On February 1, 2015, Early Learning Ventures (ELV) became Colorado’s newest Early Head Start Grantee. Combining the comprehensive nature of Early Head Start services with our Shared Services Model, we are primed to serve 240 children and families in four distinct Colorado counties. To date, we have signed contracts with 26 licensed childcare programs, 11 childcare homes, and 15 centers, and we are still growing. On October 20, 2015, ELV’s enrollment reached the big TWO-ZERO-ZERO (200)—83% of our funded enrollment!
To support our quickly growing community, ELV is taking a lot of steps with our new partners to ensure full understanding of our Shared Services Model. The Quality Improvement Specialists are strengthening leadership with directors and owners. Our Family Support Specialists are engaging families in a variety of activities. And, our leadership team is actively seeking innovative partners interested in leveraging funding to extend the impact for the entire community. We also have over 50 teachers completing their initial college course this fall. As a result, we can now launch the evaluation and coaching portions of EHS implementation—using the CLASS tool as a primary driver.
Throughout the past nine months of growth, I have come to realize that the success of our program will not depend on how compliant our partners are with EHS standards, but rather on the authenticity of the relationships and quality of interactions we have with each of them. Why? Because relationships with our partners and staff can directly affect interactions in the classroom.
It is our thought that quality improvement is much broader than what occurs in any classroom and that interactions and teacher effectiveness are essential ingredients to child success. Because of this belief, ELV aims to infuse the principles of CLASS at each of the levels that make up our Quality Improvement Support Framework. The logic behind this approach is relatively simple and inspired by Dorothy Law Nolte’s Poem, “Children Learn What They Live”: if we want children to be successful, we have to take care of our teachers. It’s critical that the same effort we put toward child improvements also is put toward our teachers’ success. After all, of all the adults in any child’s life, it is his teacher that spends the most time with him.
How do we take care of teachers then? Our model supports the notion that a quality early childhood education is a direct result of multiple levels of support occurring simultaneously—teachers supporting children, directors, parents, and coaches supporting teachers, and ELV supporting directors, parents, and coaches. Together, we all strive to create an environment of intentional interactions. Coupled with sound coaching and ongoing professional development, the interactions teachers have with their children will increase the likelihood of their school success.
Let’s take a closer look at how ELV is creating our multi-level support system. First, we partner with Teachstone to conduct four CLASS trainings (one per county) for teachers, directors, and families. Next, each of the 67 EHS classrooms will receive a pre-CLASS observation to help ELV better understand current practice. Simultaneously, ELV conducts a BAS and PAS on all programs to obtain a clearer picture of the operational procedures that affect teachers. And finally, we partner with Teachstone again for an infant and toddler observer training. In the chart below you can see how the role of each level support plays in increasing teacher effectiveness.
As you can see, each element is a crucial piece in building a foundation of effective interactions. Without these effective interactions at every level of ELV, our children and teachers are not fully supported. As we continue to grow, I’d love to hear how other organizations are successfully taking care of their children—and their teachers. Share your support system stories in the comments below.
Lionel Espinoza is the Early Head Start (EHS) Director at Early Learning Ventures, Colorado’s newest EHS Grantee where his primary role is to build an innovative comprehensive program for children and families in four Colorado Counties which will be accomplished by partnering with community leaders to leverage existing resources. With over 15 years of experience in leadership and program development in the Early Childhood Education sector, his focus has always been to strengthen and sustain education systems and programs for children and families. Backed with a Master of Arts degree in Education, Lionel is currently finishing a second Master of Science degree in Organizational Leadership at Regis University. Lionel is also a Teachstone Ambassador.
A year ago, urged on by my insightful new colleague, Manda Klein, who was born and raised in Texas, I wrote a blog entitled, At Our Core. It praised the bipartisan efforts to discontinue the practice of separating children from their parents and caregivers at our country’s borders.
It’s been a great year. You have just conducted some professional development trainings for the group of teachers you are coaching. You got the opportunity to visit their classrooms and see them in action, do formal and informal CLASS observations, and had countless coaching conversations. You see that it’s all beginning to click. You have the teachers’ buy-in, and the motivation is high.
On a hot summer day in July 2016, I had the good fortune of being the one not on vacation on our small policy and research team. Instead, I went to DC to serve as Teachstone’s representative for a convening of policymakers, researchers, and ECE practitioners. They were gathering to discuss if and how exemplary Head Start grantees might be identified for Leading by Exemplar, an initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and led by Bellwether Education Partners.