In our latest staff Q & A, Hannah Riddle de Rojas, TARSS Project Manager, shares her goals for the Trainer and RBPD Specialist Support (TARSS) program and her reflections on the importance of early childhood.
What was the educational and career journey that led to your current role at CEED?
I’ve worked in the early childhood arena for about a decade. I’ve held a variety of positions including educator, center director, trainer, and adjunct faculty. I joined CEED in 2019 as part of the Early Childhood Program Quality team, conducting Parent Aware classroom observations using the CLASS® tool. At that time, I was a newly minted mom transitioning out of an operations role at SolBe Learning, an early childhood program that I co-founded in Boston, MA.
You recently took on a new position at CEED with the TARSS program. Can you talk a bit about your role as TARSS Project Manager.
I’m thrilled to be in the position to serve the trainer and relationship-based professional development (RBPD) community. I’ve been a trainer for the past seven years. I train in English and Spanish and have conducted trainings in most parts of the state. I believe that I can bring insight into this work that can strengthen the offerings of the TARSS program.
My role includes providing support to trainers and RBPD specialists who reach out to us via phone or email. Because this project is new at CEED, we are currently creating systems to support the workflow, especially as more team members join us. This means that I also do a lot of organizing and strategizing around what we need to accomplish in the next weeks, months, and years.
What is the difference between the work of trainers and the work of RBPD specialists?
Trainers offer classes to early education professionals on a variety of topics that are outlined in Minnesota’s Knowledge and Competency Framework. These classes serve to give educators new information, teach new skills, and help meet licensing and other requirements. RBPD specialists are coaches and mentors who have sustained relationships with educators. Through coaching and mentoring sessions, RBPD specialists support educators in reflecting on their teaching practice as well as identifying their strengths and opportunities for growth. CEED has expertise in providing training and RBPD support, so our team understands what both roles entail. In addition, CEED has evaluation expertise which can help guide the direction and development of supports to the field.
Trainers and RBPD specialists have a uniquely powerful role in the field of early education. Many early educators come into the field with little formal preparation for the complicated work that they do. Trainers and RBPD specialists are often able to introduce insights and knowledge that empower educators and facilitate their growth. My dream is that the TARSS program aids trainers and RBPD specialists in claiming that power and seeing their impact.
What do you wish more people knew about early childhood?
I wish more people were well-informed about the society-wide benefits of collectively investing in our children. There is magic that happens when children are in truly high-quality environments—and the benefits of those early experiences ripple through society. So often, I feel that our national conversation misses or minimizes the importance of the early years. Despite that, research in the fields of both neuroscience and economics supports the idea that there is no better time than early childhood to invest resources in a human being.
Did becoming a parent change your perception of the early childhood field?
Becoming a parent hasn’t shifted my perception of the field. Instead, it has helped me to better empathize with the issues that face families—for example, finding affordable child care or navigating the differences between how we raise our children and the expectations of child care programs.
What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of work?
I spend a lot of time with my little one, Bruno. I also love to bake. I make tequeños (a Venezuelan snack) and some type of dessert weekly. It could be chocolate chip cookies, banana muffins, brownies, cheesecake, or tiramisu—YUM!
Research Associate Alyssa Meuwissen, PhD, is part of a team that won a multiyear grant from the Sauer Foundation. Meuwissen will lead a study to evaluate the impact of a reflective consultation-plus-training model of professional development on child welfare workers. She is working closely with Kristin Johnson, LGSW, IMH-E® Infant Family Specialist, of KayJay Consulting, LLC, and Jessica Hoeper, LISW, IMH-E® Infant Family Specialist, of Ray of Hope, LLC, to design and implement the project.
