A Primer in Professional Development for Early Childhood Educators

Professional development: two words that never fail to elicit groans of frustration from early childhood educators. But professional development doesn’t have to be the unpleasant obligation some early childhood teachers make it out to be. Preschool teachers who regard professional development as an opportunity instead of a requirement can be sure to strengthen their teaching style, enhance their classroom environment, and offer the best to their students throughout their career.

Professional development is your opportunity to learn and apply new knowledge and skills that will improve your performance on the job. It may be in the form of requirements to renew your early childhood teacher certificate or it may be a voluntary endeavor for learning something new.

Implementing today’s best practices in the classroom should be considered standard practice for any great teacher. Still, the most effective early childhood educators are the ones who are always in search of new knowledge and skills, looking to set the bar higher than it ever has been before. This is why you should think of professional development opportunities as a way to improve yourself while improving the learning experience for the kids in your classroom.

What is the definition of professional development?

Professional development is the process of gaining knowledge in your profession. It is often referred to as in-service, staff development, professional learning or continuing education. It is the strategy used by schools and districts to ensure educators continue to seek new knowledge, strengthen their skills and continue to grow.

What are some different types of professional development?

Professional development may take the form of formal arrangements through workshops, seminars, courses, or conferences, or it may occur in informal settings, such as discussion among colleagues, independent research and reading, or observing a colleague’s work.

You can engage in professional development both in-person and online. Online professional development may be useful for learning new content or observing video demonstrations. Some online professional development allows for real-time discussions between an expert and the participants.

Some of the modes of professional development include:

  • Study groups among colleagues
  • Individual reading/study/research
  • Observation
  • Mentoring
  • Team meetings to learn a new strategy, problem-solve, and plan lessons
  • Faculty and department meetings
  • College/university courses
  • Workshops and conferences
  • Proprietary programs by private vendors

How much and what type of professional development is required?

Most states have specific professional development mandates for license renewal. For example, in Ohio, you must complete at least 6 semester hours or 180 continuing education contact hours of professional development during your 5-year renewal period, while New York educators must complete at least 175 hours of professional development during each five-year renewal period.

Some states, including California and New Jersey, have no specific professional development hour requirements, although individual school districts may have specific requirements of their own.

Although your state board of education, school, or district sets the required number of professional development hours you must complete each year, with some exceptions, you have the freedom and flexibility to pursue continuing education that best meets your current and future professional and career goals. Exceptions might include some mandatory courses in first aid, for example.)

Professional development may relate directly to your job as an early childhood educator or to a functional activity in your classroom, or it may relate to topics like organization, resourcefulness, and innovation.

What makes for high-quality professional development?

How do you know if the professional development you are pursuing is of the highest-quality?

According to Learning Forward (previously the National Staff Development Council), research reveals that high-quality professional development has the following characteristics:

  • It is aligned with state and district standards and assessments and school goals.
  • It is focused on core content and the modeling of teaching strategies for the content.
  • It includes opportunities for actively learning new teaching strategies.
  • It provides the opportunity for teachers to collaborate.
  • It includes follow-up and continuous feedback.

Professional Development Resources for Early Childhood Educators

Your state board of education likely maintains a website dedicated solely to continuing education and professional development. For example, California provides resources for its preschool educators through its Early Education and Support Division, while the New Jersey Department of Education provides a comprehensive professional development resource that allows educators to view and register for upcoming events.

Sponsored Content

There are also many professional courses, programs, seminars, and workshops dedicated to early childhood educators that you can pursue on your own. Among them are:

The National Association for the Education of Young Children

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) offers a wide array of professional development opportunities for educators who work with and on behalf of young children and their families. According to the NAEYC, these opportunities lead to improvement in the knowledge, practices, skills and dispositions of early childhood educators and other professionals.

Some of the learning opportunities designed for early childhood educators and other professionals include:

PBS TeacherLine

PBS TeacherLine offers online courses that satisfy standards-based professional development opportunities.

PBS TeacherLine provides early education teachers with a self-contained course environment that requires no book or software purchases. Many of the courses relate directly to the preschool curriculum and incorporate assignments and activities that you can immediately incorporate into your classroom.

Many of the online courses also offer teachers the opportunity to earn graduate credits through partner institutions.

