Re-envisioning the Role of Universities in Early Childhood Teacher Education: Community Partnerships for 21st-Century Learning

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Published: 
Aug. 01, 2014

Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 35:226–243, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors present a framework for collaborative, field-based early childhood teacher preparation, situating birth-though-grade-12 teacher education in diverse community contexts and involving school and community personnel to achieve universal 21st-century goals for the teaching and learning of young children.
They begin by outlining contemporary demands for teachers and framing the context of early childhood and teacher education.

The Changing Context for Teacher Education
In 2010, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) outlined a set of 21st-century skills to prepare students for the complexities of life and work environments. Among the skills recognized as universal across the developmental continuum are critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity/innovation.

Based on the array of critical competencies for 21st-century skills, scholars at the AACTE (2010) go on to identify the features that exemplary institutions must address in order to demonstrate that their graduates are prepared with the knowledge and skills necessary to meet the needs of 21st-century learners.
These include:
(a) producing evidence that teacher candidates have a positive effect on students’ learning; (b) preparation in differentiated instruction for all children, especially those most at risk for school failure: children with disabilities, English language learners (ELLs), and children from low-income homes;
(c) extensive, in-depth clinical experiences with mentoring support;
(d) practice in creating instruction aligned with curriculum standards, interpreting assessment results, and responding to students’ learning needs; and
(e) demonstration of cultivating a passion for teaching and learning that will support students for a lifetime and enhance educator resiliency.
Developing a Framework for Collaborative Teacher Preparation
programs must bridge the gap between preparation and practice through
(a) robust, coherent, and interdisciplinary curricula that emphasize inquiry approaches to learning,
(b) performance assessment of candidates’ practice in meaningfully embedded field experiences, and
(c) an overall structure grounded in strong university–school partnerships.

Re-envisioning Teacher Education for All Teachers
Teaching, Learning, and Leading with Schools and Communities (TLLSC) is the collective work of the Loyola University Chicago faculty in teacher preparation, working alongside students, community agency staff, and partners in B–12 education, motivated by a desire to redesign contextually responsive teacher preparation around 21st-century competencies rather than attempting to integrate these competencies into an existing traditional framework.
TLLSC resides in the intersection of early childhood and teacher education and resulted from collaboration among faculty and community stakeholders in both areas. All teacher candidates preparing to teach in B–12 settings follow a universal continuum in the redesigned program.

Points of Collaboration Across Preparation Programs
Early childhood and K–12 teacher education must aim for collaborative reflection and innovative planning, and responsive programming.
To begin the collective conversation, teacher preparation faculty examined existing areas of overlap and alignment across B–12 teacher education.
During the TLLSC design process, three conclusions emerged that paved the way for and sustained deeper collaboration over time.
A. Collaborative frameworks must allow for meaningful contributions from teacher education faculty at every level.
B. Acknowledgement of efforts in the field of early childhood to specifically address 21st-century competencies provides a context for exploring overlap.
C. Core principles unique to early childhood teacher education can positively influence all teacher candidates.

Three key decisions within the redesign process had implications for exploring the intersections of early childhood, elementary, and secondary teacher preparation.
First, the universal decision to eliminate university-based courses as the primary mode of instructional delivery had profound implications for the theory-to-practice gap.
Next, a key feature of the redesign included exposure to a wide variety of schools and community-based settings during candidates’ first three sequences.
Finally, a universal field-based learning module emerged from these discussions; in this module, candidates link learning developmental, and language theories to practice through a series of experiences at each developmental level with diverse children.

Conclusions

The authors conclude that effective early childhood teacher education must be firmly grounded in the established theories and standards of early childhood education, but also well-positioned to meet the needs of diverse young children and to adapt to a context of increased accountability and demographic shifts.

Four-year, undergraduate teacher preparation is essential for the preparation of fully credentialed and well-prepared educators who not only meet state professional preparation standards, but understand a wider range of development, communicate effectively with educators of children at other levels, share roles and responsibilities, and adapt to the expectations of the diverse settings in which young children are served.
Early childhood education remains a field that suffers from inconsistencies in certification and licensing requirements, as well as systemic issues such as marginalization and undercompensation of educators.
As a result, TLLSC serves not as the prototype for all early childhood teacher preparation, but an example illustrating the degree to which teacher educators may revisit and rethink their approaches to preparing teachers to meet these needs.

 

Reference
American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE). (2010). 21st century knowledge
and skills in educator preparation.

Updated: Feb. 17, 2016
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