Professional development in child care: How do you make it stick?

Here’s how to get the most out of your training workshops.
March 8, 2022
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In a rush? Here’s the quick run-down.

  • In this article, we’ll tackle professional development in early education, and how you can make sure your new training becomes a long-term benefit, not just a temporary change.
  • This process starts before the workshop itself. As a director, you’ve got to give your team clear expectations about how you’re hoping to grow.
  • At the bottom, you’ll find best practice advice for how to follow up after your professional development training, to make sure you support your early education team in their growth.

Let’s say that last month, you sent your whole early education team to a professional development workshop. Your team liked the trainer, and the majority said that they planned to implement the ideas in their daily practice. But since then, as the days go by, you’re not sure if the training had the impact for which you’d hoped.

What now?

A common model of professional development in early education is to give participants information, provide them with some extra resources, and then wish them luck. We might call that the ‘hope theory’ of training:  “We hope they’ll do something with this.” But this approach gives us little evidence that we’re putting our new training to use. As an early education leader, you might be left wondering if these training workshops are worth the effort and price. 

There’s a solution to this conundrum: When directors have a strategy of planning before each training, and follow up with their team afterwards. In this article, I’ll explain how you can turn this idea into real-life action. So let’s look at  two key strategies that replace that hope with the expectation that our professional development training will be used in the classroom. 

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How your team gets the most from professional development

First, let’s think about what the research and best practices say on teacher training and implementation. After that, we'll look at two approaches for putting this to work.

According to the classic Joyce and Showers model of professional development for teachers, we absorb new skills through a four-step learning process:

  1. Theory or presentation of information
  2. Demonstration 
  3. Practice and feedback
  4. Coaching with follow-up. 

As we move through these four steps, it becomes more and more likely that we put our new knowledge to use. It is easy to identify with this formula when we apply it to personal experiences of learning any other  skill, be it driving a car, or baking a cake. The cycle of information, demonstration, practice, and feedback is always necessary for success. Imagine learning to drive  a car with only theory and demonstration. The research on teacher training confirms  that  the ability to implement grows incrementally from ten percent at step one, twenty percent at step two, sixty percent at step three, and ninety-five percent at step four. 

A training session is an important first step towards implementation, but we can’t expect our teams to master these new skills immediately. Staff need a safe and supportive process for practicing, making mistakes, and practicing some more before they develop confidence in the new skills. With thoughtful planning and follow up, early education leaders can maximize the initial learning, and achieve the goal of increasing staff competencies.

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How to prepare your staff before the professional development course

Set your goal and need for a particular topic. As the leader of your child care setting, you must set a specific goal of what you want get out of this training course. Is it just absorbing knowledge, or do you want educators to do something concrete with the knowledge? If your goal is to increase vocabulary skills of children, it could be that staff teach two new words each day from the story time book, and use these words in context during active learning, at lunch, and in the playground.

Decide how to deliver the training, to all staff and to individuals. Putting everyone in the same room or on the same Zoom call is helpful for everyone to hear the same foundational message, as a large group. But then again, you might also differentiate the training to staff members based on their current skill level, or position. Would lead teachers and assistant teachers benefit from tailored  practical exercises  in small groups? 

Be clear about how you expect staff to use this knowledge. Training should be presented as added value to the growth of staff. Make it interesting by showing your enthusiasm, expectation, and pledge of support: 

  • “This training will help you recognize what you already do well in teaching vocabulary. You will also discover new techniques to teach words to children at story time and during play. I am also happy to let you know that each classroom will receive a set of fun new  books to read to children.”
  • “After the training, we have to implement the ideas in the classroom. After the workshop, I am setting up a system so you can help each other, and where I will come to observe how it works in your classroom. We’ll meet and discuss how it’s going.” 
  • “There may be some adjustments to make, I’ll support you in the implementation. We’ll figure it out together.”

Plan to attend the training yourself. As a trainer, I often hear participants say : “I wish my director would hear this.” Visibility is good for the credibility of a leader. It demonstrates commitment to continuing professional learning for all. And when you listen to the training as well, it gives you valuable information about which key points to reinforce. 

How to make sure your professional development course sticks

  • Repeat your expectations for implementing the training. Continue your enthusiasm for the training topic and follow through by making time to talk with staff about what they learned.
  • Give your team a post-training implementation survey. You should focus on three areas: Things I learned that I want to use in my classroom, things I need to make that happen, and the timeline for putting my new knowledge to work. When workshop participants share their goals and needs with their leader, they feel accountable and supported at the same time. They know they are not alone. 
  • Follow up by providing resources tailored to the goals of each educator. Use each team member’s survey response to evaluate their needs, and set aside time to respond to the needs they’ve identified.
  • Create peer learning communities. For example, on the topic of early literacy, it will look different for the infant, toddler, and preschool classrooms. . Consider separating into small group discussions  by interest. Treat these groups as formal professional exchanges among staff, by allocating funds and scheduling them on the calendar. 
  • Help staff get coaching if they need it. Some educators may need more structure than others to implement the ideas in their practice. Plan to be their coach yourself, or help them work alongside a colleague with good expertise in the skill in question.
  • Observe your classrooms, and take note of all attempts at implementation. Leaders should be their setting’s encourager-in-chief. As you walk around the building, it’s your chance to affirm your staff as you see them using their new practices. 

people sitting on chair in front of table having a meeting

A director’s role in getting the most out of professional development training

Investing in professional development is a major step in being a quality early education setting. But it can be frustrating to feel like training is just a tick-box exercise with little return. That’s why I recommend you try the techniques I’ve laid out in this two-step model.

You’ll notice that the educators become more confident in their skills as they try out innovative ideas and succeed. You’ll see that they find more ways to collaborate as they encourage  each other professionally. You’ll know that the money was well spent when you observe evidence of new teaching skills stemming directly from that training. And, ultimately, implementing professional training in classroom practice will result in better instruction for the children.

Your leadership in guiding the implementation process turns a good investment into a long-term benefit. 

Angèle Sancho Passe is a writer and trainer in early education. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can contact Angèle and learn more about her work at www.angelesanchopasse.com.

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Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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