Professional Development Systems

Professional development refers to the process of acquiring new knowledge and skills that relate to one's job, duties, or career path. It encompasses all types of learning opportunities, ranging from formal coursework in college, workshops, and conferences to more informal learning opportunities set in practice.

Professional development systems provide consistent and uniform standards for early childhood education (ECE) programs and guide implementation of high quality services for all children. The systems are designed to work across all sectors of private and public early education and care. Comprehensive systems address many areas of requirements and standards. More

Standards and requirements may include registries, alliances, quality ratings, and credentialing and licensing requirements that inform the nature and scope of professional development at the national, state, territory, and local levels. A sustainable system for professional development guides achieving excellence in early childhood programs for all young children. Most states have their own professional development systems.

The Office of Head Start has prioritized strengthening the early childhood birth to 5 workforce as one of its goals. Professional development systems promote coordinated and effective learning paths that help realize this goal for the early childhood workforce. Such systems guide and inform the foundation for staff and individual career development. The Office of Head Start believes that, as required by the Head Start Act, a minimum of 15 clock hours of professional development per year is important for all program staff members who support the progress of children’s development.

The tools and resources in this section may be most useful for T/TA providers; state collaboration directors; consultants; early childhood educators; child care administrators; policy makers; licensing and credentialing agencies; and leaders in the ECE field.

Aspects of Professional Development Systems

State Systems

Professional Development Systems Overview

These documents are designed to inform the development or enhancement of state/territory professional development systems. They provide a snapshot of infant/toddler and preschool credentialing and professional development efforts across the nation by capturing the information available online about the various approaches used by states/territories. States/territories could use this document to assess the accuracy of their website information, identify strengths and gaps, get a glimpse of other state/territory efforts, and consider articulation or portability beyond one’s state/territory.

NEW! Brief Series on the Early Childhood Workforce: Pathways to Progress

In 2015, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and National Research Council (NRC) released the report, Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth to Eight. It offers recommendations for building a high-quality early childhood workforce with the knowledge, competencies, education, and support to promote children’s development and learning. This series of briefs summarizes the findings in the report. Use them to inform early childhood programs, states, institutes of higher education, and other interested stakeholders to strengthen the support they offer the early childhood workforce.

Spotlights on Innovative Professional Development Practice



Early Learning Guidelines

These guidelines inform ECE practitioners about expected outcomes for young children. They describe what all children from birth through kindergarten should know and be able to do, and their dispositions toward learning.

Quality Rating Improvement System (QRIS)

A QRIS is a systemic approach to assessment, improvement, and communication focused on determining quality in early and school-age care and education programs.

State Early Childhood Advisory Councils

The State Advisory Council (SAC) on Early Learning and Care is a governor-appointed leadership body that ensures statewide collaboration among early childhood programs to define future policy for children birth to kindergarten. Find out about how they function within the professional development arena.

State Early Childhood Registries

State registries track teacher qualifications, degrees, and credential information for early childhood and school-age professionals.

Examples of State Professional Development Systems

Several examples of state professional development systems focused on the preparation of teaching staff are offered in this section.


Learn about what's required to develop professional development partnerships.

Last Reviewed: January 2017

Last Updated: March 10, 2017