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Core Competencies for Early Childhood Professionals

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The core competencies are the foundation for the Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center, Vermont's unified system of professional development for early childhood and afterschool professionals. Core knowledge refers to topics describing the knowledge needed by professionals to effectively work with young children. Core competencies refer to the observable skills and dispositions needed by professionals in order to provide high quality early care and education. Competencies are concrete, achievable and observable, and establish standards of practice that strengthen the profession. Ultimately both core knowledge and core competencies are used to define the content of professional development curricula, set goals and outcomes for training, and design mechanisms for the demonstration and assessment of a practitioner's skills. The core knowledge and core competencies are relevant to professionals working in a variety of settings such as family child care homes, child care centers, public preschools, Head Start, and afterschool programs. They are relevant for a variety of positions including teacher, teacher assistant, provider, director, playgroup leader, home visitor, early interventionist, early childhood special educator, paraprofessionals, and more. The core competencies are the foundation for field specific competencies that are being developed, including those in the areas of afterschool education and early childhood and family mental health.
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Core Competencies for Early Childhood Professionals
Introduction to the Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center Core Competencies
for Early Childhood Professionals ................................................................................ 1
Background......................................................................................................................... 1
Using the Core Competencies ............................................................................................. 2
Levels of Northern Lights Core Competencies .................................................................... 2
How the Core Competencies Were Developed .................................................................... 3
Frequently Asked Questions................................................................................................ 4
Child Development .................................................................................................................. 6
Level I Competencies.......................................................................................................... 6
Level II Competencies ........................................................................................................ 6
Level III Competencies ....................................................................................................... 7
Families and Communities....................................................................................................... 9
Level I Competencies.......................................................................................................... 9
Level II Competencies ........................................................................................................ 9
Level III Competencies ..................................................................................................... 10
Teaching and Learning .......................................................................................................... 11
Level I Competencies........................................................................................................ 11
Level II Competencies ...................................................................................................... 12
Level III Competencies ..................................................................................................... 13
Healthy and Safe Environments ............................................................................................. 15
Level I Competencies........................................................................................................ 15
Level II Competencies ...................................................................................................... 16
Level III Competencies ..................................................................................................... 17
Professionalism and Program Organization............................................................................ 18
Level I Competencies........................................................................................................ 18
Level II Competencies ...................................................................................................... 18
Level III Competencies ..................................................................................................... 19
The Core Competencies for Early Childhood Professionals are effective on August 1, 2005 and
remain in effect until further notice. To ensure continued quality and relevance, this document
will be reviewed before or during August 2007.
Connecting Professional Development for Early Childhood and Afterschool Professionals
Generously supported by the Child Development Division, Department for Children and Families, Vermont Agency of Human Services
http://northernlightscdc.org

Introduction to the Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center
Core Competencies for Early Childhood Professionals
Background
The core competencies are the foundation for the Vermont Northern Lights Career Development
Center, Vermont’s unified system of professional development for early childhood and
afterschool professionals. Core knowledge refers to topics describing the knowledge needed by
professionals to effectively work with young children. Core competencies refer to the observable
skills and dispositions needed by professionals in order to provide high quality early care and
education. Competencies are concrete, achievable and observable, and establish standards of
practice that strengthen the profession. Ultimately both core knowledge and core competencies
are used to define the content of professional development curricula, set goals and outcomes for
training, and design mechanisms for the demonstration and assessment of a practitioner’s skills.
The core knowledge and core competencies are relevant to professionals working in a variety of
settings such as family child care homes, child care centers, public preschools, Head Start, and
afterschool programs. They are relevant for a variety of positions including teacher, teacher
assistant, provider, director, playgroup leader, home visitor, early interventionist, early childhood
special educator, paraprofessionals, and more. The core competencies are the foundation for field
specific competencies that are being developed, including those in the areas of afterschool
education and early childhood and family mental health.
Core competencies may be acquired in a variety of ways, including but not limited to:
• Participation in workshops, inservice training, and seminars
• Individual courses or a planned program of academic study
• Work experience and systematic reflection on one’s work experience
• Supervision and mentoring
These competencies fit within Vermont’s framework of core knowledge, which has been
identified as the following five broad categories:
1. Child Development — Early childhood professionals have an understanding of how children
develop physically, cognitively, socially, and emotionally, as well as how children acquire
language and other forms of communication. In addition, professionals need to know about
various factors that influence child development, and how individual children’s development can
vary. Early childhood professionals use their understanding of child development combined with
their knowledge of each child as an individual to support children’s overall development.
2. Families and Communities— Early childhood professionals understand that children are
members of a family and a community. They value both the diversity of and their unique
relationships with children, families, and communities. All early childhood professionals work
in partnership with families by communicating respectfully and by sharing information and
resources that support the health of children and families.
Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center
Core Competencies for Early Childhood Professionals
Page 1 of 21

