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.
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
Professional Development Systems Overview
- Professional Development Overview: Support for Practitioners
- State/Territory Infant/Toddler and Preschool Credentials
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 8. 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.
- Introduction: Pathways to Progress
- The Science of Child Development and Learning
- Workforce Development: Higher Education and Preservice Professional Preparation
- Workforce Development: Ongoing Professional Learning
- Workforce Knowledge, Competencies, and Educational Practices
Spotlights on Innovative Professional Development Practice
In this video series, explore best practices in career pathways and ongoing, practice-based learning. Hear from leaders in higher education and others focused on professional development.
- Innovative Practices: Creating Professional Development Plans
- EarlyEdU Alliance: Transforming Early Childhood Teacher Development
- Transforming State Workforce Support Systems: Innovations and Lessons Learned from Race to the Top–Early Learning Challenge States
- State/Territory Preschool Credential Overview [PDF, 475KB]
- State/Territory Infant/Toddler Credential Overview [PDF, 547KB]
- State/Territory Infant/Toddler Credential Crosswalk [PDF, 1.8MB]
- State/Territory Preschool Credential Crosswalk [PDF, 1.7MB]
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.
- Washington State Related Degree and Approved ECE Credit Description [PDF, 312KB]
- Pennsylvania Professional Development System Framework for Early Care and Education [PDF, 942KB]
- Georgia Training Approval
- Introduction to the New Hampshire Early Childhood Development System [PDF, 1.16MB]
- California Early Childhood Educator Competencies [PDF, 2MB]
- State/Territory Professional Development System Overviews
Resources for Building Professional Development Systems
Designing a professional development system is a complex and challenging activity. The following resources provide guidance on factors to consider when building a comprehensive system.
- A Framework for Choosing a State-Level Early Childhood Governance System
- Forging New Framework for Professional Development [PDF, 394KB]
- Why Professional Development Matters [PDF, 556KB]
- Toward the Identification of Features of Effective Professional Development for Early Childhood Educators: Literature Review [PDF, 2MB]
- State-Funded Pre-K Policies on External Classroom Observations: Issues and Status [PDF, 2MB]
- 10 Fundamentals of Coordinated State Early Care and Educational Data Systems [PDF, 819KB]
- Strengthening Early Childhood and School Age Workforce
- State TA Professionals Knowledge and Competencies
- Number and Characteristics of Early Care and Education (ECE) Teachers and Caregivers: Initial Findings from the National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE) [PDF, 994KB]
Foundations of Professional Development
Effective professional development activities are evidence-based, reflect adult learning principles, and identify clearly defined outcomes.
Principles of Adult Learning:
- Adult Learning
- Adult Learning Principles
- Key Training and Technical Assistance (T/TA) Strategies
- Aligning Adult Learning Principles with T/TA Strategies
- A Model of Learning Objectives–Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives
- Bloom's Taxonomy
- REVISED Bloom's Taxonomy Action Verbs [PDF, 47KB]
Communities of Learners:
Explore definitions of approaches to professional development delivery.
Effective use of consultants is key to providing targeted professional development. Learn strategies to identify and select consultants in this guide.
Last Updated: November 29, 2017