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Interactions That Matter for Each and Every Child

11 Feb 2021 by Vincent Costanza

“All children have the right to equitable learning opportunities that enable them to achieve their full potential as engaged learners and valued members of society.”

The dysfunctional design flaw that separates systems of caregiving (childcare) from systems of education (public schools), has been laid bare during the pandemic. For instance, rather than experiencing even hybrid moments of normalcy, most children started the school year virtually, because teachers with young children took permissible and understandable leaves to care for their families. Let’s be clear, the lack of teaching staff has contributed to a deficit of meaningful interactions for this country’s children.

Why Interactions? Why Now?

As a father, I care deeply about nurturing and supporting high-quality interactions that span multiple areas of my daughter’s development, both social-emotional and academic. And, while parenting to meet these needs is no easy job at this time, being a child isn’t exactly a walk in the park either as evidenced by the mental and academic health concerns for children. On a personal level, my family and I have spent much time planning to fill in gaps of meaningful interactions that our daughter would typically experience. Whether COVID-compliant dance classes with peers or extra tutoring sessions to make an academic COVID-slide less slippery, we’ve prioritized our daughter. Professionally, I know that this privileged position is not afforded to all as the lack of access to meaningful interactions has adverse impacts on the health and development of our children, especially young children.

If we’re to provide all children with the interactions to help them thrive during this COVID-Era and beyond, then the following questions are essential:

  • What are interactions that matter?
  • How do we support such interactions at this particular moment?
  • How do we ensure that each and every child has access to these interactions now and post-pandemic?

While fully unpacking such weighty questions is outside the present scope, leveraging every opportunity to highlight what children need and gaps of access in children receiving what they need must be our NorthStar.

Collaborating to Find New Solutions

To this end, I’ve leveraged my position as the “Early Childhood Guy in Residence” (unofficial title) for ASCD’s New Jersey affiliate, to prioritize in creation of the 5th Annual Early Childhood Summit, with a particular focus on PreK – 3rd grade settings. While supporting and integrating quality interactions across the range of developmental areas (e.g., cognition and content as well as social-emotional development) will be featured throughout the conference, our afternoon panel, “Identifying and Supporting Quality Teacher-Child Interactions in the COVID-Era” will take these questions head on.

What’s some of the evidence that panel and conference attendees will hear about, which provide answers to the essential questions above? To start, through research conducted in preschool through third grade classrooms throughout the country we know that children need environments that are caring, nurturing, and rich with instructional supports. Such interactions consistently lead to academic gains in children’s literacy skill development as well as inhibitory controls. Yet, we also know that teachers need to be supported in the implementation of such interactions.

Recent research in early childhood settings indicates that professional development must be specific, targeted, and sustained to have any meaningful effect on teacher interactions. Of course, providing any of these interactions is difficult in normal times. Since these times are far from typical, special attention needs to be given to supporting quality interactions at this time. However, teachers can’t do this work alone and need the partnership of well-trained administrators, such as the administrators joining our panel. Further exacerbating the COVID-Era equity concerns is that our most vulnerable children, the ones who need high quality interactions the most, are not getting them.

Lack of access to quality interactions will have both immediate and lasting impacts made manifest in transitions to kindergarten as well as long-term educational trajectories. Simply understanding the current moment as one of returning to normal rather than reinventing, reimagining and improving, will ensure the same inequitable results we’ve always received.

Academic considerations as well adequate attention to the mental health of children, families, and educators, all must be top of mind right now in every facet of our educational system. The way adults are able to structure and mold meaningful interactions will make all the difference for the development of a generation’s children. To learn more about what’s needed to support interactions for each and every child, register for the 5th Annual Early Childhood Summit, now.

Guest Post by Vincent Costanza

A former kindergarten teacher, Vincent J. Costanza, Ed.D. currently serves on the Bright Start Foundation Advisory Council. He has led organizations in both the public and private sectors, including directing the New Jersey Office of Primary Education and of the Statewide Early Learning Challenge Grant. Vincent is currently in consideration for Governing Board President of NAEYC.

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