Legislative Support Signals Commitment to Improve Tennessee early education

Early education advocates across Tennessee are cheering results of the 2019 Tennessee legislative session that include a slate of approved policy proposals aimed at boosting learning prior to third grade as a strategy to improve Tennessee’s public education system.

Highlights include a new pilot to create a network of early grades literacy and math coaches to help teachers in the state’s lowest performing schools, an increase in funding for evidence-based home visiting (EBHV) programs, and ongoing funding and more robust training and improvements for Pre-K and kindergarten teachers who use the portfolio model to measure academic growth. And the Tennessee General Assembly formed a bipartisan House and Senate caucus to provide exclusive focus on early education policy.

Altogether, approval of these policies delivers a successful outcome to an agenda of the state’s leading early education advocates, said Mike Carpenter, executive director of Tennesseans for Quality Early Education (TQEE).

“This was a very successful legislative session for our youngest students and an indication that Tennessee is committed to building a stronger early education system,” Carpenter said. “All Tennesseans want better education outcomes. The policies supported by the General Assembly and Lee administration move Tennessee in the right direction of building a more robust system of quality education for children from birth to third grade and to accelerate progress that helps Tennessee kids get a smart start in life.  This legislative session was a necessary step to address the unacceptable condition of our student’s proficiency scores and begin to build a foundation that produces better outcomes.”

While in the past decade Tennessee made strides as one of the most improved states in education outcomes, it still ranks in the bottom half of all states. Most Tennessee students in grades 3-12 are not proficient in math or English; by the third grade, most Tennessee students are behind and remain there.

TQEE was formed to address poor proficiency and advocate for strong early education programs that can help students get a strong start that ensures they are proficient before they enter third grade. TQEE achieved success on its 2019 policy agenda, which included the coaching pilot program, maintaining the state’s commitment to voluntary Pre-K and EBHV programs.

Governor Bill Lee’s administration increased financial support to create a coaching pilot to support early grades teachers in low performing schools and the General Assembly provided additional funding to support EBHV programs that help connect parents with community resources to assist parenting, health, development and learning of their young children.

Creation of the coaching pilot is a strategic approach to provide early grades teachers with greater support as the state works toward a goal to increase the percentage of third graders who are reading, writing and doing math on grade level from about 37 percent today to 75 percent by 2025. Embedding instructional coaches in schools to support teachers is proven to be a successful tool to improve teaching and student outcomes.

EBHV is a nationally proven programming that is successfully applied in many Tennessee communities to assist young parents, improve their parenting skills, reduce abuse and neglect, improve health of babies and ready children for learning. Studies demonstrate that EBHV has an impressive $5.70 return for every $1 of public investment through reduction of costs for remedial education, public financial support, criminal justice and other societal impacts. “TQEE thanks Governor Lee, Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, Senate Education Chairman Dolores Gresham, House Education Chairman White, Senator Steve Dickerson and Representative Bill Dunn, and the legislature for supporting strong early education,” Carpenter said.

The Art of Appreciating Special Teachers

High quality teachers impact lives. We see it everywhere from the most advanced academic studies all the way down to the look on a child’s face when that child begins to learn.

May 6-10 is Teacher Appreciation Week and something we always need to remember is that teachers should feel valued for all of the ways they are a positive force in a kid’s life.

How do you do appreciate your child’s teacher? We all know teachers need supplies and funds for special projects, but sometimes an expensive gift isn’t necessary to show you care. The best gifts of appreciation often come from children themselves.  

One great way to involve your child in teacher appreciation is to help your child write a thank you note to the teacher, something that can be done at home. For kids who already have writing skills, it can be great practice in showing motor and language ability. And for preschoolers, dictating a note with parents helps literacy by representing sounds and symbols in a written form. Children love to illustrate too!

Writing a note and teaching appreciation helps a child learn to focus on the needs, perceptions, and ideas of others. Parents and caregivers can establish gratitude as a fundamental behavior in their children’s lives that will provide a fully enriching, lasting impact.

