Is it time to rethink professional development in the early childhood sector? The ‘expert’ model may not be delivering much bang for our training buck.

‘And beware of advice from experts, pigs, and members of Parliament’ (Henson, 2007).

In early December 2013 the Federal Government announced that it intended to redirect unused funding from the Early Years Quality Fund, which was established to support the implementation of the National Quality Framework (NQF), to a new professional development programme: the Long Day Care Professional Development Programme (LDCPDP). The objective of this programme was to support services to meet their own professional development needs that supported the implementation of the NQF. Funding of approximately $200 million was to be provided to long day care providers over a three-year period (

The idea was that long day care services could best decide what their professional development needs were and how they might be supported. Understandably, the sector’s response to this offer of funding was enthusiastically received with a large number of applications submitted. It is not everyday that someone gives out money! While the Federal Government did not endorse any specific services, products or programs, they did provide funding guidelines to help services determine what their training requirements were and how this money might be spent judiciously.

As this programme is now approaching the end of the activity period on 30 June 2017, I have been reflecting on who have been the biggest beneficiaries of this funding allocation. Is it early childhood educators? Is it children? Is it families? Or could it be the consultants and trainers who have delivered a vast array of products and services to the early childhood sector? Is the model of the early childhood ‘expert’ delivering a presentation or workshop the best way to approach professional development? What actually changes in practice and programs from staff participating in this type of professional development?

Is there a better way?

I wonder if the professional development opportunities that Australia’s early childhood educators are participating in are becoming more about ‘entertrainment’ than real professional growth. Do we want to be entertained and validated rather than challenged and provoked? This tried and true professional development formula, while comfortable, is ultimately limiting and is unlikely to result in sustainable long-term changes in program or practice. While what we hear and learn is important, it is what we do differently that is the true measure of the success of professional development activities.

The teachers of Reggio Emilia have a different view of professional development that stands in contrast to our own. This contrast starts with the very word development. In Reggio Emilia they use the word growth—professional growth. Rather than viewing professional development as an external training seminar or workshop, that relies on a dose or quantitative approach, they believe that the minute a teacher walks through the door in the morning their professional growth starts—and the purpose of professional growth is to help you find the keys to interpret the learning. The dialogue that the teachers have throughout the day with children, families and colleagues means there are multiple informants and perspectives into this growth. Professional growth occurs all day, every day.

It occurs to me that the difference in meaning between these two words, development and growth, speaks loudly about the approach that each country takes. In Australia, professional development has become an event, an event that sees us rely heavily on the expert presenter. We seek these experts out for training on behaviour management, educational leadership, documentation, program planning and so on and so forth. The list of possible presentations is inexhaustible.

Any professional growth requires a surrender of the familiar; it is validating and affirming to have people who think like us and agree with us and have qualifications and skill sets similar to us, but real growth happens when we seek out people who don’t. We need to ask ourselves what can non early childhood people contribute to our professional growth?

Real growth and change happens over time. I have seen some services use their LDCPDP funding to support in-house coaching over a sustained period of time to effect real change in attitudes, behaviours and practice. I have seen some services use their funding to facilitate physicists, scientists, botanists and musicians to provide resourcing so that staff can learn and develop skill sets they did not otherwise have that they can then use to further support and extend children’s learning. To take a step forward we need to loose our balance.

Do something different.

As we approach the end of the programme there is most likely a flurry by services to allocate unused funds and book in professional development training. I have seen some training providers and consultants advertise a book now/do later approach where early learning services can pay for training now that can be done at a later date. What a genius idea, except for the fact that at the time of writing, this is in contravention of the funding guidelines that states that the funding cannot be used for services or programs that start after 30 June 2017.

I hope that the LDCPDP funding has resulted in real change and an early childhood workforce that has been able to tailor and support individual service training needs to effect real change and professional growth and not a huge wasted opportunity.

What did you do?

  • Disclaimer: Karen Hope works as an early childhood consultant/academic and freelance writer, and has most likely provided consultancy support to services that have used their LDCPDP money to facilitate it. She aims to provide a ‘disruptive’ consultancy approach that challenges the dominant discourse and gives you something to do and think about, long after she has left the building.


