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Jaclyn Klinginsmith and retired Professor Michelle Buchanan work with Lena Baskins at the Early Care and Education Center, located on the UW campus. (UW Photo)

The Wyoming Early Childhood Professional Learning Collaborative is working to improve the opportunities for Wyoming’s youngest learners by supporting the professional development of their early childhood educators.

The group was initiated when the Wyoming Early Childhood Outreach Network, a University of Wyoming Trustees Education Initiative innovation, and Wyoming Kids First started to explore opportunities to improve the quality of early childhood education in the state. Through their shared goals, the partnership grew to include the Wyoming Department of Family Services, WY Quality Counts, Align, Statewide Training and Resource System (STARS) and Project ECHO in Early Childhood Education.

“The Wyoming Early Childhood Professional Learning Collaborative is an amazing vehicle to support WYECON’s goal of elevating the quality of early childhood programs by improving the professional learning opportunities offered to teachers and caregivers,” says WYECON Director and Associate Lecturer Nikki Baldwin.

The collaborative recognizes that students’ achievement is closely linked to the knowledge and skills of their teachers. Early childhood educators, especially in rural states such as Wyoming, have suffered from a lack of practical professional learning opportunities that allow them to improve their practice and build a professional network.

As the group began its work, a collective vision for a framework of early childhood professional development began to take shape. The model is designed to make the most impact in Wyoming’s unique early childhood landscape in regard to funding, systems and governance.

“Early childhood educators overwhelmingly list isolation and lack of resources as their biggest challenges. In a profession that is so physically, emotionally and cognitively draining, these professionals need connections with one another, opportunities to collaborate, and resources they can access locally to help them gain knowledge and grow as professionals,” Baldwin says. “This model brings training, mentoring and coaching opportunities directly to early childhood professionals.”

The new model uses seven regional learning facilitators, serving every peak and valley in the state, to deliver content directly to educators via local STARS trainings, online learning communities and individualized learning tools such as on-site mentoring and coaching.

“Our professional learning facilitators are not only providing these opportunities locally, but also are elevating early childhood leaders in programs and communities to build their capacity to support their own professional learning efforts,” Baldwin says. “This is about raising up the entire early childhood profession one teacher, leader and program at a time.”

Individualized learning plans will be put into action by the collaborative to provide a roadmap to guide facilitators and participants through the professional learning process. Content delivered will be based on the recently published NAEYC Professional Standards and Competencies for Early Childhood Educators, which define the essential body of knowledge, skills, dispositions and practice required of all early childhood educators.

“The focus of professional learning activities for year one is improving the quality of early learning environments, supporting healthy relationships between children and caregivers, and improving adult-child interactions. Each of these priorities is directly linked to improved learning outcomes for young children,” Baldwin said.

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