From Vision to Action: Transforming Kindergarten into a Sturdy Bridge from Early Learning to K-12 Education
Natalie Walrond: Welcome to today’s webinar. It’s the culminating webinar from our year-long community of practice peer collaborative for state agencies. It’s called “From Vision to Action: Transforming Kindergarten into a Sturdy Bridge from Early Learning to K–12.” We’re delighted to see you today. We are recording today’s webinar. It is the top of the hour, so I’m going to go ahead and get us started and turn it over to my colleague, Carla. Take it away, Carla.
Carla Guidi: Yeah. Good afternoon everyone. My name is Carla Guidi and I’m your tech host today. Before we get into the content, just a few housekeeping items. If you cannot hear your audio or you’re having trouble with your audio, you can join the session via phone. The information, the phone number is on the screen. Closed captions are available during the webinar, and those can be accessed in the toolbar that’s located on the bottom of your Zoom screen.
After today’s meeting, we will send a survey link for this session. We also have a Linktree that’s going to house all of the session resources and the survey is also located in the Linktree. We invite you to rename yourself in Zoom. You can do that by looking at the participants icon in the toolbar, finding your name, and clicking more and you will see the option to rename yourself. We’d love to see who is in the room with us. And with that, I will turn it back to Natalie Walrond to get us going.
Natalie Walrond: Thank you so much, Carla. I want to welcome you one more time. My name is Natalie Walrond and I direct the Center to Improve Social and Emotional Learning and School Safety at WestEd. We are delighted and thrilled to have you joining us today. Our team is thrilled to co-host today’s webinar with five phenomenal representatives from five of our 15 phenomenal state teams that participated in the Transforming Kindergarten Collaborative.
My job today is to provide an introduction to our Center, the collaborative, and today’s webinar. I’m going to move really quickly because I want to make sure that I’m protecting time for our co-hosts. They are the stars of the show and they have so much wonderful insight to share with us today. So, we’ll also have the slides, the webinar recording, all of the materials, including a listening guide, available on the website so you can always return to those materials as a reference.
The slide you see here is our team that worked on the collaborative. I just want to thank each and every one of them for the wisdom and heart that they put into this collaborative over the last 12 months. It is a joy to get to work with these human beings.
Okay, so here are our goals for today. In short, what we’re hoping is that as part of this webinar, you will learn more about the collaborative’s purpose, structure, and approach, and then learn more about the insights and lessons learned from our co-hosting states. To get to that, here is our agenda. The majority of our time today is going to happen in three sections. So after my welcome, our colleagues from Hawai’i and Maine will share their insights on the role of setting a vision and theory of change as a first effort in broader systems change work.
Then we’ll turn it over to the team from Nevada who will talk about their work advancing developmentally appropriate practice at all levels of their system. And then our colleagues from Massachusetts and Mississippi will talk about a systems change approach to equitable kindergarten transitions.
So, along the way, as Carla mentioned, we’re going to be sharing loads of resources in the chat through a Linktree. If you haven’t used one of these before, basically when you click through the Linktree, you’ll find the websites and attachments for a trove of tools and resources and supports relevant to today’s webinar, including a few things that are hot off the press from our Center.
And then we’ll save a few minutes at the end for questions and answers. So please be sure to answer your… Excuse me, to add your questions to either the Q&A function or the chat feature and we’ll track things there.
Okay, here we go. So, the next slide is just a quick statement of our Center’s purpose. You can read this more slowly at your leisure later, but we know many of you may not be familiar with the Center. So this slide simply says that the Department of Education funded us to provide capacity-building support for state and local system leaders on evidence-based practices and social and emotional learning and other whole-person initiatives.
Our Center’s work is grounded in two key ideas. The first is the science of learning and development or SoLD. This serves as the evidence base for our work about how learning and development happens. And so fundamentally the idea is that our brain synapses, and ultimately our entire brain structure, is formed through our experiences. And those experiences can be articulated or described by the quality of the relationships and environments around us.
So, what this means is that children learn, take risks, and achieve at high levels in safe and supportive conditions in the care of reliable adults that they can trust. And this process of experimentation and trial and error in our environments is natural and instinctive, and in young children it looks like play.
And the second idea is equity, right? So fundamentally, we are all system leaders, and we have to ask ourselves who our systems are working for and who they’re not working for. And I would offer that to truly have equitable practices and outcomes, the work that we do in creating the conditions of our systems has to be done in authentic partnership with families, it has to be culturally responsive, and it has to be strengths- and asset-based.
So, the story of the collaborative—at the beginning of 2022 the Department of Education reached out to us and invited us to facilitate the Transforming Kindergarten Collaborative, and you can see the “why” of the collaborative here. The main idea is that the department is really advancing this notion that kindergarten is a powerful lever for equity, and that it serves as a bridge between these two systems. Right? Children come in from a variety of learning settings into a K–12 system and they arrive together in kindergarten. So kindergarten is this moment when we can create the conditions at scale, when each and every young learner can be set off on a path to success.
This next slide, it just describes our design principles for collaboratives; we co-create them with our participants. We honor our participants’ expertise and deep knowledge of their own context. We promise meaningful work and we offer opportunities for peer learning, and we offer lots of opportunities for honest communication back to us.
So, in this co-creation process on the collaborative, we heard a couple of things. So, the left column, you can see the “how.” What we heard from our participants was a deep interested… Excuse me, a deep interest in the ideas of alignment and coherence. As systems leaders, they were understanding that their main sphere of influences in creating conditions for districts, who then do the same for schools and classrooms. And as system… As state leaders, they are thinking about strategic communications, policy funding, capacity-building, a whole host of those kinds of things.
The second idea was tools and resources for practitioners and administrators, especially around developmentally appropriate practice. And then finally, there was an interest in strategic communications with a variety of interest holders, including policymakers, educators, other organizations and agencies serving young children and families. And the “what” or the “to what end” was developmentally appropriate practice in kindergarten and equitable kindergarten transitions.
So that is a whole lot to accomplish in one year, and even still, there were lots of other needs and interests that we were hearing that we wanted to attend to. So we had created opportunities for the state participants to connect with one another so that they could support each other on the topics that you see here.
We offered lots of elements for the collaborative, so it was really kind of a choose your own adventure for the state teams. They could pick and choose the experiences that would be most relevant for their needs. We had guest speakers and subject matter experts like NIEER and NAEYC. We offered lots of peer learning opportunities. We had state TED talks. Three of our states opted into direct technical assistance, direct consulting support. We had coaching on demand, and then we’ve created several artifacts. We have one more that’s still in the works that will be coming out.
Okay, the next slide is our 15 states. I will read them here for you. They are at Arkansas, Arizona, California, Hawai’i, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, Nevada, Nebraska, New Jersey, Utah, Oregon, South Carolina, and Vermont. I want to say that it was an honor to get to work with these 15 states, and I want to offer my gratitude now to the representatives of the five states who are co-hosting with us today. Lauren, Meg, Anna, Kacey, Connie, Donna, and Jill. Thank you so much.
And now my final slide here. I just want to let you all know that we have made a listening guide, so you can click through the Linktree in the chat, if someone can post it again. You’ll see the first link. It says TKC Culminating Webinar: Individual and Group Reflection Guide. And when you click into that, what you’ll find for each section is the big ideas that you’re going to hear from our speakers today. Then a place to capture your notes and ideas as you listen. And then finally, if you want to listen to it again with your team, some reflection questions that you can go through together.
