College of Education

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Stephanie Sanders-Smith

Key Professional Appointments

  • Yew Chung – Bernard Spodek Scholar, Curriculum and Instruction, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
  • Associate Professor, Curriculum and Instruction, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Ph.D., Urban Systems, Rutgers University, 2011

M.A., Cultural and Educational Policy Studies, Loyola University Chicago, 2007

B.S., Early Childhood Education, Butler University, 2003

Awards, Honors, Associations

NAECTE/Taylor & Francis Outstanding Early Childhood Teacher Educator Award, National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators Foundation/Taylor and Francis, 2021

NAECTE Foundation Early Career Research Award, National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators Foundation, 2015

Research & Service

My research addresses ongoing conversations in the field of early childhood education about culturally sustaining practices in early education. I use sociological theoretical lenses to address questions about relationships between teachers and children and between teachers and families and how those relationships are affected by socio-cultural context and school philosophy. My research specifically targets relationships that can result in the recognition of rights and perspectives of children in educational experiences. My research focuses on two lines of inquiry. The first utilizes the work of both Bernstein and Dewey to examine teachers in schools employing philosophies of progressive early education, targeting how teachers support democratic relationships with children and support learning. My second line of inquiry uses a Bourdieusian lens to examine family engagement, targeting how teachers build non-hierarchical relationships with families, teacher dispositions for engagement, and barriers to relationships teachers and families encounter.


Bryan-Silva, K., Sanders-Smith, S. C., & Yang, S. Y. H. (2023). Globally Minded Preschoolers: Playful Investigation of the Interdependence Between Self, Others, and Society. Early Childhood Education Journal, 51(7), 1145-1155.  link >

Sanders-Smith, S. C., Olguín, A. A., & Bryan-Silva, K. (2023). Pushing Through: Developing Teacher Identity Under Times of Crisis. Journal of Teacher Education, 74(4), 359-370.  link >

Yang, S. Y. H., & Sanders-Smith, S. (2023). ‘Who Thinks this Teaspoon Is Art?’ A Discourse Analysis of Elementary School Students' Negotiation of Meaning During Art Museum Visits. International Journal of Art and Design Education, 42(3), 454-468.  link >

Negrette, G. M., Laixely, J., Cordoba, T. E., & Sanders-Smith, S. C. (2022). “So we start from zero”: Lessons and reflections from online preschool during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 20(4), 539-551.  link >

Sanders-Smith, S. C., Yang, S. Y. H., & Bryan-Silva, K. (2022). The Yew Chung Approach to Early Childhood Education: Centering Emergent Curriculum, Child-Led Inquiry, and Multilingualism. (Routledge Research in Early Childhood Education). Routledge.  link >

Sanders-Smith, S. C., Bryan-Silva, K., & Olguín, A. A. (2022). “You Learn From It Because You Have No Choice. And You Do It”: Teacher Candidates Adapting to Crisis. In O. Saracho (Ed.), Contemporary Perspectives on Research on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Early Childhood Education (pp. 213-229). (Contemporary Perspectives in Early Childhood Education). Information Age Publishing Inc..

Bryan-Silva, K., & Sanders-Smith, S. C. (2021). H is for hurricane, M is for Maria: Supporting literacy in Vieques. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy.  link >

Olguín, A. A., & Sanders-Smith, S. C. (2021). Honoring their stories: Exploring the richness of the refugee experience. Teachers College Record.

Sanders-Smith, S. C., & T. Dávila, L. (Accepted/In press). ‘It has to be in a natural way’: a critical exploration of co-teaching relationships in trilingual preschool classrooms in Hong Kong. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development.  link >

Sanders-Smith, S. C., & Cordoba, T. E. (2021). Study abroad as a means of unpacking pedagogical complexity in context. Early Childhood Education Journal.  link >

Sanders-Smith, S. C., Lyons, M. E., Sylvia Ya-Hsuan, Y., & McCarthey, S. J. (2021). Valuing relationships, Valuing differences: Co-teachingCC practices in a Hong Kong early childhood program. Teaching and Teacher Education, 97, Article 103230.  link >

Sanders-Smith, S. C., Smith-Bonahue, T. M., & Soutullo, O. R. (2020). ‘The parents are locked out’: policies, practices, and perspectives undermining family engagement. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 29(3), 250-273.  link >

Sanders-Smith, S. C., & Liu, S. (2020). 在香港看到的“耀中幼 教学”. 早期教育.

Sanders-Smith, S. C., & Dávila, L. T. (2019). Progressive practice and translanguaging: Supporting multilingualism in a Hong Kong preschool. Bilingual Research Journal, 42(3), 275-290.  link >

Sanders-Smith, S. C., Smith-Bonahue, T. M., Cordoba, T. E., & Soutullo, O. R. (2019). Shifting perspectives: preservice teacher preparation in family engagement. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 40(3), 221-237.  link >

Soutullo, O. R., Sanders-Smith, S. C., & Smith-Bonahue, T. M. (2019). School psychology interns’ characterizations of family–school partnerships. Psychology in the Schools, 56(5), 690-701.  link >

Cordoba, T. E., & Sanders-Smith, S. C. (2018). A closer look: Socio-structural influences on teacher–child interactions during project work. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 16(4), 407-420.  link >

Sanders-Smith, S. C., Smith-Bonahue, T. M., & Soutullo, O. R. (2016). Practicing teachers' responses to case method of instruction in an online graduate course. Teaching and Teacher Education, 54, 1-11.  link >

Sanders-Smith, S. C., & Gaumer, N. (2016). Working Together to Support Math Pedagogy: It All Adds Up for Students. In S. A. Bernoteit, J. C. Darragh Ernst, & N. I. Latham (Eds.), Voices from the Field: Collaborative Innovations in Early Childhood Educator Preparation (pp. 163-178). Illinois Education Research Council and Illinois Board of Higher Education.

