Great Expectations

By Dr. Shirley Patterson

Professional development may be defined or labeled differently by researchers and practitioners, trainers and professors, but most definitions have the commonality of branching PD into two lines, For example, here are two prominent definitions:

Education or preservice refers to provision of a broad-based program and typically leads to a degree or certification. Training or inservice programs are specific to an area of inquiry and set of skills, and completion of training can lead to continuing education units or clock hours (NAEYC).

PD is ongoing and critical for all of us in the business of education. Whether we do self-study, attend conferences and seminars, access webinars, take a for-credit class, or read journals, we all must keep up with the latest in research and policy. Even though we have research to do before we can definitively say which type of PD is most effective for which groups, or “… how professional development efforts exert their influence and produce meaningful change in practitioners’ skills, behaviors, and dispositions” (Sheridan et al., 2009), there is agreement that providers of PD are obligated “… to ensure that all who provide care and education for young children are competent” (NAEYC).

For a number of years, I have provided PD opportunities in the area of early childhood, especially in early childhood curriculum and early language and literacy learning. My work history includes teaching university classes. Over the years I developed a set of expectations for college students, and I applied those expectations in seminars and workshops for early childhood participants. I made assumptions about what the participants knew in terms of foundational information regarding the topic. By doing that, I could move quickly into the specific subject at hand. I could move from research to practice with evidence-based information. I had great expectations of the participants. Regularly, I found that my expectations were erroneous.

I found it challenging to establish the linkage between research and practice. For example, if the topic were facilitating vocabulary in young children, I assumed that the participants would have working, foundational knowledge about language systems. They must have had a curriculum in college/university education that prepared them with basic information, I thought. They would know about Hart and Risley’s seminal studies (Hart & Risley, 1995). I was discouraged when they did not.

It was necessary to adjust expectations to better fit the audience’s knowledge base. You might say, “This is what we all do; we adjust our presentation to fit the audience.” Yes, and we should always do that. However, I did not expect that I would need to supply the foundational base and introductory information about language and its systems. But, in order to talk about early language and literacy learning and how to support that learning in an EC curriculum, the foundation had to be strengthened so the participants could fully conceptualize why and how one would do this in the context of a classroom full of 3- to 5-year-old children.

I do not suggest that we not have great expectations of our teachers in any PD experience we offer. We can temper expectations, keep them realistic, and provide the fundamentals for the concepts we plan to address in the workshop. Indeed, we must maintain great expectations, but we may need to take a different route to reach the desired outcome.

In addition, our programs of higher education must review the curriculum and practicum they offer students and be certain that students receive a foundation of knowledge on which they can integrate new research and practice when presented.


Shirley Patterson, Ph.D., CCC-SLP is a Speech-Language Pathologist and Learning Disabilities specialist. She is a consultant in early language and literacy and a certified instructor for The Emerging Language and Literacy Curriculum, which she coauthored with Julie Ornes, MHS, CCC-SLP; Dana McMillan, M.A.; and Jackie Thomas, MOT, OTR/L.


Early Childhood Leadership & Policy Network (2008). Early Childhood Professional Development: Creating a Plan to Support Child Care Quality. Available online at

Hart, B. & Risley, T. R. (1995). Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young Children. Baltimore: Paul Brookes Publishing Co.

NAEYC. What is Professional Development in Early Childhood Education? Available online at[KS1]

Sheridan, S., Edwards, C., Marvin, C., & Knoche, L. (2009). Professional Development in Early Childhood Programs: Process Issues and Research Needs. Early Education & Development, Vol. 20(3), p. 377-401.

About Shirley Patterson

Books by Shirley Patterson: The Emerging Language and Literacy Curriculum

Categories: Professional Developement | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Great Expectations

  1. AWAnderson

    You have presumed teachers were not taught something in their pre-service education program. It is very likely they were taught, that is that the information was included in a textbook passage they were assigned to read or in a lecture they listened to. It is equally likely they skimmed over the passage or didn’t read it at all, didn’t attend class the day of the lecture or only paid minimal attention to it, or just plain have forgotten what they once read or heard.

    Theory doesn’t click until experience makes it relevant, and many pre-service teachers don’t have sufficient experience for the relevancy switch to click to ‘on.’ It is more likely for the click to take place in a PD setting or in a graduate school setting than in an undergraduate setting. That doesn’t mean we stop teaching theory at the undergraduate level, but it does mean we review the theory at every level without presuming it was retained from a class held long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.

    • Thanks for your comments. You are correct, I have made assumptions. After so many years doing this work, I have come to believe a lot of my assumptions. I do agree that students may have had information that they cannot recall or did not learn in the first place. I just taught a class to Seniors in Early Childhood, and I know what they should have taken away with them but I fully expect some trainer someday to say just what I said in the blog. However, at the national level, teacher education has become an issue, i.e., what are we teaching our teachers?

      Shirley Patterson, PhD

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