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Keep up-to-date on upcoming presentations, trainings, resources, and publications offered by project staff and colleagues. This webpage will be updated regularly so check back to learn more.


As the new school year begins there IS SO MUCH that we want our students to learn. Teachers being very clear in their planning and delivery of learning concepts regarding what we want our children to understand and what we want our students to be able to do OR having TEACHING CLARITY is essential.


Teaching Clarity: What is it AND why do we want it in early learning?

Eminent educator and researcher, John Hattie (author of Visible Learning) spent more than 15 years researching the influences on learning of PreK-12 children. His findings linked student learning to several highly effective teaching practices with one of the best being Teaching Clarity. One way of providing clarity to young children is to use visuals during instruction. For example, when discussing important learning concepts, the teacher should refer to a posted visual or interactive chart that illustrates key learning concept. When discussing the key concepts in a book after a read aloud, the teacher could use visuals, songs, or rhymes to support and extend children’s understanding (e.g., by drawing pictures of the different characters or using “anchor” songs or chants).


The FIVE priorities of planning and delivering learning with Teacher Clarity include:

  1. Being clear about what you want your students to know and be able to do.
    • What do you deeply want your students to understand? What do you want your students to be able to do? Remember, less is best!
  2. Clearly explaining new content to students.
    • Activate the learning with visuals, books, songs, interactive stories etc.
  3. Clearly demonstrating skills and processes that you expect students to do.
    • Give students multiple learning “looks like” and “sounds like” experiences in large group that students can extend in flexible and personalized ways.
  4. Give students practice tasks clearly focused on what you want them to know and be able to do.
    • Purposefully link new content/concepts to multiple learning opportunities in small group and purposeful play in center time.
  5. Checking that students have a clear understanding of the new learning concepts.
    • Observe/document, ask questions, and provide feedback to students during the learning process. Use student feedback “data” to make adjustments in your instructional approach and learning support!


Want to check on your own Teaching Clarity?

NAEYC provides 10 Effective Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) Instructional Strategies to help early learning educators check on how clear we are being in our instruction using flexible, learner-centered approaches. BONUS: This link also provides a cool, easy-to-use downloadable infographic that could be a great individual teaching or collaborative reference tool!  Check it out!


Want to see Teaching Clarity “in action”?

Watch some of your fellow practitioners bring big learning concepts to life with their students in Prek through third grade at


Erika Christakis, a former faculty member of the Yale Child Study Center and the author of the best-selling book The Importance of Being Little: What Young Children Really Need from Grownups, sums up the importance of providing Teaching Clarity in our teaching of young children, “…it’s crucial to keep in mind that intentional, attuned teaching is the opposite of a free-for-all where children are running the show. Quality preschool teachers are intentional about everything they do: instructional approaches, the classroom routines, the physical environment, the schedule, the types of materials they make available for children to explore and manipulate. These teachers do an extraordinary amount of observation and reflection—and it’s really almost impossible to do that in a vacuum: the best preschools have collegial, inquiry-based cultures so that they can continually experiment with and modify their learning environments to take advantage of children’s natural curiosity.” (taken from Edutopia interview with Erika Christakis titled What’s Lost When We Rush Kids Through Childhood).

Welcome TO or BACK to Pk3TeachLeadGrow! One of the first and most important messages that we can share with our Early Learning Families and Students is one of “Welcome”! There are many ways to “roll out the welcome mat” to build those first positive interactions and learning moments. Take a look and find what is “just right” for you :)!

Let’s start with First Things First…Setting up the Learning Environment to say “Hi”!  Look around your classroom. What parts of your room represent the culture and interests of your families/students?  How might you organize furniture, materials, supplies and other resources for easy student access so that they can start to make the learning environment their own? Need some ideas?  Take a look at’s Learning Environment Videos  and ECERS-R aligned Learning Environment Quick Notes.


Want additional ideas for saying “Welcome”?  Consider any and all of these amazing resources compiled by Mildred Agallo from The Center for the Study of Educational Policy, Illinois State University (Thanks Mildred!!!)


Making Students and Families Feel Welcome

Schools can use a variety of strategies to get to know immigrant families and let them know they are welcome in the school community. Sharing these messages of support during times of uncertainty can strengthen relationships, make communication and problem-solving more effective, and impact student attendance and family engagement.


Inviting Family into the Classroom

While the primary training of a childcare professional appropriately focuses on the safety and education of young children, often too little attention is paid to the role of parents and family members—both as active participants and as part of the daily curriculum—in the early childhood classroom. After all, often the very reason that children are being cared for outside the home is because parents are at work (and therefore busy) or desire an outside social and learning experience for their children. However, it is critical to remember that parents are the “experts” on their own children and their presence, personally and through daily play and projects, should be viewed as a critical part of a child’s success. It is very important that families take a central role, and this can be encouraged by the attitude of the childcare professional and the curriculum used in the classroom.


