To give kids a head start, early childhood educators need one too
We all know that skilled, knowledgeable and caring early childhood educators are the backbone of great preschool programs, but all too often the importance of ongoing professional development is overlooked in discussions about improving service quality.
That’s why the NSW Department of Education has been working with the University of Wollongong’s Early Start to test the impact of a new program of professional development on staff engagement and educational outcomes for children. Over 80 preschool and long day care services across New South Wales participated in the study, which involved the delivery of a rigorous new course of professional development for educators and the participation of more than 1200 children.
Participants reported that the program encouraged them to make use of evidence-based teaching practices, and gave them the confidence to adapt lessons according to the interests and abilities of the children under their care. Educators also noted how even small changes to the way they taught had a significant impact, with one reflecting: “Our practice has changed in slight and subtle ways but the impact has been immense. All staff now see the benefit of engaging in small group experiences. This has now become second to nature where staff will see a spark of interest in a group of children and run with it.”
The program provided educators with strategies to help children engage with four core areas of early learning: emotional self-regulation, language and literacy, science and critical thinking, and early numeracy. The training also encouraged participants to take up positions of pedagogical leadership within their services by sharing their new skills with colleagues.
In evaluating the program, researchers found that learning environment quality improved over the course of the program by almost one point against two different seven-point quality rating scales at participating centres, and the literacy and numeracy development of children at these services outpaced those in the control group. This promising research indicates what a big difference in-service professional development can make in keeping educators motivated, supporting service quality, and improving child outcomes.
The Fostering Effective Early Learning study is just one of the ways the NSW Department of Education is working to support the development of a highly qualified and sustainable early childhood education and care workforce. To find out more and download a copy of the Fostering Effective Early Learning report, visit the NSW Department of Education website.
Leslie Loble is Deputy Secretary, External Affairs and Regulation, at the NSW Department of Education. Responsible for national and cross-sectoral developments in education as they affect New South Wales, she guides early childhood policy and funding, policy on non-government schooling, and strategic policy in higher education and tertiary learning.