Reflective supervision, also known as reflective consultation, is a mode of relationship-based professional development. It is widely used in the field of infant and early childhood mental health, where research has shown it can help prevent burnout and improve workers’ effectiveness. Child welfare workers are also at great risk of experiencing secondary trauma and burnout. The Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare conducted a 2016 Child Welfare Workforce Stabilization Survey of child welfare professionals in Minnesota and found that 83% of respondents had experienced secondary traumatic stress. The survey also revealed that 53% of respondents had actively sought employment outside of their current position within the previous year, and 22% intended to do so within the following year. In addition to being costly for agencies, high workforce turnover affects outcomes for families and children.
Meuwissen’s new study will explore how child welfare professionals—and as a result, the people with whom they work—can best reap the benefits of reflective supervision. This work builds on a previous study done by Meuwissen and her colleague Mary Harrison, PhD, LICSW, IMH-E®. While a few child welfare agencies in Minnesota have implemented reflective consultation (several of them working with Teya Dahle, MSW, LICSW, IMH-E®, who is also consulting on this project), the practice has not become widespread.
Reflective supervision consists of regular meetings between a trained supervisor or outside consultant and a supervisee or group of supervisees. Conversations in these sessions focus on supervisees’ emotions and perspectives. They explore supervisees’ relationships with the people whom they serve and with colleagues. These conversations also take into account the viewpoints and relationships of the adults and children with whom supervisees work. Reflective supervision sessions emphasize building on strengths and managing challenges. The sessions are a safe place for frontline workers to process the distressing emotions that arise in their work.
For this study, the project team will work with the staff of a county social service agency in Minnesota. Johnson and Hoeper will provide reflective consultation to both the agency’s supervisors and its child protection workers. Training on topics related to mindfulness, coping, and stress will also be integrated into the reflective consultation model.
“There are really two parts to implementing the reflective supervision program at this agency,” explains Meuwissen. “The first part is to build a culture of awareness and support of reflective supervision. To do so, we’ll provide evidence-based training about the effectiveness of reflective supervision.”
In this way, people at all levels of the agency will understand the value of reflective consultation, increasing organization-wide support for this model of professional development.
“Second, our experienced consultants will meet regularly with both agency supervisors and child protection workers,” Meuwissen says. “Supervisors will receive reflective consultation for one hour a month. Child welfare workers will attend monthly sessions that begin with 15–30 minutes of training and skill-building activities. They’ll learn strategies such as mindfulness and diaphragmatic breathing that will help them to identify and manage the emotions associated with their work. Following these activities, workers will break into small groups for an hour of group reflective consultation.”
Reflective consultants Johnson and Hoeper will make adjustments to training and reflective supervision sessions based on feedback from participants. Participants will have multiple opportunities to share their thoughts both in person and anonymously through surveys.
“We’ll gather data every step of the way,” says Meuwissen. “The data will help us in two ways. First, we’ll be able to make informed adjustments to optimize our program while it’s happening. Second, we’ll discover whether this is a feasible and effective program model for a child welfare agency.”
At the close of the program, which will span about a year and a half, Meuwissen and her colleagues will conduct interviews with each participant to understand their overall perceptions of the program. Finally, Meuwissen will present the study’s findings and recommendations to participants and collect further feedback from them. She will incorporate this feedback into the study’s conclusions, which she will publish as a report as well as disseminate as a podcast.
“We want to know from participants: did this experience reduce their secondary traumatic stress and burnout?” says Meuwissen. “Did it increase their empathy, perspective-taking, and reflectiveness when they worked with clients?”
Meuwissen hopes that this study will demonstrate the benefits of reflective supervision for child protection workers®benefits that also flow to those with whom they work.
“Our goal with this project is to support child welfare workers so that they can better support children and families,” she says.
Early Development and Child Welfare is a new podcast series co-created by CEED and our colleagues at the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare (CASCW). The series of 10 episodes covers a range of important aspects of child development and child welfare work. Subscribe for free with your favorite podcast app or listen on CASCW’s website.
“Infant mental health practitioners, social workers, and early childhood educators will find these podcasts useful and informative,” says Stacy Gehringer, MSW, LICSW, director of outreach at CASCW. “This content is also highly relevant for justice system workers like judges, guardians ad litem, and case managers. These child welfare professionals are asked to make recommendations for children and families, yet they may need more information on the basics of attachment or child development.”