All right, that was very fast. I’m now going to turn it over to my colleague, Natalie Romer, to guide us through the first section.
Natalie Romer: Thank you, Natalie. As Natalie noted, alignment and coherence was one of the key themes we addressed in the collaborative early on. During this first phase, the participating teams, which were comprised of key partners across delivery systems, came together to deliver… To develop a shared vision and theory of change to guide their systems change effort.
So, for those of you interested in learning more about this process, you can find information and tools in our Alignment and Coherence Guide for SEAs found in the Linktree for the webinar and also on our website. And we think about systems change as a process that’s both continuous and involving the interplay between the personal, relational, and technical aspects. This means we consider how the mindsets, beliefs, relationships amongst those influencing and impacting the work, and with the young people and families impacted by the work. And of course, the technical aspects of systems change, such as policies, procedures, and communications.
This work takes time and teams oftentimes share that they may feel like they’re not making progress. Yet, a shared vision and theory of change are essential for sustainable and effective change. So with that, it is my honor to introduce Lauren and Meg who will share their state’s experiences with systems change throughout the collaborative. Lauren Breckenridge Padesky is an Early Childhood Education Specialist with Hawaii’s Department of Education. And Meg Swanson is Program Manager in the Early Care and Education Division of Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Child and Family Services. And at this point I hand it over to Lauren and Meg. Lauren.
Lauren Breckenridge Padesky: [00:12:13 – introduces self in native Hawaiian] Thank you for letting me be here today. My name is Lauren Padesky, and I am the Early Childhood Specialist for the Hawai’i Department of Education and I work in the Office of Curriculum and Instructional Design with an amazing team that focuses on the K–12 systems, but my job specifically is looking at the little ones, our keiki, our children who are entering our kindergarten system from a complex mixed delivery system in early childhood. I’m glad to be here. Thank you.
Natalie Romer: Thank you, Lauren. And Meg.
Megan Swanson: Hi everyone. I’m Meg Swanson. I am the Family and Community Engagement Program Manager at the ECE unit of Maine Department of Health and Human Services. And so, I am overseeing a pilot program as well as some community-based programming for youth experiencing hardship. But my team is also with childcare services and Help Me Grow and a whole host of work Birth to Five, and we collaborate very deeply with our Maine Department of Education.
Natalie Romer: Thank you both so much for being here. So through the stories that you’ve shared with us over the course of the collaborative, we heard a few themes come through that we’ve invited you here to amplify with today’s participants. Both of you have mentioned how your teams have capitalized on policy and funding to seed systems change. Can you tell us more about that?
Lauren Breckenridge Padesky: Sure. And I’ll go first, Meg, on this one if that’s okay. And many people have heard me talk about policy throughout our time together in this collaborative, because my job and the larger work that we’re hoping to accomplish here as a part of our work with early childhood, stemmed from longstanding legislative movement, particularly centering on a kindergarten entry assessment requirement that led to other policy within our Departments of Education and our early childhood partners to tackle that larger goal of creating sustainable preschool systems and then quality transition into kindergarten.
And so our KEA journey, in particular, was kind of that first stepping stone to creating a larger vision around transforming our educational experiences for the children that come to us at the kindergarten start. We did not want to define our programming around an assessment, and I spend much of my job saying an assessment is useless if nothing happens from it. So, we took that initial policy work and we planted a seed for a larger program around developmentally appropriate practice and kindergarten transformation.
Megan Swanson: So, a little bit about Maine’s participation in this collaborative really was decades in the making and was really a mix of intentional decisions and a little bit of circumstance. There had been a lot of momentum both in the public and the private arenas for many years, but really in a siloed way.
When our current governor got into office, she reestablished the Children’s Cabinet that was comprised of leadership across many of the state agencies, but not only that, but she also created another layer of Children’s Cabinet staff to support that cabinet’s work and really help drive the work forward with also an advisory council that had several stakeholders of all aspects of business, profession, life, family. And so this structure really helped move the dial on the birth-to-eight momentum. And then COVID hit, so that’s the circumstance, but it really brought an opportunity to connect online, to go inner agency, inner office, and it broke a barrier for collaboration.
So, Maine is a collaborative agency state, meaning that we work collaboratively across offices for shared goals. And we really have been spending a lot of time in the last few years building relationships, figuring out some shared language, finding alignment when we can, but as an overall goal of coherence when we don’t have consensus.
And then most recently, we were funded… awarded the preschool development grant, so this will allow us some funding to help implement and enhance some of the program that was already happening, so that we can get some of these strengthened partnerships into practice. So, the work is hard and slow at times, but the relationships are stronger because of the intentional building that we’ve been doing.
Natalie Romer: Thank you, Megan. That’s the perfect segue into our next question for you both. So, another theme that we’ve heard over and over again is the importance of collaboration, breaking down those silos, and how a shared and coherent vision and theory of change can be a source of coherence for this collaboration. So, we’re wondering what has that looked like for your states?
Lauren Breckenridge Padesky: Yeah, I can go. Yeah. Thanks, Meg. Okay. My daughter has this little octopus toy that she likes to use in the bathtub because it lights up. And I feel like that octopus, because its head is very round and so is mine, but it also has these little tentacles that reach out into all these different areas simultaneously. And it’s become a really helpful symbol of the work that I’m trying to do, is sitting here at the bridge between our early childhood system and our K–12 system.
I mean, the theme of this entire collaboration was standing on that bridge, right, and trying to… Sometimes the bridge is made of three pieces, and we’re sort of precariously balanced in the middle. And so, as we created this role within the department, it’s a brand new role and I am new to this context, which meant spending a lot of time sticking feelers out into different organizations to try and figure out where we can collaborate towards that quality transition.
Sometimes we are tossing keiki over the holes in those bridges, right, trying to catch them and toss them forward again. And what we would like to do with this work is fill in some of those pukas, the holes in our bridge and be able to create a really nice walking space. But to do that, that meant aligning many different systems’ visions and trying to create coherence within that, so that the work that we are doing here at kindergarten start is also reflective of all the really hard work that all of our ancestors and predecessors have been doing before us.
So we don’t want to reinvent work that could just be shored up. And spending time in that collaborative space, including at this collaboration, was very critical for us to start to create a vision for our work moving forward that actually honored all of the work that came long before we were here.
Megan Swanson: Thanks, Lauren. I’ll just kind of piggyback on that a little bit is that even though you can share goals and missions and passions, collaboration is not always easy. And it takes time, and it takes energy, it takes brain power. And so always trying to be mindful… I think this is something that we’re really working on with the folks that we are collaborating with across offices and thinking about systems, is keep being mindful that there’s a difference between intention and impact, and how to work through those bumps and bruises that come from new communication pathways and new system change and mindset shifting and all of those pieces. The work is so worth it, and not just in relationships, but also in just efficiency of work and not duplicating efforts and really moving together as a state and so that we can support families, we can support children, we can support educators in that birth-to-eight, -nine, -ten continuum in that early learning field and space.
Natalie Romer: Thank you both for your insights. I’m definitely going to hold that image of the octopus and standing on the bridge. And also really, Meg, appreciate you really putting at the forefront impact and calling out that although the work may be hard, it’s worth it.
So our final question is related to this idea of building momentum and how your vision and theory of change work has seeded implementation. And we’re wondering what’s next for you? And I will again pause and let the two of you decide who would like to go first.
Megan Swanson: Sure, I can jump in this time. Lauren’s been so good about raising her hand first. So, in Maine, we are just excited again to, through the PDG grant but also through other opportunities, just to continue this momentum, finding solutions, really working at… Sometimes it feels like we’re building the airport while the planes are in the sky, right, because there’s no way to really do a full hard pause, but we’re just excited in Maine to be able to put some implementation of programming, enhance what’s been happening, and really just learn from initiatives that we’ll have over the next couple of years to be able to really have some strong, informed collaborative decisions that can positively impact the youth here in Maine.
Lauren Breckenridge Padesky: And I mentioned that we are implementing a kindergarten entry assessment, and that that was essentially a linchpin in the creation of this particular focus for our department. So, we’re actually at the place of implementing said assessment. And I also mentioned that assessments are useless if they don’t lead to change or better impact for our students, right? We don’t need to give an assessment if we’re not going to act on that data and do something with it.
So at the systems level, our goal then is to see, what do we notice? What do we see? Maybe what wasn’t reflected in that assessment, how do we fix? How do we change? And then simultaneously, what needs to happen in order to foster those kindergarten environments based on what our keiki are showing us matters. They will show us through the data, and they will also show their teachers in their classrooms.
And we will have to capitalize on that information, because information that doesn’t lead to new change isn’t very useful information for our students. So, we’re very excited to start to analyze that data at the systems level and then design out a professional development, a system around developmentally appropriate practice in a multicultural and multilingual context so that we can really shore up kindergarten first.
And then I have that lovely vision, right? We move from K, and it’s just going to be easy and beautiful and it starts to build momentum towards our first grade and then our second grade and beyond, so that we’re starting with a much stronger bridge, and then we’re building foundations in each of those grades.
Megan Swanson: I can’t wait to see where all those tentacles go, Lauren.
Lauren Breckenridge Padesky: Me too. Yeah. Me too.
Natalie Romer: Thank you again, Lauren and Meg, for joining us here today, for sharing your state’s experiences and really building the foundations for systems change, building the airport. We heard several big ideas including a shared vision and theory of change can provide a powerful foundation for implementation. Remember the relational and adaptive dimensions of systems change, and finally capitalize on policy and funding for systems change.
I invite everyone to visit the Linktree for this webinar to see Maine and Hawai’i’s resources. And at this point I will pass it on to my colleague, Steve Canavero, to lead us into the section on promoting developmentally appropriate practice in kindergarten. Thanks again, Meg and Lauren.
Steve Canavero: Thank you. Thank you, Natalie. And thank you the teams, representatives from Hawai’i and Maine in providing that overview. It is my pleasure and real honor to introduce the team from Nevada. As serving as their coach or support, or I called myself the chief executive cheerleader for Nevada over the last few months, in really admiring their persistence and the work that they did across the state to advance developmentally appropriate practice.
And their vision for developmentally appropriate practice, the fulcrum for that, the theory of change involved a systems approach. And a systems approach that intentionally recognized the needs at the state, the district, and the class, classroom level, the school level in order to advance and scale developmentally appropriate practice. So today, we have three speakers and then at the end we’ll summarize the three big ideas from each, from across the speakers.
But first we have Anna Severens, who’s an Education Programs Professional and all things early childhood at the Nevada Department of Education. She’s reflective of the state system. We have Kacey Edgington, Kindergarten Program Facilitator at the Washoe County School District in Northern Nevada. And we’re fortunate to have Connie Hall, who is Nevada’s 2023 Teacher of the Year. Yay. And outside of being Teacher of the Year, is also a kindergarten teacher at Diedrichsen Elementary School, also in Northern Nevada. So, with that, I’ll turn it over to, Anna.
Anna Severens: Hello everybody. I’m Anna. Thank you for having me. It’s an honor to be here as well. And I’m just going to speak a little bit about what we’ve been able to do at the state level to kind of build capacity in this work. And it’s been an honor to be a part of… I’m in the Office of Early Learning at the Department of Education, and as a part of this collaborative we put together… Brought together a team of cross… A cross office team within the Department of Education, including the Office of Inclusive-Ed, our Family Engagement office, the Office of Safe and Respectful Learning Environments, Office of Standards and Instructional Support, and a couple of our community partners just to really kind of build a statewide team of what DAP looks like across the P-3 birth-to-third grade continuum and really have that conversation and develop a common message.
And through that… Also given when COVID hit, we were able to have some DAP kindergarten collaboratives virtually because of COVID, is the little gift from COVID. And in that… And Connie was a part of that, and Kacey really helps guide that work as well at the district level. And so, what we were finding as a part of that work was that the kindergarten teachers would get really excited about this, that DAP is coming back to kindergarten, and then they would go back into their schools and their principals might not be as well versed in child development or really know what they were trying to do. And so we really needed to have a unified voice at the state level to help support them in that work and to support administrators. So, Kacey can talk a little bit more about that. And so that’s one thing we’ve been able to do at the state level to build that capacity.
We were able to do those cohorts through our, some limited ARP ESSER dollars, which we’re hoping to also continue now that that funding is also ceasing quickly. But we’ve also at the state level developed a P-3 leadership team. It was a part of the work with Kristie Kauerz in October. We had a very strong team including our state superintendent, our deputy superintendent, and other significant leaders within the districts, including other district superintendents and chief academic officers that really helped… Helps ground that work, and we still meet regularly to help support that. And so, as we continue this work with the collaborative, we really wanted to create this DAP policy statement at the state level. And so, we have a link to that. And we’ve…it’s been endorsed by the state ECAC, the Early Child Advisory Council, as well as the Department of Education. And we have also presented it to the State Board of Education as well as the Nevada Association of State Superintendents. So, we really look forward to kind of help promoting that and moving that forward, of having really having that common policy.
And also, a little other capacity building is the P-3 certificate program that we’re able to do as part of Title IIA funding to have a cohort of 20 go through this program, which also went virtual due to COVID with Kristie Kauerz’s National P-3 Center. But we have a cohort of up to 20 principals within Nevada going through the cohort that also meet with our state facilitators within the state to really talk about Nevada context issues related to this work. So that’s just a little bit about some of the state-level capacity we’ve been able to do. And I will turn it over to Kacey to talk a little bit about the district level.
Kacey Edgington: Hi everyone, my name is Kacey Edgington, and I have the great pleasure of working in Northern Nevada and Washoe County School District, and I get to work with Connie every day. So, what’s better than that, right? Working with the Nevada Teacher of the Year has been such a great honor this year.
So, we are definitely benefiting from all of the work that the state is doing, but it starts to get a little bit messy at the district level, and Anna alluded to a little bit of that. I’ve been the kindergarten coordinator for nine years in Washoe County, and we first started investing a lot of energy in developing relationships with our kindergarten teachers and also on supporting teacher effectiveness with developmentally appropriate practice in our kindergarten classrooms. Thinking about environment, the materials that we’re using with children, and our interactions with children. And what we found is that many of our kindergarten teachers in Washoe County School District, like probably most of yours, they have a K–8 license.
