Head Start in a Changing Policy Context : How Teacher Input Improves Professional Development.

Meghan Marie Fitzgerald

This study focused on instructional staff members perceptions and descriptions of professional development, with the goal of identifying characteristics of related policies that they perceive directly impact their teaching practice. In assuming that professional development within local Early Childhood Education programs can be better informed by those who participate in the activities, the study documented the perceptions of 67 teachers, teacher assistants, and education coordinators within three, medium- to high-quality Head Start programs in a metropolitan city. Data collection for this mixed method design occurred over a six month period. The methods of data collection included a review of documents and records, and participant interviews, surveys, and focus groups. Data analysis for this study combined the use of descriptive statistics as well as theme and closed coded identification. A policy analysis identified each programs professional development issues through a brief analysis and review.The studys findings revealed program quality ratings appear to be indicative of the impact of each programs professional development effort. High quality programs are more likely to have an established philosophy of teaching and learning which is communicated during professional development activities. As program quality varies, moving from high to low, professional development strategies and content narrow, and the time devoted to professional development shortens. Moreover, the organizational structure simplifies and the integration of strategies is also less focused. The perceptions of staff members regarding professional development also vary, with staff indicating that the presence or lack of consistency and relevance, as well as an established feedback-response cycle contribute most to professional development impact.The researcher proposes a continuum of professional development to conceptually organize the variety of approaches documented by the study. Further, the study suggests that federal Head Start requirements and evaluations be revised to promote that local program planning and that professional development activities reflect and be connected to a philosophy of teaching and learning.