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4 Keys to Using Job-Embedded Professional Development to Develop a Highly Qualified Early Education Workforce



From declines in enrollment to program closures in the wake of evaporating pandemic funds to difficulties sustaining existing preschool programs — these are challenging times for early education. Of particular concern is a dearth of highly qualified early childhood educators, which can be felt in nearly every state.

Dr. Meg Franko, Director of Early Childhood Initiatives, Butler Institute for Families, University of Denver, explains during a recent interview, “[Early caregivers and early educators] are the folks who take care of our youngest citizens and who are their earliest teachers, people who help them get ready for the rest of their lives. At the same time, [programs are] in a position where we’re really struggling to get people to enter and stay in the field.”

Research continues to reinforce the incredible impact of early learning programs on student outcomes, from improving school readiness to predicting success after high school graduation. Even K12 administrators recognize that investing in early education is well worth it to cultivate successful student learning. 

To tackle these staffing issues, many programs are finding creative ways to attract and retain high-quality educators in their classrooms. Some partner with high school Career and Technical Education programs to create hands-on opportunities to engage future teachers, while others collaborate with community colleges and workforce development organizations to build the pipeline of qualified candidates.

These strategies prove effective in drawing nascent educators into the field — but what about those already working with children and their families? Recruitment alone does not guarantee ongoing quality and support for early educators as they advance in their careers. 

This is where job-embedded professional development for teachers comes in. 


Table of Contents



What Is Job-Embedded Professional Development, Exactly?


Despite its growing popularity among early educators, job-embedded training is more than a buzzword. Let’s examine job-embedded professional learning more closely and see how it compares with other approaches to educator development.

Job-embedded learning typically refers to “learning that is grounded in day-to-day practice and is designed to enhance professional practice with the intent of improving children’s learning and development” (Croft et al., 2010). It often relies on teams of education providers collaborating through a variety of methods to identify and solve issues of practice in an ongoing manner. Programs that embrace cycles of continuous learning and improvement lean on this type of professional learning to support their staff.

One example of a job-embedded learning strategy is practice-based coaching, defined by the ECLKC as “a strategy that uses a cyclical process. . . that supports teachers’ use of effective teaching practices that lead to positive outcomes for children.” This model focuses on collaborative, targeted relationships between coaches and teaching staff that center mentorship on specific goals related to practice. 

In contrast, other “traditional” forms of adult learning are often provided as external training (workshops or “PD Days”). But these approaches are far less effective in nurturing shifts in teaching practices than job-embedded professional development for teachers. In their 2020 report, Debra Pacchiano, Ph.D., Rebecca Klein, M.S., and Marsha Shigeyo Hawley, M.Ed. highlight that traditional PD is limited as it:

  • Lacks support to assist teachers with applying training information to practice
  • Involves minimal to no time for teacher reflection and examining real, relevant problems of practice
  • Offers few opportunities for teams to collaborate and learn from each other to support quality teaching practices

According to research examined by the Society for Research in Child Development, job-embedded supports like practice-based coaching have a greater impact and result in more benefits for teachers: “Coaching that supports domain-specific curricula is more successful in improving preschool children’s learning than coaching on general best practices for preschool teaching.”


Modernizing Professional Development in Early Education


The stakes are high for early education providers seeking to uplevel their approaches to teacher professional development. Quality instructional practices can be the difference between a child entering kindergarten, ready to learn in a classroom setting and a student who struggles with learning on day one. 

The consequences of school readiness (or lack of it) cannot be underestimated. In many cases, factors beyond educators’ direct control affect children’s kindergarten preparedness. For instance, socioeconomic gaps and racial inequities affecting families can result in some students entering the classroom already far behind their peers (NCES). More challenging still, gaps in academic performance as early as kindergarten persist even into the upper elementary grade levels (Princiotta & Germino Hausken, 2006).

These data underscore the importance of turning to empirically proven methods of improving teaching practice as the lever educators can maneuver to improve student outcomes. As such, job-embedded learning is all the more crucial for programs to invest time and effort into. 

However, not all job-embedded professional learning is equally impactful. Pacchiano, Klein, and Hawley explain that four key characteristics make these PD strategies most effective in the modern era:

  • 1:1 coaching support: As explored earlier, one-off training is insufficient for adult learners to retain new knowledge, let alone apply it in new ways to their teaching. Individualized support like practice-based coaching for early childhood teachers is more effective in shifting practices for the benefit of young students. 
  • Upskilling and self-learning: Early educators are busy! When programs offer opportunities for independent professional growth, they allow teachers to bolster their skills and even complete requirements for specific certifications on their own schedules around their many obligations. In particular, online courses work well to lead educators down tailored learning paths based on their learning opportunities or needs.
  • Peer-to-peer collaboration: Collaboration can include formal mentorship relationships between colleagues as well as less formal gatherings like lunch-and-learns or professional learning communities (PLCs). Fostering a spirit of collaboration among teachers can boost morale, create space for staff to seek and receive support when needed, and nurture a culture of continuous improvement as a team.
  • Data assessment and analysis: Metrics are essential to measure the effectiveness of all three characteristics above. The right data help educators and program administrators alike identify patterns of success and new ways to drive improvements to teaching practices that meet students’ needs.

