As authors, we chose the subject for this book because of what early childhood teacher candidates told us about their confusion between the theory they were taught in college methods classes, and, the teaching practices they often experienced during the Practicum field placement. We became interested in this subject because the teacher candidates were questioning, as good teacher candidates do, a troubling disconnect between early childhood theory and associated practice in classrooms. We were motivated to write this book because we wanted to share our model of professional development, designed to support both pre-service teacher candidates and, in-service educators together, during the Practicum field placement. Our lead author secured a grant to investigate these concerns and to implement a new professional development model designed to overcome them. The substance of this book reminds all of us, that in early childhood education, educators’ change through professional development, for improved practice that benefits children’s learning, is a constant.
The idea to write this book began a year after the grant ended. We were not quite done with all that had been accomplished and wanted others in the early childhood field to learn about our professional development model, which we know is still highly relevant today. It has taken us approximately seven years to complete the book. We overcame many challenges during writing, not the least of which was distance. The lead author now lives in the United Kingdom while the other two authors live in the United States. Technology was extremely helpful throughout the writing process. Skype was the best way for us to “see” each other regularly and to work out differences and correct inconsistencies.
As friends and writers, we grew in our understanding of teacher candidates’ ability to ask questions that would lead them towards becoming better educators in the future. The Early Learning Community (ELC) used an Action Research model, that assists educators in using a wide variety of investigative, analytical and evaluative, research methods designed to diagnose problems or weaknesses in their classrooms — whether organizational, academic, or instructional—and help educators develop practical solutions to address them quickly and efficiently (https://www.edglossary.org/action-research/). Further, we incorporated into Action Research, collaboration between early childhood agencies, technology, literature, and conference presentations to bring about professional growth in teacher candidates in college, educators in practicum field placements, administrators in preschools and in ourselves, as college faculty members and community experts.
The structure of this book is organized into three parts. In Part I, the initial challenges that stimulated the idea of the ELC are described. An explanation of the stages in setting up the ELC is provided to guide our audience, should they choose to replicate this model. In Part II, six case studies that represent common teaching challenges experienced by teacher candidates during Practicum illustrate the ELC in action. In Part III, participants’ findings about the ELC, along with conclusions and recommendations for future early childhood professional development programs are made.
We acknowledge the scope of the ELC was limited in that it operated within a small rural area of NYS and in a restricted number of classrooms. As far as we know, the ELC has not been replicated elsewhere. However, the ELC does provide compelling evidence of educators’ improved teaching practice, achieved when agencies concerned with early childhood teacher preparation programs, collaborate across traditional boundaries.