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:
Developing and Promoting Early Intervention Expertise: What Administrators Can Do
Developing and Promoting Early Intervention Expertise: What Professional Development Providers Can Do
It is so true that between our professional organizations like the Division for Early Childhood (http://www.dec-sped.org/Conference), various centers, state technical assistance agencies, and even companies like where I work (B2K Solutions), there are plenty of ways in which we as early interventionists can expand upon our expertise. The two ways Dana encourages us to reflect and gain a focus or direction are critical if we are committed to ensuring and fostering our own own growth and development. Two strategies I’ve used in the past to clarify the direction I needed to go are as follows. First, start by making a list of 100 goals. Now don’t worry about measurability, don’t worry about if they are attainable, and don’t worry if they are big or small, personal or professional. Just get our your ipad or a piece of paper and get making the list. It is much harder than you might imagine. The process, however, really allows you to consider if something is your goal, someone else’s goal, or a goal that no longer serves you. It might help you clarify who you are today and where you would like to head. The other strategy is to make a list of 5 things you value (e.g., family-guided practices) and then 5 things you are doing with your life (e.g., filling out paperwork). After you have made the two lists, compare them – have you aligned your actions (your life) with your values? It is critical that each of us be responsible for the changes we want to see – the goal of gaining or enhancing our expertise is not in the hands of those who provide us with research, standards, professional development, articles, webinars, communities of practice, etc….the power to change resides in each of us….thanks again Dana for the reminder to stop and reflect in order to move forward.
Thanks, Kristie, for these suggestions! I really like these reflective exercises and couldn’t agree with you more that we are responsible for our own growth. It’s so easy to lose sight of that when we get lost in timelines, paperwork, programmatic constraints (like no funding for attending training), and the rush of the workday!
And thanks for the link to the DEC website too. I’m a big fan of DEC and I think it can be a great resource for any early interventionist, regardless of discipline.
Identifying myself as an Early interventionist was the first step I took in adjusting my identity and communicating my identity and EI concepts to the families that I serve. When I exchange a scheduling email with a family, I title it “Early Intervention visit” instead of “Occupational Therapy appointment”. It has helped me to be able to then go on to explain/educate families on broader concepts such as; coaching, primary provider and goal writing (not specific to discipline, but family priority driven).
Yay! I love it that you identify with the”Early Interventionist” role! There is actually a “movement” to have all of us, regardless of discipline, identify as early interventionists. Some states call their providers “developmental therapists” – whether they are OTs, PTs, SLPs, or educators. Adopting that title and role can be tricky for people who’s identity is very closely tied to their title. You make a great point about “adjusting” your identity and the impact it had!
Wow Yvonne – how insightful….just being mindful of the words we use to label ourselves can set the direction of our actions – Powerful!
I can see this idea of how we mindfully shape the “subject” line of our emails evolving over time to really depict our ideals around collaboration and mutual respect.
Your post is causing me to think about all the different ways we represent ourselves (e.g., twitter handles and taglines) and how important something as simple as a subject heading, a signature line, or even a handle may impact the trajectory of a relationship.
Yes, Kristie, it’s amazing how something that seems relatively unimportant like a handle or signature line can actually be very important for shaping our perceptions of ourselves and perceptions of others. There is so much power in the words we choose to use. I love Yvonnie’s suggestion too!
I especially liked Reflection #1 on “How Do You Identify Yourself?” It gave me pause to reflect on how do I define myself and present myself to EI families. I think I typically think of myself as an SLP despite my additional years of experience and degree in Early Childhood Special Education. I realize I need to make that mental shift before I can become a better parent coach and “Early Interventionist” who serves the “Whole Child”. I believe this reflection will help me redefine my role with families and adjust my approach.
It’s exciting to hear you reflecting on yourself and how you define your role, Kathy! I’m glad this post gave you some food for thought! It sounds like you have a wonderful combo background and you truly are an “early interventionist!”
What are your thoughts on what families would think of that identification switch, to early interventionist rather than SLP?
Thanks for this post Dana! Reflection #1 really hit home with me. It is a small thing, but I see the big impact of making that change in identity both for myself and the family. I am looking forward to noticing the changes this shift will bring.
Thanks! Please keep us posted on what impact you see with that change! I’d be really interested to hear if you see changes in how families understand what you do and if you end up viewing your work any differently.
I also appreciated the reflection exercise #1 in this particular post. I have, and always have, called myself an early interventionist when someone outside of my field asks what I do. I have found that this is very valuable because it gives me a chance to explain what an early interventionist is and does. It surprises me how often people have no idea what an early interventionist is, and I even learned that my own husband simply tells people I am an “educator” rather than an early interventionist as he struggles to explain to others about my job. While I am a specialist in the Deaf and Hard of Hearing educator area, I do find myself constantly asking families, or helping families figure out next steps for their whole child, whether it is eating, walking, running, social skills, language, etc. I was asked in my own interview coming to Virginia how I felt about collaborating with other professionals. I answered that with something along the lines of Great! I can’t do my job without them, because the whole child development is important, not just the part in which the child and family needs support. I value our collaboration as it not only helps me feel validated in what I discussed with the family, but I also actually learn something new in an area of development in which I do not have an expertise.
