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Educator-to-Educator Professional Development

by Mary Muhs
November/December 2019
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You wear many hats every day. You wear the hat of a leader, director, manager, accountant, human resource professional, counselor, advocate, chef, housekeeper, cheerleader, model, repairperson, salesperson and many others. You are also an educator of educators. Yet, while all these roles can pose their own unique challenges, incorporating professional development opportunities into an early childhood program is often one of the biggest challenges. Because each educator in your program is unique and brings to the table their own education, experience, morals, values and expectations, you have your work cut out for you. How can you help each one of the educators in your program meet requirements, challenge themselves, and ultimately fulfill their own potential?

So Little Time

Within the early childhood education field, there are a myriad of requirements differing from state to state and program to program. State legislation places basic requirements on initial education and experience, while Quality Rating and Improvement Systems, developed in each state, provide requirements for educator credentials along with required annual training or continuing education requirements. While credential requirements and continuing education support a higher level of program quality, these requirements may place a burden on administrators, who must ensure their educators complete requirements on time. Additionally, each educator is an individual. Just as we look to children’s individual development, we must also see our educators as needing unique and individualized support and training, in order to become their very best. No two educators are the same and continuing education needs to be deep and wide in topic, level and applicability. 

  • Topics need to fit the requirements, yes, but also need to challenge educators’ interests, curiosities and practices. For example, while we all need health and safety training on an ongoing basis, we also need to stay on top of brain development research, including how it affects our daily expectations for children. 
  • Educators also have their own interests and areas for improvement, such as learning new strategies for working with children exhibiting challenging behaviors.
  • Finally, educators need continuing education to challenge their current practices, which may mean challenging long-held beliefs or habits. One example would be to provide training on attachment theory for educators who may practice a cry-it-out method for infants. Challenging current practice does not require change, but it can encourage new thinking, while enriching and strengthening relationships.

So how does an administrator provide all of this continuing education while still operating a highly successful early childhood education program? 

An Educator-to-Educator Model

In 2014, public school teachers developed Teach to Lead®, in order to show that teachers are valued in their expertise and experience, and can develop education policy and practice to improve children’s learning. Now, through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Education, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and Teach Plus, Teach to Lead® is supported by 174 diverse organizations from across the education spectrum, including the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the Council for Professional Recognition and many state organizations (Teach to Lead, 2019). Ultimately, the goal is to incorporate educators’ expertise, education, experience and drive to educate and support one another in policy and practice. Could this idea become a means to supporting early childhood education programs by implementing comprehensive educator-led professional development? 

Educators providing training or professional development to others in early childhood education is not a new concept. Many states already offer comprehensive training and trainer approval processes for continuing education or coaching and mentoring systems for quality improvement. Instead of relying on all professional development to be delivered by the administration or outside resources, developing an internal process for educators to teach their peers may provide much more than a time-saving solution for administrators. It may also provide empowerment, validation and leadership opportunities for those educators looking to share their experiences with their peers. An educator-to-educator professional development model can create:

  • a community of practice where open and creative communication and learning can take place across age groups and programs; 
  • a culture of ethical and respectful inquiry with educators seeking best practices;
  • a collaborative team of educators working together to create the best environment for children to grow and thrive; 
  • an opportunity for educators to develop an identity beyond their immediate position, so that their experience is valued and celebrated through sharing with others; and 
  • an internal leadership development system in which educators can lead from wherever they are, and whichever position they currently hold. Leadership is more than position. 

No One Right Way

You may already be working or familiar with systems that follow the educator-to-educator understanding, such as professional learning communities, mentorship or coaching, peer coaching and training. Each opportunity offers collaboration, a focus on continual quality improvement and a focus on children learning.

