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Intercultural and Classroom Culture (ICC) Research Lab



The purpose of the Intercultural and Classroom Culture (ICC) research lab is to uncover how the daily life of the early childhood classroom is guided by shared routines, rituals, norms, values, and beliefs. This includes examining how teachers and children socially construct a peer and school culture as they act and react to one another. This also includes understanding how power, language, and ideologies influence the subject positions of children, families, and teachers. Moreover, the ICC research lab aims to explore teacher candidates’ (i.e., preservice teachers) understanding and development of intercultural competence. Intercultural competence is the willingness and ability to respond effectively with young children and families whose backgrounds, ways of thinking, communicating, and behaving are significantly different from the teacher candidates’ norms (Cushner, 2018).

Objectives of the ICC

The objectives of the ICC are to provoke questions that will challenge normative assumptions about children, families, and teachers in various social and cultural contexts.  Such questions would include the following: 

• What role do teacher preparation programs have in enhancing the intercultural competence of teacher candidates?
• How can we create college curricula that will prepare interculturally competent teacher candidates?
• How can we produce pedagogies that are grounded in contextually appropriate practices and indigenous ways of knowing, feeling, and being in classroom spaces?
• How are peer and school cultures grounded in micro and macro level discourses of childhood and teaching?
• Who has the power to create and change the local and global discourses about early childhood education?
• How can we produce and sustain culturally relevant and inclusive classroom spaces?

Current Projects

“Examining preschool children’s language and literacy practices in peer culture play: A collaborative ethnography of a Knoxville-Knox County Head Start classroom”

Funded by the UTK Office of Community-Engagement and Outreach


“Collaborative Online Learning Across Borders (COLAB): Examining the development of intercultural competency of teacher candidates using a “virtual” cross-cultural university-based program.”

Funded by the UTK Center for Global Engagement. In collaboration with The University of Auckland, The University of Melbourne, and The University of Wyoming.

Current Graduate Students



Sarah Neessen, Knox County Head Start



Sarah Neessen is from Cedar Falls, Iowa.  She received her B.A. and Pre-k, kindergarten and special education license from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.  She has spent the last 13 years working as a Pre-k teacher at Knox County Head Start.  Sarah is in the second year of her Early Childhood Master’s degree at East Tennessee State University.  Her research interests include language, literacy and understanding children’s culture.  She is working with Dr. Madrid Akpovo to understand the role of language and literacy in peer relationships during children’s play.

Cassie Sorrells, PhD Student

Cassie is from Charleston, West Virginia. She received her B.A. in Multidisciplinary Studies (Anthropology, Biology, and Linguistics) from West Virginia University, and her M.A. in Education and Human Development from the University of Colorado, Denver. Her research centers on qualitative exploration of the lived experiences of children and educators in early childhood classrooms, with particular focus on how societal and political forces shape these realities. Outside of academic pursuits, Cassie enjoys yoga, cooking, and hiking with her border collie pup, Emma. Cassie is currently working with Dr. Madrid Akpovo as a graduate research assistant. She is coordinating data collection on the “Head Start Collaborative Ethnography” research project.

Selected Publications

(*Denotes graduate student or teacher practitioner)

Arndt, S., Madrid Akpovo, S., Tesar, M., Han, T., *Huang, F. & *Halladay, M. (accepted). Collaborative Online Learning Across Borders (COLAB): Examining the intercultural understandings of preservice-teachers’ using a virtual cross-cultural university-based program. Journal of Research in Childhood Education. 

Thapa, S., & Madrid Akpovo, S. (accepted). Cultural humility in an intercultural mentor-mentee relationship: Overcoming Emotional “borders and borderlands” of Nepal-mentors and US-mentees. Asia Pacific Journal of Education. 

Lash, M., Madrid Akpovo, S. & Cushner, K. (accepted). Developing the intercultural competency of early childhood preservice teachers: Preparing teachers for diverse classrooms. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education.

Nganga, L., Madrid Akpovo, S., Thapa, S., & *Mwangi, A. (2020). How neocolonialism and globalization affects the early childhood workforce in Nepal and Kenya. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood,

Kambutu, J., Madrid Akpovo, S., Nganga, L., Thapa, S., & *Mwangi, A. (2020). Privatization of early childhood education (ECE): Implications for social justice in Kenya and Nepal. Policy Futures in Education,  DOI:10.1177/1478210320922111

Nganga, L., Madrid Akpovo, S., & Kambutu, J. (2020). Culturally inclusive and contextually appropriate practices: Rethinking perspectives, practices, polices, and experiences in early childhood education programs. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 34(1), 2-5, DOI: 10.1080/02568543.2019.1697153

 Madrid Akpovo, S., Thapa, S., & *Halladay, M. (2020). Learning to see teaching as a cultural activity: US preservice-teachers’ significant experiences with Nepali mentor-teachers during an international field experience. Journal of Research in Childhood Education,34(1), 59-7, DOI:

Madrid Akpovo, S., & Nganga, L. (2018). Minority-World professionals in majority-world contexts: How do international field experiences promote intercultural competence or reinforce ethnocentrism? Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood,19(2), 1-7. DOI: 10.1177/1463949118778024

Madrid Akpovo, S., Nganga, L., & *Acharya, D. (2018). Minority-World preservice teachers’ understanding of contextually appropriate practice while working in Majority-World communities. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 32(2), 202-218. DOI: 10.1080/02568543.2017.1419321


Madrid Akpovo, S., Moran, M.J., Brookshire, R. (Eds) (2018). Collaborative cross-cultural research methodologies in early care and education contexts. New York, NY: Routledge Press.

Madrid, S., Fernie, D., & Kantor, R. (Eds). (2015). Reframing the emotional worlds of the early childhood classroom. New York, NY: Routledge Press.

Fernie, D., Madrid, S., & Kantor, R. (Eds). (2011). Educating toddlers to teachers:  Learning to see and influence the school and peer cultures of classrooms. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.