Just a sampling of some of the courses aimed at early childhood educators include:

  • Understanding Numbers and Operations: Addition and Subtraction, Grades Pre-K-3
  • Raising Readers: Preparing Preschoolers for Success
  • An Introduction to Underlying Principles and Research for Effective Literacy
  • Teaching Phonemic Awareness and Phonics, Preschool-Grade 3
  • Science Teaching Strategies for Center-Based Preschool Educators

Big Day for Pre-K

Big Day for Pre-K (part of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) supports every preschool teacher’s growth as a professional by offering pre-K professional development, such as their Free Professional Development Webinar Series. This series allows preschool teachers to listen, interact, and exchange ideas with leading experts to ensure that their classrooms are at the forefront of research-based and standards-aligned practice.

Some of the webinars in this series include:

  • Developing Math Concepts
  • Fostering Early Language Development in Preschool-Aged Children
  • Starting Small: Milestones and Activities to Support Young Children’s Writing Development
  • Fueling the Next Generation of Opportunity for Young Children’s Love of and Engagement in Reading

Education Resources Information Center (ERIC)

Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) is an online library of educational information and research, including policy papers, journal articles, and education-related resource materials. ERIC is an excellent resource for pursuing research and study to support your work in the early childhood classroom.

Concept to Classroom

Concept to Classroom offers workshops that cover a wide variety of topics in education. All workshops include videos, tips, and strategies for making your preschool classroom work. You can apply these free workshops to your professional development. Some of the workshops offered include:

  • Inquiry-Based Learning
  • Assessment, Evaluation, and Curriculum Redesign
  • Cooperative and Collaborative Learning
  • Making Family and Community Connections
  • Interdisciplinary Learning in Your Classroom

Teaching Strategies for Early Childhood

Teaching Strategies for Early Childhood offers a wide variety of professional development training options, including online sessions, off-the-shelf sessions, and on-site sessions.

The courses offered allow teachers to earn CEU credit upon completion. Each course contains learning activities separated into different topics (interests).

These courses include:

  • The Creative Curriculum for Preschool: Foundation
  • The Creative Curriculum for Preschool: Daily Resources

The Perpetual Preschool

The Perpetual Preschool offers a wide array of curricular resources, as well as online workshops for educators. Just some of the many workshops they offer include:

  • Small Muscle Development
  • Celebrate Diversity in Your Classroom
  • Creative Art for Preschoolers
  • Encouraging Positive Self-Concept in Children
  • Create Learning Materials for Children

Scholastic Professional

Scholastic Professional, aside from being an all-around fantastic resource for educators, is a great resource for professional development opportunities. Scholastic offers the Scholastic Professional Author TalkAbout video interviews, where noted authors answer questions about important issues in education, as well as free webinars related to common core standards.


Many organizations and companies offer webinars for early childhood educators:

Heading Back to School: Meeting Professional Development Requirements Through College Courses and Programs

One of the best ways you can advance your preschool career and meet professional development requirements/earn continuing education credits is by completing college courses or pursuing an advanced degree. If you have an associate’s degree, now may be the time to work toward your bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.

Bachelor’s Degrees in Early Childhood Education

A bachelor’s degree consists of four years of full-time study and about 120 credits, although if the college or university where you pursue this degree accepts most or all of the general education requirements from your associate degree credits, you can complete a bachelor’s degree in about two years after completing the programs’ core courses. Many of these programs are offered partially or fully online, allowing you to complete the required coursework around your work schedule.

Bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education may be designed as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS). Coursework requirements often include:

  • Foundations of Early Childhood
  • Educational Psychology in Early Childhood
  • Instructional Methodologies for Teaching
  • Early Childhood Literature
  • Child Growth and Development
  • Child Guidance, Management, and the Environment

If you already have a bachelor’s degree, you may choose to pursue undergraduate or graduate-level courses in a specific area of early childhood education, such as:

  • Children’s literature
  • Psychology
  • STEM
  • Behavior analysis

Graduate Degrees in Early Childhood Education

If you already hold a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, pursuing graduate level courses or a graduate degree in a related area may allow you to achieve a position as preschool program director, early intervention program director, administrator, and educational and curriculum specialist.

Sponsored Content

The Master of Education (M.Ed.) in early childhood education is designed for practicing educators who want to enhance their classroom practice and teacher leadership skills. Many times, these programs are offered online to accommodate the schedules of working educators.

Graduate programs in early childhood education often offer the opportunity to specialize your course of study in such areas as:

  • Bilingual/English as a Second Language (ESL)
  • Leadership
  • Early Childhood Services
  • Early Childhood Studies
  • Prevention and Early Intervention

Coursework often includes:

  • Growth and Development of Young Children
  • Learner Diversity and Inclusion in Early Childhood Education
  • Learning Environments: Curriculum and Technology
  • Research Methods in Education

Back to Top