I could tell you that a great way to cultivate early intervention expertise is to take a workshop, read a book, join a community of practice or go to a conference. In fact, that’s how the first draft of this post read. The more I thought about this topic, though, the more I realized that we all really already know that. We know that we need to sign up for trainings to keep our certifications or licensure current. We know that we need to update our knowledge – but is that the same as promoting our own expertise? I don’t think so.
From research on EI professional development, we know that the most popular method of receiving “training” is through attending a workshop. We also know that just attending a workshop is not the most effective way to learn and develop your practice. Some of the reasons for this lie with people like me, professional development providers, who can find better ways to support learning than simply lecturing. Other reasons are specific to the learners, the EI providers who attend. For today’s post, I’m going to suggest two critical elements that I hope you’ll reflect on that profoundly affect how you develop and promote your own expertise.
Reflection #1: How Do You Identify Yourself?
Do you identify yourself as a therapist or an educator who “works in early intervention?” Or are you an “early interventionist”? I’ve always thought that the mark of a good interventionist is when you can’t determine his/her discipline by observing a visit or listening to him/her talk. How you identify yourself is important because it affects how you approach your own professional development. An early interventionist needs to have a thorough understanding of child development across all areas that reflects a “whole child” perspective that is not narrowed by a focus on discipline-specific developmental milestones. He/she must understand family functioning, have knowledge and skills for providing supports in a variety of environments, and have the flexibility to use the materials found in the child’s environment (rather than relying on the magic toy bag). An early interventionist also, and perhaps most importantly, must understand how to work through the parent or caregiver, supporting the adult’s learning so that he/she is able to enhance the child’s development when the early interventionist isn’t in the home. Having this broad viewpoint of your role also broadens your professional development commitment, which leads me to the next reflection…
Reflection #2: Are You Committed to Developing Your Own Expertise?
I truly believe that using good practices often come down to three things: the individual’s commitment to lifelong learning, to keeping current with the evidence base and to putting in the effort it takes to apply recommended practices in his/her daily work. It also means that, if you see yourself as an early interventionist with a background in (insert discipline), then you are committing to keeping current in both your discipline and in the broader early intervention field. That might be a tall order but what we do is complex and requires a high degree of expertise.
You Want to Learn…Now What?
The first step to actively seek put learning opportunities. I know that there can be lots of roadblocks (e.g., funding, time) but there are ways around them. In our state, we have our VA EI Professional Development Center website with lots of resources like webinars, online modules, etc. that are FREE and archived so can be accessed whenever you have the time. There are lots of other online resources too associated with professional organizations or other state’s agencies. There are smaller steps than taking an online course too, like reading journals in your car between visits or making a purposeful effort to try out something you learned immediately after you learned it. I know it can be really challenging to squeeze one more thing in to the busy EI day, but it’s so worth the effort!
I hope you’ll take the time to reflect on what you can do to develop your practices as an early interventionist. What you do and how you do it matters to each and every family. It starts with how you view your role and continues with your commitment to growing and learning everyday.
Oh, and by the way, reading an article, joining a discussion group, participating in a workshop, or hey, even following a blog might still help you learn a thing or two! 🙂
How do you describe your expertise to a family or to someone unfamiliar with our field? What do you do to keep your practices current?
This post is the third in a blog-to-blog collaboration series written with our colleagues at B2k Solutions, Ltd. based on the most recent “Voices from the Field” article written by Bonnie Keilty, Ed.D. in Young Exceptional Children. You can access the other posts in this series here: