Professional Development at ITC: Tackling the BIG IDEAS that influence our work

Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers (Or Anyone Who Acts Like One)

Cindy Heaney, Executive Director

Professional development at ITC takes many forms:

  • Teachers attend local workshops and conferences;

  • We have monthly staff meetings with both in-house and guest speakers; and

  • We put on our own annual conference and an Infant Toddler workshop series, where our teachers present to the larger early childhood community.

Teachers create goals annually, usually revolving around questions they wonder about or research-based concepts that are new to the field.

Often, teams come up with a group goal that they explore together throughout the year. All of this work and continual reflection keeps our teaching fresh and builds our foundational thinking.

One approach we have explored of late is addressing professional development through a book group format. Early this fall, the administrative team began reading Rest, Play, Grow by Deborah MacNamara and we were so intrigued that we quickly brought it to the lead teacher group so we could dig deeper. It was soon obvious that we needed to open the book to the entire staff so that teams could wrestle with some of the ideas presented.

At that level, we dedicated two staff meetings to the book—one in November and one in January---where we reviewed key elements as a full staff and then broke into teams for further reflection and discussion. We have finished the book but we are not at all “finished.”

There is so much more for us to cull here, as we play with ideas presented, wrestle with the ideas that irk us, and champion the ideas that resonate with our ongoing work with children and families.

We will add yet another layer at our March staff meeting, where guest presenter Martha Eshoo will lead us through a developmental look at children’s behavior that will tie in nicely with Rest, Play, Grow.

As you can see, professional development isn’t something we check off in a neat little box on a to-do list and move on…it is part of our living, breathing process of growth---as individuals and as a program!

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Some key elements from Rest, Play, Grow that have challenged our thinking

Since our earliest days, ITC has had as a focus the idea of relationship-based care. Our approach has had several iterations over the last 38 years, sometimes meeting a common need that has bubbled up (EX: parent-teacher partnerships), and sometimes grounded in the latest research (EX: What are theorists saying about attachment and how does that align with primary caregiving in infants and toddlers?).

Responsive Caregiving is one term we use to explain what it is we do---the underlying concept that caregiving is not “one size fits all,” but highly individualized---meeting the child where she is with what she needs from us in order to thrive in a group care setting. Rest, Play, Grow has added depth, language and detail to our ongoing narrative, helping us to continue championing the idea that teaching “in relationship” lays the groundwork for EVERYTHING ELSE.

Some Key Elements from our reading

It’s not the behavior we should focus on, but what’s beneath the behavior…

  • Coming alongside the child when in conflict, not in opposition

  • Emotional Charge-Our perspective of children’s BIG EMOTIONS influences our response

  • Young children can only feel one emotion at a time (we can feel sad and excited about an upcoming move…a toddler or preschooler can only tackle one of these feelings at a time)

  • Ground our expectations in understanding human development… and this child’s development …and ability to function in this moment

  • Counter-will as an expectation (natural part of human development)

  • “Collecting” children before making a request of them

  • Frustration-anger to tears-helping children feel safe to lean into us when in conflict or distress (especially so if the conflict is with us)

  • Filling up the child so they are emotionally capable of moving away from  us for short periods (fill them up in caregiving moments)

  • Trust---the backbone of all relationships

  • Strong, supportive adult relationships are primary throughout the birth to 8 years, and continue to be critical as children develop healthy peer relationships in middle childhood and teen years---Keeping adults central in children’s lives…

  • Children are developing… (they aren’t finished yet!). Our expectations need to reflect our understanding of and respect for each child’s right to his or her own maturational trajectory.