The podcast format was chosen for its ability to deliver information in bite-sized segments that can be accessed while on the go. Both CASCW and CEED offer in-person and online professional development opportunities; however, the professionals who make up the podcast’s likely audience are often busy to the point of being overstretched.
“Practitioners want and need access to the latest research and best practices, but they don’t always have time to download, print, and read literature, or to sign up for an intensive course or training,” says Gehringer. “We hope that listeners can catch an episode in the car driving to or from visits with families, or perhaps listen while taking a walk.”
She adds that episodes can also be used as learning tools for child welfare units to spur discussion both within teams and with community members.
“These podcasts are a great resource for professionals who work directly with children and families, such as child care providers, educators and social workers,” says Ann Bailey, PhD, director of CEED. “They also cover core aspects of child development in a way that’s accessible for people who, perhaps, work with families only occasionally but still find they want to be better informed about the research and science of early childhood.”
Gehringer notes that several themes resurface again and again throughout the 10 podcast episodes. These themes include building relationships and understanding the cycle of rupture and repair; describing developmental, cultural, and infant mental health lenses for use in different fields; self-assessment and critical thinking; and parallel process, a fundamental principle of reflective supervision.
“We ask parents to establish trust and foundational feelings of belonging and dignity with their children,” Gehringer explains, speaking about the concept of parallel process. “We, as child welfare workers, need to do the same with parents and families in order for them to make progress, believe we are supporting them in their parenting endeavors, and ultimately heal.”
Frontline workers, in turn, depend on their supervisors to provide reflective spaces where workers can “process all the trauma in front of them so that they can better connect with parents and families,” says Gehringer. She points out that child welfare and social workers, as well as people who work with families and children in other contexts, experience high rates of secondary trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout.
Early Development and Child Welfare recognizes this reality while underscoring the vital importance of this work.
“We do this work to keep families together, intact, and healthy, and to build resilience and healthy attachment,” says Gehringer. “This podcast series is really nice for regrounding people in the ‘why’ of the work.”
Early Development and Child Welfare is supported in part by the Minnesota Department of Human Service Children and Family Services Division. An audio introduction to the series and the first episode, “Attachment and foundations of self-regulation,” are available right now. Additional episodes will be released twice a week.
Episode titles and topics will be:
Attachment and foundations of self-regulation
Faith Eidson, LMSW, interviews Marva Lewis, PhD, to discuss the impact of early caregiving relationships on a child’s ability to self-regulate.
The effects of stress biology and toxic stress
Kristin Johnson, MSW, interviews Salam Soliman, PsyD, to discuss the effect that elevated levels of stress have on the developing brain and how child welfare workers might help mitigate stress levels through providing resources to at-risk families.
Applying a cultural lens to child welfare work
Tanika Eaves Simpson, PhD, and Amittia Parker, PhD candidate, LMSW, MPA explore the importance of being able to acknowledge and engage with diverse cultures in the child welfare field.
Applying a developmental lens to child welfare work
Christine Cole, LCSW, IMH-E, interviews Kristin Irrer, IMH-E, to discuss how recognizing the various developmental needs of children is crucial for child welfare workers in order to appropriately engage with youth and families
The importance and process of early childhood screening
Kate Waltour, MSW, LISW, talks with Anna Paulson, MEd, and Janell Schilman to discuss the referral and evaluation process when there are concerns about a child’s development and when screening is required through the Child Protection and Treatment Act (CAPTA).
Embedding knowledge into practice: CEED’s Supporting Early Social and Emotional Development Credential
Faith Eidson, LMSW, interviews Kim Eckel, the founder of Footbridge for Families, about the process for obtaining SESED Credential and how the program has impacted their approach to Child Welfare
Cultural perspectives from child welfare workers: A panel
Tanika Eaves Simpson, PhD, interviews Andrea Penick, LMSW, and Cassandra Thomas, LMSW, to discuss how their unique cultural perspective(s) influence their work in child welfare.