3. Teaching and Learning—Early childhood professionals understand that the substance of
teaching and learning is in the combination of interactions, routines, and experiences in
children’s daily lives. Teaching and learning with young children is complex. It includes a
variety of strategies that are designed to match the child’s unique approach to learning, depends
on a thorough knowledge of the content of early childhood education, and is dependent on
observation and reflection to plan and develop curriculum and to assess children’s learning.
4. Healthy and Safe Environments—Early childhood professionals use practices that protect
children’s health, keep children safe, and promote healthy growth and development. This
includes knowledge of good nutrition and the importance of physical activity.
5. Professionalism and Program Organization—Early childhood professionals ensure that
children and their families receive comprehensive, high quality early care and education, and
child development services. They maintain a code of ethical conduct, articulate a philosophy of
early care and education, work collaboratively with colleagues, mentors, families, and
organizations, maintain a solid work ethic, and implement sound business practices such as
budgeting, administration, and evaluation.
While the core knowledge is presented as five specific areas, they are interdependent and
interactive and should be considered holistically.
Using the Core Competencies
Northern Lights core competencies are the foundation of the Northern Lights Career
Development Center’s system. Competency-based learning can occur at all levels of the
professional development continuum and will facilitate transfer of credit and articulation
agreements between and among professional development providers and institutions of higher
education. In addition, the competencies can be used for the following purposes:
Assess learning needs— Professionals may use the competencies as a self-assessment of their
own skills and knowledge, and plan to pursue professional development to address their learning
needs. Administrators may use the competencies to assess the learning needs of their staff.
Develop education and training curriculum—Instructors and higher education faculty may
design and evaluate course content to ensure that students and participants have a range of
opportunities to develop the core competencies.
Tool for supervision and mentoring support—Training, orientation, and staff development
plans may be created using the core competencies with individual staff members and
protégés/apprentices.
Levels of Northern Lights Core Competencies
The Northern Lights core competencies address three of the six levels of the professional
development continuum. This continuum begins with preliminary knowledge, skills, and
dispositions that would be expected of an educator who is new to the field and in the first year in
an early childhood work setting, and continues through advanced knowledge, skills, and
dispositions expected of a professional with graduate-level education and degrees. Professionals
progress from one level to another through a combination of education, experience, and
reflection. Individuals may possess competencies at different levels among the core knowledge
areas depending on their background, position, and life experience.
Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center
Core Competencies for Early Childhood Professionals
Page 2 of 21

Level I competencies include the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for entry-level
professionals, working under supervision or with support from networks or organizations. (Level
I training would include the Fundamentals for Early Childhood Professionals offered through the
Resource and Referral agencies, programs of study at the technical centers, and so on.)
Level II competencies include Level I plus the knowledge, skills, and dispositions associated
with the Child Development Associate credential or an accumulation of 12 credits in early
childhood education, or its equivalent. (Level II training would include CDA study,
comprehensive training in the Vermont Early Learning Standards, college-level coursework, and
other professional development activities.)
Level III competencies include Levels I and II plus the knowledge, skills, and dispositions
associated with completion of the Apprenticeship Program, or the Child Care Certificate from
Community College of Vermont, or an associate’s degree in early childhood education or a
related degree, or the equivalent.
Level IV competencies include Levels I, II, and III, plus the knowledge, skills, and dispositions
associated with achievement of a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, with or without
teacher licensure in early childhood education, or the equivalent.
Level V competencies include Levels I through IV, plus the knowledge, skills, and dispositions
associated with a master’s degree in early childhood education or a related field, or the
equivalent credential, with or without teacher licensure in early childhood education.
Level VI competencies would include Levels I through V, plus the knowledge, skills, and
dispositions associated with a Ph.D. or Ed.D in early childhood education or a related field, or
the equivalent credential.
How the Core Competencies Were Developed
A workgroup of the Professional Preparation and Development Committee comprised of
representatives from child care support agencies, the Vermont Department of Education, the
Head Start State Collaboration Office, Northern Lights Career Development Center and the
Vermont Child Care Industry and Careers Council, researched and wrote the Northern Lights
Core Competencies for Early Childhood Professionals from August 2004 through March 2005.
Special thanks to the primary group of authors:
• Amethyst Peaslee, Mary Johnson Children’s Center
• Daphne Moritz, Vermont Child Care Industry and Careers Council
• Janice Stockman, Head Start State Collaboration Office
• Manuela Fonseca, Vermont Department of Education
• Meg Baker, Success by Six, Franklin County
• Adam Deyo, Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center
• Kate Giusti, Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center
• Kerrie Workman, Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center
Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center
Core Competencies for Early Childhood Professionals
Page 3 of 21