And so, they have a limited understanding of early childhood development, although we are all early childhood teachers in kindergarten. And so, that was a great opportunity and it invigorated us to think differently in how we can support them. So, we started with a kindergarten cohort that was a year-long journey, and after that we decided that that just wasn’t quite enough, and we engaged in a cohort year two where we really applied the knowledge that they learned in cohort year one into the classroom and really started to see these changes.
One of the benefits that we have in Washoe County is we have learning facilitators, which are coaches, in every elementary school. And so, the support of a coach to be able to help the kindergarten teachers implement has been really valuable for us. But then, just like Lauren was talking about in Hawai’I, we realized that just working on teacher effectiveness was not enough.
And the second step that we started to do was to reach out to our administrators. We found that at times, we had gaps of information and knowledge between what we were providing the teachers and what our teachers knew. And so, supporting them has been critical in this next step. I really still feel like there’s a lot of room to grow, but having those two… The teacher effectiveness and principal effectiveness side-by-side moving forward has been critical. And I wish we had more tentacles. We are starting to reach out and bridge between our sites and what we’re doing at our sites, and now getting into district systems and trying to really support from a systems level. We met… Anna and I met with our superintendent, Dr. Infield, just last week to start these conversations. So, we’re really excited about what’s next to come, but that’s our journey. And it is my pleasure to introduce Connie Hall who can talk a little bit more about what this looks like in the classroom level.
Connie Hall: Thank you, Kacey. Thank you, Anna. And welcome everyone. It’s so nice to be here with you. This is my passion and they only gave me five minutes, so I’m going to really… Somebody’s just going to have to put a stop sign up for me. But my faith in kindergarten has been renewed. I got my bachelor’s in early childhood education back in the 90s and I was so excited to start with kindergarten. And after I started teaching kindergarten in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I started seeing in other schools they were getting away from the developmentally appropriate practices. And I was like, “I cannot in good conscience do this to these five-year-olds that are being entrusted in me.”
And so, I took the high road, and I left kindergarten for years. And I got an email from Kacey Edgington in 2021 and she said, “We are welcoming you to the Nevada Kindergarten Learning Series.” I was like, “What? What is this?” And so, I signed up and Dr. Eva Phillips was the keynote person for that series and they were saying, “Play in kindergarten is returning.” And I was like, “Okay, all right.” I was doing a DL kindergarten in first grade at that time and after I saw this series I said, “You know what? I’m going to have faith in my state of Nevada and I’m going to have faith in the Nevada Department of Education.” And I went to my principal and I said, “I want back in kindergarten full-time. I was doing it DL, but I’m going back because if they’re on the path, I’m going to get in the trenches with them and we’re going to move kindergarten forward.”
So, looking at that and developing my classroom, I was excited. So, this is the picture that I have painted, if you can see this with me. If you are looking in my kindergarten classroom, a well-designed kindergarten classroom is an example of what real life should be to a child. You have your block center where they’re learning how to build. Those are your future construction workers or your future architects. You have the art center where they’re able to paint and draw, and those are your future artists that come out, your future Picassos and Michaelangelos. And I had a kindergarten student this year, she said, “Mrs. Hall, I want to be an illustrator when I grow up.” I said, “You know what? We’re going to start right now.” And she entered a drawing that is amazing in the Google Doodle contest. And this, I wish I could share it with you, but this girl does amazing work. I was like, “We’re not going to start later. You can start doing those things now in kindergarten.”
I had another in the writing. A student wrote a picture book, and it was just pictures and she was reading the book to me of the pictures. It starts now. Our future writers and authors. Then you go into dramatic play. Where are you going to learn how to become a doctor and nurse? You’re practicing. Or a veterinarian? And then you think of chefs and you can go and you’re making food in the kitchen section. One of my former students just posted, they were at Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant and it said, “French fries are $18.” How do you get started? You start in kindergarten in the play section. So when you come in, you see those areas, then you see the science section. All of this opens up the world of learning. They can see it in a nice safe space with a teacher that understands and is able to guide them in this path.
And in my classroom, I have developed such community with the students that it’s developed community with the parents and they invite me into their group chats because they said, “You started this,” and we stay connected. But so much can start in kindergarten. So Nevada, I’m with you. I appreciate what you all are doing in the other states, because this is where it starts with early childhood education. And I am going to stop myself. I probably have gone past, but I’m excited and I’m going to put my hands down. Thank you for this opportunity to share.
Steve Canavero: Thank you. Thank you so much, Connie, for painting such a vivid picture of your classroom and making it come to life for all of us. If we could advance the slide to our three big ideas. So again, thank you Connie, thank you Kacey, and thank you Anna for kind of walking us through all of the efforts that you are engaged in to advance developmentally appropriate practice, but not just in Connie’s classroom, but integrating the state, the district, and the local schools as a way to scale developmentally appropriate practice across the state of Nevada.
So, in summary, the three big ideas that we would proffer to the group based on Nevada’s experience is, first, that developmentally appropriate practice is grounded in the science of learning and development, and prioritizes playful, joyful learning, I think is… Connie just painted that picture and behind that, of course, we know the science that advances this environment.
The second is that each level, as you heard, within the system can establish conditions in which the next can thrive, and we’re summarizing that as vertical alignment and coherence. You heard from Hawai’i and Maine talking about the alignment and coherence at their levels. Here we’re seeing it centering around developmentally appropriate practice.
And then finally, practice can ensure that policy is relevant and responsive to implementation barriers and success, while policy can ensure that effective and innovative practice is disseminated statewide. So we see a reciprocal relationship where policy and practice can inform each other.
So those are our three big ideas from Nevada’s experience and Nevada’s work. And with that, I’m going to hand it off to Erin to introduce one of our tools. Erin.
Erin Freschi: Thank you, Steve. And thank you to the team from Nevada. And Connie, you just make me want to go visit your classroom and skip the rest of my presentation, but we’ll move forward. So as was clearly just shared by the team in Nevada and many of you that are chiming in in the chat, we know that developmentally appropriate practice throughout the ages is critical for children’s learning and success. And as part of what we have done with this collaborative, as you saw in some of the earlier slides, we really identified this issue of developmentally appropriate practice in kindergarten as one that many of the partner states were very interested in exploring together.
And we were excited to bring in a representative from the National Education… Or the National Association for the Education of Young Children, NAEYC or N-A-E-Y-C, depending on your state.
And she came to speak with the group just about developmentally appropriate practice. Those of us that have been in early childhood for a long time maybe make the assumption that we all know what that is, and not everyone working in the K–12 space uses the same language that we might in early childhood. And so, it was really an opportunity for everyone in the collaborative to get on the same page about what do we mean when we say DAP, and what does that maybe look like in kindergarten?
So, one of the things we did sort of a… that was a launching point for our collaborative group was to think about what’s really needed in districts and states and classrooms to look at what’s happening in kindergarten classrooms. And so we have… just about to release, I think it’s just now posted and we’ll share it. It’s in the Linktree that you’ve seen in the chat, but we’ll share it again soon. A Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Kindergarten Observation Guide.