Soutullo, O. R., Smith-Bonahue, T. M., Sanders-Smith, S. C., & Navia, L. E. (2016). Discouraging partnerships? Teachers' perspectives on immigration-related barriers to family-school collaboration. School Psychology Quarterly, 31(2), 226-240.  link >

Sanders-Smith, S. C. (2015). Class and pedagogy: a case study of two Chicago preschools. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 25(4), 314-332.  link >

Smith, S. C. (2015). Against Race- and Class-Based Pedagogy in Early Childhood Education. (Palgrave Studies in Urban Education). Palgrave Macmillan.  link >

Smith, S. C., Smith-Bonahue, T. M., & Soutullo, O. R. (2014). "My assumptions were wrong": Exploring teachers' constructions of self and biases towards diverse families. Journal of Family Diversity in Education, 1(2), 24-46.

Smith, S. C. (2014). Parental engagement in a Reggio Emilia-inspired head start program. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 16(1-2).

Smith, S. C. (2013). Classroom Interaction and Pedagogic Practice: A Bernsteinian Analysis. International Journal of Sociology of Education, 2(3).  link >

Smith, S. C. (2012). Cultural Relay in Early Childhood Education: Methods of Teaching School Behavior to Low-Income Children. Urban Review, 44(5), 571-588.  link >

Miller, L. J., & Smith, S. C. (2011). Did the No Child Left Behind Act Miss the Mark? Assessing the Potential Benefits From an Accountability System for Early Childhood Education. Educational Policy, 25(1), 193-214.  link >


Invited talk, Valuing Relationships, Valuing Differences: Co-Teaching at Yew Chung International School Hong Kong, 2021

Invited talk, The ‘Coming Together’ of East and West: The Yew Chung Approach, 2019

Invited talk, Supporting Multilingualism in the Early Years, 2018

Invited talk, Defining a Yew Chung Approach: An Ongoing Project, 2018

Invited talk, Learning to Listen to Families: Family Engagement in Early Childhood, 2016


My core philosophy of teaching states that students of all ages should be active learners who have opportunities to co-construct knowledge with peers and with a knowledgeable instructor in a democratic space. My training in the teaching of young children and my early career as a preschool teacher have greatly influenced my teaching of adults. The view of the child as a whole being, active citizen, and an agent in their own learning is foundational to early childhood education but is not a stance that is limited to the teaching of young children. All learners have the right to have an active role in their own learning. As this is the foundation of my teaching philosophy, I support active inquiry in each course I teach. My goal as a course instructor, program coordinator, and mentor is to support students' development of knowledge and skills through learning experiences that are flexible and adaptive to the needs of many different types of students and people. I see teaching as an act of “becoming”; that one never is a teacher, but is always on a journey to become a teacher.


CI 420: Foundations of Early Childhood Education (CI 420) Students will study of the role of the early childhood teacher in designing, organizing, and implementing educational programs for children in preschools, kindergartens, and the primary grades. This course includes the history, philosophy, and theory of early childhood education. Students will complete a morning field placement in a local elementary school.

CI 421: Principles and Practices in Early Childhood Education (CI 421) Studies the principles and practices of using play as an educational tool in early childhood education; reviews historical, philosophical, and psychological foundations of nursery-kindergarten methods; assesses techniques relating play to various aspects of instruction; surveys materials and equipment; and presents methods of classroom evaluation.

CI 445: Science and Social Studies Inquiry (CI 445) This course is an exploration into the construct of inquiry as an essential human trait and methodological approach for teaching and learning. Through the disciplines of science and social studies we will inquire into elements and methods for building inclusive and critical communities of practice, designing curriculum for depth of understanding, and using documentation as democratic action. This course will encompass and revisit enduring understandings from the entire ECE professional program sequence, mediated by Danielson's Framework for Teaching. Cohort members will synthesize the above in the real context of student teaching placements, class meetings, online discussions, and course assignments.

CI 501: Curriculum Development for the 21st Century (CI 501) Examines a variety of definitions of curriculum development, from past to present. Course activities use theories and research to frame discussions of substantive issues in the field: how learning is influenced by the stated goals of education; the cultural background of diverse learners; structure of the school setting; competencies of teachers; means of student assessment; and approaches to incorporating technology and 21st Century skills into classrooms.

CI 509: Curriculum Research (CI 509) Reviews the principal methodologies used in research on curriculum problems and guides students through the process of working with data in response to research questions; emphasizes qualitative data collection tools and techniques (e.g., surveys, interviews, observations) as well as various theoretical and methodological approaches (e.g., case study, grounded theory, ethnography); emphasizes conceptual and practical problems.

CI 521: Current Problems and Trends in Early Childhood Education (CI 521) Includes principles underlying education practices in day care centers, preschool/nursery and kindergarten settings derived from theory and research in developmental psychology, social psychology, anthropology, and other related disciplines.

CI 522: Arts in Early Childhood and Elementary: Curriculum in Context (CI 522) Role of dance, drama, music, literature, and the visual arts in early childhood and elementary education, focusing on production/performance, appreciation, history, and aesthetics. Interrelationships among curriculum, notions of child development, cultural contexts, and unique traditions of different arts disciplines. Current art education practices in the United States and other countries. Requires attendance at performances and visits to an art museum.

CI 590: Seminar for Advanced Study of Education (CI 590) Seminar for graduate students on specific topics.