According to the Harvard University Healthbeat, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and built strong relationships. For young children, gratitude is expressed in consistently saying ‘thank you’ to others, making thank you cards, and identifying things that make them feel thankful, such as a favorite toy or a visit from grandma.

Another way parents and their children could show appreciation is through a creative project that can express thee same sentiment as a thank you note while also stimulating a child’s imagination. Talk with them about the things they like about their teacher and then channel it into a something a child can make: a picture, an art project, a craft, a necklace or beads, a sculpture with clay or play-doh, or a jar of their favorite things. The more heartfelt it is, the greater your teacher will appreciate it.

Lots of in-school ideas can have an impact as well. It could be something as simple as working with the principal to organize an applause parade in hallways as teachers head to their classrooms. Decorations can be effective, whether it’s a bulletin board or a classroom door. Or even just giving them some free time with a coupon for covering their responsibilities in the drop-off/pickup line. The national Parent Teacher Organization website has a number of themed ideas, too.

Teachers spend their days in some of the most important work possible — developing our kids. It’s important for them to understand how much parents and kids appreciate all of their hard work.

Home Visiting’s Powerful Human Stories

Take a step back from the compelling financial return on investment of evidence-based home visiting (EBHV) policy to study the true impact of this vital program through the lives of Tennessee children.

While home visiting boasts a remarkable $5.70 positive return for every $1 investment, it’s most powerful performance measure is best viewed via the experiences of thousands of Tennessee children around the state whose lives – and futures – are improved.

Home visiting is a voluntary program that works by deploying professionals to visit families in their homes to coach parents on how to support their child’s healthy development as well as offer connections to additional community resources and services to meet their child’s health, developmental and learning needs.

This evidence-based solution has repeatedly proven to strengthen bonding between mothers and infants, improve parenting skills, reduce abuse and neglect, improve health of parents and babies, and ready children for their school years.

The experiences told by Hunter and his mother Tyne in Nashville, and Itzel, Carlos and Alia in Nashville, and, through a terrific report in The Commercial Appeal by Jennifer Pignolet, the story of Shante and Ja’Mykal in Shelby County, illustrate the amazing impact of home visiting. Their stories demonstrate the real bottom line – home visiting works. By voluntarily accessing local community home visiting resources, parents are placing their children on a path to life-long success.

The preservation and expansion of these vital programs is essential for Tennessee’s most vulnerable children and families, but there are still far too many families with no access to help. At the current level of funding, Tennessee can provide home visiting services to only 1.7% of the children who would qualify for services. And of the 95 counties in Tennessee, 45 counties have no home visiting services at all.

These are the stories that go beyond ROI:

Sometimes a picture says a lot.

Hunter is building a tower out of colored blocks with his mom and his friend Tevri at home. It’s a photo that was years in the making, in part because of his involvement in one of Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee’s most successful development programs.  The “I did it” badge he’s wearing reflects the confidence and accomplishment Hunter has experienced through his family’s participation in the program.

After she became pregnant, Hunter’s mother Tyne was referred by a friend to Healthy Families Tennessee, a home visiting program that provides weekly support for parents from pregnancy through when their child enters kindergarten. That’s how she met Tevri, a PCAT visitor.

“[Tevri] would just come once a week and she would go over where I should be at in my stage of pregnancy and just help me get ready for the baby,” Tyne says. “And then after Hunter was born, she would still come by on a weekly basis and teach me about his milestones.”

As Hunter got older, Tevri would mark his progress on everything from word acquisition to motor skills, often working with Hunter outside, drawing shapes with sidewalk chalk and mastering colors. The program provides what Tyne calls a “full spectrum,” helping her son master everything from letters and numbers, to recognizing emotions, to how to deal with them effectively.

Read the rest of the story here.

Itzel is protective of her mother today, forgiving her with words even though she didn’t have the easiest childhood.