Applying an infant mental health lens to child welfare work
Faith Eidson, LMSW, talks with Sarah Shea, PhD, about how using an Infant Mental Health (IMH) framework in Child Welfare work can benefit young children and their caregiver(s).
Early brain development
Christine Cole, LCSW, IMH-E, and Kathleen Thomas, PhD, delve into the topic of early brain development and it’s reliance on adult interaction.
Applying a neuroscience lens to child welfare work
Kristin Johnson, MSW, interviews Daniel Berry, EdD, to explore the interactions between genetics and the environment on a child’s brain development.
Making things easy for people who work hard: a Q & A with Professional Development Coordinator Deborah Ottman
Deborah Ottman, MA, oversees CEED’s online courses and self-study modules. She shares what makes our professional development special and puts her finger on a couple of ways in which adult learners differ from traditional full-time students.
What was the educational and career path that led you to your role at CEED?
Deborah Ottman: I earned a BA in communications with a minor in fine arts and Spanish from Cardinal Stritch University and an MA in communications from Marquette University in Milwaukee. After graduate school, I taught English as a second language to adult Spanish speakers in Miami, and discovered that I loved teaching adults. This experience led to a position with a professional development program at the University of Detroit Mercy, where I worked with professionals from all over the world. These were pre-internet times, so the cross-cultural learning that is now so easy for us to access really had to be achieved through direct experience. In my work, that meant anything from reading through McDonald’s employee handbooks with my students in Miami to taking them grocery shopping in Detroit! In both these positions, I appreciated the chance to gain insight into the immigrant experience.
After moving to Minnesota, I worked at the PACER Center, a nonprofit whose mission is to support children and young adults with disabilities as well as their families. I worked on a federally-funded project helping Title I schools engage authentically with families to support children’s academic success. I also worked with these families to support their skills in advocating for their children to help them be successful in school. Being a mom of three young boys myself, I had a particular interest in working with and on behalf of families with young children. Simultaneously, I started providing professional development for public school teachers and administrators, as well as creating large training events for parents.
I started working at CEED in 2012. My role here is an especially good fit because I’m able to bring together my experience in adult education, working with diverse populations, and event planning with my interest in early childhood.
What do you think sets apart CEED’s professional development opportunities? Why should people choose our courses, modules, or trainings?
There are several things that set us apart. First, we are housed within the Institute of Child Development, a remarkable academic department within a Research I university. Our online courses and our self-study modules present high-quality content that is grounded in evidence. Our instructors and module authors are real-world professionals working in the fields they teach. We also offer training, both in-person and online, in research-based classroom assessment tools such as the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS®), Desired Results Developmental Profile (2015), and COR Advantage. The academic rigor that we bring to adult education is really important.
Also, CEED is cross-disciplinary. Our work is grounded in the study of infant and early childhood mental health—another way of talking about social and emotional development. This means, for example, that we look not just at children’s behaviors, but at what those behaviors may be communicating. As another example, we recognize that children don’t develop in isolation; they develop in the context of their caregiving environment and culture. So we take a “two generation” approach to working with families; our participants build skills and knowledge to support children by supporting the important adults in those children’s lives. Additionally, CEED is home to the Reflective Practice Center (RPC). Using a reflective approach helps practitioners work more effectively with children and families and even with their colleagues. With a research center devoted to reflective practice here at CEED, we naturally incorporate reflective principles into our professional development.
We offer all of this research-based content wrapped up in formats that are based on best practices for adult learning. Our goal is to make things easy for people who work hard all day—teachers, social workers, health care workers, administrators, and many others. These are professionals whose main job is not to be a student. Their main job is to work with children and families.
How do working professionals’ educational needs differ from those of full-time students?
One of the more profound starting differences is that full-time students don’t have as much autonomy in choosing what they are going to learn. One thing that we know about adult learners is that they need to know “what’s in it for me.” That’s the starting point. They need to see and feel that what they’re learning can be applied to their job.
