PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENTLife-Long Learning
"How can I keep current in my field?"
A lifelong learner is a person of any age who takes the initiative to seek new skills and information when needed or wanted for work, quality of life, or leisure.
The essential characteristics of lifelong learners are the following:
- Open mindedness and inquisitiveness;
- A persistent approach to learning;
- The need to master new knowledge and skills efficiently and confidently using a variety of techniques;
- A need to self-assess and improve one's knowledge, skills, and opportunities; and
- A respect for learning for the sake of learning itself.
Today, being a lifelong learner is more important than ever. The workplace constantly changes. Technology pervades nearly every work environment making it necessary for workers to learn new skills throughout their careers. Workers discover that in order to be successful, they need to be lifelong learners.
Some practical reasons you need to expand your knowledge and keep learning are:
- You want to be better at what you do;
- Your job depends on it;
- You need to keep your certification/training up-to-date;
- You want to be satisfied with your position;
- You want to earn more or upgrade your position;
- You have a powerful new tool for learning: the internet;
- Colleges and universities are reaching out to you; and
- Employers support continued learning.
There are both formal and informal places where one can seek new knowledge and skills.
Formal Learning Opportunities
There are a number of opportunities for formal learning in most communities including:
- Colleges for additional coursework
- Universities for post graduate degrees
- Distance Education (Internet)
- Professional organizations for credentials
- Community-based organizations
- Adult and continuing education
- Conferences and seminars
Further formal education is available for professional advancement or personal satisfaction. The field of education, like any other, constantly advances through research. A professional seeks to keep updated with information, trends, and issues that may impact their work. For example, new brain imaging advances make it possible to better understand learning, particularly infant brain development. With this important new knowledge, the practice of infant care and education is changing rapidly. Sometimes the research justifies what we already knew from experience. Sometimes research counters long-held beliefs and practices and forces the profession to make some changes. Being aware of these keeps the professional on the cutting edge.
Advanced degrees or lateral degrees in a related field are available both at local institutions and now through distance learning, from higher education institutions all over the world. Credentials are available to certify a special area of knowledge such as the Children's Program Administrator Credential and the Infant/Toddler Credential. See SECTION V, PREPARING TO LEARN for more information about these programs. Community-based organizations and non-credit continuing education at higher education institutions offer training and seminars on specific topics of interest. These can be excellent learning opportunities. Professional organizations sponsor conferences locally, statewide and nationally. These are learning opportunities where you can attend presentations by experts, network with other professionals, and browse vendor areas for new books, equipment and supplies.
When you attend any of these formal learning opportunities, keep a record of your transcript for credit-bearing courses, or for non-credit options be sure to get a certificate of attendance, enter the information on your resume worksheet (see SECTION VI, DEVELOPING A RESUME).
Informal Learning Opportunities
There are also a number of informal ways to continue learning:
- Independent study
- Self assessment, analysis
- Discussions groups
- Internet list serves
- Working with a mentor
- Experiences within the field
Gaining new knowledge occurs in many environments other than classrooms or seminars. You can keep current by your own reading and through study that you do on your own. When you belong to a professional organization (See SECTION V, PREPARING TO LEARN) you receive their journal with articles, book reviews, and current issues. You can also watch for pertinent books and periodicals that guide you into deeper knowledge of a particular subject.
When you think about new learning, past experiences, and the application of knowledge, you are learning through self-reflection. All new knowledge is weighed against previous knowledge and assimilated.
Discussion groups based on books are a valuable experience. A small group decides on one book they all read and then share their responses to the book. It is very helpful to hear other people's insights in forming new knowledge and opinions. This can be done electronically by joining internet listserves.
Listserves dealing with aspects of early childhood are available. You "subscribe" like a magazine without any charge. Every time one of the other subscribers posts a message, which may be in the form of a question, a comment or sometimes a long written expression against something, all the subscribers receive that posting. Listserves are places for lively discussions as well as an electronic network of colleagues from whom you can seek advice. One of the most popular is:
- ECEOL-L Early Childhood Education Online This is a general interest early childhood listserv. Topics range from the highly practical to very philosophical and attract a nice mix of participants from students to long-term educators. Go to (opens in a new window) for more information and to sign on to this listserv.
Working with a Mentor
Another very valuable source of informal learning is to seek out an experienced, wise, trusted colleague to serve as a mentor. This may be a very informal close friendship with a person that serves as a conduit for information, a source of feedback on ideas and issues, and a person with which you can discuss problems and dilemmas. Sometimes mentorships are more formal relationships, such as someone assigned by your employer who will orient you to the workplace.
How can I be of service to my profession?"
Professionals who feel strongly about their careers do not only seek their own advancement, but the collective advancement of the profession. There are many ways in which people serve their profession.
Mentoring Novices - Many highly experienced and knowledgeable people in early childhood serve their professional community by mentoring new entrants to the field. Professionals take responsibility for giving advice based on their knowledge and wisdom gained by their experience. This support transmits knowledge to the less tenured portion of the workforce.
Mentoring can be informal through friendships and working relationships, helping to guide someone toward pathways of professional development. It also may be more formal such as a part of a supervisor's job description that help employees write a professional development plan or as a consultant whose task it is to guide novices. The public school system has realized that the first few years of a new teacher's career are crucial to retaining that teacher in the system. Teacher certification in New York State is requiring all initial stage teachers to have a mentor, usually assigned by the school district.
Professional Organization Leadership - Belonging to a professional organization is a way to support the profession as a whole, as well as individual learning. Volunteer members serve in various capacities both in the function of the organization such as officers and decision-making boards, and in service to the organization on committees such as newsletter editor, professional development planning, community outreach, public policy, and hospitality. This is a way to get acquainted with colleagues, learn more about the workings of the organization, and have a voice in how the organization functions. New leaders are always needed for the type of professional service.
Agency and Community Roles - Another way people continue to develop professionally and serve their profession is by serving on volunteer boards for agencies or organizations. Every non-profit organization has a volunteer board made up of interested persons who help to bring leadership to that organization. By searching out such groups in your community you can donate your time and expertise while also meeting and working with other professionals. This is a very worthwhile endeavor, bringing the satisfaction that comes to volunteers, of making a difference, improving the organization and ultimately the community. Colleagues on boards often become friends and serve as a network for career growth.
Advocacy - Children are vulnerable. They need the protection to be nurtured by their families, their community, the nation, and the world. The professional has the opportunity and the responsibility to stand for children whenever it is necessary. There are several ways to do that:
- Personal advocacy - There are many opportunities to support children. It may be in the supermarket where a child is lost or it may be a child in a family that is need of clothing or food. It may be identifying a practice that is not in the best interests of children and bringing it to the attention of program administrators of other authorities.
- Private sector advocacy - There are numerous opportunities to advocate for children on a state, national, or worldwide scale or organization that seek to improve many less than optimal conditions for children.
- Public policy advocacy - Public policy is another area where professionals work to improve the lives of children. This can be done by working to support a law that is pending or that needs to be written to assist in the safe, healthy development of children. Some websites where you can find information on public policy issues:
- New York Center for Early Care and Education (opens in a new window)
Children's Defense Fund (opens in a new window)
Stand for Children (opens in a new window)
I Am Your Child (opens in a new window)
Families and Work Institute (opens in a new window)
When professionals care, they find places to serve children no matter where they are.
Authorship - As people develop as professionals, they acquire knowledge and insight that is useful to pass on to the field. There are numerous opportunities for conveying this information including newsletters, journals and books.