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Mission: Early Childhood Programs
Guided by the Professional Standards of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the following qualities describe the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of a graduate of Park University’s early childhood programs.
1. Child Development
A Park University graduate:
Appreciates each child as a human being, understands how each child engages with the world, and supports each child as she creates knowledge in and about the world. The teacher believes in the capability of each child, valuing the rich contributions of culture, and understanding that each child and family brings hopes, dreams, and experiences to learning encounters. To do this, the teacher observes the development of each child with respect for the wide variation in cultural, biological, and environmental influences that shape children’s development; appreciates the active role the child plays in her own development; understands differences in values and beliefs about childhood; values multiple ways of learning and making meaning; and respects the “here and now” of each child’s life, as well as the right of each child to become a valued member of a democratic society.
2. Family and Community Relationships
A Park University graduate:
Appreciates that each child engages as a learner supported by the unique values and beliefs of her family and community. To support this, the teacher is engaged with the child’s community, seeks to discover the “funds of knowledge” that each family provides for the child, and understands the family’s hopes and dreams for their child. The teacher also appreciates the complexity of child rearing, and has the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to be a supportive partner in reaching each family’s goals for their child. In order to empower families, the teacher is an active, non-judgmental listener; knows and uses community resources; and involves families in goal-setting and shared problem solving.
3. Observing and Assessing to Support Child Learning
A Park University graduate:
Understands that each child deserves a teacher who observes and works closely by the child’s side, seeking to understand the child’s thinking, theories, and questions, and appreciating the child’s unique potential to construct knowledge of the world. To do this, the teacher observes, documents, reflects, and plans with attention and respect for each child’s constantly evolving capabilities. The teacher also invites families and children to share in observing, documenting, and setting goals. When the teacher is unable to provide all that a child needs to flourish as a learner, the teacher knows how to work with the family and other professionals to ensure that the child’s potential is fulfilled.
4. Teaching and Learning
A Park University graduate:
Creates vibrant learning environments that invite each child to feel the “full intrigue of learning” (Gartrell, 2003): to inquire, explore, pose questions, take risks, seek understanding, build theories, collaborate with others to test theories, reflect on their learning journey, and engage whole-heartedly in their social and intellectual world. To do this, the teacher understands the central concepts and approaches that each discipline – mathematics, literature, science, history, geography, civics, art, music, and drama - brings to examining and making sense of the world, and invites children to enter into the explorations and conversations provoked by each discipline in ways that allow each child to participate fully and meaningfully. The teacher also understands that a healthy social and emotional climate supports both the intellectual spirit and the ethical thinking of the child. The teacher builds an encouraging community where children learn how to respect others and be respected; participate in shared decision-making; and learn to trust, care, find joy in belonging, and in being and learning with others.
A Park University graduate:
Participates wholeheartedly as a member of a profession with a rich history of respecting children, families, and colleagues. To do this, the teacher draws upon the contributions of pioneers in the field; examines the social, political, and economic forces that continue to shape the profession; acts with an understanding of the ethical and moral dimensions of teaching; and commits her/his professional life to creating a better world. The teacher understands that this vision of education requires a healthy intellectual and emotional spirit that provokes a continuing desire to learn, to question, and to challenge the status quo. Guided by an enduring commitment to social justice, the teacher continually seeks to work with others to ensure that all children and families are able to fulfill their aspirations, and that education becomes a tool for a just, equitable society.
The graduate of the Early Childhood Education and Leadership degree specializes in working with children birth-age five, and in addition to the teaching and learning knowledge shared with graduates of the early childhood certification degree, serves as a visionary leader for program planning, development, and evaluation; secures financial resources and implements sound fiscal management practices; carefully selects and nurtures teachers and support staff; designs and evaluates professional development opportunities; and keeps abreast of relevant policies and research, initiating changes in practice as necessary .
The graduate of the Master of Education with an emphasis in Early Childhood demonstrates all these qualities of the teacher certification student to a high degree, and in addition, the graduate guides and mentors others. The graduate student’s elaborated knowledge of curriculum and literacy, as well as the professional tools of teacher research, collaboration, shared reflection, cultural competence, and advocacy -- developed through the cohort design of the program -- prepare graduates to assume a leadership role in their own schools, programs, and districts, as well as contribute to teacher preparation and professional development in the community.
Our program is built upon the theoretical perspective that children grow and learn within distinctive, dynamic settings where the values, beliefs, practices, institutions, and material culture shape the desires and goals families have for their children (Rogoff, 2003). Additionally, the position of the child’s family or culture relative to the dominant culture influences the perspectives and the opportunities afforded to the child (Coll, et al., 1996; Ogbu & Simmons, 1998). Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979) helps us conceptualize the multiple contexts of the child’s world, and the interaction that occurs among these contexts. We appreciate that a child takes an active role in her own development, and Erikson (1950) defines the challenges for the child -- as she enters multiple social and cultural worlds -- of forming a healthy identity, developing trusting relationships, and being valued for her initiative and industry in exploring, inquiring, and constructing knowledge of the world. Moll and Amanti (1992) further elaborate on this strand of our framework by proposing that when the unique “funds of knowledge” that the child’s family provides are valued by the teacher, the child is able to create a healthy identity as a valued member of her own culture, and as a member of the school’s learning community.
