Knowledge and Competencies

Adapted from Transforming the Workforce Chapter 7

Key Takeaways

  • To support greater consistency in high-quality learning, a shared, foundational knowledge base needs to exist for educators across the B–8 continuum and across roles and practice settings.

  • Those with direct responsibilities for early learning and development need specialized competencies that recognize variations in child age, child learning, and adult responsibilities, plus variations across sectors and practice sites.

  •  The science of child development and learning and the important role of competent educational practice indicate several areas where additional and/or more defined competencies are warranted beyond those identified by national and state statements of educator standards and core competencies.

  • Individuals who function in administrative roles in programs and schools serving children from B–8 perform an important role in ensuring the quality of early learning experiences. Yet their preparation for this responsibility is often insufficient.

  • A critical competency needed by B–8 educators and administrators is the ability to foster collaboration and to coordinate practices across early care and education settings and between the care and education sector and related sectors, especially health, mental health, and social services.

Chapter Summary

Identifying and reaching consensus on what early care and education teachers and administrators need to know and be able to do is an essential part of ensuring that children are supported as competent learners, regardless of the B–8 early care and education setting.

The knowledge and competencies needed by adults to support learning, development, and school success should draw from the science of child development and early learning, the knowledge base about educational practices, and the context of early care and education and related sectors. 

The knowledge and skills necessary for competent practice by early educators are listed on pages 328-329 of Transforming the Workforce, which organizes them into five categories:

  1. Core knowledge of the science of child development and early learning
  2. Practices to help children learn and develop based on this science
  3. Knowledge and skills for working with diverse populations of children
  4. Developing and using partnerships with families and support services to bolster child learning and development
  5. Ability and motivation to continually improve the quality and effectiveness of one’s practices

Perceptions expressed by practitioners in B–5 and elementary education communities suggest that significant differences exist between them. A comparison of national and state statements of core competencies, however, indicates more agreement exists than typically thought, especially in terms of supporting children’s growth and development across domains, including general and specific cognitive skills, social and emotional development, health, and physical well-being. These two communities both have public statements indicating shared belief in the importance of collaborating with colleagues and interacting with children in developmentally appropriate ways.

Nonetheless, there are meaningful variations in the knowledge and skills expected of early childhood educators in B–5 and elementary grade educators, especially in the areas of child assessment, family engagement, and use of technology.

Examination of national statements and state expectations for what B–8 educators need to know and be able to do indicates several areas where additional and/or more defined competencies are warranted based on the current science of child development and early learning and the importance of competent educational practice:

  1. Teaching subject-matter-specific content
  2. Addressing stress and adversity
  3.  Fostering social and emotional development and general learning competencies, including a coherent conceptual framework for preparing learning environments and experiences that support learning and growth in these areas. This realm includes understanding self-regulatory capacities and the ways these capacities interrelate with one another and connect to academic achievement when connected to specific developmentally appropriate teacher strategies
  4. Working with dual language learners
  5. Integrating technology into curricula

Program and school administrators are increasingly being recognized for creating the context for children’s effective learning and teachers’ continuing growth. In contrast to a broad overlap between the stated competencies expected of early childhood (B–5) and elementary educators, a more pronounced divide in expectations exists for administrators in elementary school settings and those in early childhood learning settings outside of the public schools.

Administrators' Contribution to Care and Education for Young Children
Source: Kostelnik and Grady, 2009, pg. 26. This graphic was reprinted in Transforming the Workforce as Figure 7-1 on page 340.

To ensure learning and development is holistically supported, all adults responsible for supporting children from B–8 need knowledge, skills, and abilities that foster interprofessional practice: collaborative and coordinated practice across settings within early care and education and between early care and education, and closely related sectors, especially health, mental health, and social services.

Three Types of Interprofessional Competencies
Source: Adapted from Interprofessional Education Collaborative Experts Panel, 2011. This graphic was reprinted in Transforming the Workforce as Figure 7-3 p. 349.

Key Quotes from Chapter

“One of the factors that contributes to continuity in high-quality learning experiences is continuity in the stated expectations for the care and education professionals who work with children throughout the age 0–8 continuum.” (pg. 330)


“Having content knowledge and knowing the major developmental milestones in any given subject area does no good if the educator does not know how to link that knowledge to instructional practices and engineer the learning environment to support children’s growth in that area.” (pg. 336)


“While the importance of school and program leadership is unequivocal, the capacity of these leaders to support high-quality instruction and services in the early years is questionable.” (pg. 341)

Questions for Policymakers, Higher Education, and the Workforce


  • Does the state have one foundational set of competencies that are expected for all educators B–8?
  • Do documents exist that outline competencies for those working with young children in various capacities?
  • When were these competency expectations last revised and how are they used?
  • Are current state competency expectations aligned with those in the report?

Higher Education:

  • Are teacher preparation programs incorporating all competencies for educators B–8 into their coursework and field experiences for prospective teachers?
  • Do faculty have any incentive to update their knowledge base to align with the current science on what B–8 educators need to know and be able to do? What institutional policies might encourage them to do so?

B–8 Workforce:

  • Which knowledge and competencies do you feel you are most missing? Are there professional learning opportunities offered by your state, school district, or community to fill the gaps?