Create a welcoming environment

Nothing beats a smile as a welcome mat. Greeting children and parents at the door with a smile and a word of welcome at the start of the day, and a similar farewell at dismissal is powerful. A few supportive words at drop-off or pick-up builds relationships that make parents more open to joint problem solving if attendance issues arise. While a welcoming first impression helps all students, it is vital for helping the most vulnerable students feel safe and supported, especially if they are in an unfamiliar school setting.


Be Part of Your Child’s Experience

Families play a critical role in preparing their children for success, and our goal is to actively engage with parents for the benefit of the child and the family. Early Connections Learning Centers build strong partnerships with you from your first visit and enrollment, through your child’s early learning experiences and facilitate a smooth transition to school. Each family receives a comprehensive orientation about our program and services from our enrollment staff and a personal introduction to the center director and classroom teacher. The center director or teacher continues the orientation process and, with you, set goals for each child. Two home visits and two parent/teacher conferences take place annually enabling teachers to learn more about each individual child, share information regarding each child’s progress and to set new goals with you for your child.


Building Partnerships with Families Series

The goal of parent and family engagement is to work with families to build strong and effective partnerships that can help children and families thrive. These partnerships are grounded in positive, ongoing, and goal-oriented relationships with families. The relationships are based on mutual respect and trust. They are also developed over time, through a series of interactions between staff and families. Successful relationships focus on families’ strengths. They build on a shared commitment to the child’s well-being and success. As relationships between staff and families grow stronger, mutually respectful partnerships are built. Strong partnerships with families contribute to positive and lasting change for families and children. Explore these resources to learn strategies to strengthen relationships with families.


Family Engagement: Moving Toward Genuine Family Partnerships in Early Childhood Education

Administrators and teachers in early childhood programs often acknowledge the importance of building relationships with children and their families; however, the act of building respectful, mutual partnerships does not happen by accident. “I’d like to share a personal story with you which captures why I–as an early childhood educator and a grandmother–value genuine family engagement . . .”


Best of new beginnings with your families and students! Welcome from to a GREAT start of the 2019-2020 School Year 🙂!

BREAKING NEWS!!! just added 30+ new videos with aligned resources and strategies that feature MANY different early childhood settings but all focus on high levels of learning impact! Use these new resources as you are…

BREAKING NEWS!!! just added 30+ new videos with
aligned resources and strategies! These new videos/resources provide MANY different early learning ideas to consider AND they all focus on high levels of learning impact! Check them out!

AND BEFORE YOU LEAVE for THE SUMMER…Take time to take stock of FIVE teaching priorities.  Reflect and connect to what happened for you and your students this year.  This Celebrating & Concentrating Professional Planning Tool is just what you need to end this year on a learning high note and be ready to start next year with a plan of action!

Have a great summer! Connect back in August where there will be even more tools for your Early Learning teaching and leading success!

The M & M Factor of Formative Assessment from

I am writing this blog around 7:00pm having just finished dinner BUT still a little bit hungry for something sweet. One of my favorite go-to sweet fixes is the little but mighty M & M. There are lots of things to love about M & M’s like 1) a handful of these sweet little chocolate darlings can be just right, 2) they come in all kinds of flavors so I can have peanut one day, pretzel the next, and even mint flavor after that, and 3) as the slogan says, “They melt in your mouth, not in your hand” (unless you are in Las Vegas during July…but I digress). As you can tell, I love candy M & Ms.  Let’s expand this love of M & Ms into thinking about formative assessments/feedback for early learning.


NAEYC shares that “assessing children, which includes observing them and closely considering their work, is key for teachers in their efforts to get to know each child and his or her abilities and needs…[teachers] assess in order to

  • Monitor children’s development and learning,
  • Guide our planning and decision making
  • Identify children who might benefit from special services or supports, and report and communicate with others (McAfee, Leong, & Bodrova 2004)

The M & M Factor can help us to get formative assessments “just right” for early learners.  The first M stands for Meaningful.  Formative assessments need to focus on important learning that can be captured through ongoing interactions and observations of our students.  The second M stands for Manageable. Assessments should be simple in design, easy to use, and adaptable to different needs of students.


Let’s look at different ways that the M & M Factor works in early learning classrooms…


In this Blended PreK classroom, Amy Haffner is using data “look for” sheets to observe how students put their small group learning concepts and language into independent or peer play during Center time.  What makes these “look for” data sheets MEANINGFUL is that they are aligned to the district/state early learning standards.  What makes them MANAGEABLE is that Amy uses just one or two learning indicators to “look-n-listen” for during any Center observation.  She keeps her notes simple, focused with clear descriptions and verbatim statements.  She also uses them to monitor learning progress over Fall, Winter and Spring!


click here to download the resource


Formative assessments is embedded into the instructional design of Martha Mancera’s Dual Language Kindergarten Classroom.  In small groups or as an individual learning extension after a whole group language/science lesson, Martha is monitoring student learning through a variety of means, including specifically formulated questions, differentiated as needed to elicit evidence of student understanding.  In the small group, running records are used to monitor and adjust instruction during the reading/thinking process.

