The success of an individual, across any profession, depends the ability to acquire new skills and apply those skills appropriately in the work environment. There are many ways that this can be accomplished – some of which result in a certificate of completion, and others that do not. Being a true professional involves becoming a life-long learner and recognizing that you might not get credit for all of the learning opportunities in which you participate.

In addition to the traditional classroom learning opportunities, you may find that you enjoy talking online classes like those offered by ChildCare Education Institute. Gathering with other professionals at conferences can be both informational and re-energizing.

Some agencies have even started to organize professional learning communities (or communities of practice) that meet several times a year to investigate specific topics related to early childhood care and education. These groups provide the opportunity for caregivers to share experiences, reflect on practices, and learn from one another with the guidance of a skilled facilitator.

There are less formal ways to engage in professional development in order to gain new skills. Reading articles, taking webinars, online discussion groups, mentoring, and advocacy all provide a chance to learn and practice new skills that can be immediately applied to your practice. To stay in the loop, consider becoming a member of a local child care association, director group, or even your local NAEYC affiliate. Doing so will build networking skills, confidence, and a recommitment to the field and the success of the children in your care.

Regardless of the professional development opportunities you choose to explore, you will need to practice one important skill: Self-reflection! Being a reflective practitioner means that you continuously ask yourself questions about your practice, evaluate your decisions, and create plans to apply new knowledge. Without this skill, you will not be able to capitalize on the long hours you spend engaged in professional development.

Questions to ask yourself prior to professional development:

• What is working in my program?
• What are the smoothest times of day for the children?
• What are the most challenging times of day for the children?
• What parts of my job challenge me the most?
• Am I hearing repeated concerns from families/supervisors/co-workers?
• What skill or information would make my job easier?

Questions to ask yourself during professional development:

• Am I fully present and ready to receive new information or perspectives?
• Am I listening/reading with an open mind?
• Is my participation contributing positively to this event or conversation?
• How might I use this new information in my program?
• Even if I can’t use this exact strategy, could I possibly adapt it in some way?

Questions to ask yourself after professional development:

• Do I need additional information and where can I find out more about this new topic?
• Who can I enlist to help me with this strategy?
• How can I introduce this new information to co-workers, children, and families?
• What materials or resources do I need before implementing the new plan?
• How is the new strategy working?
• Are there any parts of my PD experience that I can revisit – that I have not taken into account?

By reflecting in this manner, you will be able to implement new practices to your program, meet the needs of the children in your care, and grow as a true professional.