Using Virtual Reality to Prepare Teachers (Guest blogger: Dr. Anni Reinking)

In many teacher training programs, teacher candidates are placed with students in their first semester with minimal prior training. During these first experiences in classrooms, teacher candidates learn in the moment, which at times can be detrimental to students’ learning environment. As Portner (2005) suggests, teachers need added support during their induction year, and classroom management is cited as the primary area in which teacher candidates need support. One way to provide more training before entering a real classroom is through the use of a Virtual Learning Environment in teacher training.

What is a Virtual Learning Environment?

Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) provide experiential opportunities that are often available in other professional training fields, but have only recently entered the field of education. The research on VLEs to approximate teaching situations is emerging as an effective instructional technology that can provide current teachers more practical experiences incorporating evidence-based practices (Andreasen & Haciomeroglu, 2009).

Simulation in VLEs have existed in other disciplines for many years. For example, flight simulators make it possible for trainee pilots to learn how a plane will respond to their actions. However, learning in virtual learning environments is new to the field of education. This work is especially crucial to the early childhood workforce that has minimal availability to immediate feedback through a coaching lens and, in some areas, a lack of access to diverse classroom environments.

Why use a VLE to prepare teachers?

The use of the VLE provides a safe and low-stress environment for learning and refining best practices. It can also address early childhood teachers’ needs, as reported by Dieker, Hynes, Hughes, and Smith (2008), which found that teachers need experiences with students in classroom settings to practice strategies. Furthermore, the use of VLEs in the field of education is a new and innovative way for creating a feedback cycle that promotes adult learning and in the moment feedback, while not interrupting a real school day or classroom environment. Therefore, the literature associated to this research project spreads into three categories:

  1. Increasing the human capital of the early childhood workforce. Human capital refers to the skills, knowledge, and experiences early childhood teachers have, which ultimately influence the overall early childhood workforce. It has been found that teachers, including early childhood teachers, are the most important resource schools can provide students and families (Workman & Ullrich, 2017). However, in the state of Illinois it has been stated that many early childhood educators are not adequately prepared to be effective in adding the development of young children (White, Colaninno, Doll, & Lewandowski, 2017). Therefore, through coaching and VLEs early childhood teachers can be prepared and provided opportunities to expand their knowledge set while also practicing effective classroom strategies.
  2. Adult learning and feedback cycles. The knowledge of how adults learn and feedback cycles are important to the implementation of new skills (Knowles, 1950). Adults learn predominately through experiences that have immediate and applicable results. Additionally, feedback cycles allow adults, specifically early childhood teachers, to reflect on their performance in VLEs applying the After Action Review (ARR) (Parry, Pires, & Sparkes-Guber, 2007). ARR is a structured review for analyzing what happened, why it happened, and how it can be improved, with the goal of improving future performance.
  3. Using Virtual Learning Environments to provide training. There is minimal research focused on VLEs in the field of education and even less focusing on the early childhood workforce. While the research is minimal, there is research data within the last ten years focused on the overall use of VLEs with teachers and teacher candidates, specifically in elementary and higher grades.

Brief Summary of Pilot Research

In spring 2017, early childhood teacher candidates at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville participated in a Virtual Learning Environment. After co-planning and submitting a lesson plan from the teacher candidates, they participated in a VLE. During the lesson in the VLE other teacher candidates observed the simulation in order to provide feedback and to learn from the feedback provided from the professor.

After the entire experience, the teacher candidates were asked to reflect on their experiences in the VLE. On the survey a majority of the teacher candidates stated that the coaching and feedback were the most beneficial portions of the experience. The ability to stop, receive feedback, and implement the strategies immediately prepared the teacher candidates. Additionally, the teacher candidates reflected that the ability for the avatars to respond with correct and incorrect answers, as well as unexpected comments created a real-life situation that the teacher candidates could work through with peers and a faculty member readily available to provide feedback and coaching.

In summary, there have been great advancements in relevant technologies, virtual reality is currently under-utilized in educational training programs in spite of its potential impact (Dodd & Antonenko, 2012).


Andreasen, J. B. & Haciomeroglu, E. S. (2009). Teacher training in virtual environments. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education, Atlanta, GA.

Dieker, L., Hynes, M., Hughes, C.E., & Smith, E. (2008). Implications of mixed reality and simulation technologies on special education and teacher preparation. Focus on Exceptional Children, 40(6), 1-20.

