Haring Center

August 19, 2020

Supporting the Early Learning Workforce in Inclusion

“The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us how important childcare is and how hard that work is day-in and day-out,” says Kathleen Artman Meeker, Haring Center director of research and associate professor for the University of Washington College of Education (CoE). “It is vital
that we provide opportunities for the early learning workforce to get the professional supports they need to be successful in their work.”

Artman Meeker is the principal investigator and faculty director for a project that seeks to enhance these supports for Washington’s early learning workforce. With assistance from a five-year grant from the federal Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs, the Haring Center is collaborating with CoE’s Cultivate Learning and EarlyEdU Alliance to engage community colleges in a curriculum redesign process. The goal of this process is to ensure early learning practitioners can best support children who have disabilities, are from diverse racial backgrounds and are dual language learners.

Currently, the Haring Center and CoE team is working with two partner colleges, North Seattle College and Columbia Basin College. Both community colleges offer Associate or Bachelor degrees in early childhood education.

“This project builds on the natural relationships between state universities and local colleges,” explains Artman Meeker. “This partnership is a chance for all of us to re-imagine what it takes to create truly inclusive early learning communities. At the UW, we’ve traditionally focused on preparing early childhood special education teachers at the Master’s degree level, but that only reaches a tiny fraction of the workforce. Our community college partners have been leading the early learning profession for decades. This is an amazing opportunity to learn from one another about how to ensure we serve each and every child, each and every day.”

Each partner college leads their own curriculum design with support from the UW team in process facilitation and resource sharing. Staff from the Haring Center and CoE hold regular meetings with each partner to guide them through their goals, activities and assessment mechanisms. The colleges also work with their own community partners to set
priorities for the redesign.

The Haring Center focuses on supporting the colleges in identifying different ways to represent children and families with disabilities throughout the curricula.

“We are coming at it from a preventive viewpoint,” says Artman Meeker. “We’re encouraging faculty to incorporate the everyday practices that have a high impact in making environments welcoming for all children into their curricula. There are little changes that help every child participate in a way that they can learn and grow and play and thrive.”

Colleges are thinking about all their courses with an inclusive lens, according to Artman Meeker. “It’s not just the exceptional children class — it’s across the literacy courses, the science courses, the art courses. Our partners are making sure that every child is represented in each of these.”

“This project is built on ensuring that the early learning workforce is thinking about practices to support children at the intersections of our communities,” says Artman Meeker. “It’s about providing this workforce with resources, ideas and strategies to support children in their own communities, but it’s also about ensuring higher education faculty
have the skills and resources to support a very diverse early learning workforce.”

Both partner institutions have specific equity goals built into their curriculum design plans. Artman Meeker notes that partners already offer early learning programs in language cohorts like Spanish, Somali and Russian, and are able to think inclusively about their curriculum on a variety of different levels.

“A component of this project is helping early learning faculty in continuous learning about accessibility,” says Artman Meeker. “We must be using good universal design principles in our teaching and materials, reflecting on bias and ensuring we create a reflective place for students to learn about their practices.”

Artman Meeker says that the UW team was encouraged by the partners’ commitment to the project in the face of the current pandemic. She notes both colleges are developing creative ways to address issues families of children with disabilities are facing, including challenges with access to services and increased stress.

“If anything, the pandemic has made more clear what all of our curriculum in higher education can and should be doing to support the early learning workforce in completely unpredictable times,” says Artman Meeker. “Our partners saw this as the right time to do this work.”

In addition to guiding partners on an individual basis, UW is shaping a network for colleges to exchange ideas and key learnings. The institutions participated in a virtual retreat this month, and moving forward will engage in monthly virtual discussions.

The Haring Center and CoE team is also developing a statewide resource library to which colleges can contribute materials. Partner institutions will also be able to share their curriculum redesign progress and strategies at academic conferences and within their communities.

“We are just one of these such projects across the country,” explains Artman Meeker. “We are coordinating as much as possible to learn what makes these partnerships and curriculum reimaginings successful.”

Artman Meeker says that by the end of this academic year, each partner institution will have completed revision of about five courses, and actually taught a subset of them. The UW team plans to administer surveys to measure the impact of the redesigned curricula.

“In the long-term, our hope is that this project leads to more inclusive early learning settings across the state,” says Artman Meeker. “As students and faculty see these practices in their coursework, they will see that they are indeed realistic. Early learning faculty and our future workforce will be committed to equity for each and every student, and to making sure that early learning settings are accessible, meaningful and enriching.”