“My mom didn’t know any better and she definitely didn’t have anyone to turn to,” she says.

Itzel’s mother called her names and made her daughter feel unwanted and unloved. It’s tough to grow up strong when you are neglected and told that you are a burden.

As a young adult, Itzel found support four years ago at a community baby shower on the Tennessee State University campus. Newly pregnant and “completely scared,” she learned about Healthy Families, an evidence-based home visitation (EBHV) program from Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee (PCAT) designed to support parents from pregnancy through kindergarten.

Determined to be a better mother than her own, Itzel was attracted to an opportunity through Healthy Families to obtain strong parenting skills and to make certain her daughter has a bright future.

Read the rest of this story.

Starting at home: visitation programs seek to aid vulnerable children in Shelby County

By Jennifer Pignolet, The Commercial Appeal, October 11, 2018

After three years, Cassandra Ruffin knows the first rule of visiting the Dennard family.”You cannot come into this home with only one book,” Ruffin said. 

So although she’s there specifically to check in on 3-year-old Ja’Mykal, she arrives at the Oakhaven town home with a bag of children’s books for the boy and his two older siblings. 

The three children sit on the edge of a tan couch and the carpeted living room floor, tearing into a picture book about a bumpy pumpkin and a Disney-themed alphabet paperback. Their mother, 33-year-old medical assistant Shante Dennard, helps Ja’Mykal turn the pages and reads aloud to him. 

It’s that interaction that Ruffin wants to see between Dennard and her children. 

Ruffin is a parent educator with Porter-Leath, an early childhood organization in Shelby

County. She’s known the Dennard family since before Ja’Mykal was born. 

The family is part of a bi-weekly home visitation program called Parents As Teachers that provides social services and support to about 300 clients with young children, all done out of the client’s home. Many families, but not all in the program, live below the poverty line.

Read the rest of the story.

Early Home Visiting Programs: Compassionate and Cost-Effective Policy

Backed by compelling data and amazing personal success stories, Tennessee Senator Steve Dickerson and Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Dunn are advancing an important solution to help parents develop the skills they need to give their young children a great start in life: increasing the state’s investment in voluntary, evidenced-based home visiting.

Home visiting professionals visit families in their homes to coach parents on how to support their child’s healthy development, as well as offer connections to additional community resources and services to meet their child’s health, developmental and learning needs.

This evidence-based solution has repeatedly proven to strengthen bonding between mothers and infants, improve parenting skills, reduce abuse and neglect, improve health of parents and babies, and ready children for their school years.

“In short, voluntary home visiting programs change lives,” Kristen Rector, CEO of Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee (PCAT), recently stated. “We know that parents are their child’s first teacher and home visiting empowers parents to be the best they can be.”

PCAT, through its Nurturing Parenting and Healthy Families Tennessee, is the largest provider of voluntary evidence-based home visiting in the state.

“Of the children and families who benefit from the program, 98 percent show improvement in key areas, ranging from health to school readiness,” Rector said. “And with the proper nurturing in these early, formative years, children are better set up for success later in life. It’s even been linked to improvements in children’s behavior, cognitive development, performance in school and graduation rates.”

There is also considerable evidence that home visiting generates strong ROI: investments in home visiting programs reduce negative societal impacts immediately and in the long run. That transformation saves taxpayers substantial money by providing a return on investment of up to $5.70 for every $1 invested through reducing costs associated with child abuse, poor health and academic failure, and a corresponding increase in economic self-sufficiency.

The positive impact of home visiting is clear but Tennessee’s challenge is the need, which far outweighs what is currently available. Tennessee is home to 118,580 children younger than 5 who live in poverty, which often creates conditions leading to toxic stress and childhood trauma. At the current level of funding, Tennessee is only able to provide home visiting services to less than 2 percent of those children. And of the 95 counties in Tennessee, 45 have no home visiting services at all.

