Early childhood is a time of wonder. It is the time for young children to acquire skills and hone them. This scope of learning can be supported by parents, teachers, and other adults to help a child become a lifelong learner. In Bennington, early childhood professionals have found that shared professional development opportunities help us work in concert with a common language and approach to better support the learning and development of children and families in our community.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) describes professional development for the early childhood professional as “a continuum of learning and support activities designed to prepare individuals for work with and on behalf of young children and their families”. These ongoing experiences enrich our work and lead to improvements in the knowledge, skills, practices, and outlooks of early childhood professionals.
Professional Development is one the basic tenets of the Bennington Regional Plan. It empowers providers with knowledge, and develops our skills and changes our attitudes. With cross-sector trainings offered to child care providers, home visitors, early interventionalists and other professionals who work with children, we learn and support each other, especially as we move forward to build a flourishing region where we work together to ensure that everyone thrives during all of the stages of our lives.
Region-Wide Professional Development Efforts in Bennington
During the past several years, Bennington has undertaken a pilot to use the Devereux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA), for social-emotional assets, region wide.
The DECA assessment is done by both the child’s parent and teacher offering insight into a child’s strengths both at home and school. It uses the social emotional language of attachment/relationship, initiative, self-regulation, total protective factors, and, at the pre-school level, behavior concerns. It helps both the parent and the teacher develop ways that they can work together to support the young child.
The initial training was cross-sector including home visitors, health, mental health, early intervention, teachers and administrators. This was critical to ensure that we were building the foundations to support children and families across all areas of social emotional development. For example, when a family has a home visitor, DECA provides the home visitor the language to support the parent by answering questions, helping them understand child development and building links to the child’s teacher.
These trainings were followed up with the action strategy FLIP-it model developed by Devereux. It is a four step strategy that helps to address those challenging behaviors. The four steps are F-feelings, L-limits, I-inquiries and P-prompts. It can be used in a variety of situations employing the same techniques and is a positive intervention reducing power struggles. It gives children, their parents and their teachers a consistent way for them to learn how to control their behaviors.
In total, Bennington trained 100 early childhood professionals, with a waiting list. It is important to have strategies that are understood, supported and employed region wide.
In another example of region-wide professional development efforts, Bennington partners have combined resources to continue to host the fall early childhood conference. For many years, it was supported through a grant to the child care resource and referral agency, Bennington County Child Care Association (BCCCA). This annual conference hosts about 200 people, with both local and national presenters.
Many members of the BBF professional development committee sit on the BCCCA board. There is a concerted effort to follow the theme of the conference with additional trainings on the same theme. Conference keynotes, Judy Jablon and Charlotte Stetson, came to kick off a year of observation focused on what to do beyond “sticky notes”. They had written a book for NAEYC on the Art of Observation. Charlotte Stetson came back to continue the work with learning communities. Not only do children learn best when concepts are presented in a variety of manners and modalities- so do adults. It is much more effective to work with a new idea or strategy over time.
Additionally, during the last year, we have focused both on the curriculum aspect of Teaching Strategies Gold-Creative Curriculum and the Pyramid model. Since early childhood can have rapid staff turnover, it is really important to continue revisiting concepts and ideas that are basics for all early childhood services. The professional development committee, the Quality Task Force and the Starting Points networks are continually looking for the ways that can they overlap and support the work that is happening.
In Bennington we continue to work together to bring professional development that is built on what we already know, and that expands knowledge and how we work together. We know that it is a way to build a positive community culture that allows us to give our best to the children of the region.