Dodd, B., & Antonenko, P. (2012). Signaling in desktop virtual reality and online learning management systems: A review of recent literature. Computers and Education, 59, 1099-1108.

Knowles, M. S. (1950) Informal Adult Education, New York: Association Press. Guide for educators based on the writer’s experience as a programme organizer in the YMCA.

Parry C., Pires M., & Sparkes-Guber H. (2007, pp. 484-489). Action review cycle (ARC) and the after action review (AAR) meeting. In Holman P., Devane T., Cady S. The change handbook. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Portner, H. (2005). Success for New Teachers: Five reasons your school board should support induction and mentoring programs-plus three decisive actions you can take. American School Board Journal, 192(10), 30.

Richards, D. & Szilas, N. (2012). Challenging reality using techniques from interaction drama to support social simulations in virtual worlds. Proceedings of the 8th Australasian Conference on Interactive Entertainment: Playing the System.

White, B. R., Colaninno, C. E., Doll, M., & Lewandowski, H. (2017). Illinois early childhood innovation zones: A new model for state policy? (IERC 2017-1). Edwardsville, IL: Illinois Education Research Council at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

Workman, S., & Ullrich, R. (2017, February 13). Quality 101: Identifying the core components of a high-quality early childhood program. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.


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.


Professionalism, Race, and Early Childhood Education (Guest blogger: Leslie Layman)

Recently while teaching a professional development workshop on addressing challenging behaviors in young children, an African American student, tentatively raised her hand and said, “I know this isn’t the “correct” way to say this, but I feel like when I am talking to young children, I have to use my “white lady teacher voice” or I get in trouble.” Nods from other women of color across the room.

A similar sentiment came up in a class I was teaching about a week later, this time the student directly referenced professionalism and voiced that she felt she was being asked to talk and act white and that the children did not respond to her when she acted “professional.” She felt the children saw her behavior as false and did not take her requests seriously.

As a white woman who teaches many students of color and as I am currently teaching my college’s preparation for practicum course, these student experiences are weighing heavily on my heart and on my mind right now.

I feel strongly that I need to prepare my students with not only the knowledge but also the social skills they will need to be successful in the workforce; however, no one should go to work each day feeling that they have to act out an identity that is not their own in order to be accepted or successful. How do we strike a balance between making sure that students understand what is expected of them and respecting the culture that they bring into the classroom and the workplace?

In my practicum preparation course, I’ve been thinking a lot about the hidden curriculum and how to bring it out into the open. We’ve been creating shared definitions of obscure and academic terms from their readings, including a shared definition of what it means to be an excellent teacher, and a critical evaluation of the skills that the textbook says an excellent teacher needs.

I’ve also been trying harder to listen. Not just make eye contact and nod while I think about what we’ll do next or what to write on the whiteboard, but really and truly listen to students describe a shared experience that I cannot share with them. When I’ve finished listening, I work to validate that experience and then untangle what it means to the student. What am I missing? What are they thinking or feeling that might not be obvious to me?

I also have to think hard about myself. What am I bringing to the classroom that might reinforce this idea that professionalism is synonymous with whiteness and how can I change my behavior to better serve all of my students?

It’s not easy work, and it is probably work that all of us teachers of early childhood education students are doing. I think it helps to think about it, talk about it, wallow in the murkiness a bit so that we can try to come out on the other side. I recently reminded my students that my expectations for them are high; high because I believe in them, because they’ve already come this far without me, and high because serving children and families is serious work. I also reminded them that they are right where they should be, finding their voice and themselves in the work that they do.

Leslie Layman is Coordinator and Adjunct Faculty in the Child Development Program at Harry S Truman College. She is interested in all things access, equity, and play related.

Source: picture found at


Nature: It does a body – and brain – good (Guest blogger: Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood)

I teach a course titled Inquiry, Investigation, and Play in the Primary Years. A few weeks ago, we went outside to explore our campus and generate ideas for possible long term, outdoor investigations. I wanted our teacher candidates to consider possibilities for outdoor experiences with children in their placements and in their own classrooms when they graduate. They came up with ideas for mapping the area, creating field guides specific to this location, tracking weather or moisture levels in the soil, and studying everything from the Canada geese to the nearby prairie habitat. They thought of many interesting pathways for inquiry, but what intrigued me most was the conversation we had when we returned to the classroom.