Thanks for the thought provoking questions!
You know, Emilie, after many years in EI, I still find it challenging to really explain what we do. I think that’s because it’s so multifaceted. We don’t really have just one job and we do different things with different families. It’s wonderful to hear your emphasis on the whole child. You’re right, addressing just a single area won’t make near the difference as considering and encouraging all of development. It’s all so intertwined. The children and families are as multifaceted as we are!
This was very interesting post, I know that in referenced to Reflection one, I identify myself as an early interventionist first and always have since I came to the field. Although when I look at the explanations of the understandings one has to to have to be an early interventionist it seems overwhelming. It wasn’t until I thought about it that I realized I at least have some understanding of all these things. There are points I am lacking in, one reason I want to further my education. Back to how I identify myself, I also identify myself as a child development specialist, which is a term I might have to change given the focus on the family, I do that because so often when I talk with others not in the field and I explain what I do, they come to the conclusion, I am special education teacher who works with young children. Which I am, but I don’t like the term, special educator in general, particularly for children so young and it really so much more then that! We work with not only the child, but the parents, family and hopefully the community,
I used to have the same title, Sarah. I liked it because people seemed to understand it better than when I said I was an early interventionist, but you’re right. We don’t just focus on the child anymore. And same as you, I couldn’t tell people I was a teacher because that tended to leave out the focus on the adult caregivers. I think all of us have areas in which we can improve our knowledge and skills – that’s why being a lifelong learner is so important! Thanks for sharing your insights!
I love this post, in that I feel it is very important for us all to identify with being an Early Interventionist. I always tell people that I am an Early Intervention Physical Therapist when they ask what I do, because it gives me an opportunity to educate them on the services that we provide in hopes that they might be able to tell someone else who is in need of our services that we are an available resources for them. I think its important that we are advocates for our families, the services we provide, and educating others on the wonderful world of Early Intervention!
That’s a great idea – to combine the roles and describe yourself more specifically. Taking ownership of that additional specialization really can help families and others in the community understand what can be a pretty complicated field to explain. You never know when you explain what you do to someone, how that might reach the ears of a family who really needs to know about these services!
Just this past month, I had stopped using the term “physical therapy session” when communicating with my families. I knew it was time to evolve from discipline specific terminology, but I hadn’t given much thought about replacement words. I very much like Yvonnie’s term “early Intervention visit” as it better describes what we are doing and fits well with the concepts of primary provider, coaching, and family centered practice. Unfortunately I have still been defining myself as a pediatric physical therapist. Perhaps I am not yet confident with the skills I need to be an early interventionist treating the whole child, and the title of physical therapist excuses me.
It sounds like you are growing, Monique, and your honest reflections are the reason. Many of us weren’t trained in treating the whole child, so one of the best ways to make that transition, I think, is by thinking about how you think. When you are working on motor development, you are probably talking and socializing with the child. When you treat the whole child, you do that more purposefully, with all of the child’s outcomes and developmental needs in mind. I bet you are already doing some of it. Everyone can improve their practice, and self-reflection is the key!
When I first began as a PT, I felt like there was something missing in my understanding of how to work with infants and toddlers. So working towards a masters in special education made sense – and since then I have been comfortable with wearing many hats. I definitely see myself as an early interventionist, and in the past 5 or 6 years have felt much more family focused and holistically based after becoming a parent myself. I love this movement towards a more cohesive and whole approach and feel like it is a much better fit for me (selfishly!) but for families as well.
Having that combination of education in PT and SPED is a wonderful thing, Laurie! I agree, too, that becoming a parent changed my view of this work too. I just saw things differently and had a different appreciation of supporting families during their routines – once I better understood how different those routines really could be from family to family and how hard it could be to embed intervention strategies into an already busy day. I understand what you write about it being a better fit for YOU too…I feel the same way! 🙂
I agree that how we identify ourselves is so important in what we do. Over the past 10 years I have gradually “redefined” my title from a Speech Therapist to an” ST that works in EI” to an “Early Intervention Therapist”. My husband laughs because when I worked at a children’s hospital there was so much struggle between disciplines and who does what, and now I am helping kids walk, climb, and address sensory issues as a speech therapist! I think there are some families that still need to hear that they are working with a Speech Therapist because they were told by the medical doctor that their child needed speech therapy. I often explain to families and others that ask that it is impossible to just look at a child’s language skills or feeding skills or cognitive skills without looking at all developmental skills as a whole and that developmental skills build upon each other and there for it is necessary to work with the “whole” child and not just one area. As for keeping my skills current, I learn so much from co-treating with other disciplines and mentoring sessions. I try to seek out professional developmental courses that are outside of the typical Speech Pathology field. I enjoy learning from my co-workers from all disciplines at teaming meetings when we discuss kids and techniques.
