Learning Starts At Birth and The Hunt Institute Co-Host Webinar Series on Strengthening Investments in the Early Childhood Workforce

On June 8, Learning Starts At Birth at Bank Street College, in collaboration with The Hunt Institute, hosted a webinar titled “Career Pathways: Strengthening the Expertise of the Early Childhood Workforce” to explore the role of professional learning programs in advancing the early education field. The webinar was the first session in a three-part series on strengthening investments in the early childhood workforce.

The virtual event began with opening remarks from co-moderators Emily Sharrock, Associate Vice President, Bank Street Education Center, and Dan Wuori, Senior Director of Early Learning, The Hunt Institute, and focused on the value of bringing education experts together in conversation to address critical issues and advance innovative ideas around educator expertise, compensation, and equitable practices.

“Our hope is that today’s panel discussion inspires higher education and state system leaders alike to devise programs that create access to the preparation programs that make a difference for all of our educators and our youngest children,” said Sharrock, noting that many infant-toddler educators lack access to high-quality degree or credential programs that recognize their existing skills and also deepen their practice. For example, “many systems don’t value the deep cultural knowledge that our diverse workforce brings to their craft. Truly valuing and recognizing these strengths is a key equity issue and should be a priority of any higher education or preparation program,”

Throughout the webinar, speakers discussed the needs and strengths of the workforce to help inform the development of effective credential and other programs, the barriers and solutions for equitable access to learning and credential opportunities, the significance of job-embedded apprenticeships for early childhood educators, and the issue of retention in the field.

Catherine Main, Director of Early Childhood Education, University of Illinois, Chicago
Catherine Main, Director of Early Childhood Education, University of Illinois, Chicago, on screen

The panel discussion featured Margorie Brickley, Supervised Fieldwork Advisor & Course Instructor, Infant and Family Development and Early Intervention Program, Bank Street Graduate School of Education; Tara Henriquez, Senior Program Development Manager, Early Care and Education Pathways to Success (ECEPTS); Catherine Main, Director of Early Childhood Education, University of Illinois, Chicago; and Stacey French-Lee, Clinical Assistant Professor and Child Development Program Executive Director, Department of Early Childhood and Elementary Education, Georgia State University.

“We need to think about and understand the essential work that people who work with very young children are doing … child care equals education,” said Brickley as she quoted a powerful excerpt from Illuminating Care: The Pedagogy and Practice of Care in Early Childhood Communities and spoke about the need to understand the specialized work of infant-toddler educators.

Brickley also stated that there is a strong need for learning communities among early childhood professionals and within effective degree and credential programs that are relationship-based and integrate reflective practice. Reflecting on the impact of Bank Street’s approach to teacher preparation, she noted that building relationships and the skills of observation and reflection help educators gain a deeper understanding of teaching and learning theory and practice, learn essential collaboration and problem-solving skills, and develop the capacity for ongoing professional growth and development, which in turn promote quality teaching and longevity in the field.

Next, Main responded to a question about challenges educators face, highlighting the overall lack of funding for a fragmented system and a lack of compensation for the workforce. She shared how the program at the University of Illinois is working to address these issues by forming partnerships between government agencies, community-based programs, and higher education institutions to support the incumbent workforce and create support structures such as financial resources.

Speaking about the ECEPTS innovative apprenticeships program, Henriquez explained, “We have a pre-established set of coursework in the apprenticeship program and they go through as a cohort—all the courses are free to them. In addition, as part of the apprenticeship, they have on-the-job training that will include professional development.”

She added, “They have to be paid a wage as they’re doing their work experience so they’re not working as volunteers and they have a mentor. They are getting a full complete package of preparation and they’re being paid at the same time, which I think is really the magic of apprenticeship—they don’t have to navigate all the systems.”

French-Lee responded to a question about the positive retention rate within Georgia State University’s program for teachers and teacher candidates who enter and remain in the profession. She described the university’s “success initiative” that provides comprehensive social, academic, and financial advisement for students. Additionally, French-Lee said that the birth-to-five program is designed to allow students to remain employed in their early childhood positions while taking courses and completing their practicum hours in the classroom where they work.

She also spoke about the program’s emphasis on culturally responsive and equity-centered education, explaining, “We understand that childhood is not universal. Children experience childhood differently based on their intersecting identities and given that the majority of our students are Black women, it is important for us that we model for them culturally responsive engagement and that this engagement builds upon these teachers’ cultural and linguistic capital and tools.”

Click here to view a recording of the first and second webinar from the three-part series or tune in via Zoom for the final webinar here on August 9 titled “Strengthening Systems: Embedding Equity when Defining Quality,” which will focus on how quality is defined and measured and highlight effective strategies to build more equitable, inclusive systems that promote high-quality care and education for all.