After a whole group lesson, a writing extension gives Ms Mancera an opportunity to monitor and extend individual student learning through journal writing. Individual feedback is given on spelling words, key content, and questions that students have regarding the writing process.  These assessments have the M & M Factor because they allow the teacher to be adjusting instruction in “real learning time” based on what she is observing and documenting.

One of the easiest and most powerful ways to add Meaningful & Manageable Assessments into your teaching is through focusing on the quality of your student feedback.  Feedback is responding in personalized and purposeful ways to what children say and do that deepens their understanding or encourages them to persist in learning tasks or reach a deeper level of understanding. I often think about feedback as giving cues, clues, and questions that help students to keep thinking but DOES NOT give the “quick answer”.  Here are some early learning M & M Feedback strategies/examples that you can put into practice tomorrow!


Feedback Strategy Examples
Encouragement and Affirmation: Encouraging children and specifically praising the effort/process so they will keep trying to be success at challenging tasks. *Recognition with name and descriptive action taken

*Reinforcement of positive action or effort

*Student persistence

Feedback Loops: Using conversations with children to increase their understanding; continuing these exchanges until children reach an understanding rather than stopping with a single clarifying comment *Back-n-forth exchanges using key words with students is to reinforce receptive and expressive language

*Follow-up questions like “What did you discover?  How did you do that?  What was hard?  How did you figure that out?  What have you tried so far?

Prompting Thought Processes: Asking children to explain why they thought or did something. *What did you do first?  Next?

*Tell me what you have tried.

*Tell me about…

Scaffolding: Giving children hints or other help when they have trouble completing a task or understanding a concept. *Have you tried _____?  How did that work?

*Remember in our book what the ____ did? Could that help you too?

*Look at this picture on the chart.  Use this to figure out what to do next.

Providing Information (especially focusing on key vocabulary): Explaining things when children indicate they are confused; adding new information when children indicate they have a basic understanding *Expansion of information/visual cues

*Clarification with examples or comparison

*Specific feedback with modeling or think aloud with picture clues

*Adapted from Teachstone Training, LLC 2018


Whether it is “look-n-listen for” data sheets, running records, formative feedback or ______ (fill in the blank), there are endless ways to make formative assessment more meaningful AND manageable. What formative assessments do you use on a regular basis that might have the “M & M factor”?





Spring into New Ideas for Early Learning Engagement on

I am sure that we are ALL ready for spring…warmer weather, less snow/cold, spring flowers, more time to be outdoors!  As educators we might also be ready for a little spring “design/instructional” cleaning! Time to take out tried-n-true as well as new and different units and add a new little twist or adaption here and there to increase learning engagement for our children.  One of the best ways to spruce up our learning units and tasks is to design them through a gradual release approach.  The gradual release approach (Fisher & Frey, 2008) has four key parts…I DO (teacher models learning priorities), WE DO (teacher and students do together), YOU DO TOGETHER (students work together to extend/personalize learning and teacher supports as needed), and then finally, YOU DO ALONE (individual student learning accountability).   Let’s take a look at what each of these instructional features might look like through the early learning lens…


“I DO” usually happens in whole group, often referred to as a group meeting or circle time: During the “I do, the teacher supports class discussions, models vocabulary and key concepts, support making plans, and provides information and experiences that all the children need. In Kim Deering’s Kindergarten whole group time, the teacher has purposefully determined key questions during the read aloud on sticky notes to guide questions/discussion prompts that she uses with students to support key thinking skills.

teacher reading to students

“We DO” usually happens when the teacher is working with children in small groups: Teaching time spent with students in small groups greatly expands the opportunities for the teacher to observe and document student learning progress and to involve students in activities in a more personalized way. Teachers usually use this format for more focused experiences, perhaps introducing a new skill or concept or engaging children in working on a problem or applying a concept already introduced. In Amy Haffner’s blended PreK Classroom, six students are working with the teacher in a small group to focus on a key learning goal: Science Standard CC. Experimenting, predicting, and drawing conclusions: 11.A.ECc Plan and carry out simple investigations. In this small group lesson, the

  • Teacher is initiating new skills, experience, idea, use of material, with the scaffolding within the activity to maximize each child’s learning.
  • Teacher and assistant have a consistent group to maximize knowledge of students in order to differentiate instruction and scaffold learning.
  • Every child has their own materials, experimenting and working at their level, with the teacher differentiating the support.