And this is a tool to be used at all different levels, whether you’re a state administrator or a district administrator or a teacher or, I think, even a parent could potentially use it and a tool to come in and just look at a classroom and see what is developmentally appropriate practice. It provides some examples. And so, it’s really designed to reflect upon the classroom. It’s not to be an evaluative tool, but really just to reflect about what is happening in a kindergarten classroom and how the environment is set up.
This tool supports identification of areas of strength and the resources that would be needed to maybe bring the class in certain areas to a more developmentally appropriate place. And it’s all based on developmentally appropriate and evidence-based practice. And it gives some… It’s fill-able, so if someone wanted to fill in some notes to themselves about what might be needed in the classroom. And again, it’s really designed to be used by anyone who is in the kindergarten environment.
And we did have it reviewed and got input from many, many experts in the field. Everyone from early childhood mental health specialists to actual kindergarten teachers working throughout the country. So we’re excited to share all of this with you. And it looks at a lot of the sort of areas that Connie was referencing including looking at the safe and supportive environment, looking at relationships, family engagement, curriculum and instruction, motor development, literacy and language. And so all of those areas are broken out in this guide that we’re excited to share with all of you.
And so, someone in the chat was just mentioning that it starts before we get to kindergarten and that the transition is such an important piece of the experience for families and it’s sort of that the bridge to even… to the sturdy bridge in kindergarten. And so next we’re going to talk a bit about those equitable transitions to kindergarten and talk about what happens in different states to help families, children, and teachers as they prepare and begin that kindergarten year.
So, I’m just thrilled to have with us today representatives from two of our collaborative partner states as our co-hosts. We have Donna Traynham, who’s the Early Learning Team Lead at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. And then Jill Dent, who is the Director of the Office of Early Childhood for the Mississippi Department of Education. So I want to welcome both of them. And we’re going to talk a bit about the work that they’ve been doing around transition to kindergarten and from their different perspectives, given they’re sort of looking at it from two different angles. So the first thing we’re going to have them share with us has to do with systems change.
And if the two of you could share a bit about what your states have done with regard to systems change to develop these equitable transitions to kindergarten. And we want to make it really clear that we’re all focusing on the systems and not fixing the children. That the onus should really be on the adults and the systems that are supporting children and families and not making this about children just being ready.
So, Donna, I think you’re going to share with us first about what you’ve been doing in your state, working on systems change in this area.
Donna Traynham: Yeah, sounds great. Erin, thanks so much. I want to just start by thanking WestEd and the CISELSS team and the US Department of Ed for this opportunity to be part of the Transforming Kindergarten Collaborative initiative. We were saying as we were planning for this that it’s not often that we get to take a step back from our work and reflect on what we’re doing and planning and do it in a cross systems kind of way.
In our day-to-days, we do our best to make sure we’re collaborating with all our agency partners, but this opportunity really gave us the space to be able to come together, our early childhood agency, our public pre-K to 12 agency, our special education colleagues, and really think about what is our vision for young children birth-to-eight, and what would that mean to put a vision and a theory of change in place that puts the focus on what we want all children birth-to-eight to be able to experience in those first critical years of life.
So first, just thanks for the opportunity. It really can’t be stated strongly enough that these opportunities really do give us the chance to connect and do this important reflection work. So as part of our work, the Massachusetts team spent its time in the collaborative really thinking at a systems level what we want our vision to be for young children. What do we want every child to be able to experience in those first eight years of life where we know we have this critical window of brain development to be able to maximize their potential for learning and development? We did that work by thinking about not only what the vision is that we want for kids, but what do we want as state agencies, as our community-based organizations, as our public schools, as families, to be able to lend to that vision becoming a reality for young children.
And that was a really important guidepost for us to think about then where do we go from there in order to make that vision become a reality for young children? So as part of this vision and systems-level work that we’ve been thinking about through the TKC, one of the areas we honed in on was the transition between preschool and kindergarten. It’s such a critical bridge. We have lots of really great work happening in our state, in our birth-to-five systems, to ensure that we are delivering high-quality services for young children. And then we want to be able to transition and do that warm handoff to our public school system as we transition them into kindergarten. And because of the way the collaborative was designed, we had the benefit of being able to network with lots of states to hear how they’re approaching this work across the country.
We have the benefit of so many states like Mississippi and Alabama, California and others who have done this work before us and have created this pathway for us to really think about what we would want a transition toolkit, if you will, to look like from pre-K to K. And so that really became a focal point for us as part of the collaborative. We used our time together to think about what that would look like. We used our networking with our colleagues to leverage their expertise in helping to shape our thinking. And quite conveniently had this all timed so nicely with the release of the preschool development grant application where we could kind of build this work right into that application.
But the general direction, as you said, for our transition work from pre-K to K is how we make sure that we have ready schools, ready communities, ready families to support children in that transition. So often we hear school readiness definitions that are really focused on what do kids need to be able to show us that they’re ready for kindergarten? And we’d really like the toolkit to be one that says at a systems level, this is about the systems making sure that kids have what they need to be successful in that transition. And so, we are pulling from the good work of so many states, like Jill in Mississippi and the work they did, to help us design that toolkit.
Jill Dent: And I’ll piggyback off of that. We did create a kindergarten transition toolkit and through that work, we figured out that we are having problems with our administration in our public schools. They are… We need to help them understand how important it is to make sure that they accept those transition folders and learn about those children and those families and what circumstances they’re coming to their school with and be able to help them value that information.
We need to get our systems ready for these little guys. We’re doing everything we can in the pre-K year to get the little guys ready. So, our efforts within this project have been focusing on the next step of training for those administrators and those teachers. And even the teachers and administrators within early learning systems, besides public schools, giving them the tools that they need and the courage that they need to talk to their school districts and be able to have that relationship between them. And so, we were just really excited about extending the opportunity past the kindergarten transition toolkit to be able to expand this work.
Erin Freschi: Thank you so much to both of you for sharing. So next we’re going to move on and talk a bit about just the work you’ve done sort of with capacity-building in this area and how you’re supporting that building of the capacity to support kindergarten transitions. And we know you’ve both sort of done it from different sides of the relationship so to speak, and you’ve touched on a little bit, but Jill, could you share a bit more about what you’re doing focusing on the early learning side?
Jill Dent: Sure. So, in early learning, in our pre-K world at the Department of Education, we have utilized our pre-K funds to invite all of our early learning colleagues to the table. We focus on our pre-K providers in our school district, but we thought, why not invite all of our mixed delivery system friends, Head Start, childcare, to come to the table with us and learn alongside us?
And so, we just open that door and they come to our trainings; we offer those. We advertise it that way so that everyone knows that they are welcome, and it’s just a benefit besides utilizing what we’re going to do with our PDG work. We just expanded the invitation and thinking about it a little bit differently in… We like to… out of the box. Sometimes you have to figure out how to do things differently.
And then also when we do offer that, it also gives those providers an opportunity to sit by their colleagues from the next-door school or the next-door Head Start and be able to have those conversations with each other. So, in our PDG work, we were awarded an extension or a renewal grant. One of the ideas that we had was expanding the work that we were already doing with our school districts and expand that within childcare. Being able to offer them that three-pillar approach that we are already offering for high-quality programming and offer professional learning and coaching and those family engagement strategies and activities to be able to reinforce and strengthen that system.
