We Grow Together Professional Development System: Professional Development Experiences in Infant-Toddler Care

Publication Date: September 2, 2021
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  • Published: 2021


Research Questions

  1. Who were the PD providers and caregivers in the WGT field test?
  2. What types of relationships and experiences did the PD providers and caregivers have before the WGT field test?
  3. How did PD providers engage with caregivers in the WGT field test?
  4. How did caregivers respond to PD provider support in the WGT field test?

We Grow Together (WGT) is a research-based professional development (PD) system for caregivers working with infants and toddlers in center-based care and family child care homes. As part of WGT, teachers and caregivers work with their PD providers (mentors, coaches, supervisors) using resources delivered through a website. The system supports caregivers in planning and using the WGT practices through relationship- and practice-based coaching. A field test of WGT examined implementation with teachers and caregivers of infants and toddlers and their PD providers in Early Head Start, family child care, and community-based child care settings.


This brief describes the professional development experiences of caregivers and PD providers that participated in the field test of WGT.

Key Findings and Highlights

  • Before WGT, caregivers were already participating in various PD activities provided by their organizations. Understanding how existing PD activities and demands influence caregivers’ time and ability to focus on an intensive PD system might be important for scheduling and designing new PD interventions.
  • There are differences across settings in caregivers’ ability to use paid preparation or planning time, and paid time during work hours for staff development.
  • Caregivers benefit from having a trusting relationship with their PD providers. Caregivers who reported having a previous coaching relationship with their PD provider reported having a more positive goal-setting experience.
  • Most PD providers reported time as a challenge to implementing WGT, although this was less of an issue for PD providers serving FCCs. PD providers in center-based settings might be more challenged by balancing various job responsibilities and higher caseloads of caregivers.
  • It is important for PD providers and their caregivers to have enough time to fully engage in new evidence-based interventions that might be available. More time for professional development might become available by providing additional supports and incentives or aligning new interventions like WGT with existing system requirements and supports.


In 2018-2019, Mathematica conducted a field test to examine the implementation of WGT. The field test included 271 caregivers paired with a total of 168 PD providers across Early Head Start and community-based centers, as well as family child care homes. The field test made use of intentional sampling so that the study included a diverse sample of caregivers with a range of qualifications and professional experiences from 10 geographical areas spanning 14 states and the District of Columbia. Caregivers and PD providers worked together using the WGT resources for up to 4 months.

To answer the research questions in this brief, we conducted several analyses for the full sample and examined the results for the primary research questions by subgroups. To describe PD providers’ and caregivers’ characteristics and professional development experiences, we examined the means, standard deviations, and range of responses, and then conducted t-tests of means by subgroups.


Li, A., S. Atkins-Burnett, and T. Nguyen. “We Grow Together Professional Development System: Professional Development Experiences in Infant-Toddler Care.” OPRE Report #2021-157. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2021.