Dickerson, Dunn, Representative Gary Hicks and Representative Ryan Williams are among the legislative champions of investments in evidence-based home visiting programs (EBHV).  Tennesseans for Quality Early Education applauds legislative leadership on this vital effort and urges the Tennessee General Assembly to support their request for an additional investment of $1.5 million in home visiting this budget year.

The reasons are clear: Home visiting works. It is vital to the health and well-being of children, families, and communities. And it is enormously popular in Tennessee with a 70 percent approval rating among voters, according to a TQEE survey conducted in 2018.

The benefits of home visiting far outlast and outweigh the investments, as evidenced improvements in maternal, newborn and child health, reductions in child abuse and neglect; improved parent-child bonding; and improvements in children’s school readiness. 

These are exactly the powerful outcomes Tennesseans want – and deserve – from public investments.

More about Home Visiting

You have probably noticed we talk a lot about home visiting. That’s because it works! Unfortunately, even though the evidence continues to show the benefits of evidence-based home visiting, less than 2% of eligible Tennessee children have access. Put another way, of Tennessee’s 95 counties 45 do not have any type of home visiting program.

Here are few more resources supporting home visiting. Take a look and become a voice in support.

Why Evidenced-Based Home Visiting and ACEs Training for Early Childhood Workers Matters

The Research Case for Home Visiting

5 Things to Know About Early Childhood Home Visiting

Evidence-Based Home Visiting in Tennessee

Mayors Say Early Education a Springboard to a Vibrant Workforce

Tennessee’s city and county mayors are lining up in support for stronger early childhood education programs.

More than 60 mayors from across Tennessee have joined TQEE’s mayors coalition. The group recognizes that high quality early education is a dynamic, strategic force able to positively impact individuals’ life-long learning, employment and earnings potential. 

“It is a fact of life that to attract good paying jobs to our area, we must have a skilled workforce,” said Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist. “What many people don’t think about is that building those workforce skills starts with development early in life through learning to read, solving math problems and learning how to get along with others.”

Among the mayors most recently joining the coalition are Mark Bentley, Hickman County; T.R. Williams, Lawrence County; Jessie Wallace, Humphreys County, Bonnie Lewis, Moore County; Chad Graham, Bedford County; Denny Robinson, White County; Tim Stribling, Dekalb County; Mike Keny, Marshall County; and Steven Chambers, Trousdale County.

“Local leaders get it – quality early education programs can have a big impact on learning and achievement,” said Mike Carpenter, TQEE executive director.  “We can and must do a better job of educating young Tennesseans in the critical early years of learning to set the stage for success in middle school, high school and beyond. The growing list of mayors joining the coalition from different counties, cities and towns across our area serves as a confirmation of support which spans the political aisle.”

The mayor’s coalition has urged Governor Bill Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly to promote early literacy and math through coaching.

“I believe that we need to continue to improve the quality and expansion of pre-kindergarten programs across the state and support our teachers with quality training and coaching,” said Lewis County Mayor Jonah Keltner.

As of April 5, 2019, the full list of TQEE mayor’s coalition members include:

Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank; Bedford County Mayor Chad Graham; Benton County Mayor Brett Lashlee; Bolivar, Mayor Julian McTizic; Brownsville Mayor Bill Rawls; Henry County Mayor Brent Greer; Camden Mayor Roger Pafford; Cannon County Mayor Brent Rush; Carroll County Mayor Joseph Butler; Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke; Chester County Mayor Barry Hutcherson; Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell; Cookeville Mayor Ricky Shelton; Crockett County Mayor Gary Reasons; Decatur County Mike Creasy; Dekalb County Mayor Tim Stribling; Dyer County Mayor Chris Young; Fayette County Mayor Skip Taylor; Franklin County Mayor David Alexander; Gibson County Mayor Tom Witherspoon; Hardeman County Mayor Jimmy Sain; Hardin County Mayor Kevin Davis; Haywood County Mayor David Livingston; Henderson County Eddie Bray; Henderson Mayor Robert King; Hickman County Mayor Mark Bentley; Houston County Mayor James Bridges; Humphreys County Mayor Jessie Wallace; Huntingdon Mayor Dale Kelley; Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist; Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs; Lake County Mayor Patrick D. Johnson; Lauderdale County Mayor Maurice Gaines; Lawrence County Mayor T.R. Williams; Lewis County Mayor Jonah Keltner; Lexington Mayor Jeff Griggs; Linden Mayor Wes Ward; Lobelville Mayor Robbie Moore; Madison County Mayor Jimmy Harris; Marshall County Mayor Mike Keny; McKenzie Mayor Jill Holland; McNairy County Mayor Larry Smith; Milan Mayor B.W. Beasley; Moore County Mayor Bonnie Lewis; Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire; Paris Mayor Carlton Gerrell; Parsons Mayor Tim David Boaz; Perry County Mayor John Carroll; Putnam County Executive Randy Porter; Ripley Mayor Jon Pavletic; Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron; Selmer Mayor John Smith; Sevier Mayor Larry Waters; Stanton Mayor Allan Strebinsky; Stewart County Mayor Robin Brandon; Tipton County Executive Jeff Huffman; Trousdale County Mayor Steven Chambers; Union City Mayor Terry Hailey; Warren County Mayor Jimmy Haley; Wayne County Executive Jim Mangubat; Weakley County Mayor Jake Bynum; and White County Mayor Denny Robinson.

Spring a Great Time to Get Kids Moving

Spring is a welcome season here in Tennessee with the budding of new flowers and the emergence of warm weather. The season is typically filled with delight for young children as they participate in egg hunts, picnics, and outdoor play, as well as relishing baskets of goodies with plenty of
chocolate! The season is also a perfect time to optimize your child’s healthy growth and development by getting them outside to move and explore. Let the weather assist you to nudge your children away from screens and into nature.

Movement is as fundamental and essential to children’s healthy growth and development as loving care, rest, and nutrition. Active movement is not only a stimulus for physical growth; it also provides children with an outlet for expression, creativity and discovery to learn about themselves, their environment and others.

In the first five years of life, children’s bodies and brains grow rapidly. We can’t see it happening, but inside their small bodies massive changes are taking place in their bones, muscle tissue, nervous system, immune system, circulatory system, and brain architecture.  In fact, by the time a child reaches the age of 5, 85% of their brain has developed and all of their fundamental motor (or movement) patterns have emerged. The first five years of life set the stage for everything a child can do and understand in the next 80!

Movement stimulates and contributes to all of these critical developments. That is why it is essential young children are able to take advantage of spring to explore outdoors and practice their budding large and small motor skills. There are many ways children do this naturally when they play at a playground or in their backyard alone or with other children. Time for solitary exploration and cooperative play with other children is critical for their brain and body development. Outdoor play and games are an important way for children to develop autonomy and problem-solving abilities, as well as oral language and social skills.

It is also important for children to experience positive interactions with adults through movement and play. Take this season’s opportunity to:

  • Go on a listening walk with your child. There are all kinds of sounds to be discovered outside. Listen for, imitate, and then talk about the sounds that are all around.
  • Take advantage of spring showers that leave perfectly sized puddles for jumping, stomping, splashing, and giggling!
  • You can even accomplish your own tasks while having fun by working on spring cleaning together. Give your child a soft cloth or small duster and let them help, or let them practice collecting sticks and planting seeds outside. Through ordinary chores and tasks, children learn autonomy, cause-and-effect, empathy, and perseverance – all skills they will need to master to do well in school!

In short, take some time to include your child in activities this season to make them fun and encourage them to play outside. Here are some ideas from our friends at NAEYC. Search for a few that work for your family and enjoy watching your child delight in spring and sprout up with new life. These seemingly small investments made now add up to a lifetime of joy and success for your child.

