasks. They need to know why they are doing what they are doing… or what the point of an activity is. Taking time to review a lesson’s objectives in simple language at the beginning of a lesson can help students understand what they need to know and why. Here is a picture of the goal board I use in my classroom, which is written in student-friendly language.

Jana Nicol, B.A., B.Ed., M.Ed., is an elementary school teacher in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. She has researched Universal Design for Learning (UDL) extensively, having written essays on better practices of implementing UDL in elementary school classrooms. She also led a team of teachers through an action research project which sought to increase student engagement through the implementation of UDL practices. She authors the website, where she has shared the findings of this action research, and writes blogs about UDL. She has also facilitated professional development workshops on UDL.

Inequalities and Disparities in Education (guest blogger: Kali Goldberg)

Inequalities and disparities in education have always been painfully obvious to me. I spent the first five years of my teaching career working in a desperately understaffed school. The district was unable to afford a full-time nurse to support students with a G-tube and other medical needs, or multiple assistants for classrooms with severe needs. Supplies were hard to come by as well. When I saw my students using crayons to write on white boards because the district couldn’t afford dry erase markers, I knew I had to do something.

Through my work with Teach Plus, a teacher leadership organization of which I’m an alumna, I was able to illustrate my struggles through an op-ed detailing what lack of funding looked like and what school funding reform would mean to my students and me. One of my local legislators read the piece and reached out for a meeting. I was able to show him my class and point out areas where additional funding would increase educational outcomes for the children in his district. Through this meeting, I was able to educate my legislator and build a relationship with him. The meeting also inspired the newspaper’s editorial board to come out in favor of the school funding bill. As a teacher, I had a deep impact on policy because I used my passion to share my experience with decision makers. They need to hear our stories; teachers need to be part of these conversations.

My impact multiplied exponentially when I partnered with other teachers from other communities who also shared their stories. Several teachers and I advocated with legislators and in communities across the state. We held a rally in Springfield on school funding reform. Together, as teachers, with our communities and legislators, we passed historic school funding reform in Illinois. Teacher voice made a difference for the children of Illinois and will continue to do so as long as teachers are willing to speak up, share their stories, and advocate for what they believe in.

Teaching is inherently political. There are laws and policies that govern who can be a teacher, what education one needs to attain in order to teach, how teachers can discipline their students, how much teachers are paid, and what standards teachers should teach. The list goes on and on. Teacher voice should be an integral part of the conversations where such policies are set. Professors of teacher preparation programs are in a unique position to teach teacher candidates about the pivotal role they can play in policy and how to do so.

The best way to get started in advocacy is to simply find out who your legislators are. Professors should encourage teacher candidates to use websites such as to research their legislators. State and federal legislators are there to represent all of their constituents, even those who may not have voted for them. Teachers and teacher candidates should establish a relationship with their legislator, even if there is no issue for which they are currently advocating.

To prepare for a meeting with a legislator:

  1. Have a story to tell – Personal stories have a tremendous power to influence policy. These are the stories that lawmakers need to hear to influence their decisions.
  2. Bring data – It is often beneficial to come with research backing up your position.
  3. Engage in dialogue – Influencing policy is not a one-stop shop. Policy is unlikely to change in a single conversation. Be prepared to build a lasting relationship with the decision maker.
  4. Propose a solution – A solutions-oriented approach is often one of the most influential. Teacher candidates should research the proposed solution and make sure that it is applicable beyond their classroom.
  5. Have an ask – Are you asking your legislator to support or oppose a piece of legislation? The ask should be central to your conversation and supported by your data. It should be in line with the proposed solution.Building consensus:

When meeting with legislators and other decision makers it is beneficial to build a consensus. Find something that you can agree on and build the conversation from there. It can be something as simple as wanting to help the students in your community. Keep in mind that legislators are often not experts in education. They are asked to make decisions in many areas, including education, health care, the environment, and the economy and cannot become an expert in each area. Teachers are the experts in education and should use their expertise to teach and inform legislators just as they do their students.

Policies teacher candidates can focus on:

Professors of teacher preparation programs can engage teacher candidates by engaging them in issues that currently impact them, such as the requirements to becoming a teacher in Illinois, particularly the basic skills assessment or the minimum salary for teacher positions in our state. Teacher candidates may not be ready to engage with decision makers and that’s ok. They can connect with other professionals through teacher’s unions, NAEYC, The Ounce, Teach Plus, and other organizations. Following these groups on social media or signing up for their email lists are effortless ways to stay updated on important issues and advocacy opportunities. Most importantly, this will help teacher candidates to build their advocacy muscle so that when they’re ready to engage, they’ll have the tools and connections to do so.

