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.

Serve & Return: The Haslams and Building Strong Brains

In tennis, a strong serve and return game is fundamental for success on the court.

“Serve and return” is also the term scientists use to describe the positive adult-child interaction vital for optimal human brain development.   In the first few years of life, a child’s brain is the most impressionable, forming one million new neural connections every second to create the “wiring” that becomes the foundation on which all later learning is built. When an infant or young child “serves” through babbles, gestures, or cries, and an adult “returns” appropriately with eye contact, words, or a hug, neural connections are built and strengthened in the child’s brain.

Early childhood “serve and return” was major topic at the annual Building Strong Brains Tennessee ACEs 2018 Summit in hosted by Governor Bill Haslam and First Lady Crissy Haslam in Nashville last week. The event attracted more than 325 leaders and influencers from across Tennessee for a daylong meeting focused on child brain science and reducing adverse childhood experiences.

Attendees included 10 members of the General Assembly, three Tennessee Supreme Court justices, eight state department commissioners, and representatives from law enforcement, business, health, education and local community agency partners engaged with the state. Large attendance reflects the Tennessee’s growing commitment to early childhood policies as a priority for Tennessee’s future.

Among the summit speakers was Al Race, chief knowledge officer and deputy director of the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University.  Harvard is a national research leader on the science of early childhood with a mission to develop more effective policies and services focused on the earliest years of life, especially for children facing adversity.

Race framed serve and return as a critical feature in the development of young children. Children engaged in strong serve and return experiences have the best potential to thrive. Family environment is paramount to the potential of serve and return.  Stressful family environments – caused by factors such as poverty, poor health, substance abuse, etc. – pose challenges that can limit positive interactions. For an infant or young child, a persistent absence of positive interaction can be doubly damaging: not only are they denied the positive stimulation and development, they can often become stressed, with negative and potentially long-lasting consequences for brain development.

Serve and return in a baby may look like this: When a young baby serves up a “coo” for attention, a parent responding with an engaging expression, comforting sound or light touch is doing more than showing attention. An abundance of science demonstrates that these adult-driven positive interactions, repeated over and over during the early years, strengthens brain connections in all the areas of a baby’s brain that develop emotional and cognitive capacity.

These interactions become more complex over time as infants become toddlers and then children. The serve and return experiences are extended to include peers, additional caregivers, and teachers.

Building Strong Brains is part of a larger Haslam administration policy program for early childhood development. The administration this month released Prioritizing Tennessee’s Children: Our Promise to Future Generations, a report highlighting work by Tennessee state departments, agencies, and partner organizations to improve the lives of Tennessee children and families. The report summarizes progress on children’s issues that include health, education and safety.

The report touts numerous successes resulting from an administration strategy in 2012 to form the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet and organize the departments of Health, Children’s Services, Human Services, Education, Mental Health & Substance Abuse, Commission on Children and Youth and Division of TennCare. Together they began working collaboratively on planning and policy to address the full early years’ spectrum of each Tennessean, from birth through early childhood and youth.

The Governor’s Children’s Cabinet honored numerous Tennesseans as “champions” in early child development, including:

  • Governor Bill Haslam, First Lady Crissy Haslam and Deputy Governor Jim Henry;
  • Senator Mark Norris (Collierville);
  • Adriane Johnson Williams, Pyramid Peak Foundation;
  • Barbara Nixon, ACE Awareness Foundation;
  • Linda O’Neal, former executive director, Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth;
  • Mary Rolando, health advocacy director, Department of Children’s Services; and
  • The Healing Trust, a Nashville-based grant maker.

Tennesseans for Quality Early Education is proud to be a collaborative partner with and to celebrate the good work of these organizations in prioritizing early childhood development in Tennessee.

Mike, Lisa and the TQEE Team

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