ECI Coaching Helps Teachers Prepare for Joys and Challenges of Teaching Toddlers

By Kathy Neesen

The Effective Classroom Interactions (ECI) teacher professional development program, which has been used successfully in preschool and K-12 settings, is now being studied for use in early childhood settings with teachers of toddlers.

Jennifer LoCasale-Crouch, associate research professor at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education and lead investigator of the ECI Toddler study, shares that teaching young toddlers, ranging in age from 15 to 36 months, is both a joyful and challenging experience.

"There are so many things that make teaching toddlers a joy — their curiosity, silliness, and spontaneity," said LoCasale-Crouch. "But these are also some of the same things that can be a real challenge, as young children are still working to regulate their behaviors and find their footing in the world."

LoCasale-Crouch shares that early childhood educators play a big role in shaping the lives of young children, but rarely receive on-going and regular professional development support.

"Science has shown the first few years of development are of critical importance for children's long-term success in school and life," LoCasale-Crouch said. "I have been inspired by the enthusiasm and commitment of the teachers in the ECI program to learn and provide the best support they can to the young children in their care."

As part of the 6-month ECI Toddler program teachers gain insight about how to help young toddlers explore their world in a safe, supportive and engaging way.

A study of ECI Toddler, which started in 2014 with a series of pilot programs, has just finished its final implementation with 60 teachers who work in early childhood settings across Virginia. LoCasale-Crouch says it will be important to understand what worked and didn't work about the ECI Toddler program. "Our goal is to figure out effective and efficient ways to support teachers so they can engage with children in ways that build the very foundation of success for their future."

The researchers will explore whether participating teachers improved their interactions with children in ways that supported children's healthy social and emotional development. They will also work to understand which teachers may have benefited most from the ECI Toddler program. The findings will help inform whether online coaching and learning is a viable way to engage toddler teachers in professional development.