Kali Goldberg holds a bachelors degree in early childhood education from Elmhurst College as well as a masters degree in curriculum and instruction from Western Governors University. She is in her sixth year teaching, currently in a blended at-risk and special education early childhood classroom in Maywood District 89. Kali is a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship alumna.

The large impact of smaller groups (Guest blogger: Cecilia Mintz)

I was recently introduced to the concept of taking large groups and breaking them into smaller groups. I thought that sounds like a good idea. However, is it even possible with the limited time that Early Childhood teachers have? The more I began to think about this concept the more I realized what an amazing impact it could make.

Let’s think about your large group, what do you typically do: Calendar? Weather? Read a story? Are all the children actively engaged with these activities? In the 10-15 minutes that you have are you able to respond and engage with all the children that want a chance to speak? My guess would be probably not. After all, there is one of you and usually about 20 children.

Now let’s think about reading a story to six or seven children instead. You could engage and be present for each child in the group, because of this you would be able to scaffold conversations to further their understanding of the content. You might find yourself inspired to be more intentional in the small group activities you plan, and your observations would be more reflective of where each individual actually is. Most importantly it gives you time to get to know and connect with your children. I would even go as far as to say that real learning cannot begin until there is a strong relationship between teacher and child is established.

You may be thinking about logistics of it all. First of all, I want to clarify that this time would not take the place of the academic-focused small groups, but would take place when you typically would do a large group. Get creative with how you break up your groups! One way that you could try is while you work with one group on a story, have the teacher/para work with another group on another circle time activity like the weather or project work. The last group of children can do an independent work group. You will want to make sure that the materials needed are accessible to them and it is an activity they are familiar with.

I am in no way saying to completely rid your classroom of large group. large group is necessary to build the classroom community. To discuss what is coming up and what we have done. We need that time to dance and be silly with children to continue to build those relationships that are vital for children to learn. I’m suggesting spending a little less time in large group, and a little more time with smaller groups of children.

Are you willing to think outside the box and do a little less large group time? Take a chance, you might be surprised by the outcome.

Cecilia Mintz, B.S. Ed, is an Early Childhood Resource Specialist for STARnet Regions I & III. She has worked in Early Childhood since 2007. Cecilia has worked with a diverse population at Head Start. While working with Head Start she guided children with Project Approach. Cecilia worked at engaging families in their child’s education by encouraging their input on family goals involving their child.   


The last few years were especially rough on Illinois institutions. The budget impasse in Springfield only served to set more than one campus on a downward financial spiral, public as well as private, four- as well as two-year. While most managed to check the slide, none did so without making significant cuts or postponing plans for growth initiatives. With each passing month, certain losses are becoming all the more obvious: tenure-track and long-term contract faculty lines. Based on anecdotal reports shared during recent statewide early childhood teacher educator meetings, it appears that our field has been particularly hard hit by layoffs, retirements, and contract nonrenewals. What once were programs or departments staffed by at least two or three full-time faculty are now ‘solo shows’ with a ‘costarring cast’ of adjunct faculty. Unofficial reports by faculty still in their positions indicate that some are concerned about keeping their ECE programs open, given campus pressures for improved revenue performance. How, exactly, our postsecondary ECE teacher preparation profession ‘got here’ is unclear, as is ‘where’ this observed phenomenon will take us. We must endeavor to understand our situation, if we’re to find a way to counter what appear to be external as well as internal forces resulting in the same outcome: The disappearance of the ECE teacher educator from colleges and universities around our state.

When environmental scientists detect an unexpected decline in a species’ population, they join forces to study its prelude to extinction before it’s too late to reverse. Among the many factors they investigate is the actual extent of the species’ loss. They also examine polluting, or harmful invasions of the species’ habitat. They look broadly at other aspects of the species’ context—predatory-prey relations; physical loss of habitat; invasion by bacteria or viruses; and change in the ambient climate. By examining these factors separately and then together, scientists aim to determine whether and how they cascade to forecast doom. They use these separate studies in toto to guide them in constructing connected ways to head off further loss and prevent ultimate extinction.

Inspired by the work of these environmental scientists, my long-time colleague, professor emerita Dr. Antonia Potenza of Roosevelt University, and I have planned a prelude-to-extinction type study of Illinois’ postsecondary ECE landscape. We will start collecting survey data from programs in early 2019. We also will conduct focus groups and interviews with teacher educators, current and retired. We hope to do the same with campus administrators and other relevant personnel identified by the study participants. Our goal is to complete the bulk of the work in time for the opening of the new academic year in August.

