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Early education workshops teach responsive classroom interactions

New CPHHS assistant professor develops program for local professionals

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CPHHS Assistant Professor Bridget Hatfield, with support from HDFS graduate students and the Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families, is helping local teachers learn about emotionally supportive interactions and relationships in early childhood classrooms through a new workshop.

Picture this: Your preschool or childcare center has just received a new toy truck for the sandbox. But instead of nicely sharing, every child wants the toy to be theirs. As an early education teacher, how would you approach this situation?

CPHHS Assistant Professor Bridget Hatfield is helping teachers find answers to that question through a new workshop that teaches emotionally supportive interactions and relationships in early childhood classrooms.

“After participants learned about responsive teacher-child interactions in these workshops, they would understand that one appropriate answer to this scenario would be, ‘I need to talk to the kids by saying I know it’s going to be hard, I know it’s going to be difficult to share, but just remember that we’re all going to get a turn,’” she says.  “Then, having a teacher sit in the sandbox to help facilitate the sharing process so that one kid doesn’t get to dominate the entire time with the cool new truck continues to support responsive interactions.”Bridget-Hatfield-Synergies

Bridget designed the workshops – “Intentional Teaching: Building Emotionally Supportive Early Childhood Classrooms” – based on ones she helped conduct during a postdoctoral Institute for Education Sciences Fellowship at the University of Virginia. The interactions discussed in this workshop are based on how the Classroom Assessment Scoring System™ developed by researchers at the University of Virginia defines responsive interactions.

“Interventions, workshops and coursework have been developed around these types of interactions because we know from multiple research studies and experimental trials that they support child academic, social and emotional development,” she says. Her recent article in Child Development illustrates how responsive interactions in preschool promote children’s gains in language, literacy and self-regulation.

Bridget says the workshops for early care and education professionals in the Corvallis community aim to bridge that gap between research and practice.

“We do great work here at Oregon State to support healthy children, and I feel that one way I can contribute is by supporting teachers and offering workshops grounded in early education research,” says Bridget, who earned a PhD after working as a childcare teacher and realizing her desire to make a bigger impact in the lives of children. “These workshops focus on responsive interactions in early childhood classrooms, which ultimately support the health and well-being of teachers, children and their families.”

“I feel that one way I can contribute is by supporting teachers and offering workshops grounded in early education research.”

The three-hour workshop consists of lecture instruction, videos, group work and discussions on topics covering three types of responsive, emotionally supportive interactions – positive climate, teacher sensitivity and child perspectives.

“The workshops focused on emotionally supportive interactions and relationships so that teachers can create responsive interactions,” she says. “For example, a responsive interaction is one in which the teacher is aware and sensitive to what the child needs both academically and emotionally in order to intentionally direct the interaction to support child engagement. It’s important for childcare workers to learn about responsive interactions, how to identify these interactions in a classroom and then develop plans to implement these interactions in classroom activities.”

Bridget says this information is necessary for childcare workers, considering many children spend more waking hours at school than at home.

“Early childhood development – birth through age 5 – is the biggest time where a child’s brain is developing, including their prefrontal cortex, their language, their self-regulation skills,” she says. “This development becomes much less plastic after they enter school, and we know that from a variety of long-term intervention studies that we actually get return on our investment for high-quality early childhood programs. Thus, the need for intentionally crafting responsive teacher-child interactions is paramount.”

Based on the turnout, waiting list and feedback from the two workshops held in March, Bridget says it’s clear local childcare workers see the need as well.

“I opened a second session after the first filled up within three days – and even after both sessions were full, individuals were contacting me expressing interest for another one,” she says. “I’m planning on offering another workshop in mid-May and then hopefully continuing these intentional teaching series, focusing on different types of interactions, for as long as the need is there.”