Glossary of Key Terms

Glossary of Key Terms

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  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs): stressful or traumatic events related to development that can impact a person’s health in the long term like trauma, abuse, neglect, or poverty.

  • Assessment literacy: the ability of care and education professionals to understand how to select, administer, and interpret a range of assessment instruments and use the information to make decisions about instruction and intervention.

  •  Bridging activities: activities employed to support and sustain the growth of children’s competencies across developmental domains designed to ease transitions between learning environments and reduce adverse consequences that may result from stresses encountered in transitioning.
  • Ex: deploying mixed-age classrooms
  • Ex: having an educator move with a group of students for multiple years
  • Ex: developing partnerships within a community among early care providers, community-based organizations, preschools, and elementary schools
  • Career advancement pathways: paths for individuals to follow as they advance within a role, such as novice to expert, as well as advancement and promotion to higher-level professional roles.

  • Certification: terminology used to indicate that a professional has met qualification requirements for teaching or leading in a particular setting. The general term for documents proving this certification is “credential.” Some states use the term “license” to denote credentials in public school settings.

  • Chronic stressors: prolonged activation of the physiologic stress response systems that are particularly harmful when experienced in the absence of the protection afforded by stable, positive relationships.

  • Coaching and mentoring: types of professional learning that involve a collaborative partnership in which an early childhood educator works with an adult educator to improve his or her practice. Mentors are likely to work one-on-one with educators to reach agreed-upon goals. Coaches often work with individuals or groups of educators following a planned program.

  • Cognitive flexibility: the ability to move from thinking about one concept to thinking about a different concept, and then back again; as well as the ability to think about multiple concepts simultaneously.

  • Continuity: in the context of children from B–8, the consistency of experience across diverse care and education settings as they grow up. It also includes the coordination of services from diverse programs and agencies affecting young children at any given point.

  • Continuity of care: in settings for very young children, this is the practice of keeping children and their caregivers together for an extended period of time, ideally up to 36 months of age so that a secure caregiver-child attachment can form.

  • Core competencies: (1) foundational knowledge, skills, and abilities needed by all adults with direct responsibilities for children regardless of setting or sector; (2) the specialized knowledge, skills, and abilities needed by educators and administrators who directly work with children from B–8. See pp. 326–327 of Transforming the Workforce for the abilities needed by all adults who have professional responsibilities with young children and pp. 328–329 for the competencies needed by early educators.

  • Critical and sensitive periods: time windows in which experience-related developmental transitions must or can most readily occur. 

  • Early childhood (B–5) program accreditation: a process for assessing program quality against a set of program standards. Typically developed by national organizations and voluntarily accessed, accreditation systems are available for center-based programs as well as for family child care settings.

  • Epigenetics: processes in which genes are activated or deactivated by environmental conditions.

  • Executive function: the term for a collection of mental processes that enable one to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.

  • Gene-environment correlation: the influence of genetic variation on environmental exposures; individuals may select, alter, and generate experiences that are in keeping with their own genetic proclivities.
  • Ex: child with more inhibited temperament inclined toward less intensive social environments
  • Gene-environment interaction: genetic or environmental effects that are conditional upon each other.
  • Ex: hereditary risk for heart disease (the genotype) can be aggravated by poor diet and lack of exercise (environment)
  • Ex: clinical depression, generally characterized by low levels of serotonin in the brain (genotype), can be worsened by high-stress situations, including grief, the physical stress of disease, or even the presence/absence of sunlight (environment)
  • Higher education program accreditation: a process for assessing the quality of an institute of higher education program’s quality. Accreditation standards promote quality by setting standards around course content and faculty requirements. In the early care and education space, organizations like the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) offer voluntary program accreditation. NAEYC awards accreditation to early childhood associate, baccalaureate, and master's degree programs that meet the NAEYC Professional Preparation Standards.

  • Inhibitory control: the ability to inhibit unproductive responses or behaviors to enable oneself to think about better strategies or ideas.

  • Interprofessional practice: the ability to collaborate and coordinate across settings within early care and education and with related sectors, especially, health, mental health, and social services. These abilities include three competencies:
  • Common competencies: overlapping competencies shared across multiple roles
  • Complementary competencies: specific to one’s role and enhances the work of other professionals
  • Collaborative competencies: knowledge and skills for working together across roles and sectors
  • Joint media engagement: engagement that occurs when a child watches media with an adult who engages him or her in the content or helps connect the ideas on screen to the world.

  • Kindergarten readiness: a child’s early knowledge in subject areas and that child’s physical, emotional, social, and behavioral preparedness to engage in the early elementary learning environment. Also refers to the preparedness of professionals, schools, and related systems to facilitate smooth transitions between home or early care settings and elementary school.

  • Lead educators: those who bear primary responsibility for children and who are responsible for planning and implementing activities and instruction and overseeing the work of assistant teachers and paraprofessionals. They include the lead educators in classroom and center-based settings, center directors/administrators, and owners/operators and lead practitioners in home-based or family child care settings.

  • Professional learning: any mechanisms that can contribute to ensuring that the early care and education workforce has what it needs to gain and reinforce necessary knowledge and competencies for quality practice. This includes but is not limited to preparation programs for prospective educators and professional development for those already in the workforce. Examples of professional learning mechanisms include:
  • workshops, trainings, or courses
  • coaching and mentoring
  • reflective practice
  • learning networks
  • communities of practice
  • Professional learning communities: a type of professional learning where groups of educators collaborate using inquiry, reflective dialogue, and data to determine their learning needs and those of their students in order to improve educator effectiveness and student outcomes.

  • Quality assurance efforts: strategies for enhancing program quality in early childhood settings (B–5) in conjunction with practitioners’ knowledge, skills, and practices.

  • Quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS): QRIS for early childhood programs have been developed and implemented at the state and local level. While considerable variability exists in their design and implementation, they all aim to improve child outcomes and make the extent of a program’s quality transparent to parents and the general public by assessing multiple indicators and combining them into a single summary rating of quality

  •  Reflective practice: an important professional learning strategy where educators reflect on and analyze their own work, potentially making them more open to refining or altering their teaching methods. Key components of reflective practice include questioning one’s assumptions, identifying alternatives in one’s practice, and deliberating on how to proceed.

  • Secure attachment: healthy attachment style between young children and caregivers that develops when children feel protected by and know they can depend on caregivers; research has shown that securely attached children develop greater social skills and have higher levels of self-esteem than those without this attachment.

  • “Serve and return” interactions: interactions that occur when a child vocalizes and a caregiver responds in a way that furthers the conversation rather than ending it; for example, an infant may coo and then the caregiver responds.

  • Social and emotional competence: a set of skills that contribute to the ability to understand and manage emotions and behaviors and establish and maintain positive relationships with peers.

  • Teacher preparation: for educators in public school systems, this usually entails preservice education that leads to a degree and then licensure. Teacher preparation programs almost always include coursework and student teaching. Degree attainment and licensure are usually followed by induction or mentoring programs for new teachers. Teacher preparation outside of public school systems is more varied. 

  • Tiered intervention approaches: also known as response-to-intervention models, a process through which educators identify which children might benefit from additional instruction and support.

  • Two-generation interventions: activities designed to assist children by providing simultaneous support to their parents, such as providing child care along with training for parents to help them gain jobs and succeed in the workforce.