Among our many questions are those related to mapping the current condition of programs at two- and four-year campuses, AAS and AA as well as bachelor’s and graduate-level degrees. In addition to basic demographic information (e.g., number of full-time and part-time faculty), we seek to apprehend the nature of the work being done by ECE faculty (e.g., course load, service, research and scholarship, partnerships), and how that has changed over the last five years in particular. Through focused conversations in small groups and one-on-one across the state, we also aim to limn the pressures affecting current ECE program faculty decision-making (e.g., course enrollment minimums, employer demands, funding limitations). Since this is a study—a matter of asking questions in order to more deeply understand what’s happening, what’s at stake—we won’t be asking participants for solutions. Our main goal is simple: Learn what our ECE colleagues are experiencing, and to what degree. Ideally, through our work we’ll be able to ascertain which factors most influence or otherwise affect Illinois teacher educators’ ability to keep their programs vibrant and working at true, as well as necessary, capacity.

We realize that for some reading this post, our premise may not seem relevant or accurate. We’ve learned from a small sampling that not all campuses are experiencing significant enrollment drops or increases in non-completers. These data are as relevant and critical for mapping the entire landscape as are those describing the breadth and depth of campus program mergers and reformulations, for example. As we’ve learned from the environmental scientists’ studies, it’s all relevant in unearthing the dynamism at play.

We sincerely hope you’ll be willing to participate in the activities of our study, and will respond to our various solicitations to become involved. Please know that we will collect data anonymously when requested, and maintain strict confidentiality protocols throughout. We recognize that for some, certain data may not shareable. We respect individuals’ needs, yet trust that everyone will appreciate the core purpose of our work: Guiding our collective Illinois ECE profession in keeping our system of education and training in place, as well as attuned to workforce realities.

Please let us know your preliminary thoughts, and if you’d be interested in helping us reach out to teacher educator colleagues in all counties and regions. Feel free to contact me directly via or (773) 325-7591. We hope to see you at upcoming ECE meetings and events, where we’ll be glad to informally share further plans and logistics. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

Marie Donovan, ED.D.,  chairs the Early Childhood Education Program at DePaul University in Chicago. Her teaching focuses on early literacy and the literature used to foster children’s language development. She advocates for postsecondary education faculty with the Board of Higher Education and legislators around the state. Her research focuses on career pathways and vocational education, as well as teachers’ professional development. 


Questions Answered About Virtual Reality and Early Childhood Teacher Preparation (Guest blogger: Dr. Anni Reinking)

If you attended the Higher Ed. Forum in Bloomington, IL in 2018, you are able to see the early childhood virtual learning environment in action or if you read the VLE blog in 2017, you learned more about the VLE experience. However, you might still have many questions. In this blog, four of those questions will be answered.

  1. What is Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)? If you have not heard of VLE before, here is a brief overview. A VLE experience provides:
  • a safe and low-stress environment for learning and refining best practices
  • practice with no harm/risk to others
  • an actively construct knowledge and apply in context
  • immediate Feedback; Debrief process where critical feedback can be incorporated in future practice
  • suspend (pause) session, regroup/discuss better options, restart session and practice new techniques (pause classroom)
  • avenue for self-reflection

Essentially, VLEs blend artificial intelligence with human intelligence. Overall, the VLE is an indispensable training tool. Studies show that simulations are more effective than other instructional methods, because they simultaneously engage participants’ emotional and cognitive processes.

  1. How do you pay for it?

Currently, Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville “owns” a license which provides full access to most scenarios (parent, administrator, classrooms, office visit, etc.). SIUE purchased the license and all needed technology and materials using administrative support and grants. If teacher preparation departments have a desire to use the VLE at SIUE (it is transportable), SIUE charges $125/session. If you choose to purchase a license it is $25,000/year, along with technology costs.

How do universities pay for per hour charge? Some programs charge a student fee, others have applied to grants, and others have secured administrative support based on the transformational application of the experience.

  1. What have you found with the research completed in the early childhood VLE?

Overall the last year, Dr. Reinking has collaborated with the University of Central Florida and Illinois Action for Children to implement the early childhood classroom scenario. These are the preliminary results:

The Spring 2018 cohort overall remarked positively to their experiences using the virtual simulator (TeachLivE). Many participants’ comments focused on two areas: ability to work with others and their peers and wishing they had more time to practice in the simulator.

