First Advisor

Pugh, Kevin J.

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Date Created



College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, Psychological Sciences, SPS Student Work


Early care and education (ECE) services are necessary for a society because of a variety of ethical, economic, and developmental reasons. A well-developed field of practice is needed to ensure young children have access to high quality care and education settings. To promote a thriving profession, many are calling for the field of early care and education to increase the human capital, or the knowledge and skills gained through higher education and professional development, of those that work directly with young children and families. However, there exists a somewhat narrow theoretical basis for current professional development practices, particularly forms of ongoing professional development offered to those already working with young children. As professional development systems and specific programs are developed aimed at increasing the human capital of caregivers and teachers, I am proposing the importance of broadening professional development activities to include goals and delivery mechanisms based upon a theoretical understanding of the complex social systems and structures in which individuals develop. I call upon the theory of situated cognition which requires a shift from the isolated cognitive process of individuals to a highly contextualized process of learning; building a profession of competent caregivers and teachers is both about promoting the individual cognitive gains and the collective health of a social learning system of practitioners. Thus, the current study applied the sociological concept of social capital as a framework to explore a social system of ongoing professional development in ECE to illustrate how webs of social connections influence the learning and professional development process. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to study how social capital was experienced by those involved in the bounded social system of an ongoing professional development program offered to early childhood providers participating in a publically subsidized universal preschool program. Particular focus was given to the professional learning communities being introduced as a new opportunity within the overall professional development program. From a research stance as both a constructivist and critical adult, I sought to bring visibility to a largely invisible construct using the research question: How are the components of social capital experienced in the process of developing early childhood professionals? An in-depth statement of problem and rationale for the current study will be presented in chapter one. The second chapter presents a discussion about the three primary components of social capital; social networks, trust, and social resources and returns. Additionally, the second chapter will set the stage for the current study by describing how the concepts of social capital have been applied to the practice of education. Through the data and field experiences I gathered during the implementation of four different PLC groups, the reader is provided in the fourth chapter with a thick description and comprehensive analysis of how early childhood professionals experience the components of social capital. I explored three within-cases answering how the program design supported social interaction in a professional development setting, how the implementation of the PLCs fostered social learning experiences, and how teachers and directors ultimately experienced the components of social capital as a developing early childhood professional. As a result of the findings, four theoretical perspectives (developmental, asset-based, equity, and situating social learning) are presented and validated through the data as significant angles from which to see how the components of social capital currently do and potentially could operate in early childhood professional development settings. In the final chapter, I provide the reader a summary of the full study and a reflection upon my researcher stance as I engaged in the field of inquiry. I leave the reader with several primary interpretations from this case. First, social capital weaves through a variety of important constructs making visible unique aspects and considerations relevant to professional development settings for adult learners. Secondly, current professional development practices for early care and education professionals may over-emphasize what people need to learn versus how people need to learn. The study findings are further interpreted by integrating relevant literature for those designing professional learning communities, delivering professional learning communities, or those interested in the general activity of promoting the early childhood profession through ongoing professional development. In the end, the case study presented represents a relevant inquiry regarding how social networks, social trust, and social resources were conceived and experienced by people participating in the design, implementation, and activity of professional development for (and as) early childhood professionals.


Case Study, Early Care and Education, Professional Development, Professional Learning Communities, Situated Learning, Social Capital


223 pages

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