As part of a planned series of conversations on CEELO’s theme of Leading for Excellence in Early Childhood, CEELO staff member Kirsty Clarke Brown talked with Annie Rooney French Ph.D., Preschool Consultant with the Kentucky Department of Education. She described the Early Learning Leadership Networks in that state, and how they are integral to promoting early childhood program development.
Can you describe the Early Learning Leadership Networks and how they were started?
The Early Learning Leadership Networks were an extension of the K-12 Leadership Networks promulgated by Senate Bill 1 (2009), in the area of professional learning and support. The Leadership Networks (K-12) Kentucky’s Leadership Networks (K-12) are designed to build the capacity of district leadership teams (3-4 teacher leaders in each content area, 3-4 school leaders, 3-4 district level leaders) to implement new standards within the context of highly effective teaching, learning, and assessment practices. They are designed to ensure that each district has a core team that can scale implementation effectively districtwide. The Early Learning Leadership Networks (ELLNs) began in the fall of 2010. Each district was asked to assemble an early childhood teacher-leader team of up to four people. The teams includes a preschool teacher, kindergarten teacher, Head Start teacher, child care provider, and/or possibly the preschool director. The four main “pillars” of focus included the Standards (Pre-K and K), Assessment Literacy, Teacher Leadership and Highly Effective Teaching and Learning. The team members developed their own leadership skills and brought back knowledge about each of the pillars. There were four meetings a year. Meeting targets or objectives were developed by a state team, consisting of five regional teams. The facilitators for each of the five regional teams included consultants from the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), consultants from the Regional Training Centers (RTCs), and higher education faculty. The state team held a retreat each summer to reflect upon practice and plan for the upcoming year. They continued to plan together during the school year at least once a month.
What topics they have addressed since their start?
In the first year, the principal focus was on mathematics, including alignment of the Kentucky Core Academic Standards for kindergarten with Kentucky’s Early Childhood Standards for 3- and 4-year olds. In the second year, ELLN teams developed their own competencies with the English Language Arts standards, as well as practiced using the Early Language and Literacy Classroom Observation (ELLCO) tool to measure literacy practices. The process of building ELA capacity continued into the third year. During the second half of the third year, teams focused on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), including the conceptual shifts in science education leading to a deeper understanding and application of content, and the corresponding Kentucky early childhood science standard. Now that we’re in the fourth year, we decided to step back and allow the teachers to refine the knowledge they gained during the first three years and develop integrated units of studies using all the content areas in meeting the needs and interests of their children. Year four is also focused on the state’s Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES), a new approach to measuring teacher and leader effectiveness, ensuring every child is taught by an effective teacher and every school is led by an effective principal. Preschool teachers and leaders play an integral part in PGES, and ELLN teams received guidance to support the developmentally appropriate implementation of the Danielson Framework for Teaching, including examining how early childhood fits within the framework.
From the beginning, ELLN facilitators have supported teachers with developing their own leadership abilities. Our guidance for that work was the book, Awakening the Sleeping Giant, Helping Teachers Develop as Leaders (Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2009).
In the area of assessments, teachers worked on integrating the assessment instruments into the teaching and learning process, becoming aware of the connections to the standards, and ensuring individualization to meet student needs.
What was your role in facilitating the groups?
I am currently facilitating the statewide process for the ELLNs. During a two day retreat in the late spring, we plan the entire year. Then we meet monthly to plan the upcoming sessions and review the previous session, including reviewing evaluations and making adjustments based on participant feedback. We spend long periods of time in discussions about the agenda and how to best help the teachers examine their practices and create a community of learners. Our goal is to share the same content, but since each region is different, each of the RTC teams have the flexibility to adapt a bit, based on their population and needs. Basically, my role as a facilitator is to ensure that we keep on task and accomplish what we set out to do. We work well together.
What kinds of meetings do people attend? And what tools or technology is used to connect group members? Is there a group website or forum for exchange, for example, or are all meetings in person?
The ELLN process is a departure from previous approaches to training, including the train-the-trainer model. Building on current professional learning research and the work of Learning Forward, we’ve moved away from isolated professional development activities toward a well-designed professional learning program that changes teaching and learning practices. We’re working on developing teacher leaders. The RTCs keep in contact with the teacher leaders through e-mails and other trainings throughout the year. Also, since the RTCs provide technical assistance and conduct the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale, Revised (ECERS-R) in their region as part of the Preschool Program Review (P2R), they spend a great deal of time in the classrooms of these teachers.
