Developing the intercultural competence of early childhood preservice teachers: preparing teachers for culturally diverse classrooms


Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 43:1, 105-126

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This research involved studies (called Research Design 1 and Research Design 2 below) conducted in two early childhood education (ECE) teacher preparation programs (called Program Design 1 and Program Design 2 below) focused on increasing preservice teachers’ intercultural competence as measured with the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI; Hammer, Bennett, & Wiseman, 2003b).
The use of the IDI as a research tool in these two early childhood teacher education programs is unique to these two programs and served as the impetus for comparing program design, implementation, and results in view of the various strategies each employed to increase intercultural competence of the preservice teachers.

The two studies compared in this paper were conducted at two different universities in their respective early childhood teacher education programs.
Although the two programs differed, the goal of each was to increase preservice teachers’ intercultural competence.
Used in both studies to measure intercultural sensitivity, the IDI (Hammer et al., 2003b) was theoretically based on the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) (Bennett, 1993).
The research question in this study was as follows:
Did the two programs increase preservice teachers’ intercultural competence as measured by the IDI, using a pre and posttest research design?
The Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) was used for the statistical analysis of the IDI scores; paired samples t-test gave individual and composite results.

Program design 1: undergraduate ECE program with five semesters of concerted internationalized curriculum and diverse field experiences

Participants in Program Design 1 constituted a cohort of 43 women, who were early childhood preservice teachers, 42 of whom were White and one of whom was African American; they ranged in age from 20 to 25.
In Program Design 1 the ECE teacher education program was part of a large public teaching and research university in the U.S. Midwest.
The program was nationally recognized by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation; in addition, the university was authorized to award the International Baccalaureate Educator Certificate in Teaching and Learning to preservice teachers.
After completing university requirements, students entered a five-semester early childhood program with coursework that included a foundation in children, families, communities, curriculum, content, and methods; field and student teaching experiences for the ECE students occurred both in preschool and primary grades for five different semester placements for approximately 1,400 hours.

Rationale for program and research design 1
Following educational curricular modifications by the faculty, the earlier social justice focus of Program Design 1 was expanded to include a global focus.
Faculty members wondered whether their expanded and enacted revisions had affected the preservice teachers, so the IDI was chosen as a pre and post assessment to measure intercultural competence.
Theory was intentionally woven into practice throughout the five semesters of concurrent course and field work with a special cognizance of international mindedness (e.g., readings by cultural representatives as opposed to Westerners’ studies, discussions, and assignments about diversity).
All preservice teachers took the IDI at the beginning of the five-semester ECE program to learn about themselves in relation to a variety of cultural factors.
The preservice teachers learned their individual results and participated in an IDI presentation on intercultural elements and interpretation of the IDI.
In view of the individualized results and the new information acquired to understand those results, each student wrote a two-page reflection paper on her strengths and challenges and identified personal or professional goals for self assessment throughout the remainder of her teacher education program.
The preservice teachers who opted to participate in Research Design 1 took the IDI again at the end of their focused five-semester early childhood teacher education program.

Program design 2: eight-month program with a college course and international field experience

The participants in Program Design 2 were nine preservice teachers, comprising seven White middle-class women and two White middle-class men, ranging in age from 20 to 31 years.
The preservice teachers were enrolled in a predominantly White rural university in the Rocky Mountains region of the US.
Each preservice teacher was required to formally apply to the Early Childhood Education International Field Experience program (i.e., ECE coursework along with a field experience at an early care and education center in Nepal).
The goal was to have students complete their ECE student-teaching internship in another country (in this instance Kathmandu, Nepal).
The application process included a written essay telling why the preservice teacher wanted to take part in the program followed by a 30-minute interview with the course instructor. An initiative in the College of Education to find student-teaching placements exposed preservice teachers to young children, families, and teachers from communities of cultural diversity.
Nepal was selected as the country for the international field experience because of the professional connections between the university, the course instructor, and the researcher:
A memorandum of understanding involving a local university in Kathmandu and the university at which the course instructor was employed was in place.