Food for Thought

TQEE Policy Director, Lisa Wiltshire, is our expert on early education. She’s a former kindergarten teacher, previous director of the Office of Early Learning at the Tennessee Department of Education, and a graduate of the prestigious Bank Street College of Education. While expert, Lisa is always learning, and we along with her. Here are a few news pieces and a book that caught her attention last week. We hope you find them to be good “food for thought” and helpful in shaping your knowledge on early education policy.

Unsung Heroes Make All the Difference In Children’s Lives

Each year, as part of its mission to help foster good child development in at-risk situations, Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee (PCAT) honors three caregivers — one in each of the state’s grand divisions.

This year, the “Unsung Hero” awards went to three outstanding women who have gone “above and beyond”, and we’re excited to tell you about them.

Wanda Newman, Mountain City.

During her first and second pregnancies, Wanda was part of Healthy Families Tennessee, an evidence-based home visiting program that is one of PCAT’s most successful programs. She received in-home visits from her Healthy Families coordinator to help learn about everything from bonding to safety to child development.

“If I ever have any questions with discipline or with trying to feed my child because he’s a picky eater, we just go over everything,” Newman says of the support she receives from Healthy Families’ advisers. “And the books that she has, if I have any questions we’ll look it up, and we’ll figure it out together, and we’ll work with him. We do everything from making toys out of household items to, like, she went over electrical safety and stuff like with me and my child. And the ABC’s of safety. She just helps me out tremendously with everything and understanding everything because this is my second child, but there is three and half years between my first one and him. So, everything feels new in different ways.”

Newman was nominated in part because of her enthusiasm for referring other caregivers to Healthy Families and PCAT programs such as parent connection parties and community baby showers. She was also recognized for her compassion and generous spirit, reflected in many ways, including her frequent donations of baby clothes, breast pumps and other items to families in need.

Michelle Williams, Memphis.

Sometimes family members become heroes just by stepping into their families’ lives during times of need. Michelle Williams certainly fits that bill.

After raising three sons of her own to adulthood, Williams became a parent again following the unexpected death of her sister in September of 2017. She took responsibility for children ages 13, 11 and 8, gaining custody of them through the courts and providing a nurturing environment for them during a crucial time in their lives. Most importantly, Williams immediately sought counseling for the children to deal with the loss of their mother and any trauma they might have suffered prior to her death.

Teachers and neighbors alike have praised Williams for her selflessness and devotion to the children, with her nominator noting that she is “parenting them with devotion and purpose. She has made it her mission to raise them in a loving, caring, and structured home. She is succeeding and so are the children.”

Ethel Johnson, Nashville.

While almost every family member who steps into a caregiving role because of a biological parent’s inability to provide a home is an unsung hero, Ethel Johnson has been described as redefining the role.

Already caring for her 11-year-old granddaughter, Johnson helped intervene in the case of her 2-year-old nephew when his mother was unable to care for him. After she saw signs of difficulty coping and and processing emotional cues — both of which were causing him to act out be labeled as a “problem child” — Johnson found help in the form of a therapist, who diagnosed her grand-nephew with autism. The pair also worked for more than a year with an in-home behavior analyst to support his development.

As a result, Johnson has given her grand-nephew the ability to communicate with his friends and family, and she herself has become a passionate advocate for other caregivers with children on the spectrum.


Tennessee is full of great people who are making a meaningful difference in the lives of young children.  We appreciate PCAT for bringing these three women to our attention, and we are grateful to Ethel, Wanda and Michelle for inspiring us!


By Mike, Lisa and the TQEE team

Literacy Coaching for Child Care Teachers Drives Big Wins for Kids

Of all the education investments where Tennessee has seen a positive impact made with public funding, one with the most promise may be early literacy coaching in child care.