To develop the competencies you see before you, this group consulted documents from:
• Other states including Connecticut, Kansas and Missouri, and Maine,
• The Wheelock College Institute for Leadership and Career Initiatives,
• The CDA competencies and functional areas,
• Vermont Department of Education’s early childhood educator endorsement competencies,
• National Health and Safety Standards,
• National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
Following the development of a draft document by the workgroup, the Vermont Northern Lights
Career Development Center accumulated public feedback through a survey in the Spring of
2005. The final document is a result of the workgroup’s dedication and the advice of various
constituents from the early childhood field.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Core competencies are yet another layer of change in a system that is growing more
complex by the minute. How will they improve the situation for everyone?
For early childhood professionals, the core competencies will provide more specific
description of how a professional development activity will benefit them. In the short term,
they will be able to see a direct connection between the workshop or course description and
their desired professional growth. In the long term they will be able to progress along a
professional development continuum towards credentials and degrees. It will provide more
meaningful and purposeful learning.
For presenters and instructors, it will require an initial investment of time to learn the core
competencies and how they align with their workshops or course offerings. Instructors,
presenters, and providers of professional development may want to revise their offerings so
that competencies are addressed. They will be expected to refer to the competencies in their
workshop or course descriptions. Individual instructors will know that what they are teaching
will directly apply to the skills and knowledge of practitioners.
2. The CDA is a popular credential in our area. Why do we need these competencies when
the CDA is such a good option?
The core competencies aren’t a training program like the CDA. Core competencies are a
means of unifying the professional development and training programs that already exist.
CDA competencies are contained within Level II. So if you have a CDA, you can look at the
Level III competencies to set goals for your own professional growth.
While we acknowledge that a CDA is a worthy credential that is widely recognized, it is a
starting place for early childhood professionals. The core competencies will enable one to
plan for continued professional development and more advanced credentials.
3. Who are these core competencies designed for? Do they apply to home visitors, early
interventionists, early childhood special educators and para-educators, playgroup
leaders, etc?

These are core competencies and comprise the fundamental knowledge and skills that
people working with young children should possess. They aren’t specialized competencies
Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center
Core Competencies for Early Childhood Professionals
Page 4 of 21

that one would want for people who work with special populations; but they do provide the
foundation for them. They are precursors to the competencies for early childhood educator
and early childhood special educator licensure and can assist individuals to move into those
levels in the future. In addition, they align with the early childhood and family mental health
and afterschool education competencies that are presently being developed. The
competencies were developed with young children (ages 0-6) in mind.
4. Are these competencies meant for early childhood professionals in home and center-
based settings?
Yes, they were written for educators working in both settings. Admittedly, that was a
challenge because as you will see, the Level I competencies are numerous in the areas of
Healthy and Safe Environments and Professionalism and Program Organization. This is due
to the fact that family child care providers are usually the only adult in the program, and must
be skilled and knowledgeable about things that might be assigned to administrators or
specialists in center based settings. But we didn’t want to develop separate sets of
competencies for these early childhood professionals, who in fact share more similarities
than differences.
5. How will the competencies be used to enhance other means of professional development
like mentoring, supervision and inservice training?
They can be used by staff to do a self-assessment of their competencies. This self-assessment
can be the foundation for an Individual Professional Development Plan (IPDP), and can
inform their work with mentors and supervisors.
Mentors and supervisors will be able to observe staff with these competencies in mind, and
be in a better position to guide staff toward higher levels of competence, as well as more
effective, and collaborative, goal setting.
On a community level, local professional development agencies, programs, and councils will
have a basis for doing competency-based training needs assessments which can guide the
provision of professional development activities that meet the needs and skills of its early
childhood professionals.
The Core Competencies
Thank you for taking the time to read this important historical and contextual information. The
next section of this document, pages 7-21, detail the five Core Knowledge Areas and
Competencies. For a listing of the competencies organized by level, please visit our website:
http://northernlightscdc.org
Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center
Core Competencies for Early Childhood Professionals
Page 5 of 21

