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3 Strategies for States and Referral Agencies to Level Up Early Childhood Technical Assistance

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As states across the country deal with a lack of qualified early childhood educators and practitioners — alongside increases in the number of children and families in need of services — technical assistance for early childhood education programs is more critical than ever.

Technical assistance is a key driving force behind higher-quality services and evidence-based practices that promote family well-being. Uplifting these professionals through robust training, mentorship, and program development ultimately means uplifting families and creating positive outcomes for children, too.

State and referral agencies are well-positioned to ensure that early childhood learning programs receive technical assistance services that are both adaptive and responsive, and that lean on best practices for adult skills development. By engaging with the right technology, agencies can better equip and empower the early childhood providers they serve. 

Let’s unpack why technical assistance amplifies effective services and practices within early childhood education programs, and pinpoint how modernized approaches to these supports — specifically professional learning supports — catalyze improved child outcomes.

 

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Understanding Technical Assistance: Why Effective PD Matters

 

What is the role of technical assistance in early childhood education?

 

NAEYC defines technical assistance as “the provision of targeted and customized supports by a professional(s) with subject matter and adult learning knowledge and skills to develop or strengthen processes, knowledge application or implementation of services by recipients.” 

Simplified, these services are all about how early childhood programs cultivate ongoing professional growth and learning for their staff and care providers. 

These services come in many forms and flavors, but the NAEYC highlights that above all, the most effective technical assistance methods are: 

  • Strengths-based, focused on leveraging existing capabilities, assets, and knowledge among ECE staff;
  • Relationship-based, in which positive, trusting relationships are the conduit for reflection and continuous improvement;
  • And embedded within the wider professional learning system surrounding an early childhood professional. 

All three of these characteristics create the conditions that, over time, improve the quality of early childhood services and education provided to families and prekindergarten children. Technical assistance is essential to increasing family outcomes like school readiness that have a lasting impact on these children’s lives — and that is the ultimate goal of all early childhood professionals!

 

What does technical assistance look like in state early childhood programs and referral agencies?

 

Early childhood technical assistance services vary by provider, but they often cover broad sweeping grounds. Here are just a few examples of such categories of support, as offered by the nonprofit organization Child Care Aware of America:

  • Early learning supports are a central service offered through most technical assistance programs. These resources concentrate on the practical application of instructional strategies and activities for children that directly contribute to healthy growth and development. Examples may include coaching educators on improving specific math skills among students in their program or communicating new research insights about social-emotional development in toddlers that inform program changes. 
  • Professional learning and accreditation support is another essential offering from most technical assistance providers. The nature and depth of these services can vary depending on the level at which they are offered. States and regional agencies may focus on supporting ECE programs to build entire professional development programs, while smaller organizations may train staff on specific approaches to evaluating a professional learning methodology. It’s also common for agencies to support early childhood program leaders with understanding or even acquiring certain accreditations, such as the NAEYC National Accreditation.
  • Home-based services typically necessitate unique technical assistance support to ensure consistent practices and positive outcomes. For example, states may provide guidance and training for providers who are building a home-based program, or outline the benefits and considerations for creating such programs. Referral agencies may help home-based care providers with hiring best practices for licensed family child care professionals, as well as additional licensing or accreditation requirements.
  • Family engagement resources can be an invaluable form of technical assistance. Families play a crucial role in early childhood education, and program administrators and educators alike benefit from resources that create space for families to act as partners in their children’s growth. States and referral agencies often develop specific resources to bolster early childhood program capacity in this work, from sharing best practices for engaging with families facing food or housing concerns, or developing recommendations for effective family-educator communication practices.
  • Health and safety supports may focus on helping early childhood care providers to meet standards for a healthy child care environment. Example topics include strategies for managing seasonal flu and colds, as well as how to prepare programs for emergencies. 
  • Business supports offer fundamental business management assistance to early childhood education programs, helping with everything from federal financial assistance options to managing their taxes. 

 

What challenges with early childhood technical assistance do state and referral agencies face?

 

Despite the important role that technical assistance plays in early care programs, numerous challenges hamper the potential of these services to impact families’ lives positively.

One of the biggest challenges facing state and referral agencies in the U.S. is a lack of coordination across both early childhood programs and technical assistance providers. As the Learning Policy Institute advised in a 2018 report, states must concentrate on “building a coherent ECE administration system… that ensures all state-supported programs can participate in quality improvement activities [like] coaching and other professional supports.” 

To achieve this vision, agencies aim to tighten the orchestration of technical assistance alongside early childhood program development and management.

Consistent data collection and evaluation practices can also hinder early childhood technical assistance services provided by agencies. At worst, data is fragmented and does not provide a clear picture of either an individual program’s services or those offered by a swathe of programs. At best, data is challenging to analyze, and the results are not shared consistently across early learning programs for collective improvement. 

Last, access to adequate, consistent, and high-quality professional learning services, especially for rural geographic areas, can prove problematic. Traveling to and from family homes for home-based visits or visiting early childhood program sites can quickly consume providers’ time, leaving little space for more traditional professional learning activities like workshops, in-person coaching meetings, and so on. In turn, it can be challenging for coaching staff to reach educators spread across broader geographic regions. 