  • Professional learning communities consist of an entire group of educators and usually crosses age groups. The group works on a shared vision and set of expectations for children, designing experiences together and learning from one another. The focus is on what works, what does not, and improvement needed for the sake of children’s growth and development. For an early childhood education program, a PLC might include educators from infants and toddlers or from twos and preschool to help improve the transition for children between the age groups. The group can work together by bringing research on attachment, along with examples of what has worked well and what has not, to discuss ideas for future improvement on the communication, timeline and preparation needed for these milestone transitions. 
  • Mentorship and coaching offer an educator (mentee) a chance to improve their practice, knowledge and skills while being supported by a more experienced educator (mentor/coach). Often, mentors support new educators, but it does not have to be that way. A mentor or coach can support another educator of any level. The key is that the mentor and mentee establish a relationship of trust, collaboration and communication. This is not a chance for the mentor to tell the mentee what they need to do differently, but instead to help the mentee discover areas of improvement, and in turn, support their efforts toward making changes to improve practice. Mentors can offer training, inquiry, research, discussion and modeling to support their mentees’ growth. For an early childhood education program, a mentor might be an educator who has been with the program for some time and has been looking for a way to share his or her experience with a new educator or for an educator new to an age group.
  • Peer coaching is similar to mentorship and coaching, but the mentor or coach is, instead, a colleague or peer, often in the same or similar role. Working with a peer can provide a less intimidating means of support. Peer coaching is also a great way to develop collaboration amongst team members. A peer coach might be a newer educator completing an educational degree program, who can mentor or coach another educator who needs inspiration after many years in his or her role. A peer coach may also be an educator who finds that she has become an expert in developing engaging and provocative play invitations, or other types of classroom activities and wants to share her expertise with others in the program.
  • Trainers, workshop facilitators or presenters often come from outside an early childhood education program; however, it does not need to be that way. Instead, work with your educators to discover their areas of interest, research or expertise. Every educator has an area of their practice in which they excel. Work with that educator to develop a short training or workshop they can share at meetings or during rest time. Start small with new presenters and encourage them to branch out when they are comfortable. Developing your own training team can not only validate your educators’ experience and knowledge, but also provide opportunities for them to share that knowledge with their colleagues.

Making It Work

Since many educators do not have experience with group facilitation, coaching, mentoring or training, it may be necessary to start by talking about a few best practices when it comes to working with other adults. Consider these practices to make the most of your educator-to-educator professional development model (Margolis, 2009).

  • Use humor to reduce nervousness and level the playing field.
  • Increase buy-in by framing ideas as being easy or easily adaptable.
  • Validate educators’ current practices or work and build on it.
  • Represent yourself as a lifelong learner.
  • Include examples, documentation and visuals of children’s work in action.
  • Refrain from talking too much; like children, adults learn by doing.
  • Restrain yourself from sharing too much information or asking too much at one time.
  • Ask open-ended questions to encourage conversation and sharing.
  • Relate educators back to their own practice as much as possible.
  • Collaborate to create simple actionable steps for continued improvement.

Early childhood education administrators have many choices to make every day, and many hats to wear. Designing opportunities to include your program’s educators in professional development may give you more time to wear other hats or perhaps share a hat or two with them, as well.

 

References

Margolis, J. (2009). How teachers lead teachers. Educational Leadership. 66(5). Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb09/vol66/num05/How-Teachers-Lead-Teachers.aspx 

Superville, D. (2015). School districts turn to teachers to lead. Education Week. 34(18), pp. 15-16. Retrieved from https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2015/01/21/school-districts-turn-to-teachers-to-lead.html 

Teach to Lead. (2019). About Teach to Lead. Retrieved from http://teachtolead.org/

 

Author Bio

Mary Muhs has been in the early childhood education field for over 30 years. She is the department chair for early childhood dducation with Rasmussen College. Muhs earned a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education Administration from National Louis University and is a Doctoral Candidate in Early Childhood Education with Walden University. Her experience extends from working with infants through preschool, center leadership and administration, training, mentoring and coaching adult educators in the field. In 2018, Muhs was selected as an Exchange Leader for Exchange Magazine and was a featured subject matter expert in the Exchange Press Turn Key Video Series, “The Heart of Infant and Toddler Care.” Muhs is also the published author of “Family Engagement in Early Childhood Programs Quick Guide” with Redleaf Press. She is a strong advocate for high quality education programs for both adults and children.



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