The process of constructing knowledge within a particular cultural context is best conceptualized by Lev Vygotsky’s (1978) proposition that development is the outcome of learning in the company of more experienced members of a culture who provide meaningful and relevant scaffolding for the child’s performance, understanding, or theory building. Vygotsky valued the highly social nature of learning, viewing the exchange of ideas, the posing of problems, and the testing of solutions as a fertile ground for the child to progress as a learner, or, as Vygotsky described it, for the child to “stand a head taller.” Howard Gardner’s exploration of human diversity expands our notion of “the child,” and guides us to appreciate and build upon the wondrous diversity of children and their many intelligences, and to connect the diverse ways that children make meaning and represent understandings to the larger world of scientists, musicians, writers, mathematicians, actors, naturalists, and thinkers. From this perspective, the teacher not only values multiple approaches to learning: the teacher builds upon questions encountered by the child to scaffold the discovery of general principles and ways of thinking of the specialized disciplines (Applebee, 1996; Bruner, 1963).
Making sense of the world is best conceptualized as a process of inquiry, and guided by John Dewey’s philosophy of education and experience (Dewey, 1938), the Park University early childhood programs are built upon a belief that the central concepts and tools of inquiry in the disciplines are best explored in an environment that provides compelling questions that take the children, teachers, families, and often community members, on a journey of shared investigation (Katz & Chard, 2000; Project Zero/Reggio Children, 2001). The Reggio Emilia approach casts Dewey’s ideas in a new light that helps us see teachers as researchers, as documenters of the learning process, and as authentic partners with families and children in creating the school as a vibrant community of learners (Forman & Fyfe, 1998). This approach allows teachers to document and plan for children as capable learners, deeply engaged in purposeful, integrated, challenging inquiry. The teachers of Reggio Emilia remind us that when children live and grow in this “amiable” environment, children develop a strong sense of belonging, wholeness, competence, well being, mutual respect, and see themselves as valued citizens of a democratic community (Malaguzzi, 1998).
Not only do we view teachers as intellectuals seeking constant growth through collaborative inquiry with children, families, and colleagues: we are also deeply committed to Martin Haberman’s (1995) vision of teachers as passionate advocates for all children, with high expectations for all children, and as tireless champions for the democratic dream that all children, most particularly children living in poverty, have the fundamental right to achieve their fullest potential in the company of caring teachers who act with a deep understanding of the ethical and moral dimensions of education.
Applebee, A. N. (1996). Curriculum as conversation. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Ayers, W. (2001). To teach: The journey of a teacher. NY: Teachers College Press.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Bruner, J. (1963). The process of education. NY: Vintage.
Coll, C. G., Lamberty, G., Jenkins, R., McAdoo, H. P., Crnic, K., Wasik, B. H., Garcia, H. V. (1996). An integrative model for the study of developmental competencies in minority children. Child Development, 67, 1891-1914.
Dewey, J. (1938). Experience & education. NY: Touchstone.
Erikson, E. (1950). Childhood and society. NY; Norton.
Forman, G., & Fyfe, B. (1998). Negotiated learning through design, documentation, and discourse. In C. Edwards, L. Gandini, & G. Forman (Eds.), the hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia approach – Advanced reflections. Westport, CT: Ablex Publishing, pp. 239-260.
Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. N: Basic Books.
Gartrell, D. (2003). A guidance approach for the encouraging classroom. NY: Thomson Delmar.
Haberman, M. (1995). Star teachers of children living in poverty. Kappa Delta Pi.
Katz, L. G., & Chard, S. C. (2000). Engaging children minds: The project approach. (2nd ed.) Stamford, CT: Ablex.
Malaguzzi, L. (1998). History, ideas, and basic philosophy: An interview with Lella Gandini. In C. Edwards, L. Gandini, & G. Forman (Eds.), The hundred languages of children: the Reggio approach – advanced reflections (2nd ed., pp.49-97). Greenwich, CT: Ablex.
Moll, L.C., Amanti, C., & Neff, D. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory into Practice, 31, 132-141.
Ogbu, J. U. & Simons, H. D. (1998). Voluntary and involuntary minorities: A cultural-ecological theory of school performance with some implications for education. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 29, 155-188.
Project Zero/Reggio Children. (2001). Making learning visible: Children as individual and group learners. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Rogoff, B. (2003). The cultural nature of human development. NY: Oxford University Press.
Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society. M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman (eds.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.