Occasional Paper Series #42

Building Bridges to Overcome Widening Gaps: Challenges in Addressing the Need for Professional Preparation of Infant-Toddler Practitioners in Higher Education

by Jennifer A. Mortensen, Maryssa Kucskar Mitsch, Kalli Decker, Maria Fusaro, Sandra I. Plata-Potter, Holly Brophy-Herb, Claire D. Vallotton, and Martha J. Buell

A skilled workforce is critical for the future of early care and education (ECE) and of settings that serve infants/toddlers and their families. Whatever their profession, infant-toddler practitioners must facilitate quality experiences that support child well-being and healthy families (Epstein, Halle, Moodie, Sosinsky, & Zaslow, 2016). Two- and four-year institutions of higher education (IHEs) play an important role in training those practitioners. As the result of recent efforts to improve the qualifications of the infant-toddler workforce through quality and capacity initiatives, such as Early Head Start Child Care partnerships and quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS), the higher education requirements for these professionals have increased (Chazan-Cohen et al., 2017). As such, the demand for IHEs to train infant-toddler practitioners continues to grow.

Unfortunately, many IHEs situate curricula on infant-toddler development and care within preschool (ages 3–5) and early elementary (ages 5–8) training programs (Early & Winton, 2001). In this context, content specific to infancy and toddlerhood is often left behind (Chazan-Cohen, Harwood, Vallotton, & Buell, 2017; Maxwell, Lim, & Early, 2006). In this paper, we examine professional preparation of infant-toddler practitioners in IHEs, highlighting existing trends in qualification requirements and training as well as challenges facing ECE and IHEs. Then we discuss the Collaborative for Understanding the Pedagogy of Infant/toddler Development (CUPID), a partnership of IHEs and organizations working to improve pre-service preparation. We end with recommendations for cultivating skilled infant-toddler practitioners.

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About the Authors

Jennifer MortensenDr. Jennifer Mortensen uses ecological approaches to understand wellbeing for families with infants and toddlers. Her research focuses on understanding risk and protective factors as they relate to parent-infant interactions, parental wellbeing, and infant socio-emotional development. Her research also examines the role of early care and home visiting settings in fostering wellbeing, especially economic disadvantaged families or infants/toddlers experiencing maltreatment. She draws motivation and inspiration for this work from her time as an infant-toddler teacher at Early Head Start.

Maryssa Kucskar MitschMaryssa Kucskar Mitsch, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in Early Childhood Special Education at San Francisco State University. Her primary teaching responsibilities and research interests include promotion of inclusive practices, working with families, teacher preparation, social skills development, and early intervention. She is also interested in strategies for effective teacher preparation and ongoing professional development. She draws inspiration from her previous work as an early childhood special education teacher and instructional coach.

Kalli DeckerKalli Decker, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education & Child Services at Montana State University. Kalli’s research focuses on infants and toddlers with special needs and their families who receive early intervention services. In her work with researchers across the county as part of the Collaborative for Understanding the Pedagogy of Infant/toddler Development (CUPID), Kalli also seeks to better understand preservice early childhood students and what influences their knowledge, attitudes, and skills.

Maria FusaroMaria Fusaro, EdD, is an Associate Professor in Child and Adolescent Development at San Jose State University. Her research centers on how young children, under age 5, learn from and with other people through both verbal and gesture-based communication and through question-answer exchanges. Bridging her teaching and research interests, she also studies the preparation of undergraduate students for careers in infant-toddler care and education and for providing high quality, supportive learning experiences for young children.

Sandra Ixa Plata PotterSandra Ixa Plata-Potter, PhD, is an Associate Professor at the University of Mount Olive in North Carolina, Department of Education, teaching non- traditional students in the Early Childhood Education program. Research experience includes Latino families with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. The core of her research interest centers on parental engagement. She is cognizant of the fact that the individual culture of families plays a pivotal role in how parents engage in their child’s development. She is also aware that the definition of culture extends further than one’s ethnicity, the propensity of intergenerational academic deficits, and how parental funds of knowledge are relevant to the nature and extent of parental engagement.

Holly Brophy-HerbHolly Brophy-Herb is a Professor of Child Development at Michigan State University. She holds an infant mental health endorsement and is Editor of the Infant Mental Health Journal. Dr. Brophy-Herb’s research program focuses on parents’/caregivers’ emotion socialization practices and toddlers’ early social and emotional development in the context of parent/caregiver child relationships. She is particularly interested in how emotion socialization practices are related to adult psychosocial characteristics (including mental health), reflective capacities, and contextual characteristics including family and early childhood education settings.

Claire VallottonClaire Vallotton, PhD, is Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at Michigan State University. She conducts translational research to improve the quality of training for the early child care and education workforce and provide families with effective tools that support their children’s development of social-emotional and communication skills. Dr. Vallotton is the founding coordinator of the Collaborative for Understanding the Pedagogy of Infant/toddler Development (CUPID), a cross-university scholarship of teaching and learning effort to improve the preparation of the early childhood workforce. She has been awarded the New Investigator Award from the World Association of Infant Mental Health and was named an Exceptional Emerging Leader in child care research from ChildCare Exchange.

Martha BuellMartha J. Buell is a Professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Director of the Delaware Institute for Excellence in Early Childhood (DIEEC), and a member of the Early Childhood Education faculty at the University of Delaware. Much of her research and policy work centers on improving the quality of early care and education programs, especially for infants and toddlers, young children living in poverty, and those from multilingual and multicultural backgrounds.