Three main themes emerged when participants were asked to comment about what they liked about the professional development: 1) Interacting with an avatar/using virtual learning environments, 2) practicing techniques in the simulator before they taught in the classroom, and 3) ability to ask questions and receive feedback. These three themes suggest the participants felt safe with the avatars, they were able to make mistakes and learn from them, and could transfer skills into their real classrooms.

Participants were asked if there was anything they would change about the professional development, and most said the experience was great and did not need to be changed. Other comments were very constructive, including requests of interacting more in the simulator and explanations of what the avatars can and can’t do.

Overall, participants’ comments and Likert scores suggest positive experiences with the professional development using virtual simulators. Virtual simulators:

  1. Provide a safe environment for participants to practice, learn, make mistakes, and try again before interacting with students in their classrooms.
  2. Provide a unique experience for co-teachers to practice lessons together to find which co-teaching model works best for their instruction, as well as best for the lesson they will deliver.
  3. Participants expressed the desire for more time in the simulator to hone their skills to effectively teach their classrooms.

Here is a video of one participant in the VLE at Illinois Action for Children:

In this video you see the benefit of pausing the classroom, providing, feedback, and the interactions the avatar students are able to do.

  1. How do you incorporate it into teacher preparation programs?

Currently SIUE incorporates the VLE into several courses including, but not limited to:

  • Parent teacher conferences: pre-service and in-service teachers practice engaging in parent teacher conferences, specifically focused on difficult conversations.
  • IEP Meetings: pre-service and in-service teachers practice engaging in IEP meetings. This is in collaboration with the special education program.
  • Co-Teaching: pre-service teachers engage in co-planning and co-teaching in the VLE.
  • Classroom Management: pre-service and in-service teachers practice developmentally appropriate behavior management practices.
  • Classroom Instruction: pre-service and in-service teachers practice various classroom instruction strategies.
  • Feedback: pre-service and in-service teachers practice providing impactful feedback (link to edTPA).

The students interact in the VLE during class time or, if time allows, during other parts of their day.

Dr. Anni Reinking is an assistant professor in the early childhood program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Her research focuses on teacher preparation, virtual training, and multicultural education.

WE NEED YOU IN THE CONVERSATION! (Guest blogger: Catherine Main)

The recent report, Teach Illinois—Strong Teachers, Strong Classrooms: Policy Solutions to Alleviate Teacher Shortages in Illinois (September 2018), from the Illinois State Board of Education highlighted key teacher shortage areas and offered a range of recommendations to address those shortages. On behalf of our membership we drafted a response to the report. Our response is below.

But, this is just the start of the conversation. We need to continually be engaged and participate in our professional organizations (ILAECTE) as well as local and state level committees that recommend practices and policies impacting our program and students. Please RSVP to our Meeting on November 2, 2018 at Elmhurst College.

The Illinois Association for Early Childhood Teacher Educator (ILAECTE) is professional organization representing faculty and administrators in early childhood teacher educations program across Illinois institutions of higher education. It is an affiliate organization of the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators.

As an organization focused on issues impacting the recruitment, preparation and assessment of teacher candidates in early childhood education programs we appreciate the opportunity to respond to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) report, Teach Illinois—Strong Teachers, Strong Classrooms: Policy Solutions to Alleviate Teacher Shortages in Illinois (September 2018).

Our comments are based on our collective experiences in both teacher preparation and broader policy making within early childhood education. We have organized our responses around four key areas that we believe impact the identification of the problems and potential solutions for teacher shortages across early childhood education programs in Illinois.

Create a more accurate data portrait of both Illinois children in early childhood programs and the Illinois early childhood workforce.

While we recognize that the data referring to Illinois students is now frequently represented as P-12, we do not have an accurate definition of what the “P” actually represents. Illinois children are served across a range of programs, including programs administered by ISBE such as Preschool For All (PFA) and Prevention Initiative (PI). These programs are offered in both school-based settings and community based settings. When calculating the demand for early childhood teachers in Illinois, which programs are included and what settings are included?

We were surprised to see that early childhood was not highlighted as major shortage area in Illinois. Other published data shows a significant shortage in the number of teachers with Professional Educator Licenses (PEL) with endorsements in early childhood education and subsequent endorsements in bilingual/ESL and early childhood special education. These shortages are represented in the very high turnover rates across early childhood programs.[1] Additionally, during the same period of preschool expansion from half day programs to more classrooms and full day programs, in our most underserved communities, the number of teachers entitled to a PEL with an endorsement in early childhood education dropped from 1,365 in 2012 to just 599 in 2017.[2]

We recommended a broader and more inclusive analysis of data regarding early childhood programs to produce a more accurate portrait of the actual supply and demand of highly qualified teachers.