Another difference between a traditional student and an adult learner is that the older we get, the fuller our lives become. We have many demands on us: jobs, families, volunteer pursuits, even interests and hobbies. We can’t meet in a classroom three times a week during the middle of the day for an hour and a half. Professional development needs to be accessible and flexible. That’s where virtual learning environments provide great opportunities.
I mentioned earlier that in the pre-internet age, it was more difficult to come by cross-cultural experiences. The advent of the internet has also opened up new possibilities for professional development. You can access our online courses and modules from anywhere, at any time. I find it inspiring that we are able to meet learners where they are—both geographically and in terms of their level of knowledge and skill.
What are some of the ways in which you’ve continued to adapt the professional development options at CEED in response to learners’ needs?
In 2021, we offered our annual Minnesota Early Intervention Summer Institute as a virtual event for the very first time. We were able to provide two days of intensive, innovative professional development to more than 200 early childhood practitioners from Minnesota and beyond. People who normally would not be able to travel to this event, including people from outside our region, were able to participate. Again, we’re really fortunate to be housed within the University of Minnesota, which allows us to access both the best that technology has to offer and also skilled support staff who are experts on using that technology.
Another big change to our professional development offerings is our latest addition–our self-study modules. These explore reflective topics in ways that work for people who are just beginning their reflective journey as well as for those with a more extensive background in reflective practice. I like to recommend Wondering with purpose: reflection in any setting as a starting point for people who don’t have prior knowledge of reflective practice.
The modules take around three hours to complete, but if a participant can only spend half an hour at a time on the module, that’s okay. The modules are structured so they can pick up where they left off later. We give participants access to the module for a whole year. They can take their time, revisit content, and make sure that they get what they hoped to gain out of it.
Going back to adult learning theory, this is a difference between adult learners and traditional students. Adults are going to choose what they want to learn. In our professional development offerings, we give them the basics of what we feel they must know so that we can say, “Yes, you’ve learned this content to a baseline level of satisfaction.” However, when professionals choose to call upon what they learned, it’s entirely up to them how they do that.
What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of work?
I’m in a book club that has been going strong for 20 years! Right now, we’re reading The Power by Naomi Alderman, which was on President Obama’s reading list a few years back.
I’m also a pretty big-time gardener. I have a vegetable garden, trees and shrubs, and perennial beds. This year, my shade garden is doing well with a native cardinal flower that’s a magnet for hummingbirds as well as some new coral bells and a beautiful plot of jack-in-the-pulpit. I’ve been working on incorporating plants that are native to Minnesota and don’t require a lot of extra water or other resources. These plants also sustain our native insects and birds. It’s fun to see a plant vibrating because there are so many honey bees on it. One thing I love about gardening is that it connects us to nature’s life cycle in such an elemental way. It doesn’t really matter what you’re raising or the size of the plot that you tend–gardening is an inherently hopeful activity.
By Alyssa Meuwissen, PhD, research associate; and Deborah Ottman, MA, professional development coordinator
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ways in which many of us accomplish our work have evolved. We’ve cobbled together home offices. We’ve learned to Zoom with colleagues instead of knocking on their office doors. We’ve changed our schedules to accommodate the presence of children navigating distance learning. Many people have recently returned to in-person work. Others are planning their return with one eye on the COVID-19 case count in their area.
Like many of our colleagues in non-student-facing roles at the University of Minnesota, CEED staff are in the process of transitioning back to the office. At the same time, we’ve been hearing from friends and colleagues about their experiences with this shift. Some are excited, while others are apprehensive. Still others feel excited one minute, and apprehensive the next.
Hearing these different perspectives prompted us to think about principles of reflective practice that could be of use in this moment of transition. Reflective practice is often recommended for educators and other professionals who work with children and families. However, we’d venture that anyone who regularly interacts with other human beings could benefit from reflective techniques.
