Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, Volume 31, Issue 3, pages 207 – 221. (July 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
In early childhood education, teacher research has become an increasingly valued mode of inquiry and force of change in the field.
The goals of this teacher educator research study were two-folded:
(1) to examine the effectiveness of student-led teacher research as a vehicle for strengthening preservice teachers' preparation to form relationships with the families of infants and toddlers and
(2) to enhance preservice teachers' sense of professionalism and commitment to the field of early childhood education.
This project began as part of a junior-level early childhood education course/practicum in infant development and care taught by the first author at the satellite campus of a large research university in the midwestern United States.
Seven preservice teachers were enrolled in the infant-toddler course, and their ages ranged between 20 and 49 years. All were female, Caucasian, and on full scholarship to attend the program.
As part of the course, students engaged in teacher research to learn more about the perspectives of parents who have infants enrolled in center-based care. Students designed interview questions, completed research ethics training, and conducted 45-60 minute interviews with parents. The students wrote 2-3 page reflection papers detailing how they would apply the findings to their practice as teachers.
The following semester, the students worked together to qualitatively analyze the interview transcripts and identify themes in parents' responses.
As a final step in the project, the students completed a post-project survey distributed by the authors to assess how participation in the teacher research project had influenced their professional and personal growth.
Results suggested that the students experienced both personal and professional growth during the course of this teacher research project. Students reported gaining new insights about parent-provider relationships in infant care, strengthening interpersonal communication skills, and constructing a greater sense of professionalism, advocacy, and allegiance to the early childhood field.
The lessons learned during the course of the project have broader implications for the continued evolution of teacher preparation programs.
Fostering professional preparation in infant and toddler care
The content of this project focused on one aspect of professional preparation in this area—parent-provider partnerships in the care of children aged birth to 3 years.
It proved important to offer multiple experiences and modes of exploration for students since each of these experiences had a different impact on each student.
Fostering Professional Development and Commitment to the Field
The experiences that preservice teachers have in teacher preparation programs can be transformative in how they view themselves as teachers and whether or not they will view teaching as a job or a lifelong career. Therefore, it is of significance that several students who participated in the current project reported transformations in their professional identities and commitment to becoming teacher researchers and leaders in the field.
In this project, it proved important to build in opportunities for both personal and collaborative reflection.
While such projects are time consuming and have unpredictable outcomes, the results can be significant for students. It is important for teacher educators to practice what they teach and promote autonomy, decision making, risk taking, experiential learning, and advocacy if they want their preservice teachers to do the same when they are teachers.
The research shared here provides one example of the documentation of effective practices. Analysis of the students' reflections provided evidence that students can enhance their understanding of infant-toddler care when given opportunities to interact directly with families of infants and toddlers and are able to process these experiences over time through multiple forms of reflection. This project also demonstrated how students can grow professionally when they are provided with opportunities to be autonomous by guiding their own learning, advocating for others, and authentically participating in a professional context.