Henson, J., & Henson, C. (2007). It’s not easy being green; and other things to consider. New York, NY: Barnes and Noble.

Karen Hope

Karen is an early childhood consultant, lecturer and freelance writer who has extensive experience in a broad range of services within the early childhood care and education context. Her consultancy practice and teaching aims to provide teachers and educators with a disruptive approach to working with, and thinking about, children. Challenging taken for granted practices and dominant discourses is a feature of her work.

6 thoughts on “Is it time to rethink professional development in the early childhood sector? The ‘expert’ model may not be delivering much bang for our training buck.”

    Yarrow Andrew says:

    Thanks for your article, and for trying to shift thinking towards a model of ‘professional growth’ – a valuable idea.We know in education that ‘one-off’ professional development, if not supported or followed up, rarely achieves any long term or sustainable change in practies. It was good to see you mention, if not by name, the ‘critical friend’ model, where someone works with a site long term, building skills and knowledge responsive that site’s context.
    As an initial teacher-educator, I have been impressed by the Quality Teaching model approach developed by Professor Jennifer Gore and her colleagues, and would like to see their model being used more in before-school settings, to help educators build their pedagogical skills, and become more reflective about their classroom practices. I wonder if you have come across this, or found their framework useful?

    Justeen Fitzgibbon says:

    I love the author’s statement that we need “to take a step forward- we need to lose our balance” because we do need to do this in order to grow.
    Personal, professional growth is not optional in our field. If you don’t take the time to challenge your thinking and expand your teaching self, you run the risk of becoming one of the dinosaurs who are marking time, who are doing what they learned back in “teacher’s college” in 1982 and perpetuating the myth that “the old way is the right way.” You run the risk of feeding society’s notion of we all celebrate Mother’s Day with a morning tea because mothers are all at home and Christmas because we all believe in Christianity. Take a moment to grow and be challenged and you’ll soon see there’s a whole world out there that brings with it exposure to true diversity.
    In recent times, I’ve been confronted with a whole new approach to PD: light on theory, pedogogy and contemporary content, heavy on entertainment and nostalgia. I believe it’s called PD by the ENTER- TRAINER. Everyone loves the enter-trainer because they’re such nice, engaging people but scratch the surface and you’ll soon see you’ve spent mega-bucks on someone who’s spent 3 hours stroking your ego and teaching you little.
    Be brave- put yourself in the position where you have to answer the hard questions about your practice. Not only is this a fantastic opportunity to grow yourself as an educator but the outcomes for children and family will grow exponentially.
    And as it says in The Lorax: Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

    Justeen Fitzgibbon says:

    clearly my first PD should be around spell checking prior to sending……
    I do however, maintain my seat firmly on my high horse!

    Helen Thomasson says:

    Well said Karen – this has concerned me for some time. Thanks for articulating it so well.

    One of my PhD students undertook a study on the lack of traction resulting in one off experiences in professional learning. We also affirmed a long held belief we had that unless there is a whole of system approach to professional learning that enables a focussed examination and investigation on a particular aspect of pedogogy, it was very unlikely to result in embedded and sustainable change.
    I work as an early childhood consultant with a particular focus on translating the principles of Reggio Emilia in to other contexts. I do workshops and seminars to support educators awareness of this work. ALL of my long term consultancies stem from the ignition of inspiration, inquiry and investigation of the possibilities of thinking about practice in this way. I see my role as the provocateur and if I am good at it, people will want to know more.

    Doreen Blyth says:

    At the Educational Leaders Association (ELA) we are seeing a widespread call for a rethinking of professional learning (especially professional development) across the education and care sector. This rethinking includes the need for:
    1. A reconsideration of what we as a sector demand of professional development providers; calling for higher standards (indeed we need to consider codified standards) for professional development.
    2. Quality professional development that makes a meaningful contribution to qualifications and professional registration.
    3. A better understanding of how the professional development needs of Educators can be identified, how the appropriate professional learning types are selected, how they are resourced and most importantly, how they are followed up to measure changes in knowledge, skills and practice.
    4. Support for assessing what is available and the fees that are appropriate.
    Thanks for the article, it is as an important contribution to the professional conversations taking place over the next year.

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