The meetings have been face-to-face. The numbers range from 50-140 attendees in each of the five regions. Kentucky has a communication and technological system in place the Continuous Instructional Improvement Technology System (CIITS), which is a “one-stop shop” for technological connections for the entire commonwealth. For example in PGES, the CIITS Educator Development Suite (EDS) serves as the technology platform for entering professional growth plans for each teacher. It is also a place where teachers may share lesson plans, videos and have access to a wealth of resources including Edivation formerly called PD360, an online, on-demand professional learning resource. One of our goals for the fourth ELLN year is to augment the postings of early childhood education materials.
What kind of support does the state provide to enhance the work of the ELLNs? How are districts and teachers supporting the work?
The Kentucky Department of Education provides funding to the RTCs for ELLN planning and curriculum development activities. This covers a stipend for the university faculty, rent for the facilities, books and resources for ELLN teams. The districts provide leave time for ELLN team members and substitute teachers to cover classrooms if necessary.
Do the administrator strand and teacher strand overlap or connect with each other at all?
The administrator strand of ELLN meets two times a year, in the fall and the spring. During the fall meeting, the administrators receive an overview of what to expect during the upcoming year, so that they can communicate effectively with teacher-leaders to ensure teams are making an impact. The administrator ELLN meetings occur before the first teacher ELLN day so that the administrators know what to expect. Based on action plans that have been successfully implemented, we found that some of the most effective teams were those whose administrator was a member of the ELLN team that met four times a year. Also, other successful teams were invited by the administrator to share their knowledge with the other educators in their district.
You have said that ‘using data to guide instruction’ was a strong outcome from the groups; can you talk about that a bit more? How did you encourage that, and what signs are there that it using data has been enhanced?
ELLN teachers are asked to bring data results of their students from the instructional assessment tool given at the beginning of the year. They are given time to look at the results either individually or as teams, and come up with the next steps to improve teaching, learning and assessment practices. This process also includes looking at the standards to determine the focus areas and knowledge of the next stages of development and/or achievement. Evidence of this may be found in lesson plans where teachers are including more individualization and small groups working on areas of development. Also we see increased evidence of teachers taking anecdotal notes in the classroom and using this knowledge to guide instruction. We have come a long way from setting up the environment and letting the children explore and discover. We still have strong developmentally appropriate practices, but now we are seeing more evidence of high quality teacher/child interactions that encourages deeper thinking and language skills.
You have also said that relationships are an outcome. Can you talk about how that happens and why it is important to the state work?
One of the major outcomes of these meetings was allowing the teachers time to engage in discussions about their work. We would schedule times during the ELLNs when teachers would share their assessment results and discuss the next steps with their team or the team from another district. Another important relationship that developed was the connection between the kindergarten and preschool teachers. This is something that was not present before the ELLNs.
What advice would you give to other states wanting to implement this kind of group?
The number one advice is to plan strategically. Teachers are very busy and they want relevant professional learning. In planning strategically, look at the big picture. Plan big and then make adjustments as you proceed. Understand the culture of the teachers in their settings and work with administrators to support their teachers. One of the major outcomes is improved connections between and among teachers. Also, the kindergarten teachers really liked being grouped together to discuss their unique issues. Finally, be patient. These improvements take time.
How has CEELO (if at all) been involved in developing/enhancing the work of the ELLNs?
CEELO connected me with the New Jersey consultants who are engaging in similar work.
During the June CEELO meeting last year, help was offered in the form of connecting to other states who are also working on the Danielson Framework with early childhood. Continued support in that area would be most appreciated.
How could CEELO be helpful?
CEELO could help us with research-based materials, examples of successful programs that have implemented similar programs, suggestions of speakers who would be able to present at our yearly conference in June, possible trainings for our facilitators, websites, and anything else you think would be helpful.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
You can find the latest information on our Early Learning Leadership Networks at this website.
Are there any other resources you would like to highlight for your state or other states?
New resources are planned for this site including an overview of the process, examples of action plans, Pre-K/Kindergarten connections, teacher leadership and others.