What would it look like to be a reflective colleague in this moment? How might one put reflective principles to work in a typical office environment? As we pondered these questions together, three major themes surfaced: ambiguity, perspective-taking, and power dynamics. We’ve loosely organized our reflective tips to align with these themes. As you’ll see, they’re interrelated.
Do you look forward to returning to in-person work? If you’ve already done so, do you ever wish you were still working from home? The answer to questions like these may be murkier than a simple “yes” or “no.” Returning to the office is a big change if you’ve become accustomed to working remotely. For well over a year, we were discouraged from contact with people outside our household. Our mental alarm bells rang if other people came within six feet of us.
It can be hard to shake off that conditioning. Some people may crave in-person interactions, but for others, these interactions can be anxiety-provoking or even activate our threat response. Different people will react differently, and our own attitudes may shift over time.
Reflective practice can help us by teaching us to hold the ambiguity of our response. Acknowledge that there are pluses and minuses to in-person work. Avoid assigning judgment to your emotions, whether they are positive, negative, or mixed. Feelings are not “right” or “wrong.” It is also okay if your feelings change from day to day and even hour to hour.
If you start to feel overwhelmed or reactive at the office, we suggest physically removing yourself from the room, if possible. It can be helpful to take a five-minute walk, do some deep breathing, or look out a window at something that makes you feel anchored to the wider world, like trees or the sky.
It can also help to identify your hot buttons. Dirty dishes left in the break room sink? A loud water cooler conversation near your workspace? Try naming your feelings: “When I see a mess in the sink, I feel stressed. When coworkers don’t respect my need for quiet thinking time, I feel frustrated.”
What if you notice that a colleague seems stressed? Offer to take a break with them and leave the space if possible. If you decide to talk with them about your observations, leave room for them to respond in a way that’s comfortable for them. Avoid confrontational statements like “You look nervous,” or “You seem stressed.” Instead, try an opener like, “I wonder how you felt about that meeting.” Be open to input and curious about your colleague’s response.
It’s important to recognize in these conversations that we won’t always like or agree with what we hear. We may feel defensive or take it personally when a colleague shares concerns—even if their concerns have nothing to do with us. This is human nature; there’s no need to blame ourselves for our reactions. At the same time, a reflective colleague works to accept others’ emotions without judgment as well.
Our dependence on Zoom meetings during the pandemic afforded many of us glimpses of our coworkers’ home lives–of their children and pets, their coffee tables and back yards. We learned that the lives our colleagues lead outside of work are very different from our own. Each of us has different responsibilities and a different set of claims on our time and attention. We think it’s possible that this insight into the diversity of our experiences will have a positive effect on work environments. We may be less judgmental and more apt to assign best intentions to the people with whom we work.
It might seem obvious that other people’s perspectives differ from our own. However, we’re all capable of forgetting from time to time that we don’t all think alike (or work alike). The reflective approach is to notice these differences with curiosity. How might this look in practice? As an example, say you notice that a colleague frequently leaves work early. Rather than let suspicion or resentment take hold, wonder about your colleague with curiosity. Why might your colleague need to leave work early? They might be picking up a child from school or child care. Perhaps they’re going to a standing therapy appointment. Maybe they’re avoiding rush hour traffic and will put in an hour of work later at home to make up the time. You may never know the answer, but you can assign best intentions, trusting that there’s a good reason for what you’ve observed.
Human beings are uncomfortable with not knowing. We tend to fill in an incomplete picture with guesses. What’s important is to avoid the trap of thinking that your guess must be right. A phrase that resonates with us is: “The story that I’m telling myself about what I’m seeing is…” This framing reminds us that when we speculate about other people’s thoughts, feelings, and motivations, our guesses may or may not be anywhere close to true. As reflective colleagues, we can learn to sit with an incomplete picture. We can accept that we don’t know, as much as we might want to.
