In Vermont, early childhood and after school professionals have a tremendous resource in the Vermont Northern Lights Career Development Center. Northern Lights, as it is commonly referred to, is an organization that continues to evolve and change in order to provide current and relevant information for professional development and career planning. The organization strives to be “consistent, accessible, and comprehensive in meeting the needs of early childhood and afterschool professionals from entry to advanced levels” (VNLCDC p.1). There are a wide variety of tools and resources available through the Northern Lights’ website so at first it may seem confusing and cumbersome to new users. I think the best way to understand the wealth of materials on this site is to spend time searching around and reading the content. Luckily, Northern Lights is also staffed by a great team of individuals, so you can reach out and discuss your questions with a person if you cannot find what you are looking for on the website. As of January 2018, there is a new “Northern Lights at CCV Team” which is comprised of the director, managers, and local resource advisors who are all working towards creating a strong workforce for Vermont’s young children. This team is located around the state, so individuals can also make in person appointments to meet their local resource advisors which is a wonderful tool for individuals who are weary of technology.
The primary purpose of Northern Lights is to serve as a hub to provide resources for the variety of individuals in the field of early childhood and after school within the state of Vermont. As seen on the home page of the website, there are navigation tools for three main areas: career pathways, training and coursework, and roles. By clicking into any of these three broad categories web users will be directed to another page that further explains the topic and provides a wealth of links and printable resources. For individuals exploring their role as a director it would be imperative to read the Vermont Competencies for Program Directors (VNLCDC p.2) and use it as a self-assessment for all five knowledge areas the document outlines.
It is important to understand that Northern Lights works with many different partners and aims to unify and enhance the professional development system, but Northern Lights does NOT provide every resource so professionals will need to know where to go for that information as well. Northern Lights does not list current professional development opportunities, but there is a link on site that will take you to the Bright Futures Information System (BFIS) Course Calendar. Northern Lights also offers links to BFIS so individuals can see their quality credentialing and program accounts, where their professional development is documented and credentials are stored. Northern Lights is not ‘licensing’ so individuals need to go to Vermont Child Development Division to read the child care licensing regulations that pertain to their program. Lastly, for early childhood teachers who are licensed through the Agency of Education, such as myself, there is another set of parameters for maintain a teaching license that is outside of the scope of Northern Lights. Efforts are underway to ensure that less duplication is happening so that licensed teachers are not having to submit course work and their IPDP to both BFIS and the AOE, which saves professionals time.
Northern Lights is an online tool that serves a critical component in the career success of individuals who work in both early childhood and after school programs. My suggestion is that individuals should begin by looking at the Vermont Career Ladder (https://northernlightscdc.org/career-pathways/early-childhood-pathways/). Individuals can begin at any level on the career ladder depending on their prior coursework, credentials, degrees, and years of experience. A career pathway provides professionals with defined routes to improve their qualifications, recognize professional possibilities that exist in the workforce, and assist individuals in being compensated appropriately (Sciarra 45). This ladder serves as a tool for an individual to use to navigate how to progress in their career, which I feel can be empowering to someone just beginning in the field. At first glance it seems like a lot of work to climb the levels of the ladders, but the Child Development Division offers bonuses ranging from $100 to $1200 dollars as recognition of the hard work it takes to attain a level within the ladder. Program administrators need to be familiar with this process since they will have many staff members who have questions and concerns. It is important to note that climbing this career ladder increase the salary potential for individuals and therefore is worth investing the time and energy into attaining higher levels. For programs who participate in STARS the career ladder is tied into the arena of Staff Qualifications so the higher level that staff members attain, the higher the score for the program.
Over the course of the last eight years working in the early childhood field in Vermont, I have used the Northern Lights website in a variety of ways. Over this time the content and clarity of the information has changed and evolved. I have occasionally emailed or called to ask clarifying questions for myself, my staff, or my college students and have found the Northern Lights staff to be very responsive and helpful. Most often I go to the website to refer to the career ladders and to access the core competencies. I find that the core competency documents to be well written and great resources to answering questions. Northern Lights has also served me as an Approved Instructor, with password protected portions of the website pages that allow me to access course materials and resources when teaching the Fundamentals course.
In summary, I feel that Northern Lights is a great resource and will continue to refer to it for professional growth and learning. It is worth investing the time and energy to be familiar with the layout and content for both myself as professional and as a resource to share with my staff.
Sciarra, D. J., Lynch, E. M., Adams, S. M., & Dorsey, A. G. Developing and Administering a Child Care and Education Program. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2016
Vermont North Lights Career Development Center. Competencies for Program Directors of Early Childhood and AfterSchool Programs. 2009 Retrieved on January 21, 2018 – https://northernlightscdc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/competencies_program_directors.pdf