Continuous Professional Learning for Early Childhood Educators: Responsive Relationships

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE

When I went into self-isolation, I was worried about what I would do to keep myself motivated and busy. I wondered whether I could keep blogging in this time of COVID-19. I wrote one post, Early Childhood Education: Making Sense of Our Life’s Course but didn’t know what to write next given the exceptional circumstances that we are all facing. Then I was inspired by others to offer something that I usually get paid to do, for free. My second post, written while sheltering in place, Continuous Professional Learning for Early Childhood Educators: Process Art was designed to encourage self-directed professional learning. Early childhood education has been my life’s work and has given me so much. I wanted to give back. I did not however, anticipate how much I would receive after sharing. I was blown away by the kind comments and sincere expressions of gratitude. It helped me feel so connected in a time of isolation. It demonstrated the importance of responsive relationships. It was a process of giving and taking. I gave time and resources and I received in return, heart-warming feedback. I am motivated to continue. The topic for this post, is the pedagogical approach of responsive relationships.

In Ontario, How Does Learning Happen? (2014) is the mandated pedagogy for the early years. When it was first released, I was still teaching early childhood education but didn’t receive training on how to use the document. In the courses that I taught and the workshops that I provided, I focused on the four foundations. HDLH? (2014) “is organized around four foundational conditions that are important for children to grow and flourish: Belonging, Well-Being, Engagement, and Expression” (p. 7). These conditions are complex and intertwined. What I saw in practice, however, was simplistic and somewhat dismissive. I remember visiting one program where the educators proudly told me that they “do How Does Learning Happen?” and pointed to a bulletin board with the words Belonging, Well-Being, Engagement, and Expression displayed with photos of children. I kept seeing this play out in other programs I visited. I think the timing is now good for early childhood educators in Ontario to go deeper, to consider the pedagogical approaches of How Does Learning Happen? I think they are important for all educators! These approaches have the capacity to alter practice in profound ways.

Pedagogy, in How Does Learning Happen? is defined as the “understanding of how learning happens and the philosophy and practice that support that understanding of learning” (p.16) . Thinking about these pedagogical approaches helps us to understand more deeply how our actions impact children and their families. Now, I have direction for this blog in the time of COVID-19. I will write this and five more posts, related to the pedagogical approaches in HDLH? In all the posts I will include a free PowerPoint, a video or two and links to resources.

When considering the topic of responsive relationships, I am appreciative of Dr. Jean Clinton a Clinical Professor in Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University, division of Child Psychiatry for her work on responsive relationships. All early childhood educators should read her article on The Power of Positive Adult Child Relationships: Connection is the Key.

Dr. Jean is a Canadian icon. I love hearing her speak. You will too! Think about how you can build relationships with children while listening. Through relationships and through play, children learn best.

One of the loveliest comments I received from my last post, was when Grace stated, “You are making me want to go back to work!” Of course, here in Ontario, we are all wondering when that will be. In the meantime, to know that so many who are not working are thinking about their practice with children is so encouraging. Everyday, I see posts in various Facebook groups that indicate that many educators are taking this time away from work, to engage in professional learning. The topic of responsive relationships as a pedagogical approach is a timely one. Focusing on connecting and reconnecting when you return will be more important than ever. If you are home with your own children, focusing on connecting is also a good idea! Why not try some serve and return? Click on the image below for a handout that describes five steps for brain-building serve and return.

Child-adult relationships that are responsive and attentive—with lots of back and forth interactions—build a strong foundation in a child’s brain for all future learning and development. The Harvard Center for the Developing Child calls this “serve and return”. You can learn more about serve and return by viewing this video.

Responsive relationships and this back and forth exchange helps to build trust, social-emotional trust that influences a child’s sense of self while boosting confidence and self-esteem. This attentiveness supports the child in knowing that they are valued and worthy. This is so important as the child develops an image of who they are and who they are becoming! During these unprecedented times, we have time to pause and gather our thoughts about the relationships that we have formed over the years. Do they need to be brought back into balance? Are they responsive to one another? Are others aware that we value them and their ideas? Are our relationships built on mutual feelings of trust and respect? Who are your critical friends in this profession? Do they know who they are and why? Thank you to all the readers of this blog. You provide me with the opportunity to serve. In return, it is my hope that you will go forward with love and intention to build and strengthen responsive relationships with children, their families and your colleagues. I look forward to your thoughts and comments on the topic of responsive relationships. The next blog post will be on the pedagogical approach of exploration, play and inquiry. If you have any suggestions as to what to include, please let me know. Be safe and be well.

10 thoughts on “Continuous Professional Learning for Early Childhood Educators: Responsive Relationships

  1. Thank you for sharing Diane. I always enjoy reading your posts and share them with early childhood educators in our community. Stay safe 🙂


  2. Hi Diane.
    This topic is very timely with everything that is happening in our world. Working from home, many of us are trying to work through ways we can stay connected and maintain our relationships. I currently work in our child care organizations main office and the majority of my relationships are with Program Coordinators who over see all of our child care and before and after school programs. We have found the ability to stay connected through social media message systems and have had great fun chatting with each other and learning about how we are all managing at home. Some with children and some without. Our conversations have often lead to our staff and children. How can we maintain those connections? Social media is an amazing tool we are thankful for in these times. I have been able to check in on some staff and remind them of how amazing they are. All are worried about their children from their programs. I had one Coordinator share with me how she was able to connect with all of her staff through Messenger and they had a blast catching up and chatting with each other. Again reflecting on their children. We have the ability as adults to problem solve and maintain those connections through social media. How can we check in on our children and families? I’m sure there are many struggles to understand why they can’t see their friends and why their routine as become so different. I found an answer in one of our preschool classrooms. Two of our preschool teachers had sought out contact info from their families before we had officially closed. Two days ago they spent over 30 minutes online singing songs and chatting with their children, and most importantly letting the children chat with each other. We are all looking for some kind of ‘normal’’ within this situation and keeping the connectedness and relationships allows for this. If anyone can reach out to the children they work with, please do so. I know there is always the challenge of confidentiality and ‘professionalism’ but as we are often hearing these are extreme and unprecedented circumstances. Can we skip the formal processes and just reach out, help the children know that we will get through this together.


  3. Thank you so much for the article on The Power off Positive Adult Child Relationships:Connection is the Key. This had helped me see things in a different light, and has given me a lot to think about and reflect on as i am home due to covid 19.

    Thank You


  4. Thank you for sharing, it helps my mental health to feel I am using some of my time productively and I look forward to implementing some ideas inspired by this article in the child care setting.


  5. Pingback: Continuous Professional Learning for Early Childhood Educators: Learning through Exploration, Play and Inquiry | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

  6. Pingback: Continuous Professional Learning for Early Childhood Educators: Educators as Co-Learners | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

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