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Advancing Professional Growth with the CDA Credential

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Episode 172 – In the 45 years since Council for Professional Recognition was founded, A LOT has changed in the field of early childhood education. The Council’s CEO, Dr. Valora Washington, joins us in this episode to discuss these advancements and ongoing efforts to support early childhood educators in their professional development, including the Child Development Associate Credential.

To learn more about the CDA Credential and how it can help your career, visit https://www.cdacouncil.org/

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Episode Transcript

Dr. Valora WASHINGTON:

When I first started [in] this field, this was not a very public conversation. Now it is. Mayors, governors, school superintendents – everyone is talking about the importance of early-childhood education.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: 

Valora, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!

WASHINGTON:

Thank you!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

We are delighted to have Dr. Valora Washington on the Preschool Podcast with us today. She’s the chief executive officer of the Council for Professional Recognition, an organization that has given a lot to early-childhood education. So we’re excited to learn about everything that this organization is doing for early-childhood education and getting the word out about how important it is and professional recognition and credentials and all that amazing stuff.

But before we get there, Valora, maybe we can first learn a little bit about you and how you got involved in early-childhood education and doing what you’re doing now with the Council for Professional Recognition?

WASHINGTON:

So, I have been in the field of early-childhood education all of my career, which has been over 35 years. And it has really been a wonderful profession to grow in. For one thing, in this field we have learned so much. Our knowledge base has expanded so much. What we know about children and families and how to best support them has expanded beyond belief. When I first started in this field, many of us were still doing animal studies. But now you can just turn on your cell phone and see brain scans of children and the impact of early education on them.

So, we are a field that has grown beyond many beliefs and theories we have about children to really understanding more about the real economic impact that we have as a profession, as well as the real long-term impact we have on the lives of children. It’s very exciting.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

You speak the truth; amazing! So, tell us now a little bit more about the Council for Professional Recognition. What’s it all about?

WASHINGTON:

Yeah, I’m really privileged to be the CEO of the Council for Professional Recognition. We offer the Child Development Associate Credentials – CDA – and we offered them in preschool, infant, toddler, family childcare and home visitor. But the amazing thing is that the CDA – Child Development Associate Credentials – had been offered and accepted within our field for over 45 years.

That is amazing, that for 45 years CDA had been a very important part of preparing people to work with young children. It is well-established and highly accepted throughout the United States. And we’re celebrating the fact that we really serve more early-childhood educators than anyone else.

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SPREEUWENBERG: 

And so if I am working in childcare, early-childhood education, and I’m intrigued by the CDA, why would I go and get the CDA certification?

WASHINGTON:

Well, I want to tell you, we have half a million people who have earned CDA. Last year, for example, we awarded about 50,000 credentials. This year, without question, we will meet or exceed 50,000 credentials. People choose the CDA individually and I think employers choose the CDA for many reasons.

One, the CDA is offered in every language of the world. If you’re working with children in that language, we will support you in that language to gain this professional knowledge and skill. Second, the CDA is based on multiple sources of evidence. That means that there is a national exam. There’s also a professional development specialist that’s going to visit and serve you in your practice.

So, with multiple sources of evidence we have a real comprehensive look at the teaching and services that the candidate is providing. The CDA is really the most solid, comprehensive, competency-based system of what an early-childhood educator should know and be able to do in the United States. And it’s accessible to almost anyone in any state of the United States because it’s portable and accepted across the United States. These are just some of the reasons why people are choosing to earn a Child Development Associate Credential.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

And let’s say I wanted to go about exploring the Certification or I’m already sold that I want to go and get this because it’s going to make me better at my job; it’s going to make me more employable, whatever that might be. What’s the process? How long does it take? Is there exams? Because, I don’t know, I’m a little bit scared of exams. But sometimes that means I’m more qualified. What does it all entail?