Child Development
Early childhood professionals have an understanding of how children develop physically,
cognitively, socially, and emotionally, as well as how children acquire language and other forms
of communication. In addition, professionals need to know about various factors that influence
child development, and how individual children’s development can vary. Early childhood
professionals use their understanding of child development combined with their knowledge of
each child as an individual in the context of the family to support children’s overall development.
Level I Competencies
A. How Children Develop
1. Describes principles of growth and development
2. Identifies and defines developmental domains (physical, cognitive, social-emotional,
communication)
3. Identifies basic developmental milestones of children prenatal through middle childhood
4. Recognizes how children are different from adults in learning, behavior, and needs
5. Describes how children’s play contributes to overall development
6. Recognizes the importance of observing and documenting children’s development,
begins to keep anecdotal records, and communicates with others about the observations
B. Influences on Child Development
1. Describes the importance of attachment to children’s development
2. Describes how the fulfillment of basic needs relate to child growth and development
(physical, cognitive, social-emotional, communication)
3. Describes the importance of seeing the child in the context of his/her family and
environment
4. Describes the importance of children’s interactions and relationships with peers and
adults to their development
C. Individual Variance
1. Recognizes that children have different temperaments, needs, rates of development, and
learning styles
2. Recognizes that stress resulting from trauma, abuse, neglect, poverty, and other factors
impacts children’s development and behavior in individual ways
3. Recognizes the characteristics and signs of atypical development in children
Level II Competencies
A. How Children Develop
1. Identifies major theories and theorists of child development
2. Begins to identify a personal philosophy
3. Recognizes the crucial role of sensory exploration and play in children’s development
4. Summarizes the basic findings from brain development research
5. Describes the sequence of communication development
Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center
Core Competencies for Early Childhood Professionals
Page 6 of 21

6. Describes the sequence of physical development, including gross and fine motor skills
7. Describes cognitive development in children
8. Conducts, documents, and interprets observations
9. Recognizes when to seek the help of others in understanding and addressing children’s
atypical development
10. Identifies resources for acquiring information about atypical development
B. Influences on Child Development
1. Recognizes physical or behavior changes that may indicate the presence of stress in
children’s lives
2. Understands and supports children’s need to use play to express stressful events in their
lives
3. Identifies the impact of children’s health status on their behavior and their ability to
interact and learn
4. Describes factors influencing resiliency in children
5. Identifies aspects of children’s home and family culture that influence their development
C. Individual Variance
1. Identifies temperament and individual differences in children and their impact on
children’s development and behavior
2. Describes characteristics of a resilient child
3. Describes the potential effects of stress on children’s development and behavior
Level III Competencies
A. How Children Develop
1. Analyzes major theories of child development
2. Observes and uses knowledge of typical developmental progression and expectations to
identify children’s abilities, needs, and behaviors in the following domains:
communication, cognition, physical development, and social and emotional development
3. Observes and analyzes children’s play referring to the stages described by developmental
theorists
4. Employs strategies that enhance brain development
B. Influences on Child Development
1. Uses preventative strategies that influence and optimize healthy child development
2. Uses an understanding of societal influences on child development (for example, poverty,
trauma, homelessness, violence, racism) to address the needs of individual children
3. Analyzes the role of media in children’s development and behavior
4. Recognizes the impact of biological, prenatal, and environmental influences on a child’s
development
C. Individual Variance
1. Integrates information on child development with children’s individual approaches to
learning to tailor the curriculum to each child
Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center
Core Competencies for Early Childhood Professionals
Page 7 of 21

2. Employs a variety of strategies to help children cope with stress and other developmental
challenges
3. Employs practices that build children’s resiliency
4. Identifies strengths, needs, and interests of each child and develops strategies to support
each child’s growth and development
5. Identifies and discusses issues in child development arising from differences in gender,
race, and class
Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center
Core Competencies for Early Childhood Professionals
Page 8 of 21

Document Outline

  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Child Development
  • Families and Communitites
  • Teaching and Learning
  • Healthy and Safe Environments
  • Professionalism and Program Organization

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