When reflecting on a definition of quality in regard to early childhood care and education, it is a personal goal to search for terms of high frequency among varying programs. Terms that can be applied regardless of program philosophy, the number of families served or the economic and cultural status' of clientele are of particular interest. Through assessing physical learning environments of programs, classrooms, and homes; teaching teams, individual children and effectiveness of implemented parenting strategies one reoccurring word continues to shine above all others. This word serves as the torch of guidance leading to improved holistic educational experiences for all children. Yoshikawa makes reference to this universally applied term in the video segment of Early Childhood Program Effectiveness "...not only in the home-based environments but in center-based environments; in the Foster-Care System and in interactions; the Welfare System; that It all boils down to relationships" (Center on the Developing Child, 2007, 00:25). The foremost relationship that enters the mind is that of a caregiver and participating family.
According to Gonzalez-Mena (2014), family and caregiver relationships are established through partnership. Well-developed partnerships between caregiver and family are maintained through open lines of communication. In reference to the Program Administration Scale, Measuring Early Childhood Leadership and Management (2011), Talan and Bloom speak to three main forms of communication. These are informal (brief conversations at arrival/departure, bulletin board information, website communications), formal (home visits/conferences, phone conferences,) and written (emails, notes sent home, mailed letters). When utilized intentionally, these strategies can nurture trust and understanding between the home and school families. The Center on the Developing Child (2007) states that a program focusing on not only the school-readiness needs of individual children but the progress of the family unit as a whole will result in greater chances of desired outcomes and ultimate program success.
As an early learner progresses in physical age, the capabilities for vocabulary comprehension, grammar and language acquisition increase dramatically for a window of time Berger (2018, p. 247) calls "ideal for learning language". Due to the inconsistencies of fast-mapping and logical extension (Berger), there is a great need for an informed caregiver/education team to serve as the language model and scaffolding guide (Olson, 2005). Researched best practices of encouraging feedback loops with multiple exchanges, utilization of open-ended questions, self and parallel talk and recognition of cognitive advancement (example: Caregiver verbally acknowledges a child exhibiting persistence by staying on task) lay the groundwork for what Yoshikawa refers to as a language-rich learning environment (Center for the Developing Child, 2007). Positive outcomes from an early childhood classroom immersed in developmentally appropriate language are evident in the language, cognitive and social widely held expectations for physical age (Heroman, 2010).
Distinguishing a program of high quality from those that are lacking in components necessary to promote holistic school readiness is accomplished through observational measurement (personal reference, Quillian, 2012). In the spirit of this statement, our instructional coaching team joined forces with the Center for Early Childhood Professional Development (CECPD) and the University of Oklahoma's Instructional Coaching Innovations program ("Instructional Coaching Innovations", Center for Early Childhood Professional Development, 2013). Everyone affiliated with this cohort was certified in the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS)(Pianta, La Paro, & Hamre 2008) and assessing teaching teams consistently as part of our coaching cycles. With the addition of the CECPD and OU's dual reliability in the tool, our ability to focus on teacher effectiveness was magnified.
One of the most influential factors when evaluating family and student success is access and availability to high-quality care and education. According to Olson (2005), families are limited by blanket issues of state funding and qualifications for special services. In our program, we faced similar issues. This was compounded with geographical complications in that we were just outside of an over-populated school district. We loved all of the children received. Many of them came with severe needs and an out-of-district address. The address disqualified them from any services outside of general education. Needless to say, this placed some olympic-sized challenges in our path.
We had high-quality environments, knowledgeable, caring staff and the best training our billionaire funders could buy. Some children were fortunate to live on the correct side of an imaginary line. Other children, due to the same imaginary line did not share in the experiences they deserved. To what effect did this impact their mindset towards education? Just one of the many questions keeping us up at night.
Berger, K. S., (2018). The developing person through childhood. (8th ed.). New York, NY. Worth Publishers.
Center on the Developing Child, (2007). Early Childhood Program Effectiveness. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu.
Gonzalez-Mena, J., Eyer, D. W., (2014). Infants, Toddlers, and Caregivers. A Curriculum of Respectful, Responsive, Relationship-Based Care and Education. New York, NY. Macgraw-Hill Education.
Heroman, C., (2010). Teaching Strategies GOLD: Objectives for Development and Learning: Birth through Kindergarten. Washington D. C.: Teaching Strategies Inc.
Instructional Coaching Innovations, Center for Early Childhood Professional Development, (2013). Retrieved from http://oklahomainstructionalcoaching.org/instructional_coaching_html
Olson, L., (2005). Early Childhood Education: Investing in quality makes sense. Research points, 3(2). Retrieved from http://www.aera.net/portals/38/docs/Publications/Early%20Child%20Education.pdf
Pianta, C. R., La Paro, K. M., & Hamre (2010). Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) Manual, Prekindergarten: Brookes Publishers.
Talan, T. N., & Bloom, J. P. (2011). Program Administration Scale: Measuring Early Childhood Leadership and Management (2nd ed.). New York, London. Teacher College Press.