Identifying and setting expectations for best practices (see Part 1) is the first step to ensuring that appropriate and enriching language and literacy teaching practices are carried out in the classroom. Once identified, best practices will need to be presented, modeled, and sustained using a system that must be developed by your team.
Your staff may need to increase their knowledge of best practices in language and literacy development. Specific needs of your staff can drive your professional development training, but it is also important to consider what research says about the critical areas of knowledge teachers need. Planning Effective Professional Development provides further guidance on using research and data to inform the training you give to staff, as will as guidance on delivering effective professional development.
When planning professional development, you need to provide appropriate training for staff that addresses the ages of the children they support. Using a developmental milestones checklist to monitor the youngest children’s progress will help your staff meet the planned goals for these children. For preschool children, relying on the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines (Updated 2015) and The Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines or other curriculum tools will support staff in providing instructional best practices.
Leaders should either participate in the targeted professional development or lead the training when appropriate. Effective leaders also provide feedback to staff who are following up on professional development and are implementing best practices, and they formally recognize those staff members’ efforts. Supporting staff might also involve ongoing coaching. In an early childhood classroom, some effective coaching strategies are as follows:
Do side-by-side modeling of a lesson where both coach and teacher are involved.
Observe lessons and then debrief and reflect with staff after observation.
Help with scheduling or lesson planning.
Help with the classroom environment and curriculum materials and resources.
Provide literature or websites that support early literacy.
As you build a system for implementing best practices to support your data-informed plan, you will need to develop and communicate to staff the procedures of observations at your site. It can be helpful to show staff the checklist you will use during your observations. This is another opportunity for you to emphasize best practices and support staff in working toward them. Staff can use the checklist as a self-check, or they can use it to set personal goals. After initial observations, site leaders can use a modified checklist for follow-up observations to ensure that best practices are consistently carried out.
An example of an observational checklist for children age 3–5 can be found by clicking on the following link: “Classroom Observational Checklist.”
(Note: Due to the developmental differences between infants/toddlers and prekindergarten-aged children, two different sets of criteria should be used.)
Based on your observation notes and other data that tells you about best practices in your classrooms, you may determine that some staff require more professional development. You will need to integrate your plans for professional development into your data-informed plan.
In the scenario that follows, the director of the Early Childhood Development Center is visiting Ms. Morgan’s classroom of three-year-olds during the month of October. The previous year, the students in Ms. Morgan’s classroom had low letter-knowledge scores at the end-of-year assessment. Ms. Morgan has received professional development training on using strategies to improve letter knowledge. The director is visiting the classroom to evaluate the learning environment, observe the instructional strategies, and examine whether the letter knowledge activities are engaging and effective. She wants all staff to support the data-informed plan goals of increasing early literacy skills.
Scenario: Ms. Rosario (the director) asks Ms. Morgan (the teacher) what date during the following week would be a good time to come for a classroom visit. Ms. Morgan checks her schedule and shares that Tuesday would be a good day. The visit is set for Tuesday at 9:00 a.m.
Before the visit, Ms. Rosario reviews Ms. Morgan’s current daily schedule and lesson plan. She copies a form called “Classroom Environmental Checklist” and also a “Glows and Grows” form that will be used during the classroom observation. She gives a copy of each of these to Ms. Morgan with a note explaining that she will be using these two forms to gather information during the visit. She also explains that they will conference after the visit to reflect on the goals of the lessons and the successes and challenges Ms. Morgan encountered.
On Monday, Ms. Rosario reminds Ms. Morgan about the observation and tells her that she is looking forward to the visit.
When Ms. Rosario arrives on Tuesday morning, Ms. Morgan is conducting a large-group, circle-time activity. Ms. Rosario sits at the back of the area and has the current lesson plan in front of her. She quietly observes the teaching strategies and engagement of the three-year-old children. She smiles and takes a few notes during the lesson.
The children are dismissed to center time. Ms. Rosario notes that there is a lack of organization and preparation as the children transition to centers. She also watches as children explore the centers and sees that the centers and shelves are not labeled and that the children seem to lack focus.
During center time, Ms. Morgan gathers a group of four children to join her in a small-group lesson. She has a tote with the needed materials at the table and engages the children in a productive alphabet/letter knowledge activity. The activity supports the goals of increased letter knowledge opportunities, which in turn supports the goals of the data-informed plan.
Ms. Morgan finishes the small-group lesson, and Ms. Rosario goes around the room and makes notes on the environmental checklist. She targets several areas to discuss with Ms. Morgan at the follow-up meeting.
After 45 minutes, the classroom visit is complete. Ms. Rosario smiles and thanks Ms. Morgan. In her office, Ms. Rosario reviews her notes and completes both forms. She and Ms. Morgan plan to meet during the children’s nap time later that day.
At the follow-up meeting, Ms. Rosario compliments and validates Ms. Morgan’s classroom setting and her large- and small-group work. She asks Ms. Morgan how she felt the morning visit went and builds on Ms. Morgan’s comments. Ms. Morgan states that she has challenges with transitions and would like to get her room more organized.
Ms. Rosario reviews her notes and “Glows and Grows” and suggests two action items. The first is to label all centers, and the second is to have a specific procedure for transitioning the children to centers. Ms. Rosario explains that by labeling the centers, the children will have more opportunities to see meaningful print and letters. She also says that by having a planned way for the children to move to centers, they will have clear expectations. She gives Ms. Morgan a few ideas about using transitions, including the use of songs, props, and name tags. She compliments Ms. Morgan’s very effective small-group lesson. They agree on the goals and set a two-week time frame for completion. They discuss what resources are needed and end the meeting with a plan to review the goals in two weeks.
The director in the above scenario had developed a system for ongoing staff support. As you work on your team’s long-term plan for strong instructional leadership, having systems for classroom observation, evaluation, and follow-up discussion will strengthen your program and improve outcomes for staff and children. It will also assist you in building sustainability and meeting the goals of your data-informed plan.
TO LEARN MORE: Review the following resources to learn more about instructional leadership, classroom observation, and best practices for preschool.
The Children’s Learning Institute’s web page “Welcome to the 2008 Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines” has an interactive online introduction to the guidelines. Although this resource refers to the 2008 guidelines, the content is still relevant to the Texas Prekindergarten Guidelines (Updated 2015) and can be helpful to your instructional staff.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Developmentally Appropriate Practice website discusses appropriate best practices for teachers of children age 0–8 years.
The Texas Infant, Toddler, and Three-Year-Old Early Learning Guidelines provides child behaviors and strategies to support them for children age 0–48 months.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contains helpful information about developmental milestones for young children.
Literacy Resources for Principals contains additional leadership information for principals.
Early Childhood Investigations Webinars provides a list of archived webinars by national experts and practitioners in the field of early childhood education.