WASHINGTON:

Earning a Child Development Associate Credential entails learning. You have to take classes to meet the competencies that have been set forth. It involves creating a portfolio; it involves getting input from the families and parents that you serve; it also involves taking a national exam; and it involves being observed by a professional development specialist. That’s why we say that there are multiple sources of evidence. And all of these sources of evidence work together for us to determine whether you can earn the Child Development Associate Credential or not.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Wow, it sounds quite rigorous. And how long does that process typically take?

WASHINGTON:

The amount of time it takes can vary between six months and more than a year. People who earn CDA’s do it in many different formats. Some do it in college courses; some do it every weekend, they take classes. Some do it two days a week. So, it depends on what kind of format you’re taking it in. Some do it online. So there are various ways that people pursue it and how long it will take depends on what pathway you choose.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

And you mentioned online. What portions of this can be done online? Because, obviously, some of them cannot be, like the observations from in your classroom. What elements can be done online?

WASHINGTON:

Well, certainly all of our educational requirements can be done online and there are very many online options. What we’re finding is most popular nowadays is a hybrid model where people are taking some online and some live courses, because, of course, when you’re working with children, and because we’re competency-based, you have to demonstrate your knowledge. Knowing things about children and education is important but being able to demonstrate what in practice is also very important.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

So, this makes a lot of sense to me. And there’s some areas, like in Ontario, where they’re moving towards this more official recognition of early-childhood educator, which is phenomenal. Why do you think this hasn’t gone completely mainstream yet, in terms of, like, a requirement? Or are we on that path? What’s your thoughts about that?

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WASHINGTON:

So, in most states the child development associate credential is recognized within state governments and certainly in federal programs like Head Start. It’s strongly recognized. And it is again, the most typical type of credential that people in our field have because of how many people earn it each year. We’re happy with it being voluntary because we’re working so closely with states and communities to help people achieve it.

Most states you go to will have some kind of state-funded or locally-funded support that helps people pay for and achieve the Child Development Associate Credential. But when you talk about having requirements in our field, this is one of our professional challenges and a challenge that we’re working on right now.

It’s a big trend in our field to think about how we can become more coherent and more consistent as a field of practice, whether you have a Child Development Associate Credential or some other kind of degree program. So, thinking about our professionalization is a huge conversation right now. And the CDA is a big part of that conversation.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool. And what do you do as an organization to make sure your certification is up-to-date in terms of the latest trends in research and knowledge base in early-childhood education? Because I’m sure that’s quite important as well.

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WASHINGTON:

Absolutely. Thank you for asking that question. We’re very humbled by the fact that we serve so many people. As I said, 50,000 people earned our credential last year. That is a huge responsibility that we’re providing people with the latest research information and the latest techniques for working with children.

So, as part of earning the CDA we have a series of books and workshops and materials, webinars and other kinds of things to support it. We see all of that material at least on a 12- to 18-month basis, completely updated using panels of researchers, panels of psychometricians who help with item writing, all of that kind of thing. So, there’s not any a 12- to 18-month period where we have not completely updated all of our materials.

We take the privilege that we can very seriously. We’re working with children and we want to make sure that people who are working with children have access to the latest information that would be available.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool. And I understand you also host an annual conference: the Early Educators Leadership Conference. What’s the objective of the conference, and maybe you can tell us a little bit more about it?

WASHINGTON:

Yes. We just completed our annual conference last week. It was an amazing experience, a sold-out experience, once again. And the purpose is to bring together mid- and senior-level early-childhood educators to talk about how we can lead the change that is all around us in early-childhood education and in education. What can we do to professionalize our field? How can we move forward as a profession so that our children have access to high quality, so that our parents can have more affordable services?

So, this conference is an opportunity for people to come together and explore these questions and to explore them in a context that is really in-the-profession type conversation that is warm and nurturing for them and provides them with access to the latest information and research to support the work that they’re doing in their local communities and states.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Wonderful. And I understand you’ve also co-authored [with Brenda Gadson and Kathryn L. Amel] a book called The New Early Childhood Professional [A Step-By-Step Guide to Overcoming Goliath (Early Childhood Education Series)], which I assume takes into account all the things that you’ve learned through your 35 years-plus of experience in the field and your work at the Council for Professional Recognition. Tell us what that book is all about and also where we can get a hold of it?

