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Starting Something New: Taking a Fresh Approach to Child Care Teacher Preparation

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I was so close to retiring, I was shopping for RVs when an amazing opportunity to take part in creating a meaningful, hands on experience-based learning curriculum for underserved child care teachers changed my mind.  As passionate as I am about providing care and positive experiences for young children, I am even more passionate about providing teachers with the support and tools they need   to provide a rich environment for early learning experiences.  Child care teachers work incredibly hard both physically and emotionally for little monetary benefit, while showing heroic dedication and commitment to this most precious population.

As the coordinator for the CDA Enhanced Experience, offered by Agenda for Children in New Orleans, I worked to develop one of the first ever Early Childhood Ancillary Certificate Programs in Louisiana. This teacher preparation program provides an innovate approach to train and certify child care teachers in Louisiana.  I couldn't pass up an opportunity to make a contribution to this initiative benefiting a group of people I have come to know, love and respect deeply for their untiring commitment to making a difference in the lives of young children and families.

This has been the most rewarding and creative experience in my career.  I have been able to tap into my years of experiences in early childhood centers and classrooms as teacher, director, coach and mentor.  It was challenging to overcome some of the myths and stereotypes of what professional development for child care teachers should be.  Our vision was that teachers should experience learning the way we want young children to be taught, with love, nurturing, patience, and deep respect for their uniqueness and capabilities.  Based on the CDA competency standards, we tied in CLASS Domains and Dimensions, TS GOLD Goals for Development and Learning, Environmental Rating Scales, and Louisiana's Birth to Five Early Learning Standards.  Whew!  We provided information through discussions embedded with open ended questions on-site job embedded assessment, coaching, and feedback; modeled activities and provided material resources. 

This first year has been a whirlwind for candidates as well as instructors.  Relationships were built, meals shared, songs were sung, and props were made and demonstrated, pictures taken.   It went so fast, we worried that this model wasn't working until during coaching visits and small group professional learning circles we noticed teachers practicing strategies learned in class and speaking with developmentally appropriate language.  Wow! What more could we ask for?  They are on their way to becoming more successful, confident teachers, benefiting countless children and families in the future. 

The key to our success has been the ability to remain flexible to the needs of our community of teachers.  As we are finishing up this first group of CDA candidates, we are busy planning for the next two groups of teachers as well as those entering the field down the road.   A viable and sustainable program must meet the needs of the population it serves.  We research the needs of our community by surveying teachers and directors.  As teachers grow and learn, needs change and we aim to be proactive in meeting those changing needs.   

For me, this program is another beginning.   The Winnebago will have to wait.  There are activities to design,   materials to craft, learning strategies to explore and lessons to experience.  We are busy enrolling the next group of teachers gifted with a love and a calling to care for and work with young children and their families.

JoAnn Clarey, CDA Enhanced Experience Coordinator, Agenda for Children

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