Rationale for program and research design 2
A mixed method research design was used to determine the effectiveness of an eight-month program, consisting of a college coursework concluding with a four-week international field experience in Kathmandu, Nepal, on the nine preservice teacher’s levels of intercultural competence (Creswell, 2015).
Data collection took place from December 2017 to August 2018 with a four-week trip to Kathmandu, Nepal from May to June 2018.
The actual student-teaching internship consisted of three weeks of full-time work in an early childhood classroom.
The additional week in Nepal included cultural tours of Kathmandu and travel to other regions of the country.
The addition of the IDI as an instructional tool and pre‒post measure was done to add validity and rigor to the program and research design (Smolcic & Katunich, 2017).
Prior to any program activities the nine students completed the IDI pretest, followed by an individual debriefing about the IDI scores with each preservice teacher (Hammer, 2012). The IDI posttest was administered four to six weeks after completing the student teaching internship in Nepal, followed by an individual debriefing session with each preservice teacher.

Teaching for intercultural competence can begin with teacher educators’ influence on preservice teachers.
The comprehensive nature of these experiences along with reflective encounters guided by knowledgeable cultural mentors seems to be essential for effective culture learning to occur, but this change will take time and is more developmental or evolutionary in nature than it is revolutionary.
These two studies demonstrate ways in which the IDI can be used as a methodological and conceptual framework in ECE teacher education programs focused on preparing interculturally competent teachers.
Implementing intercultural competency goals in their teacher education programs must fit the context and goals of the program as each of the programs in this paper illuminated.
Various qualitative approaches that can be used to increase the intercultural competence of preservice teachers can be incorporated into on-going efforts.
At the same time quantitative measure can help challenge assumptions about intercultural competence, those of both students and their instructors.
The quantitative measure of the IDI informed the researchers that exposure and best efforts do not mean changes will necessarily occur.
Despite enrollment in well-intentioned programs, the IDI scores of individuals in the Program Designs 1 and 2 could decrease.
Developing intercultural competence takes much more than individualized language learning, cultural knowledge, and increased cultural contact.
The IDI can be a useful tool to help develop insight into where preservice teachers, in-service mentors, teacher education faculty members, schools, or departments stand and where graduates emerge in terms of their intercultural sensitivity.
Intentionality of experiences, mentors, and critical reflection are important elements to consider.
In addition, the IDI can be used to guide the teaching of culture by mapping intercultural learning across the curriculum to guide further revisions intended to promote increased intercultural competence (Cushner, 2014).
Finally, the authors acknowledge that although the challenges are substantial, these two programs – one employing a concerted, reiterative process over five semesters and the other an eight-month process with an intensive international field experience – focused effort on increasing preservice teachers’ intercultural competence, fostered intercultural growth for some students, and increased faculty knowledge in the process.
Modifications to beliefs and practices are not easily incorporated, but this research provides a sense of hopefulness surrounding these preservice teachers and the intercultural sensitivities they may bring to their future classrooms.

Bennett, M. (1993). Toward ethnorelativism: A developmental model of intercultural sensitivity. In R. M. Paige (Ed.), Education for the intercultural experience (pp. 21‒71). Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.
Creswell, J. (2015). A concise introduction to mixed methods research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Cushner, K. (2014). Strategies for enhancing intercultural competence across the teacher education curriculum. In J. Phillion, S. Sharma, & J. Rahatzad (Eds.), Internationalizing teacher education for social justice: Theory, research, and practice(pp. 139–162). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.
Hammer, M. R. (2012). A resource guide for effectively using the intercultural development inventory (Rev ed.). Berlin, MD: IDI. 20Development%20Inventory%20 Resource%20Guide1.pdf
Hammer, M. R., Bennett, M. J., & Wiseman, R. (2003b). The intercultural development inventory: A measure of intercultural sensitivity. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 27(4), 421‒ 443.
Smolcic, E., & Katunich, J. (2017). Teachers crossing borders: A review into the research into cultural immersion field experience for teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 62, 47‒59. 

Updated: Jul. 12, 2022