Remove the testing requirement of academic proficiency and replace with a more comprehensive assessment of academic proficiency.  

While it may not have been the intention of the state legislature and the subsequent ISBE rules regarding academic proficiency, the required passing score thresholds on the tests of academic proficiency (e.g. ITAP, ACT, SAT) have done more to limit access and opportunity, particularly for minorities, than any other program requirement. The data is conclusive: not only have less than one-third of all test takers passed the test on the first attempt, fewer and fewer potential teacher candidates are even taking the test. For example, between 2015 and 2017, the percentage of African American test-takers dropped from 11 percent to just 3 percent.[3] Moreover there is scant evidence regarding a correlation, much less a causal connection, between tests of academic proficiency and teacher quality.

What we do know is that socio-cultural matches between teachers and children[4] and teacher years of experience[5] impact student outcomes. Instead of focusing on tests of academic proficiency, the focus should be on recruiting and supporting more diverse teacher candidates, particularly from the incumbent early childhood workforce as well as teacher assistants and paraprofessionals. We also recommend immediately replacing a single test score as an indicator with a range of factors that represent a teacher candidate’s academic proficiency such grade point averages and degree completion, including AA and AAS degrees.

Create more accessible, viable and equitable pathways to teaching.

As mentioned above, diversity and experience are important to teacher effectiveness. We recommend a full review of ISBE licensure program rules to identify and remove barriers that impede opportunities for working adults, such as licensed child care providers, teacher assistants, and paraprofessionals to enroll and successfully complete teacher licensure programs. These barriers include rules regarding where teacher candidates can student teach, whether or not they can be compensated for student teaching and specific qualifications related to cooperating teachers, on site mentors, and administrator responsible for teacher evaluation. In addition, we recommend a well-defined option that includes a sequence of coursework and practicum experiences for elementary education teachers and teacher candidates to add a subsequent endorsement in early childhood education to a PEL with an endorsement in elementary education. We strongly advise against a short-sighted solution of reconfiguring grade bans to include K in the elementary licensure. Including K exclusively in the early childhood licensure represents a decision by multiple stakeholders and ISBE to put the learning and developmental needs of young children ahead of administrative ease of building staffing. We are eager to work with ISBE and other stakeholders to continue our efforts in competency based solutions and improved transfer and articulation initiative pathways that focus on supporting our incredibly diverse incumbent early childhood workforce as well as viable options for elementary education teachers to add an early childhood endorsement.

Create a new paradigm for teacher and program evaluation.

We believe that evaluation systems that focus on student outcomes, particularly as measured by standardized tests are problematic at every level—but especially in early childhood education. Development and learning for young children is both uneven and sporadic. Additionally, we know that children come to school with a variety of strengths and experiences that do not create a level playing field when evaluating their progress. For example, not all children have access to high quality food, housing, community and family resources, school resources etc. Appropriate assessment of what young children know and can do must should be done through observation and in authentic contents only. As a result, we lack the measurable evidence that can we attributed to either the teacher or the licensure program a teacher completed. Teacher and program evaluation should instead be focused on improvement and support. We recommend removing all references to student outcomes from both early childhood teacher and early childhood preparation program data collection, monitoring and evaluations.


Rebecca Pruitt-President

Catherine Main- Past President

Kathleen Sheridan- Past President and Secretary

[1] Main, C., Yarbrough, K.W. & Patten, B. (2018). Voices from the front lines of early learning: 2017 Illinois early childhood workforce survey report. Chicago, IL: UIC College of Education. Retrieved from

[2] Author’s calculations using data from ISBE Educator Supply and Demand in Illinois—2014 Annual Report. Retrieved from and ISBE Educator Supply and Demand in Illinois—2017 Annual Report. Retrieved from

[3] Latino Policy Forum calculations from ISBE data. Retrieved from

[4] Egalite, A. & Kisada, B. (2017) The Effects of Teacher Match on Students’ Academic Perceptions and Attitudes. Retrieved from

[5] Kini, T., & Podolsky, A. Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness? A Review of the Research (Palo Alto: Learning Policy Institute, 2016). Retrieved from: does-teaching-experience-increase-teacher-effectiveness-review-research.

Catherine Main is a senior lecturer and program coordinator in the College of Education and a visiting scholar on the Early Investments Initiative with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs (IGPA) at the University of Illinois- Chicago.