New higher ed track at International Early Childhood Inclusion Institute a success
For more than two decades, the International Early Childhood Inclusion Institute, hosted by the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG), has offered educational opportunities for those involved in the care and education of young children with disabilities in inclusive settings. During the three-day May 2023 event, organizers collaborated with FPG’s Supporting Change and Reform in Pre-Service Teaching in North Carolina (SCRIPT-NC)—which works with faculty at North Carolina community colleges to better prepare early childhood educators to meet the diverse needs of children—to offer a new higher education track for faculty at two-year and four-year colleges. This began with a pre-Institute workshop, “Preparing Educators Who Can Foster Inclusion: Building a Repertoire of Effective Practices Across College Courses and Ongoing Professional Development.”
Throughout the conference, sessions aimed at higher education faculty were included in each time slot, focusing on innovative methods, models, and materials for increasing the emphasis on inclusion in courses and in other professional development efforts. These sessions—which emphasized practice-based approaches to activities, assignments, and instructional practices—covered topics including: “Building the Capacity of Future Educators to Individualize;” “Promoting High-Quality Inclusion in Early Childhood Coursework and Field Experiences;” and “Inclusion 2.0: Diversity, Equity, AND Inclusion.”
The sessions provided both content and effective instructional strategies for early childhood faculty members as well as technical assistance providers who offer ongoing professional development for early childhood educators. SCRIPT-NC also provided full scholarships for seven community college faculty from North Carolina to attend the Institute and an additional 10 full scholarships to attendees at the pre-Institute workshop.
FPG Senior Technical Assistance Specialist Camille Catlett, MA, one of the organizers of these sessions, says they emphasized that when a child has a disability, that is just one component of that individual. A guiding principle imparted is that, as evidence shows, when inclusion is done well, there are benefits for children with and without disabilities. She and her colleagues also set out to create a safe space where attendees could practice the skills they learned.
“For early childhood faculty to prepare their students to support children with disabilities, that knowledge needs to be integrated consistently into both coursework and field experiences,” says Catlett. “By crafting this multi-session track, with hand-picked experts in the field, we provided professional development tailored to the needs of faculty members.” On the last day of the Institute, the higher education track members shared lessons learned, in a session dedicated to reflection. Catlett credits the leadership of FPG Senior Technical Assistance Specialist Chih-Ing Lim, PhD, principal investigator for SCRIPT-NC, and Tracey West, PhD, an education consultant at FPG who previously lead SCRIPT-NC, for the success of the event.
“Providing professional learning opportunities for community college educators is key to making an impact on personnel who will teach young children,” states Lim. “Those schools are the first point of contact, whether students are studying for their associate degree, or they are practitioners taking classes for a credential.”
Lim says that the new track is critically important. “Providing professional learning opportunities for community college educators is key to making an impact on personnel who will teach young children,” states Lim. “Those schools are the first point of contact, whether students are studying for their associate degree, or they are practitioners taking classes for a credential.”
Participants’ feedback shows the impact the Institute had on early childhood education programs at diverse post-secondary educational institutions. Christy Hopkins, an instructor in the early childhood department at Stanly Community College, who also serves as an advisor, mentor, and practicum coordinator, appreciates being a recipient of the SCRIPT-NC grant to attend gratis. “Attending the Inclusion Institute is something I look forward to each year, but unfortunately is something that as an individual, I am unable to afford, or due to work budgetary restraints, am not approved to attend,” she shared.
She was grateful for the track created to support higher education faculty. “Each day was packed with resources, networking, and time for sharing ideas,” says Hopkins. “The brainstorming sessions allowed participants the opportunity to hear from other international colleagues about their programs and learning experiences that they have used and found to be successful in student learning outcomes.” She notes that the session handouts were a “treasure trove” of resources to take back and implement within her courses.
“As an educator, you strive to stay current in what you teach; however, there is often not a lot of time for research or searching for helpful resources to support the diverse learning needs of all students,” adds Hopkins. “The grant provided very applicable resources and information that can easily be added to coursework to increase the understanding and implication of inclusion. Armed with these wonderful tools, I returned from the Inclusion Institute rejuvenated and ready to revitalize my courses…All of this great collaboration will result in stronger inclusive, supportive settings that value each child’s individual uniqueness and learning skills by providing high-quality educational coursework. I am so thankful for the opportunity and highly recommend that others attend the Inclusion Institute in the upcoming years.”
The impact of this event was not limited to North Carolina. Tammra L. Houseman, coordinator and lead instructor for the Early Childhood Education Program at Bay College in Michigan, says that her faculty members benefited greatly from traveling as a team to the Inclusion Institute. “The sessions were well developed and organized to empower,” she says. “Access to electronic documents and a rich variety of sessions geared toward higher education enabled us to make the best use of our time there, individually and as a team.”
She says her team formulated a plan of action that went beyond their program to extend to community partners and family partnerships. While the group had already been working to enhance coursework to explicitly embed critical elements for working with young children who have diverse abilities and learning needs, the Institute expanded their vision for what was needed in their program to a focus on systemic needs and toward the development of an inclusive community design.
“The resources we gained during our time at the Institute provided us with a lens through which to examine our current practices and processes and a framework on which to build,” says Tammra L. Houseman. “I am thankful for this steadfast investment in the professional growth of higher ed teacher educators.”
Since leaving the institute, the group has also met with local organizations—including Great Start to Quality, United Way, Head Start, early childhood special education, and home visiting partners—to begin discussions around high-quality inclusive practices and Universal Design for Learning. “The resources we gained during our time at the Institute provided us with a lens through which to examine our current practices and processes and a framework on which to build,” says Houseman. “I am thankful for this steadfast investment in the professional growth of higher ed teacher educators.”