Preparation experiences of pre-service inclusive preschool teachers: a qualitative metasynthesis


Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 43:2, 307-326

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In an effort to better understand the experiences of pre-service teachers (PSTs) as they prepare to teach in early childhood inclusive preschool settings, qualitative studies on this topic can be examined, synthesized, and interpreted to support the continued improvement of early childhood teacher preparation program experiences.
Qualitative methods allow for understanding the lived experiences of participants (Brantlinger, Jimenez, Klingner, Pugach, & Richardson, 2005).
Each study that includes the experiences of PSTs preparing to teach in inclusive preschool settings provides the individual stories of pre-service teachers.
What is missing from this body of work is a synthesis of these lived experiences.
Such a synthesis can be used to inform teacher preparation practices broadly.
Hence, a metasynthesis was conducted to examine studies with qualitative data reporting PSTs’ experiences in inclusive preschool settings.
The authors sought to answer the following research questions: What preparation experiences impact PSTs’ dispositions and confidence in regard to inclusive preschool? What strategies do PSTs identify that support inclusion in preschool settings? What benefits and challenges are noted by PSTs related to inclusive preschool settings?

A metasynthesis is a qualitative approach to research involving the summarization, comparison and combination, and lastly, interpretation of primary findings of qualitative studies on a specific topic within a particular context (Major & Savin-Baden, 2010).
It is important to note that a goal and benefit of qualitative metasynthesis is providing answers and advancing theory from a range of research without sacrificing the relevance of individual studies (Major & Savin-Baden, 2010).
A rigorous and systematic process was employed following steps outlined by Major and Savin-Baden (2010) to identify and collect qualitative studies, extract and analyze data, and generate theory that provides a better understanding of the experiences of PSTs placed in inclusive preschool settings.
Included studies
The final set of 11 studies included in this metasynthesis were peer-reviewed studies that took place in the U.S., provided qualitative data, studied the inclusive preschool context, and included data from PST participants experiences within inclusive preschool placements.
The included studies span two decades, represent 21 researchers exploring the experiences of 235 PSTs placed in inclusive preschool classrooms across 15 university programs.
The first author extracted study characteristics and the second author checked all extraction for accuracy and any disagreements were discussed until consensus was reached.

Findings and Discussion
The purpose of this metasynthesis was to broaden the early childhood education field’s understanding of PSTs’ preparation experiences as they relate to inclusive preschool classrooms through the examination of published qualitative studies.
Two relationships (i.e., third-order interpretations) arrived through the process of interpretation of primary themes that represent the influence of preschool inclusion preparation experiences.
First, synthesizing these findings revealed that preparation experiences can expose PSTs to strategies to support inclusion and also lead them to recognize the benefits and challenges of inclusion.
Second, PSTs’ preparation experiences may result in increased positive dispositions and confidence toward preschool inclusion.
These relationships are presented along with recommendations for PST early childhood preparation programs, limitations of the current study, and conclusions and future research directions.


Experiences lead to positive dispositions and increased confidence
Findings from this metasynthesis provide increased understanding related to how PST experiences in inclusive preschool settings lead to positive dispositions and increased confidence in serving in inclusive settings. PST within the included studies were provided with coursework and placements that influenced their perceptions of inclusion.
PST noted the positive changes these preparation experiences had on their appreciation for diversity, confidence, and overall understanding of inclusion.

Exposure to strategies and recognition of benefits and challenges
This metasynthesis also highlights the importance of PST exposure to strategies that will support all children in inclusive settings.
Specifically, PSTs noted the use of interventions, differentiation, assessment, as well as the need for resources, professional development, and family involvement as influencing their ability to recognize the benefits and challenges of including children with disabilities in preschool settings.
The importance of exposure to strategies that support children with special needs cannot be understated and has been recognized by professional organizations (DEC, 2014; NAEYC, 2009).
As PSTs learn about effective strategies, they can understand how the strategies might be best used to support all children and gain competence in implementing them in the classroom.

Recommendations for Teacher Preparation Programs
Given that preschool classrooms are becoming more diverse and teachers are responsible for meeting the needs of all children, programs need to specifically prepare PSTs for preschool inclusion, which involves blending early childhood and special education pedagogies.
Programs that prepare general educators and special educators separately often provide different sets of skills through following different national preparation standards.
By following the DEC, CEC, and NAEYC Initial Standards Alignment approved by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), teacher preparation programs can develop a blended program, which could lead to more effective pedagogy that better prepares PSTs for inclusive settings.
This alignment guides developing coursework and experiences that account for early childhood general and special education standards.
Further, teacher preparation programs are urged to closely examine the pedagogical knowledge and related placement experiences that will support PSTs in inclusive classroom teaching.
Experiences that support the preparation of PSTs for inclusive teaching include coursework that teach evidence-based inclusive practices and intentional placements focused on inclusion.
Not only should teacher preparation programs require coursework that would provide PSTs with instruction on evidence-based practices for effectively working with children with disabilities in inclusive classrooms, but programs should also connect these courses with opportunities for application within inclusive classroom settings.
PSTs within the reviewed studies noted a need for experiences with assessment and strategies for intervention and differentiation.
In addition to ensuring adequate preparation of PSTs to effectively teach all learners in an inclusive classroom, accredited teacher preparation programs must also ensure PSTs hold positive dispositions toward inclusion and feel confident in their abilities (NCATE, 2008).
To assess the impact of the experiences provided within the teacher preparation program on PSTs’ dispositions and confidence, exit interviews, or surveys at graduation as well as conversations with recent graduates are recommended.
To further enhance preschool inclusion preparation experiences, mentor teachers should be of high quality and have the ability to expertly model evidence-based inclusive practices for PSTs.
Although not a predominant finding of this study, prior research supports the importance of quality mentor teachers and placements in model inclusion classrooms (e.g., Rakap, 2017; Stites et al., 2021).
Teacher preparation programs could target research–practice partnerships to focus on preschool inclusion and create meaningful experiences for PSTs as well as support the continuous improvement of the partnering educational setting.

Brantlinger, E., Jimenez, R., Klingner, J., Pugach, M., & Richardson, V. (2005). Qualitative studies in special education. Exceptional Children, 71(2), 195–207.
Division for Early Childhood. (2014). DEC recommended practices in early intervention/early childhood special education 2014. Retrieved from
Major, C., & Savin-Baden, M. (2010). An introduction to qualitative research synthesis: Managing the information explosion in social science research. New York, NY: Routledge.
National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2009). NAEYC standards for initial and advanced early childhood professional preparation programs. Washington, DC: Author.
National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. (2008). Professional standards for the accreditation of teacher preparation institutions. ERIC Clearinghouse. Retrieved from
Rakap, S. (2017). Impact of coaching on preservice teachers’ use of embedded instruction in inclusive preschool classrooms. Journal of Teacher Education, 68(2), 125–139.
Stites, M. L., Walter, H. L., & Krikorian, J. G. (2021). These aren’t the kids I signed up for: The lived experience of general education, early childhood preservice teachers in classrooms for children with special needs. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 42(1), 1–19.

Updated: Jul. 25, 2022