I began talking about evidence researchers have been accumulating for several decades about the benefits of time spent outside on health and well-being. I shared the fact that several studies indicate that time in nature can reduce the symptoms of ADHD (as much as medication in some children) and increase focus and attention. A hand went up. A student shared that she was diagnosed with ADHD as a child and she and her parents discovered that she could reduce her medication when she played outside every day. She commented, “I still take medication, but I can tell when I need to get outside more. When I do, the symptoms settle down.”

I then shared other studies that indicate that time in nature improves the well-being of people experiencing anxiety and depression. Two more hands went up. A student talked about her struggles with depression and anxiety disorder, then said, “My doctor prescribed medication, but he also told me to spend time outside regularly. I can tell when I do and when I don’t. I feel better when I do.” The second student, who is on medication for anxiety disorder, discovered by chance that being outside helped. She moved to a new location that allows her to walk to campus and has been able to reduce her medication dose. She commented, “It works way better than a treadmill.” Other students began to share similar stories. It became apparent that roughly a fourth of the students in this class were on medications of some sort for mental health reasons. The number is likely higher as my estimate is based on those who shared their experiences in class. Obviously, not all students are comfortable with revealing such personal information.

I talked with them about my own experiences with a head injury. Several years ago, I developed post-concussion syndrome after being rear ended by a texting driver. For over a year, I was extremely sensitive to sensory overload. Visual clutter, sounds, bright lights, smells, and too many people were just the beginning of a long list of things that overwhelmed me. I felt, at times, like the cartoon thermometer about to blow. I discovered by chance that going outside made the thermometer immediately start to go down. For me, it didn’t even have to be a “nice outside.” Just standing in a parking lot helped. It’s a strategy I still use to manage residual symptoms.

There’s more!

  • Finnish researchers have discovered that spending just 5 hours a month in nature is enough to sustain benefits such as reduced anxiety and depression.
  • Extensive research in Japan and South Korea show that time in nature reduces high blood pressure and improves sleep.
  • Other research has shown that viewing pictures of nature, being around house plants, or having a “green” view out a window improve mood and focus.
  • Watching a nature video lowers blood pressure and cortisol levels in people who’ve been exposed to distressing photos within 4 – 7 minutes. Watching a video of people walking in a mall or of cars driving by had little effect.

Here is a link to a short article that summarizes some additional research findings:


Now what?

So what to do with this information? One student suggested that instead of just listening to an upset friend, they could listen and take a walk outside. We are fortunate to be on a campus with extensive woodland trails and gardens. They talked about reminding each other to go outside and walk a trail or sit by the pond when the stress of work and school gets to be too much. They came up with a variety of ideas for motivating themselves to get outside more, including Frisbie golf, washer toss, and giant Jenga (who knew?).

We then turned to their role as future teachers.

  • Armed with research to support the importance of time in nature, they can become advocates for green space around schools. In fact, one of the assignments for this class includes mapping their placement school grounds and determining a way to bring in more natural elements. They then write a mock letter to an organization that funds school projects for grant money for the improvement.
  • They can become advocates for adequate recess for children because they are aware of studies that show improved learning outcomes and better health for children who have time to play outside.
  • They can do outdoor projects and investigations throughout the year because they can explain the benefits to both families and administrators.

These teacher candidates now have some additional strategies for taking care of themselves and their friends. They are also more prepared to support the health and well-being of the children they will eventually teach.

And how about you?

Early childhood faculty in Illinois have experienced quite a bit of stress in recent years. You can use connections with nature to your advantage. You don’t have to travel far to experience benefits. Find a tree or a little patch of green and spend some time there. A visit to a park or wooded trail is even better. Remember – it can take just 5 hours a month to reap sustained benefits. Use some nature photos for your screen background. Keep a plant in your office. You will bring a bit of beauty and perhaps some well-deserved serenity into your life.

For current, detailed information on worldwide research about the impact of time in nature, check out The Nature Fix by Florence Williams at

Elizabeth Sherwood, Ed. D. is an associate professor in Early Childhood Education, Department of Teaching and Learning, at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Her interests include early childhood history, prekindergarten, nature and the young child, and science education in the early years. She is the co-author of numerous books in science education for early childhood teachers and was a consultant with ISBE for the development of Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards in science.

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