There’s little doubt that your work experience is partly shaped by power dynamics. Workplaces often have a hierarchical structure; power is unevenly distributed across different roles and teams. Gender, race, age, socioeconomic status, experience, and other factors also influence the way in which power dynamics play out within a workplace. Where on the spectrum, from most to least powerful, are you? How do you feel about your position? And how might you best use your position to be effective in your job?
For people on the powerful end of the spectrum, the tips we shared about ambiguity and perspective taking may be especially useful. We touched on avoiding the trap of thinking, “Because I’ve been able to make a guess, my guess must be right.” Here’s a corollary to that belief: “I must be right, and that means you are wrong.” Avoiding such pitfalls is especially important if you are in a powerful position at work, because your decisions have great weight. Approach your colleagues and employees with curiosity and empathy, recognizing that their circumstances, opinions, and emotions will differ from yours. How might you make space for the voices that might not always be heard in your workplace?
If you are on the less-powerful end of the spectrum at work, think about aspects of your day where you do have control. Some people who worked from home over the past year gained autonomy—the power to make decisions about their day. They might have enjoyed choosing to spend their lunch hour folding laundry rather than eating in the break room, for example. Returning to the office could mean giving up some autonomy. If that’s the case for you, try to identify areas where you can be intentional. Maybe you can decorate your workspace and make it your own. Maybe you can read a book or fit in a workout over your lunch hour. If you’ve found that you do your best thinking while active, suggest to a colleague that you go for a walking meeting. Advocate for yourself, and exercise the options you have to make your job work well for you.
Not everyone is “going back” to work, of course. Many people never left; people in early childhood education, service industries, health care, and manufacturing, for example, don’t have the option to work from home. Others can’t go back; they must continue to work from home because of health conditions that make them or their family members vulnerable.
We acknowledge that people’s experiences of this pandemic vary enormously both at home and at work, not just within the United States, but across the globe. With that being said, we believe that a reflective approach can work well in different professional environments—whether in a Zoom meeting or a conference room, in a classroom or on the shop floor.
Interested in learning more about reflective practice? Our self-study modules look at different facets of reflective practice. The module Wondering with Purpose: Reflection in Any Setting would be a great place to start. For those who already have some experience with reflective practice, we’d suggest exploring our online courses RIOS 1: Using the RIOS Framework for Reflective Supervision and RIOS 2: Advanced Reflective Supervision Using the RIOS Framework.
Meredith Reese is a research professional whose work touches on many of the aspects of CEED’s work, from data collection and analysis to designing and providing professional development. In this Q & A, she gives a behind-the-scenes look at several of CEED’s major projects. Reese also discusses why creating art is more closely related to doing research than we might think, and she shares a selection of her visual art creations.
What was the educational and career path that brought you to your role as a research professional at CEED?
Meredith Reese: I went to college at the University of Rochester in New York, where I majored in psychology. While in college, I worked at Mount Hope Family Center for several semesters. Mount Hope is associated with the University of Rochester, but it has ties to the University of Minnesota as well. Melissa Koenig, PhD, professor of developmental psychology, and Dante Cicchetti, PhD, McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair, were Principal Investigators on one of the projects I worked on while at Mount Hope Family Center. They are both professors in the Institute of Child Development here at UMN. I became aware of the University of Minnesota’s reach and research through my work at Mount Hope, so after completing a research internship in Germany, I came back to Minnesota (where I grew up) and got connected with Koenig’s lab.
Prior to joining CEED in September 2019, I worked directly with children conducting early literacy assessments in preschools for the Department of Educational Psychology. I also ran studies in Koenig’s Early Language and Experience Lab. My current job is further removed from interacting with children, but I get the opportunity to work with community partners and the results of research: the data and organizations that influence policy and practice. I enjoy working directly with children, but I also like being more involved in interpreting, visualizing, and communicating the results of research.
You work on a variety of initiatives and projects at CEED. Can you talk a little about some of the major projects you are involved in?