WASHINGTON:

Thank you. I have an Amazon author page, so anyone who wants to see my books can go to Valora Washington at the Amazon page. But what these books are really saying is that as the field is changing, as services to children are changing everywhere, there are some basic principles that we should hold fast to.

The first has to be that we have to respect the early-childhood educator. We know what results in the long-term impact early-childhood education has on children. But that impact is achieved through the early-childhood educator. And many people still think early-childhood education is babysitting. That is wrong. So, the first principle is respect for the early-childhood educator.

The second principle is that really understanding that it takes a high level of knowledge and skill to do this work in early-childhood education. So, we must have the principle of competence and making sure that people are competent to do this work.

Third principle: we need to build our profession on the strengths that we’ve had. The CDA has been around for 45 years. There are many strengths within our profession that we need to sustain.

And [the] fourth principle is we need to constantly seek equity for early-childhood educators and for the children and families we serve. I’m sure you’re aware that early-childhood educators only make a fraction of the salaries of teachers at other levels. And that’s inequitable for the knowledge and skill and credentials that they have. So, we’re always working to seek equity for early-childhood educators.

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SPREEUWENBERG: 

And so this designation or the council’s been around for about 45 years. How do you think we’re doing as a society on these core pieces that you’ve just got taken us through?

WASHINGTON:

I’m really excited that people are talking more and more about early-childhood education. hen I first started [in] this field, this was not a very public conversation. Now it is. Mayors, governors, school superintendents – everyone is talking about the importance of early-childhood education.

We still need more funding in this field. We still have too many children in our nation who do not have access to early-childhood education. It still costs too much for the families and the quality is still uneven. So, yes, we’ve made progress and we still have a long way to go. And that’s why it’s so proud for us at the Council to be able to play such an important role in serving the people of this profession.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

What’s your long term vision for early-childhood education? You’ve seen a lot and you’ve seen a lot of progress, like you said. But there’s a long way to go still. What would you love to see in the future?

WASHINGTON:

In the future we’d love to see more coherence of what’s happening for professional preparation across the United States. We’re going to be working more to help communities and states think about the early-childhood education environment in their communities and their states. And we also work very closely with higher education, but also with secondary schools so that people who want to enter into this field have a clear, understandable, affordable pathway to increase their knowledge and skill and the impact that they can have with young children.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome. And Dr. Washington, if I’m listening to the Podcast and I want to learn more about the CDA Credential or the Council for Professional Recognition, where can I go to get more information?

WASHINGTON:

Please contact us on our website at www.CDACouncil.org. We also have a Facebook page and Twitter and we’re very easy to reach and accessible through the internet. So, we welcome anyone to contact us at any time.

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SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome. And I always like to ask – especially for someone who’s been in the field as long as you – some parting wisdom for our listeners. If I’m an early-childhood educator listening this podcast, what would you tell me as I am starting out my career in this field?

WASHINGTON:

There is nothing more important that you could do with your life than be an early-childhood educator. And I want people who may be considering this as a profession to know that there are many people out here working on your behalf, wanting to hear your voice, to increase your compensation and working conditions and to build on the passion you already have for working with young children.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome. Very good wisdom-sharing. Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Washington. Great to hear your story. And thank you for everything you’re doing with the Council and the CDA Credential. It’s been a pleasure having you on the Preschool Podcast!

WASHINGTON:

Thank you, it’s our pleasure as well!

Michael Keshen

Michael is the Content Manager at HiMama, with over 7 years of online content publishing experience. He is the current editor in chief for HiMama's early childhood education blog and ECE Weekly newsletter. He also produces HiMama's weekly Preschool Podcast and the annual Child Care Benchmark Report. When not developing content for early childhood professionals, he can usually be found out and about with his wife and daughter exploring all that Toronto has to offer, or playing music with his karaoke band.

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