“You DO together” and “You DO alone” are usually intertwined in play-rich learning centers:  At the preschool and kindergarten levels, part of the classroom is typically divided into learning centers, or interest areas that offer children a range of options for engagement.  The play that takes place in these centers such as blocks and dramatic play is vital to children’s learning and development. For each center, the teacher carefully selects materials and activities to support educational goals. The teacher also makes a point of observing what children are doing in each center, in order to guide later planning. In Zahidee Marcano’s dual language Kindergarten classroom, you will see learning centers “in action” where students apply their knowledge and productively work with other students to build fluency and flexibility in key learning concepts. The teacher uses this time to work individually to support students while the other students get to customize their learning through a variety of modalities with their peers.

kids looking at worksheets

SPECIAL BONUS RESOURCE on the IMPORTANCE of PLAY:  A key non-negotiable of well developed, engaging “We DO TOGETHER” learning centers is the essence of play.  In play, children make choices, solve problems, converse, and negotiate. Edutopia recently published a very insightful article, “Key Aspects of Play in Early Education”. The article provides some important considerations for teachers on integrating play into early childhood learning environments AND could be a great resource to share with administrators, colleagues, and our families ☺!!!  


So “spring into some new ideas” for engaging our children through the gradual release of teaching for deep, playful, wonderful early childhood learning ☺!


Use Less Time with 4 New Resources on

As busy educators ourselves we know how precious time is SO we have put together a  “Resources” section in to give you MORE TIME to use these great early learning resources and use LESS TIME trying to locate them.  Let’s take a look…


RESOURCE # 1 is for the busy evaluator: Consider using the ideas and strategies in Building an Effective Teacher Evaluation Process to focus on the non-negotiables of

1) Unannounced observations;

2) Announced observations; and

3) Collaborative Planning and Reflection Conversations.  

Take a peek and INCREASE YOUR IMPACT with these tips about Early Learning Evaluation…

RESOURCE #2 is for when you say “I’ve got to know about _____ (fill in the blank) really fast!”:  If you have an early learning topic that you REALLY want to have ideas, videos, and resources for IMMEDIATELY, then Finding the Right Path for You on PK-3 Teach Lead Grow is just right for you.  Scenarios for novice teachers, veteran teachers, and principals are organized around the following topics:

1) Planning Conversations

2) Classroom Environment

3) Classroom Culture

4) Classroom Management

5) Classroom Instruction

6) Classroom Assessment

7) Reflection Conversations

8) Professionalism Conversations

WOW…lots of possibilities ALL organized in one place.  Have fun focusing in on that JUST RIGHT ______ (fill in the blank) early learning topic ☺!

RESOURCE #3 is REALLY for the start of the school year BUT it is never TOO EARLY to start planning:  Let’s say that you really want  to be a “GO TO” professional learning resource for your WHOLE STAFF.  The School Rollout Kit takes you and your leadership team through the steps to do just that!  Here’s a preview…

Step 1: Assemble Your Team to Debut

Step 2: Answer Frequently Asked Questions

Step 3: Explain How the Danielson Framework Informs

Step 4: Tell Staff How to Navigate the Website

Step 5: Encourage Regular Use of the Platform

Just 5 steps so gather up your leadership team and start planning today ( or in the next few weeks) for how to introduce the to your staff for learning success!

RESOURCE #4 is BEST PLACE to START for REALLY BUSY EDUCATORS:  So you have visited  BUT you got a little overwhelmed by all the resources.  The Look and Listen Guide it a great place to start with JUST ONE VIDEO ☺!  This resource has you focus on one video that has piqued your interest AND then provides you guiding questions to reflect and connect this video to your instructional priorities.  Do it by yourself with a beverage of choice at the beginning or end of a busy teaching day OR use with your teaching team to capture many ideas and possibilities! Remember, just start with one and see where it leads you and your colleagues from there!!!

National Association of Elementary School Principal’s (NAESP) 2018 PreK-8 Principal’s Conference

Lisa Hood, of Illinois State University’s Center for the Study of Education Policy, and Pam Rosa, of Rosa Educational Consulting and the Danielson Group, will present at the National Association of Elementary School Principal’s (NAESP) 2018 PreK-8 Principal’s Conference in Orlando, Florida being held July 9-11, 2018. For more information about the conference please see: We will provide more updates about this session as the event gets closer.

Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (INCCRRA) Annual Higher Education Forum

On April 19th-20th, 2018, at the DoubleTree Inn in Bloomington, Illinois, the Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (INCCRRA) is holding its annual Higher Education Forum. Lisa Hood will be presenting to college and university faculty and staff about how the videos and resources available through this project can be used to advance the learning of our future pipeline of early childhood teachers.