I love how you describe your professional development! Using your colleagues as sources of learning and growth is a wonderful, FREE way to learn, especially when budgets are tight for attending training courses. On most teams, there is a huge wealth of knowledge that can be shared. I like how you seek out courses outside of your discipline too. Great strategies!
Reflection #1 really resonated with me. I have always referred to myself as an “OT who works in EI” but then elaborate that I work on all areas of development. I am going to make a point to start using “early interventionist” more! Thank you for this post!
You’re welcome, Rebekah! Explaining what you do and focusing on all of development are great ways to help families understand what to expect from you. I’m glad to hear that this post resonated!
Reading all the thoughtful comments above I had to admit that I’ve always been more of a describer than a labeler when it comes to what I do and that’s been fine with me- something along the lines of ” I’m a speech and language pathologist for the 0 to 3 population; I work in their homes along side their families.” Maybe it’s because the traditional label beginning with “speech” isn’t usually particularly relevant with infants and toddlers. It was my sincere and plain speaking mother-in-law who remarked, “I never knew you could do speech with children who can’t speak yet.” And she was right of course, it’s all about communication. . . so much more than simply speech.
So interesting! I’ve wondered if sometimes families and doctors don’t jump on the opportunity to get EI or speech therapy BECAUSE they think what your mother-in-law suggested…why would my child need it if he can’t speak yet? I like your idea of emphasizing a description of what we do rather than focusing so much on getting the title right. Sometimes people’s identities are might closely tied to these specific titles. It’s a good exercise to think about how we identify ourselves as well as how we describe the support we provide. A title only goes so far…
Thank you Dana for this thought provoking post.
I have a post graduate degree in Early Childhood Special Education from CA. Our training focused on having a thorough understanding child development, the whole child, family-centered services and providing services in a variety of environments. The department chair was the director of the Early Start program on the college campus. Having said all that, my training took place in the late 80’s and so much has changed since then. I agree that working with young children and families is complex and requires a commitment to being a lifelong learner who is willing to stay up to date with current research and practices. Even though I’ve always considered myself an early intervention teacher/specialist, the title of Early Interventionist makes me even more aware of the need for ongoing professional development.
It sounds like you had really well-rounded educational preparation, Marlyne! How do you stay current? Do you read journal articles? Do you reserve time to explore up-to-date info? How do you squeeze it in? I’d love to hear what strategies you use because I think lots of folks find it hard to keep up, having a job that’s so busy.
Reflection #1- I strongly feel it is very important how you identify yourself starting at the first session with the family and also how you explain to the family what your role as the early interventionist will be regardless what your discipline is. I always make it clear to the family that even though I’m the primary provider (or the only one in some cases)that throughout their child’s EI services there maybe times that I will need to consult with my other early interventionists who are of other disciplines or even the same discipline with the end goal being what is in the best interest for their child. Communication is key not only between the early interventionist and family but also with the EI team (SC, case manager, etc.)
You raise a great point about communication among professional team members. Making sure that everyone understands what their team members’ roles are is important. Awareness of and respect for team members’ expertise makes it much easier to communicate and trust them as you share responsibility for the child’s intervention. Without those things, it is so difficult to truly work together. Do you have any recommendations for how to build that trust and respect among team members?
By developing on our own time we can then put what is learned into practice as well as share the information with other staff to help educate even when some individuals may not have the time to research the material but it can be shared in group, personal, or team settings to help influence other in a continually learning environment
Yes, Dylan, having an attitude and environment that supports continual learning is key. I’ve been part of journal discussion groups at work before that were actually pretty fun. It was great to share something that I was interested in AND be able to learn from others. We met over lunch once a month and took turns finding the article to share. It was a great way to build our team’s knowledge.
The reflection about lifelong learning resonates throughout my entire philosophy & intrinsic value of teaching. When we teach families; we are asking them to being “lifelong learners” especially with a subject they likely never even intended to volunteer their interest towards. In classrooms; students are at the beginning of their “lifelong learning” experience. If a teacher or an educator does not consider oneself a lifelong learner than how can we ask that of someone else to receive from us?
This was a great topic, being “new” to Early Intervention in VA, I struggled with identifying my role. I have a Masters in Early Childhood Special Education because of the license I am required to document 180 credits for licensure every 5 years. I tell parents that I am a Early Interventionist with a educator’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education. When I was teaching in the classroom, I did have a few parents asked me what my qualifications were since I was teaching their child. I created a bullet list of my education and professional experiences. At the beginning of the school year, each parent would receive a copy of the list, this also open the door to conversations with the parents about their child, concerns or other relevant opportunities. I consider myself to be life long learner always looking to further my knowledge in the early childhood special education/early intervention field.
I really like how you describe yourself as an early interventionist first. Wouldn’t it be something if we all looked at ourselves that way? I think that would promote more of a holistic view of the child’s development, if WE didn’t divide ourselves up into disciplines!