The state’s child care landscape is a hodgepodge of mixed providers with frontline personnel having varying degrees of experience and ability. Teaching jobs often pay less than positions in the service industry, so it can be tough to find skilled teachers who are prepared and equipped to give kids quality instruction.

Early Literacy Matters (ELM) program, a joint venture between the Tennessee Departments of Education and Human Services, was created to meet just that need, providing six hours of orientation on basic child literacy development training to child care teachers. By the end, teachers have received specific instructional strategies that help young children achieve important gains in reading skills, comprehension and vocabulary. And the impact on kids? Profound. In the state’s ELM pilot, the percentage of kids who moved up one or more levels in alphabetic principles doubled; phonological awareness rose 50 percent; comprehension quadrupled.

Felicia Spratley, an ELM coach in East Tennessee, tells how one of her sessions worked.

“I went in to coach Module 2 Literacy, ‘Rich Environments, Experiences, and Exchanges.’ While I was in the room observing center time play, I noticed that the students were arguing and complaining to the teacher to fix every problem,” Spratley says. “I began to coach the teacher on the appropriateness of interactive play, classroom environment, and how to help students manage their room and conversations. She was excited to see how the students were interacting and learning to solve their own conflicts. She was concerned about what people would think with the room so ‘chaotic’ and ‘out of order.’ I explained that this type of play [centered on interactions between peers] was developmentally appropriate. We then began to look at her room and ways she could make it a room that even she would enjoy again. When I went back the next month, her room was completely transformed. She was so excited to show me her room and the students were as well.”

Early literacy training is all about offering young children high-quality, engaging learning environments, experiences and interactions that embed language and literacy instruction. When classroom teachers increase the number and quality of books to which children are exposed, in addition to providing meaningful opportunities to practice early writing and fine motor skills (such as playing with small objects or molding clay that strengthens finger muscles) children develop the skills that are precursors to reading and writing. These experiences at an early age are crucial, as the most rapid development period in a child’s life happens before they reach five years old.

“Just building that foundation of oral language and exposure and the intentionality behind the developmentally appropriate practices of what we do has been neat to see,” says Mindy Rainey, an ELM coach in Middle Tennessee. Coaching a wide range of child care teachers who had everything from a high school diploma to a master’s degree, she says the gains they saw were immediate: kids’ development jumped in areas from phonological awareness to print concepts to alphabet awareness. Based on feedback, ELM staff added a second six-hour training block on developmentally appropriate practices in the program’s second year.

Rainey says that she could see the impact just a little bit of coaching had on a child care center. These were teachers in jobs that can sometimes be high stress and wanted someone to listen to them and provide some instruction.

“As we worked through them, we would talk about great things they were already doing in their room and also what excited them about the new content and specifically what they would like to try to implement,” Rainey says. “I’d like to say that it was always great conversations and excitement, but there were also the days of ‘this is too much, I can’t do this, I don’t have the resources or the time to change anything.’ Those were the times they just needed someone to listen, to say ‘I’m on your side, I get it.’ Out of one of those days came a desire to make some real changes to a classroom. The center was in the process of making a few room adjustments and one of the teachers I was working with had a room affected by the change.

“However, the changes weren’t happening fast and disruptions were taking place. The room she was currently in was being converted to a toddler room which meant adding sinks and moving centers and shelves. We talk about ideas she had and what she’d like to enhance if she had the opportunity. She wanted to refresh her centers and add a writing center. After talking to the director, she said go for it! She even worked late one afternoon for us to have a few hours access to the room without children. Together, we planned and put into action Module 4, ‘Learning Spaces and Activities.’ Centers were adjusted and a writing/free art center was created. She was so proud and rightfully so.”

A year later, that same teacher had implemented an interactive picture center for her kids, one of the goals set by working with ELM.

As with all the changes teachers made through this coaching program, the real beneficiaries were the children whose early literacy skills grew tremendously, resulting in immediate joy and engagement in learning; and more importantly, a strong foundation for future academic success.

Proven Results

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