How you can use the new Texas Core Competencies
After more than three years of research, collaboration, and writing, the Texas Early Learning Council released the new Texas Core Competencies for Early Childhood Practitioners and Administrators in February 2013 (Texas Early Childhood Professional Development System 2013). Other states, such as California, Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, previously published similar documents and were used as models for the Texas publication.
This new document is a huge step toward providing better care for children in our state and our country. But busy parents, teachers, and administrators may find themselves asking, “What do we do with this?”
The Core Competencies refer to demonstrated skills and abilities that are based on basic concepts of early childhood. This document is intended to help professionals know what knowledge and skills they should possess to be successful in their careers at each level of practice: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. The document is based on best practices grounded in research on child development, learning, and program management and can be used in a number of ways to increase the knowledge, skills, and professionalism in early childhood education and care programs.
Any individual who works with or has a vested interest in improving the quality and professionalism in early childhood education and care, including administrators, practitioners, trainers and teacher educators, parents, and advocates, can use the Core Competencies as a guide.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children recommends that “all early childhood professionals are supported as professionals with a career ladder, ongoing professional development opportunities, and compensation that attracts and retains highly qualified educators” (NAEYC n.d. Vision Statement).
Early childhood program administrators can use the Core Competencies in conjunction with the Texas Early Childhood Career Lattice (Texas Early Childhood Professional Development System 2013) to define different positions within their center and create position-specific job descriptions, pay scales, and evaluation tools based on best practices and observable knowledge and skills.
As new employees are hired, their pre-service training can include an introduction into the various levels of employment, pay, and expectations within the program, in addition to the core competencies they need to develop in order to be successful in the field. When all teachers and administrators know what is expected in the position they are assigned, how to progress to a higher position, and why upward movement is beneficial to them, they are likely to perform with more enthusiasm and professionalism.
As administrators observe teaching staff and notice areas for growth, they can work with staff to plan for individualized professional development as recommended by the Program Administrators Scale (Talon and Bloom 2011). When all staff have a common understanding of what is expected and why, and receive the professional development they need, the center is likely to run more smoothly.
In many states, including Texas, individuals can be hired as early childhood education and care practitioners with minimal training and education (National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education 2012). The levels of education, professional development, and experience that practitioners have can vary greatly within and among programs.
However, those practitioners (including teachers, teachers’ aides, teachers’ assistants, caregivers, and providers) who are interested in improving their level of knowledge and performance may use the Core Competencies as a guide as they seek the training and practice they need to advance in the profession. Practitioners may use the Core Competencies as a checklist to help assess and reflect on their own practices.
A teacher who is adequately trained in Supporting Skill Development and Curriculum, for example, may find that she is having trouble with the children’s behavior in her classroom. Consequently, she may seek training and professional development in Responsive Interactions and Guidance. Or, as a teacher moves from a preschool classroom to a toddler room, she may realize that she needs a refresher on Health, Safety, and Nutrition for the younger age group.
When practitioners are empowered to reflect on and evaluate their own performance, and to plan their own professional development, they are more likely to participate enthusiastically in their own learning and growth.
Trainers and teacher educators
For years, trainers and teacher educators have used the Core Knowledge and Skills Areas to articulate the different topics on which they conduct training for practitioners and administrators (Texas Early Childhood Professional Development System n.d.). These guidelines, along with other various sources on best practices, were a good guide for knowing what practitioners and administrators need to know, but they were not all in one place and may not have been used consistently.
The new Core Competencies document has compiled the skills and knowledge needed by practitioners and administrators, stratified them into beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels, and articulated them based on objective and observable knowledge and skills. Trainers and teacher educators can use this document to plan training and professional development based on the specific skills and knowledge for each audience level. By specifying the level of training being provided, trainers and teacher educators can presume, when developing trainings, that the audience will possess the knowledge base consistent with their levels of practice.
Trainers and teacher educators can provide stratified levels of sequential training in order to add depth and breadth to the training they provide. This allows practitioners and administrators to receive training that builds on previous trainings, rather than attending sessions or courses intended for individuals with different levels of practice.
