Training Pitt’s Early Childhood Preservice Teachers in Social Justice, Diversity, and Equity

by Dr. Anna Arlotta-Guerrero, Director of Pitt’s Early Childhood Preservice Teacher Education Program  We are so excited to begin investigating the preparation of pre-service teachers with Dr. Shannon Wanless and members of the SEED Lab at the University of Pittsburgh!  As the coordinator of the Combined Accelerated Studies in Education (CASE) program my charge is to develop opportunities for our students to learn from teaching experts, gain valuable field experiences and begin to reflect on their own teaching practice. CASE is a comprehensive Early Childhood teacher preparation program that culminates in a B.S. in Applied Developmental Psychology and a M.Ed. in Instruction and Learning.  Candidates prepare for Dual Certification in PK-4 Early Childhood and PK-8 Special Education.  The segment of the CASE program that I have always believed to have the most impact on our pre-service teachers, as well as on their future students, is the Social Justice, Diversity and Equity classes integrated into the curriculum.  Our CASE students take two culture and social foundations courses, learn Best Practices in teaching English Language Learners, participate in a global teaching course, as well as our new course, Attentional Teaching Practices (ATP), on mindfulness and perspective-taking.  Since students have four different practicum and student teaching experiences we make sure to place each member of our cohorts in classrooms in urban schools.  Many students spend three or four of their experiences in urban settings so as to be prepared for their job search after graduation.  We’ve believed for years that the above-mentioned classes and field experiences have been transformative for our students.  Now, we find that it is important for our own practice to study the design of the CASE program and understand more fully how the curriculum not only supports student learning, but prepares each student to have impact on the students that they will teach in an ever-changing diverse world.  In partnership with SEED lab doctoral student, Jennifer Briggs, we completed our first round of data collection in the fall of 2016. This data is intended to kick start our exploration of the impact the Social Justice, Diversity and Equity-related courses have on student learning. Specifically, we used pre and posttest measures to track students’ comfort in talking about issues related to race, cultural, and ethnicity, and their understanding of such topics in relation to student learning. In addition, we offered students the opportunity to share with us the most valuable proponents of the course, as well as areas they feel could be improved upon for future cohorts. We are eager to dig deeper into the 50+ student responses to both advance our understanding of the program’s influence and create more enriching learning opportunities. We look forward to continuously improving the CASE program so that Pitt can continue to prepare early childhood teachers who are ready to work with ALL children and families.  Click here to learn more about CASE.

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