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Rethinking Child Care Teacher Preparation in Louisiana

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Many enter the field of child care because of their love for children...and love for children is certainly very important in this field.  However, providing high quality early learning experiences for our youngest children requires more than love.  Among other things, it requires an understanding of child development as well as skill in working with families, humor, and a healthy dose of patience!  Some gain their knowledge and skill while attaining their Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, a national credential given by the Council for Professional Recognition. Earning the CDA requires coursework that can be completed online or through a series of trainings totaling 120 clock hours.  Others, however, work in child care without any formal training.

In an effort to strengthen the preparation of our state's teachers, the Louisiana Department of Education launched Believe and Prepare: Early Childhood in 2016.  As one of the first Early Childhood Ancillary Certificate Programs approved by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), we were charged with the task of creating a professional training experience  for child care teachers, who within Louisiana have previously had no education requirement.

At Partnerships in Child Care (a division of Volunteers of America Greater Baton Rouge) we drew from our extensive experience supporting child care providers to develop the Teacher Institute.  It has been our experience that some child care teachers struggle to complete a CDA because an online format lacks practical hands-on application.  Others feel isolated compiling their CDA Professional Portfolios on their own and lose steam without the guidance of coaching and mentoring.  Hearing those comments repeatedly from the field informed our development of our Teacher Institute

We strove to create a program that is engaging, hands-on, and supportive.  Accepted candidates complete the entire process together as a group.  This cohort model is one of the strengths of the program.  Because the required coursework is completed in-person, the candidates are able to build real relationships with others who are learning the same material, developing similar skills, and working to immediately apply that knowledge in their child care classrooms.  

Our Teacher Institute candidates work full time at child care centers around the region, and they all meet together for a three-hour class on Tuesday evenings and then in small group meetings (PLCs) on selected Saturdays.  Although they are different ages, have different levels of experience, and come from different parts of the Greater Baton Rouge area, they have built a supportive team with each other, sharing a connection because they are going through the same training experience together.

Unlike traditional CDA programs where participation is more anonymous, our Teacher Institute trainers, like myself, come to know the candidates personally, and that influences how we shape the class format.  We know their preferred learning styles and can teach the material accordingly, creating a successful learning experience.

As Instructor Coach, I not only teach some of their evening classes, I also visit the candidates at their centers, providing on-the-job coaching when I model and support them in putting into practice what they have been learning in their evening classes.  This applied practice is not a part of traditional CDA preparation.

Another aspect of our Teacher Institute that distinguishes it from traditional CDA programs is that three times during the program the candidates visit high-quality early childhood classrooms in the region.  They conduct guided observations, looking for specific elements of best practice that they have been studying in their evening classes.  The candidates later discuss their observations in a PLC meeting and incorporate into their own classrooms some of the strategies, activities, and ideas for classroom set-up that they have observed.

Over the years I have helped many child care providers on their journeys toward earning a CDA. The most notable impact of Louisiana's Early Childhood Ancillary Certificate Program is that it is moving child care teachers out of the mindset of simply watching children and is instilling a sense of professionalism, creating a sense of pride in what they do.  The child care teachers still enter the field because of their love for children, but going through this process they are noticeably more intentional about their practice.  They are thinking carefully about the learning experiences they are providing children and how the experiences support the children's positive growth and development. Child care is so much more difficult than many realize, but child care teachers trained through Louisiana Early Childhood Ancillary Certificate Programs like our Teacher Institute are prepared to give Louisiana's youngest the critical foundation that they need.

--Kendra T. Barnes, Coach & Trainer at the Teacher Institute, Volunteers of America Greater Baton Rouge

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