So we’ll be doing that within our plans for the PDG grant. And we just want to make sure that we’re able to work with our administrators and our teachers to ensure the system itself is ready. We want to make sure that they’re able to accept those transition folders. They’re able to accept the children and their families as they are and walk into that school with open arms. And so, we’re really excited about our work with the expanded opportunity with federal dollars to be able to make that happen.
Erin Freschi: Great. Thank you. Donna, how about you?
Donna Traynham: We’re learning so much from Jill and others who are doing this work. So, I’d like to say just a couple of things about capacity-building that we’re doing. When we had the strategic communications conversation as part of the collaborative, one of the things that sparked for us is that often we go to communications at the local level. How do we communicate about this work to schools, to community-based organizations, to families? And we took a minute and stepped back and said, “Are we communicating enough internally within our own agencies about our vision and the importance of this work and what we want for children, so that when we are out in communities, whether we’re in a Head Start program or we’re in a public kindergarten program or we’re in a family engagement center, we have messaging that’s consistent about what it is that we want for young children to be able to experience.”
And so, the work that we are designing for the transition toolkit is about capacity-building. It is about bringing everybody together. So we’re doing this work… We’ll be hiring a vendor to develop the toolkit, but we’ll be doing this work and guiding it across our agency, state agency, so that what we’re developing has the messages of our systems well-reflected, aligned, and coordinated. But the other thing that the collaborative has allowed us to do, again as this cross-system space, is that what we’re writing in for a scope of service of what we want in the transition toolkit, our resources, to Jill’s point, about what does it mean to transition kids from preschool to kindergarten if I’m a family childcare provider, if I’m a community-based preschool, if I’m a Head Start program, if I’m a public school? What if I’m working with English learners or I’m working with children with disabilities? How do we think most collectively as a system about who is working with our youngest children? And do we have the right tools and strategies built within the toolkit to build capacity?
And then we plan to pilot the materials, bring together community teams that have early intervention, community-based programs, family childcare, Head Start, public schools, all at the table getting trained on these resources and thinking about what that means at their local community level. So that’s one angle of the capacity-building that we are doing.
The other that I want to mention that we’ve been talking about through the collaborative and on our state team is this question that then comes up about, “And what are we transitioning our children into?” And I would love for Connie’s vision to be the reality for all kids, of what they get to experience when they come into kindergarten, first, second, and third grade. But the reality is is that for many of our schools, this well-intentioned desire to help children learn and get to the outcomes that we want don’t often lead to instructional environments that are aligned well with what we know about the science of early learning.
And so that’s the second angle to our capacity-building that we’re thinking about is as we put all these investments in the birth-to-five system to ensure that kids have access to high-quality early learning, how do we also think about that transition, that bridge between pre-K and K–3 that’s focused on sustaining those outcomes that we make in the first five years by being able to deliver instructional and learning environments that align with what we know about brain science and the science of early learning.
So the other part of the work that we’re doing here in Massachusetts is that we just… Through the leveraging of ESSER dollars, we’ve just launched a Playful Learning Institute preschool through third grade. It’s a pilot for us here in Massachusetts, but it is a capacity-building effort to take what we are doing in the birth-to-five system and think in an aligned and coherent way about what we want for kids to be able to experience in kindergarten through third grade.
So this pilot is being designed to bring five school teams together. It’s a small pilot as we figure out what this is going to look like and how it’s going to work. Five school teams across our state that will consist of a district administrator, preferably one who has some oversight around curriculum and instruction. It will include a building principal and from that building principal’s school, 10 educators, two at every grade level, pre-K through third grade. And they will come together for 15 months of professional development and coaching. Our capacity-building will take three forms. They’ll initially do a little bit of asynchronous learning together, reflecting at the local level on what the state of playful learning is in their grades. And then they’ll come together for professional development in person with us this spring. And then next year we will deploy coaches out to those school teams from October to May to coach them on implementation of playful learning.
We really have positioned playful learning as an equity strategy. We think when we do the science of reading well with the science of early learning, we should be able to get to playful learning environments that are developmentally appropriate, that align with how we know young children learn, and that create deep engaging and joyful learning for young kids to give all kids access to learning. So we’re really excited about where the collaborative has kind of taken us in our thinking and our ability to really connect those systems pieces in a birth-to-eight kind of frame that says, “This isn’t just about transitioning kids to kindergarten and then we’re all done.” It’s really thinking about “At a systems level, how do we continue to do this work together?”
We also from a capacity-building perspective, and then I’ll end here, is just to say that we are creating an advisory for our Playful Learning Institute that will include practitioners at the district and school level within our higher education institutions. And we’ve included staff within our state agencies, again, so that we’re building capacity, we’re thinking about strategic communication, and we’re making sure that the messaging out to schools is consistent about what it is we want for young children. So, I think I’ll end there.
Erin Freschi: It’s all such exciting work you’re both doing in your states. We can’t wait to hear more. And just thinking about the future, I know you’ve both touched on a little bit, but do you have anything you would add just about your sort of plans for sustaining this work? And how you would suggest others might do the same?
Donna Traynham: Go ahead, Jill. You want to start?
Jill Dent: Yeah, I’ll start out. So, with all of our work, we always focus on those three pillars of work that I mentioned before. Before I ever accept any other opportunities or any other technical assistance or anything, it has to be foundational to those three pieces of coaching efforts, professional learning, and family engagement.
And so, I feel like that keeps our focus on what we need to target in the future. We’ve seen it work. We’ve seen our programs and our state work that way. And so, it may be a tiny variation to that work, such as in our family engagement work, we’ve added some… a program called Mississippi Lite, which is an administrator training, so that they can have a program similar to what Donna talked about, where they are trained in the science of early learning and understand how important those early years are, and what they need to look for in those classrooms and how important those classrooms are.
And so we… that happened through the pandemic and now we’re in our second year. And with the PDG grant, we’re going to expand that work and expand into childcare centers to be able to offer that to childcare directors. And so, like I said, being able to offer more of what we’ve been doing foundationally is really important. We just try to find other methods of funding to be able to make that happen. So, it’s all about layering the funding and thinking about sustainability.
Erin Freschi: Thank you, Jill. How about you, Donna?
Donna Traynham: Yeah, two things that I would offer. I think one on the… We’re so grateful that our state received the preschool development grant. It’s what is going to help us fund a number of initiatives, including our transition toolkit. I think one of the things we’ll think about because we know that’s time-limited funding, is that we will hopefully build it in such a way that we’ll come out with the trainer model, if you will. So we’ll have the resources, but we’ll also have a training model that we’ll be able to use when the grant funding ends. That those materials will be there, and we’ll have a mechanism to continue through those that are trained in it to be able to support utility of the materials and communities in an ongoing kind of way. So, that’s one of the things that we are thinking about.
The other, the Playful Learning Institute is ESSER funding. We know that also is coming to an end. One of the things we built into the Playful Learning Institute in addition to hiring a vendor to help us design and implement the institute, which for us is Boston Public School’s Early Childhood department, we are so fortunate to have them in our backyard, but we’ve also hired a vendor to evaluate the Playful Learning Institute. And the goal is really, at least initially, in 15 months to see whether or not we can shift mindsets around playful learning and whether any of those mindset shifts or those belief shifts lead to change in practice. That’s sort of our first goal.