One large piece of my job is managing projects like our self-study modules. Overall, however, I’d say that much of my work involves collecting, organizing, and analyzing data for different projects. I work closely with Research Associate Alyssa Meuwissen, PhD, and Director Ann Bailey, PhD, on developing survey questions and other data collection materials. I also implement surveys and conduct interviews.
As an example, a major ongoing project that I’m involved in is evaluation work for the Center for Inclusive Childcare (CICC). The CICC brought CEED on to evaluate their coaching programs for child care providers. Providers can receive coaching in the areas of inclusion, infant-toddler, and health and safety. This is CICC’s fourth year providing coaching, and I have been involved in the evaluation for almost two years. As part of the evaluation process, we send out surveys and conduct interviews with the coaches employed by CICC. We do the same with the child care providers whom they serve so that we can get a balanced picture of how the program is operating and where there may be a need for modifications.
What has stood out to you in your conversations with coaches and providers?
Analyzing and summarizing interviews is one of my favorite parts of the evaluation process, as well as one of the most challenging parts. Interviewees share such rich information and perspectives in these conversations. I enjoy identifying themes in what respondents express. I also feel a huge sense of responsibility in reviewing this qualitative data. I want to make sure to accurately communicate the nuances of participants’ experiences.
I’m often amazed at how many child care providers mention the same things about their experience receiving coaching. I often think, “This is like deja vu–someone else just said that!” One theme that is consistent across these interviews is the importance of a provider’s relationship with their coach. Providers may feel isolated in their role. That is especially the case for in-home providers who may not have anyone to bounce ideas off of or check in with.
Coaches fill a role that is similar to that of a reflective supervisor or consultant. When they meet with coaches, practitioners get the chance to process their experiences in a safe and supportive setting. Coaches also provide a fresh perspective. I enjoy discovering these tie-ins that link a project like CICC to aspects of reflective practice and infant mental health. I like being involved in different projects and seeing those overlapping components.
Can you talk about the process of developing CEED’s self-study modules?
I worked closely with Deborah Ottman, professional development coordinator, and Karen Anderson, program/project specialist, on developing the nine initial self-study modules. We are also working on developing additional modules. Deb is the content expert; she identifies a need that exists in the field and invites a content expert or experts to author a self-study module on that topic. She ensures that the modules have the right focus for the field. My role is more on the project management side of things. I coordinate with module authors and reviewers, from arranging their contracts and payment to organizing and revising their submitted materials and resources so that Karen can upload them into the Canvas learning platform.
Our module authors are recognized experts on a given topic. I really enjoy working with the module authors and developing relationships with them. This was a unique aspect of this project for me, because previously I had always worked with small internal teams, and my work did not not involve much interaction with people in the field. I feel so fortunate to get to work directly with content experts and learn from them through our conversations and the process of reviewing their modules. I enjoy creating an outlet for their experience and knowledge to be accessible to a wider audience via the self-study modules.
What will be your role in the Trainers And RBPD Specialists Support (TARSS) project, which will be newly housed at CEED?
CEED will be working with the Minnesota Department of Human Services to provide support for trainers and coaches. My role in this exciting project will include the development of evaluation surveys and interview protocols, data analysis, report writing, and infographic development. I’m also looking forward to working with Karen to learn about building online courses, because we will be transferring course content to Canvas.
What do you like to do in your spare time–assuming that you have any spare time!
I love scrapbooking, painting, drawing–anything that provides an opportunity to get creative and try something new. I find it relaxing and rewarding to explore a new medium and ultimately to have a finished product to look back at and know you created something. During the pandemic, I managed to get my family to try out a lot of artistic pursuits with me. We painted, collaged, and did embroidery. It pretty much felt like summer camp!
I actually see a lot of parallels between these creative endeavors and my enjoyment of evaluation and research projects. In my work at CEED, I have a lot of fun experimenting with new methods of data visualization. I love being able to apply my creativity and love of design to present data in a way that is more intuitive and usable for different audiences. More broadly, I enjoy the process of designing research and evaluation data collection measures and then integrating data from these different sources to answer specific questions.