It’s this last hurdle that states and referral agencies are not only best positioned to remove, but also have a critical imperative to dismantle. Excellent coaching, professional development, and an effective early childhood training and technical assistance system are the linchpins to expanding the quality of early childhood services and their impact on families.

 

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3 Strategies To Modernize and Catalyze Early Childhood Technical Assistance

 

The good news is that modernizing technical assistance can better meet the needs of early childhood educators and care providers across the country. In fact, some networks are already reimagining how to remove common barriers to quality professional learning through their services. 

A great example can be found at the federal level. The Child Care Technical Assistance Network (CCTAN) is crafting an innovative approach to mentoring new early childhood educators through an apprenticeship model. By sculpting pathways into the early childhood educator profession — with supports ranging from career and technical education to teaching certification prep and mentorship — CCTAN aims to increase the number and retention of new early childhood educators even before they set foot in their first classroom. 

Technology offers incredible opportunities to improve early childhood technical assistance — and agencies don’t need to rebuild an entire program or educator pipeline to achieve these gains, either! Modern solutions like TORSH Talent provide a framework for catalyzing technical assistance that serves agencies, program leaders, coaches, and educators alike.

From our expertise in early childhood learning and education, here are three ways we’ve seen our state and referral agency partners catalyze professional development through modernized technical assistance.

 

#1 – Centralize resources and collaboration through a virtual support system

 

Consistent, quality technical assistance requires having a strong “home base” from which to operate. State and referral agencies can cultivate such a foundation using technology.

TORSH Talent’s resource library supports administrators and technical assistance providers to centralize assets for all early childhood program staff in their purview. Resources often include coaching rubrics, home-visit activity templates, exemplar videos demonstrating positive instructional strategies, and much more. Having a central pool of knowledge anchors early childhood programs to a solid foundation of on-demand support — accessible even across vast regional or geographic areas.

States and referral agencies can also use TORSH Talent to centralize collaboration via virtual and hybridized professional learning communities (PLCs). Whether it’s through interagency partnerships or within an existing program, PLCs promote continuous improvement by creating connections among early childhood service providers. Through collaborative relationships, educators share knowledge, offer feedback, and collectively problem-solve challenges to improve how they support their families and children. PLCs are immensely beneficial to early childhood educators.

Early childhood educators and program administrators need not be limited to periodic collaboration in person or only within their own programs. Virtual and hybridized PLCs unlock greater opportunities for shifting early childhood practices for the better.

 

#2 – Utilize tech to enhance coaching relationships — especially across large regional or rural areas

 

Technology is crucial to supporting statewide and regional programs, especially those with practitioners who operate in the field and provide services like home visits in early childhood education. These early childhood providers often find themselves in situations where internet access is minimal (or nonexistent), and travel between family homes or program sites is long. As a result, they may have limited time available to engage with professional learning resources. 

TORSH knows how essential ongoing professional development like coaching is both for providers and for the families they serve. Our mobile app is changing how coaches and mentees collaborate to improve service quality — anytime, anywhere. 

Using the app’s video recording features, early childhood educators can document their interactions with families out in the field, without concern for internet connectivity. Once they reconnect with the internet, the app automatically uploads their video to the TORSH Talent platform, where their coaches can view and leave time-stamped feedback directly on those videos. 

Coaches and mentees can also connect synchronously through the platform, blending virtual meetings with in-person meetings as schedules, travel, and location allow. To prepare for these live interactions, providers might rewatch these videos, review coaching input, or explore the resource library of exemplary assets ahead of time. Coaches in turn may review the coaching rubric shared in the platform with their mentee to identify particular focus areas for their next session. 

For administrators at a program or an agency, TORSH Talent offers powerful data collection tools and reporting to assess the entire coaching program against its goals, as well as pinpoint opportunities for further improvements to this vital technical assistance service

 

#3 – Scaffold ongoing training through curated and flexible online courses

 

Just as child care programs and educational settings layer on learning for young children, so too do adults benefit from scaffolded professional training. TORSH Talent supports state and referral agencies to build and share effective training and accreditation opportunities on-demand.

Administrators can craft online courses for their staff — be they coaches, early childhood learning providers, support staff, or other roles — that include high-quality, practical resources and materials organized into modules with a clear end goal in mind. Agencies can tailor each course to match their state or regional standards for quality and professional development programming, too, which reinforces that same “home base” foundation we mentioned earlier.

The best part? These courses are self-paced, meaning that the busy early childhood providers working in the field can slot this training into their schedules, and not force their schedules to adapt to the training.

 

Build Your Early Childhood Training and Technical Assistance System with TORSH

 

Just as early childhood education best practices evolve, so too must the technical assistance supporting early care providers. Using online platforms like TORSH Talent, childcare resources and referral agencies and states can support programs in a large geographic area with:

  • Professional development resources including synchronous and asynchronous training
  • Teacher coaching and modeling
  • Assistance with national accreditation
  • Assessment tools
  • Curriculum planning and implementation

Request a demo today to discover the power of modernized technical assistance systems through TORSH Talent!

 

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