With these characteristics of successful professional learning in mind, how can early learning organizations efficiently launch or uplevel a job-embedded upskilling program?


Four Strategies to Uplevel Job-Embedded Professional Development for Teachers


1. Invest In The Right Online Learning Platform For Your PD Needs


The first step to expanding and supporting job-embedded professional learning opportunities is identifying the best technology for your programs. The right online learning platform can make all the difference in either helping or hindering your team’s ability to engage in coaching efficiently, provide peer feedback and support, and measure the impact of coaching activities on program goals.

Solutions like the innovative TORSH Talent online learning platform provide all the tools needed to catalyze your job-embedded professional development program — all within your organization’s available resources. 

Let’s take coaching, for example. Teachers leverage TORSH Talent’s video recording features to capture classroom practices live, which they can review ahead of coaching sessions to self-reflect or identify opportunities for growth. In parallel, coaches can also review these recordings, leaving time-stamped feedback for their mentees with specific input related to their coaching goals. When a teacher and their coach next meet, whether it’s in-person or online, these prep steps set them up for a more targeted, productive session. 

These are just a few of the many resources available to early childhood teachers and coaches using TORSH Talent. Ready to learn more? Request a demo to discover how our platform can nurture your coaching practices and teachers’ professional growth as a continuous process. 

Looking for more tips as you search for the right online learning platform to meet your PD needs? Read our recent article for seven key questions every administrator should ask. 


2. Create Multiple Methods for Self-Paced Development


Another critical component of effective job-embedded training is self-learning. Asynchronous opportunities for upskilling give early educators autonomy and practical ways to continue building their teaching effectiveness on their own schedule. Many programs will use solutions like TORSH Talent’s Learning Paths to develop right-sized online modules and courses for:

  • Targeted training on specific topics, identified based on program data or opportunities for educator growth sourced from coaching observations
  • Certification requirements, either for new or ongoing education (especially helpful for teachers early in their career)
  • Other self-paced learning opportunities based on educators’ interests or personal learning goals

The best part about online learning pathways is their flexibility to meet individual educator’s unique needs. For example, TORSH Talent allows administrators to curate which modules educators must complete in order to layer on learning with great intentionality and precision. And with such busy schedules, early childhood teachers appreciate the ability to complete requirements like certifications when and where it’s convenient for them.

When early childhood providers take time to develop self-learning opportunities for their staff, they create conditions for practitioners to improve teaching effectiveness. Further, they encourage a mindset of curiosity among educators, which can greatly encourage them to stay in the field and continue helping young learners grow and thrive.


3. Leverage Hybrid & Virtual Collaboration for Scalability


Like many early education program leaders, you may be exploring hybrid and virtual professional learning methods such as online coaching to stretch limited program dollars and staff resources to the maximum. But there are so many ways technology can support collaboration beyond coaching! 

Consider building peer-to-peer collaboration opportunities in a digital space for early childhood staff. As highlighted earlier, PLCs are a great way to foster peer collaboration. Many programs leverage PLCs that focus on particular challenges with teaching practices within their classrooms. This setup encourages teachers to take ownership of isolating, testing, and measuring changes to program instructional approaches to improve student outcomes. 

TORSH Talent’s Communities feature is the perfect place to launch a virtual PLC or complement an in-person one with online collaboration. This informal tool allows your staff to pose and answer questions among their peers. A comprehensive directory also allows you or PLC leaders to manage membership in specific Sharing Circles around particular topics or challenges.

Learn more about this and other collaboration features available for early childhood educators in TORSH Talent.


4. Gather The Right Data To Guide Continuous Improvement


Even with the best coaching and collaboration practices in place, job-embedded professional learning is nothing without data. After all, the ultimate goal of improving teachers’ effectiveness is to improve students’ learning and growth — which requires measuring the impact of your PD strategies.

Whether you manage a Head Start program working to meet performance standards or a preschool experimenting with a new curriculum, data are essential. Consider how you might synthesize outputs from early childhood assessments, coaching feedback, and more to paint a picture of your program’s effectiveness. What learning outcomes are educators successfully driving in young learners? Where might teachers benefit from additional training or support? 

Additionally, these learning outcomes will inevitably change as a program matures and shifts — and that means building an ongoing process for reviewing and analyzing data becomes critical.

TORSH Talent offers clear reporting and metrics that you can tailor to meet your specific program needs or measure particular goals. Additionally, the platform integrates seamlessly with many LTI-compliant platforms such as Canvas, Blackboard, and Sakai, allowing you to examine multiple data across existing tools to make informed decisions about professional learning and practices. These capabilities underpin a successful cycle of improvement where teachers grow and students thrive.


Expand Your Job-Embedded Professional Learning Strategies with TORSH


TORSH brings a wealth of expertise and experience in effective coaching and job-embedded professional learning for early childhood educators. The innovative TORSH Talent online learning platform is the ideal solution to support and enhance job-embedded professional learning practices within your early education program, with easy-to-use and secure tools to:

  • Complete video-based observations
  • Provide targeted, specific feedback to early learning educators on their interactions with children and families
  • Nurture synchronous and asynchronous collaboration
  • Individualize educator coaching and learning
  • Give insights to guide professional learning and training

Uplevel your early childhood educator professional development needs with TORSH Talent. Request a demo today!

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