You may have noticed the increase in interest in early childhood education (ECE) programs on a national scale. Finally! The topics of child care and ECE have come up in election speeches, legislation, news articles, blogs, and social media on a regular basis. States are using Race to the Top and other funding, as well as adding early learning standards and quality improvement systems (QRIS), with many requiring programs to participate to receive funding. Early childhood educators are being required to go back to school and increase their education for Accreditation or QRIS systems.
The momentum is strong and the energy is high!
As a part of a national, online, higher education, early childhood teacher preparation program, I am challenged to support students from across the country as they implement 50 state-specific standards. At Rasmussen College, we are approached by each state to offer specific curriculum to meet that state’s standard or quality rating system—each being different and unique. Since we are a national program and serve students from almost all the states, it has become quite the challenge!
The goal of supporting all students regardless of their state of residence is important not just to the growth of our program, but also to the field and our work together for the betterment of all children. So, we created assessments throughout our courses so students would research their state specific standards and systems, bringing their state perspective to their work and to the course. Discussion forums, assessments, case studies, and group conversations contribute to the national discourse, allowing students to better understand and implement what they learn into their practice. Students can also experience other perspectives of a similar standard, thus broadening their viewpoints on ECE.
We have also carefully thought about how to provide experience with various program assessments and quality indicators, such as NAEYC Accreditation and CLASS. With each ECE program choosing their own quality assessments, being influenced by state standards, or seeking to verify different indicators, we chose to look at those with national recognition as a bridge. For us, this means looking at tools such as CLASS to offer a consistent message and support system for all students from all states with all standards on quality interactions and relationships with children and families. Quality interactions and relationships are the cornerstone of teacher and classroom quality. I believe that if this cornerstone is laid, all else will fall into place naturally for the both the teacher and child.
Focusing on interactions and relationships in a teacher preparation program can be an uphill battle when there are many other demands on our professors' and our students' time—like implementing curricula and assessments, meeting state requirements, and so on. But programs preparing students to become future educators need to look beyond just teaching about activities and dive deeper to build the cornerstone on more solid ground. If we know what is most important then we need to make sure other stakeholders do as well, especially our future teachers.
Early childhood education is changing quickly and we need to make sure we are looking beyond our immediate influence to that of the entire field to ensure that we build ECE as a field of practice for all children. For us in higher education, the ability to use national standards, quality indicators, and assessments is way for us to provide an opportunity for students to see beyond their borders and see children as children no matter where they or we reside.
Mary Muhs has worked in the Early Childhood Education field for over 27 years and earned a M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education Administration from National Louis University. Her experience includes teaching young children from birth through pre-kindergarten and leading in large and small for-profit and non-profit programs from Illinois to Ohio to Minnesota. Since joining Rasmussen College in 2010, her focus has been on mentoring, training and educating ECE professionals to motivate our youngest citizens. She is currently working on an Ed.D in Early Childhood Education through Walden University.
Many teachers will agree that their first year of teaching can be one of the most grueling, challenging, and stressful experiences for them as they take on the task of educating our youth. In my first year of teaching, I was not familiar with the CLASS tool and its impact in the classroom. I was not aware of the dimensions, indicators, and the tremendous power of interactions. Looking back, I recognize the many ways the CLASS tool was reflected in my classroom, but I also see the value in how familiarity with the CLASS tool could have benefitted my classroom. Although many external forces impacted my role as a high school Spanish teacher, the CLASS tool’s invaluable purpose could have made a profound impact on my first year teaching.
When I first heard that I was going to have to be observed and coached for my job, I was not thrilled by any means. I immediately thought, Great, someone is going to watch me and tell me how terrible I am. I sincerely thought it was going to be nothing but a negative experience.
I’ve been in the field of early childhood education for over 35 years and absolutely LOVE the CLASS tool. I wish I had CLASS during my years as a teacher and director of ECE programs. I am grateful to have the CLASS tool now to express my continual love for ECE and the importance of great teaching in the early years of children's lives.
Just as Alice is about to fall through the looking glass into an unknown world, a new cohort of teachers are about to walk across their academic stage into the unknown world of their own classroom. Is it too late to evaluate their readiness to transform their enthusiasm for education practice and principles to the day-to-day challenges presented by a diverse group of young learners? Or, is it more appropriate to ask, what is needed to move these successful students from the safety and familiar halls of higher education to the unfamiliar classroom in the ever-changing arena of education?