And then in a longer term, have the evaluation begin to look at student outcomes, because we know with anything without the evidence base behind it, and though we have plenty of research on playful learning and the outcomes we can get from it, there is something about seeing it play out in our own state, in our own backyard and saying, “See, we can do this,” that we’ll use the evaluation as a way to gather data and information about how to scale up and sustain this in a long-term way that isn’t reliant on funding sources that come and go.
So that is part of the strategy that we’re thinking about. And we’re thinking about it from the get-go, where often we wait until we’re in the last few months of an initiative and say, “Oh my goodness, we need to think about sustainability.” We’re having those conversations now and thinking about what we need from the evaluation to help us have those conversations over the next 15 to 18 months.
Erin Freschi: Great. Thank you so much. That was some great advice there at the end as well. So, I think that is it for this conversation. I just want to wrap up with some of the three big ideas that came out of this, and you I’m sure have more, but… So you can see them here on the screen, and that one of the things we really want to make sure that is heard loud and clear is that we want to focus on system readiness and not on the children, the children being ready, only fixing kids. This is really about us developing systems at all levels to support children and families. And I would add in teachers through this process.
There were opportunities for capacity-building that should serve all components of the system. I think both of our guests today have shared some of the examples of things they’re doing in their states to bring all pieces of the system together.
And then just there at the end, we talked a bit about just thinking about funding sustainability from the outset of your design. Donna shared how they’re doing that and that’s really critical, especially when we’re all dealing with a lot of the one-time funding and want to be prepared. Especially with some of these great ideas you’ve got developing now.
So I just want to thank both Donna and Jill for joining us today and sharing this time with us. And I believe I’m going to hand it over to Meg now who’s going to help us with some Q&A.
Meg Nelson: Great. Well, thank you to all the panelists. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to look into the chat and see lots of resonation from across the states with all the hard work you guys have been doing. And it’s been such a pleasure to work with you throughout this whole collaborative period.
We do have a couple questions for all of our panelists to get us started, and I’ll just jump right in. So this is, again, open to all of you. What is your number one best advice for other states that are hoping to embark on the work of promoting equitable kindergarten transitions and developmentally appropriate practice in kindergarten? And I’ll just let any of you who want to jump in first or I can call on you.
Lauren Breckenridge Padesky: I can hop in on that really quickly.
Meg Nelson: Great.
Lauren Breckenridge Padesky: I think my first best advice is to make sure that you are very cognizant of all the really excellent work that’s already happening. And we’re all in different places in that process. So we have a very complex mixed delivery system in two languages in Hawai’i. And we, as a Department of Education, have to have continuous humility and acknowledgement for all of the work that’s already happening with young children before they come to our systems.
And we can’t make assumptions about what transition services that we think are needed from that K–12 perspective only. We have to be very cognizant of all the hard work that’s already happening and capitalize on that, because there are systems and processes already in place that could be shored up rather than recreated. So consistent communication is really key in that regard.
Meg Nelson: Great. Thanks, Lauren. Anybody else have a piece of advice for other states?
Megan Swanson: I would add to that and just say continuing to think about who needs to be at the table when we’re having consideration. The same thing with communication, but not just creating that group and then moving forward, but constantly saying, “Is there someone else that should be here?” Making sure that families are involved in the process and bringing people in early. Not waiting until there’s a product. And then… and so it can feel much more doing the work with instead of to, and really making sure that there’s a voice for everyone.
Because it is, it’s a complex system. Everyone is coming from different places. Kindergarten is a transition or a bridge point, but they’ve been somewhere for the last four, five, or six years and they’ve been loved by someone. And so, it’s a valuable voice to have.
Meg Nelson: Great. Thank you, Meg. Anyone else? All right. Considering federal policy, funding, and support, what would help your states move the work forward? And again, I can call on you or you can jump right in.
Donna Traynham: Meg, I’d throw out two things. One is continued opportunities like the Transforming Kindergarten Collaborative. I said it earlier, I can’t say enough how valuable it is for us to be able to connect with other states to hear about what’s happening around the country so that we’re not recreating the wheel, that we’re aligning our work across the state is so valuable.
But the other piece, at least that we experienced here, is that this collaborative was a partnership between the U.S. Department of Ed and WestEd, the CISELSS team. That’s a message to us in the state that the U.S. Department of Ed also thinks developmentally appropriate practices in kindergarten is important, which gives us the space to really push into those conversations. It just gives us a leverage that’s a little different from us just saying it, but then to also have our federal national partners be able to support us in that message is really critical.
Meg Nelson: Thanks. Any other ideas of support that you might need?
Anna Severens: I would just echo what Donna said and also, I would… it’s just having that state-level leadership and buy-in for us has been huge and I’m really hoping that our policy statement will continue to do that, but really getting… We have some rockstar superintendents, both at the state level and district level. We’re really hoping to help, will also help move the work forward because we’ve been the little busy bees at the middle level, but we haven’t had as much buy-in at the higher level. But now we’re getting that. And so… collaboratives like this, I think, also help to get that top level leadership on board as well to support so the teachers can do what they’re meant to do, like Connie. More Connie’s all around.
Meg Nelson: Yeah, it would be great if we could clone her across the U.S. Anyone else on that topic? Jill?
Jill Dent: I was just going to say, the voice that we hear from the U.S. Department of Education is very influential. And I think that we’ve heard a lot from them in the past year or so, and it’s just been refreshing to be able to hear them connect with us in different opportunities with CCSSO and other messages through ACF and such. And so, it’s really refreshing for them to be at the table with us thinking about these other options and different ways to get to where we need to be.
Meg Nelson: Great, thank you. Shifting our focus a little bit, you all have talked about how equity is centered throughout your work. Connie, you mentioned authentic parent relationships that you develop, and Donna, you spoke really beautifully about kindergarten as an equity strategy. What advice would any of you give to the participants that are here today about how they might center equity more in their work?
Jill Dent: Well, one of the things that I was thinking about while we were talking was the equity piece. Having all children come to kindergarten with, and this might sound a little silly, but with a transition folder that tells that teacher some of the finer points of who they are and what their family is like. I really think that being able to have a level playing field with all of the children coming from every early learning environment and just not the pre-K classroom down the hall. So that those kindergarten teachers really are familiar with the situations and circumstances that maybe those families are dealing with in that community is really important. And I think that that helps with the equity component with all of those children and families coming into kindergarten.
Nelson: Thank you, Jill.
Lauren Breckenridge Padesky: I would add on, if it’s okay, that normalizing that developmental spread is massive, right? I use the metaphor a lot of the, I am four feet 10, right? I’m never going to get any taller. It’s just not going to happen. And that’s a useful developmental reflection on thinking about how we need to normalize the diversity within our systems, because they are all valuable and all the children coming as they are have great worth. And I think sometimes in our policymaking, we’re moving toward a common goal, and we can sometimes forget that how we do that must be individualized and that we have to make sure that the common goals are reasonable and attainable and match best practice and what the research tells us about how children grow and learn and the time and space that they need to do that. Which can be a challenge, because that sometimes can rub up against what we need to be held accountable for in order to continue to make our systems grow. So reckoning with that, right, reckoning with those dissonances and working around understanding that the children are good as they are, and then building on that… from that strengths-based perspective.