Groups that advocate for high-quality early childhood education and care, such as NAEYC (n.d. A Good Preschool) and Zero to Three (2012), recommend that parents conduct detailed research before enrolling their children in preschools or child care. By knowing what to expect from the staff, curriculum, and administration, parents can determine which level of care they require (or are receiving) for their child.
Parents are encouraged to use the Core Competencies as a guide when they interview potential programs and teachers in order to determine whether they are prepared in areas that meet children’s needs. Even by just understanding the different competencies that practitioners and administrators are expected to know can help parents determine if their child is in the care of adults who are adequately trained and prepared. Just as in any profession, early childhood care and education professionals need to have knowledge and experience in a variety of areas.
Parents can also use the Core Competencies as a reference when reading lesson plans and curricula that are sent home with their child. Often parents who may have specialized training in other fields have difficulty understanding the purpose of activities in which their children participate in preschool. The Core Competencies can help to clarify the purpose and value of preschool curriculum and goals. The document can also serve as a guide to parents looking for training resources to help enhance their child’s learning experience—both at school and in the home.
As the subject of early childhood education and care becomes more prominent in the eyes of stakeholders and policy makers, it is important that those people who advocate for young children reflect in practice as much as they can about the knowledge and skills needed to provide children with the best care possible. The Core Competencies document clearly articulates best practices and helps advocates create a clear understanding of what is needed in the field of early care and education.
Advocates can use this document not only to inform policy makers and legislators about the importance of qualify care and how to achieve it but also to influence them to support professional development initiatives that will enhance the practice of administrators and practitioners.
In addition, advocates can encourage statewide professional development groups to adopt the core competency areas as the system by which all trainings and workshops are categorized.
An exhaustive guide
The Core Competencies can be used by anyone who has a vested interest in the quality of care that children receive. This document is an exhaustive guide to the knowledge and skills required in order to provide the best care and education for children based on available research and best practices. Practitioners, administrators, teachers, trainers, educators, advocates, and parents are encouraged to use this document as a tool as they strive to care for, educate, and advocate for young children.
National Association for the Education of Young Children. n.d. Vision Statement. Retrieved from www.naeyc.org/about/mission.
National Association for the Education of Young Children. n.d. A Good Preschool for Your Child. Retrieved from http://families.naeyc.org/accredited-article/good-preschool-your-child.
National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education. 2012. State Licensing and Regulation Information. Retrieved from http://nrckids.org/STATES/states.htm.
Talon, T. N., and P. J. Bloom. 2011. Program Administration Scale, 2nd ed. New York: Teachers College Press.
Texas Early Childhood Professional Development System. 2013. Texas Core Competencies for Early Childhood Practitioners and Administrators. Houston: Texas Early Learning Council.
Texas Early Childhood Professional Development System. 2013. Texas Early Childhood Career Lattice. Houston: Texas Early Learning Council.
Texas Early Childhood Professional Development System. n.d. Core Knowledge and Skills Areas. Retrieved from www.uth.tmc.edu/tececds/ckas.html.
Zero to Three. 2012. Choosing Quality Care. Retrieved from www.zerotothree.org/early-care-education/child-care/choosing-quality-child-care.html.
About the authors
Donna Kirkwood has a Ph.D. in child development and is currently an assistant professor of early childhood education at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Her research interests are high-quality environments for young children, developmentally appropriate curriculum and critical thinking and reflection.
Katie Chennisi, M.P.H., is the coordinator for the Texas Early Childhood Professional Development System (TECPDS) and is responsible for planning and developing TECPDS components and overseeing the Texas Trainer Registry application. She has worked primarily in the social services field and has provided direct services to children and families.
LaShonda Y. Brown received her bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Dallas Baptist University and is currently the director for the Texas Head Start State Collaboration Office (THSSCO) and the Texas Early Childhood Professional Development System (TECPDS). She is responsible for ensuring that high quality professional development opportunities are available statewide to individuals working in early care and education.
Jennifer Lindley is the public policy and communications coordinator for the Texas Early Learning Council, a governor-appointed advisory council charged with improving school readiness in Texas. She holds a master’s degree in public policy from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.