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The Importance of Professional Development
By Mary Dixon Lebeau

What makes a professional stand apart from others in his or her field? Of course, she has the educational chops and the hands-on experience that makes her well-rounded and widely respected in her field. But true professionals don’t stop there. In fact, they never stop – especially when it comes to learning. After all, research is always discovering new things, and trends are always changing. Any good professional will be on top of – and responding to – these changes.

In the field of early childhood education, continuing your professional development is even more important. “To me, there is no excuse for an early childhood teacher not getting regular continuing education,” says Brenda Nixon, M.A., author of Parenting Power in the Early Years.

Nixon says instructors and teachers need to be proactive in their own continuing education – with or without the support of their center director, principal or district. “Saying the center won’t pay for (professional development) is no excuse,” she says. “You just get lazy, and the children will suffer.”

Fortunately, many employers will support and encourage the development of their professional staff. After all, when parents are seeking preschool instruction, they will seek out the centers and schools which are on the top of their game and well-aware of the latest research and developments.

“There is so much research going on uncovering the way children learn,” Nixon points out. “It’s important for caregivers to stay on top of these developments.” Early childhood educators have to be accountable for and knowledgeable in the changes in caregiving practices and techniques. Those that do will find the knowledge profitable, not only in the classroom, but also on the bottom line in terms of enrollment.

Back to Basics
Since the minimum requirements for early childhood instructors vary from state to state, it may be difficult to pinpoint the type of development best suited for your role in the classroom. Some basics, though, are easily identified. For example, all classroom teachers should be certified in first aid. Regular review and renewal of the procedures and practices will help you feel confident to handle any classroom crisis.

All states have requirements concerning training for the recognition and reporting of child abuse, neglect and endangerment. Teachers should review these standards annually, as they are important points of first contact in these critical areas.

Every year, many school days are lost to communicable diseases, such as the flu or the common cold. “All teachers need to know how to prevent the spread of infectious diseases,” says Nixon. If classes aren’t offered by your center, encourage the director to contact the local health department. Often a nurse or other medical professional will come to the center after hours to train the staff in this and other health-related areas.

…And Beyond
Many early childhood caregivers believe continuing development is, frankly, a waste of time. “I’ve been caring for children for more than ten years,” they may say. “I know all there is to know.” But, like in any other professional field, you need regular professional development and education if you want to stay fresh and excited about your chosen field. After all, if you’re feeling stale and routine, it will be difficult to engage a room full of toddlers on a daily basis.

One of the greatest benefits of professional development is the opportunity to get together with other early childhood caregivers and share “war stories.” “I’ve seen caregivers get together at conferences and share stories, swap ideas, brainstorm and help each other out. The informal learning experience is extremely beneficial,” says Nixon, adding, “They need to know they’re not alone.”

Learning more about your field will also reduce the stress you feel in a classroom setting. Reviewing what is normal and what’s not in early childhood behavior will reassure you when dilemmas occur in your own classroom. “A regular review is essential,” says Nixon. “Many teachers are right out of school and haven’t had a lot of hands-on experience. Others have been at it for ten to fifteen years. It’s time to open the windows and refresh their minds.”

Other benefits you’ll reap from continuing education and professional development include:

• Learning all about the latest trends in education and discipline
• Receiving instruction on how to implement new practices and procedures in a classroom. After all, you can read about procedures on a web site, but you may need help when it comes to how to actually put it into action.
• Feeling professional. Often early childcare educators are underpaid and feel unappreciated. Investing in their education shows them they’re doing important work.
• Staying on top of the industry and the learning curve.

It’s your responsibility to continue to grow and develop as an early childhood professional – with or without your director’s support. Just like any other professional, you’ll want to continue growing and learning in your field. It will make you more effective as an educator – and more marketable if you decide to transfer schools or go on to other positions within your own.

Best of all, continuing your education and professional development will make you feel more confident in your career choice and more positive about the rigors of early childhood education. And when you’re relaxed, confident and positive in the classroom, the children win – and so do you!