Meg Nelson: Thank you. And Connie, it looks like you were going to maybe chime in.
Connie Hall: Yes. The equity piece, I said it’s so important. I was talking earlier and somebody mentioned about not forgetting the nursery starting from there, but I actually started my… Because I said I was early childhood and I started and I’ve worked from every phase from nursery to third grade and getting that information to parents, starting those parenting classes, because I have done that, and some parents don’t understand they have this child and what should I do? So it really starts before, and I appreciate our family partnership in our district. They have a lot of resources set up online so that parents can go and I can refer them to that.
Just some of the simple things is like these are some ways to help your child tie their shoes or how to read a story. All of this gives that head start… because in our state we don’t have a lot of pre-K programs available. So, working with… And we’re also now partnering with the other early childhood centers in the area, but getting that partnership at a early age with parents. Showing them that their city, wherever they are, their states, we’re all supporting them in this process. Because eventually it’s going to affect us some way along as far as in the classroom. So helping them prior, giving them that knowledge. So then, I think with that transition into school, it makes such a world of difference.
Meg Nelson: Thank you.
Donna Traynham: Meg, if we have a minute. So we’re still figuring this out and we’ve got some strategies that we’re trying and we’re learning along the way. Yeah, I said earlier that we have positioned playful learning as an equity strategy. We are both at the state level and with our local partners really encouraging our schools to dive into their equity gaps in their data. We don’t have data on children from an assessment perspective until third grade here in Massachusetts, but we can look at access to early childhood services. We can look at attendance data. We can look at suspension data. We can look at retention data and we can see gaps. And we see them by gender, we see them by ability, we see them by race, we see them by socioeconomic level, we see them by language. So those gaps are there.
And those gaps are not there because of lack of effort and interest. There’s so much going on in our communities, in our schools. But what we’re positing is that the learning environments are not working for all kids. And so, we are trying to think about what we’re learning about through the science of reading and layering that into the science of early learning and really being able to say to schools, “We’re all heading in the same direction. We want all kids to be able to engage in deep and meaningful learning, but we have some gaps in how we do that. And so let’s take a look at what the science of early learning says about how young children up through age eight learn.” I often say to my colleagues, I’d argue this is how middle schoolers and high schoolers learn, but my wheelhouse is early childhood, so I’m going to stay in my lane. But I think we need to really have those hard conversations of “We are all trying really hard and yet we still have these equity gaps. Let’s talk about where the bridges are. How do we extend those bridges?” And think about the bridge between early learning and what we know about how young children read, learn to read, and see if we can find a different way.
And I think there’s something in that that schools are… We have lots of interest here in diving in. Lots of interest and lots of fear. And those are the things that I think we need to give space for people to be vulnerable and to push into some hard conversations in order to create those spaces where we can grow.
Kacey Edgington: And to add on to that with learning environments, one of the questions that we have started to ask ourselves is, “Do the classrooms represent the children in the classroom?” So thinking about what books are on your bookshelf? What books are you reading with children? What materials are in your dramatic play center? Do they represent the cultures that you have in your classroom? Are the walls filled with the pictures of your students and their families? How can we represent our classrooms better to show the identity of the children and the families that make up that classroom culture?
Meg Nelson: Great. Thank you all for those robust responses to that question. One last question, this is maybe one that allows you to dream a little bit. If you had a magic wand, what challenge or obstacle to your work would you help vanish or disappear?
Jill Dent: So that is one thing I would love to be able to do, is be able to ensure that our kindergarten classrooms are moving back to purposeful play. That they have a dramatic play center and block center so that they can expand all that language that they so badly need to work on during that time. And so, if I had one thing that I could wish on, that’s what I would wish.
Meg Nelson: Great, thank you.
Megan Swanson: My magic wand would result in really helping leverage the field in the mixed delivery system in the early care education. Really broadening that scope for professionals that want to work with children birth to age eight, and just equity around all of those components, around development, training, wage, all of those pieces, so that they can truly… Professionals can work together around those transition points and those bridging places into those school settings and that it’s a true partnership.
Connie Hall: My magic wand would provide resources. And we were in a meeting, I think, with Kacey. You were showing us a film and they were saying the amount of money that it takes to actually to create an early childhood classroom with the supplies, it was like $25,000 to $30,000 and that is not what it’s like. And so just having the resources and then the class sizes, and that’s one of the things that’s… that I’m standing on my soapbox for, for that class size as this year I have 24 kindergartners. So that just does affect what you’re trying to do with early childhood. So having the class size, giving you the resources, and helping administrators around where the teachers are working to understand early childhood.
Kacey Edgington: And I would love to say that we could… If I had a magic wand, I would love to see the high-quality alignment and coherence pre-K through third grade or even earlier than pre-K. But beyond that, when I walk into a kindergarten classroom, I want to expect joy from the teacher and also the students in that class.
Lauren Breckenridge Padesky: I would with the magic wand… I believe in people, right? I believe in people, so I would use that magic wand and I’d do something maybe a little dramatic, but I would wipe away worksheets. Maybe they could come back later, like I don’t know. But I would just love to just if it went away, right? Because I’ve had so many conversations in my coaching life and in my teaching life, like, “Well, we have to finish that page.” I’m like, “But we made up the page. It’s pretend.” So, I would wipe them out, just to see. Right?
Because if we don’t have those anymore, if we don’t have a page that we made that is now… We’re becoming beholden to, what would we do with kids next, right? What next? And I feel an opportunity like that would be empowering for teachers to say, “Oh, well, if I don’t have to do X, what could I do?” And that’s when we start to slide in those evidence-based developmentally appropriate practices, right? You’re not beholden to the folder you made, so could we play? And if we could play, how could we do that? And if we could do it that way, what could happen to the children, right? Which is why I’d wipe those worksheets away. We’d start fresh.
Donna Traynham: I love all of these, and I don’t know what it says about me that I think about this question often of what I would do if I had a magic wand. I feel like I have a list of things I could answer here. I think at the end of the day, for me, all of those things on my list if I had a magic wand all end with all kids feeling joy, purpose, and meaning to their learning. And to be able to experience that learning in environments where their identities as individuals and students is affirmed and validated and valued. I think this work is so important. We set kids into a pathway of learning for the rest of their lives, and I just hope that the work we’re doing sets them in that positive, affirming direction.
Meg Nelson: Great. Thanks. Anna, did you have a magic wand wish?
Anna Severens: Yeah. Just to add on to my… What’s been said about just teachers having the unlimited resources and materials and getting rid of worksheets, but also having aligned and appropriate assessments that teachers aren’t bogged down in but actually support their teaching and really, really do show child… Shows the growth of children, but not through inappropriate assessments.
Meg Nelson: Great. Yeah. Well, thank you. And like you, Donna, I wish I had a magic wand as well for lots of different reasons. And with that, I will turn it back over to Natalie Walrond to take us home.
Natalie Walrond: All right. Hi everybody. Thank you so much. I just want to say thank you so much to our panelists for sharing your passion and your wisdom with us and with each other, both today and then for the last year. I’ve just been grinning ear to ear through this whole webinar. This was fabulous. Thank you.