Category: welcome

Choosing Pancakes Every Time: What’s Important for Families (and Early Learning Educators) to Focus on During COVID19

In Heidi Stevens’ article in the Chicago Tribune (April 16, 2020), Keeping it real about your kids’ virtual learning, Heidi talked with Phyllis Fagel, a mom of three e-learning kids, who is also a school counselor and author.  Heidi asks Phyllis if she had some suggestions for teachers and parents during this “new normal” in learning.  She did!  She reassured us that “teachers know your kids won’t retain much” and “remember [parents] are not home schooling”! But the one recommendation that I liked the most and focused on is this: Know that [kids] are learning when they’re offline too! 

Phyllis emphasized that we need to know that talking and doing things with our children is LEARNING…really powerful and important learning!  Remember that baking is math. Card games are critical thinking. Reading books require interaction, listening and hopefully discussions. Something else that children are learning during offline time is “…how to manage stress, learning how to create new routines, learning flexibility, learning how to socialize in different ways,” said Fagel.  She went on to share that, “There’s research showing kids and young adults who have to endure forced periods of uncertainty tend to have more gratitude, flexibility, and satisfaction later in life!”

And then Phyllis Fagel went on to say something really important (I think) for us all to remember, “The key is that the kids who manage that adversity better than others are the ones who have consistent unwavering support at home. SO…if families have a choice between making pancakes with [their] kid and bagging an assignment, or having a screaming fight with [their children] because they won’t sit down and pay attention to what’s happening on the screen, [Phyllis] would say CHOOSE THE PANCAKES EVERYTIME!”

So…in celebration of family-focused, NON-technology early learning, here are an assortment of ways that Early Learning Educators can give our families permission to turn off the screens and turn on the family learning fun!

BUILDING WITH STUFF…Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children: The theory of Loose Parts supports an awareness of free and accessible materials that families may already have in their home.

READING FOR COMFORT and SUPPORT…Something Strange Happened in My City: A COVID19 Social Story for Young Children:  An Animated Version with Story Activities (translated into 12 languages too!!!); Here is animated story and a reference list.

COOKING TOGETHER…While the Week of the Young Child was April 13-17th, let’s reconnect to that week’s Tasty Tuesday: Healthy Tips and Recipes to Do with Little Ones in celebration of the Week of the Young Child (and “safe sheltering” during COVID19).

OUTDOOR ART… Encourage families to get outside and try out some process art (vs product art).  Please consider sharing this video with children and their families about how to do some process art as a special way to celebrate the days of May or even create a Mother’s Day gift.  This video (developed at Valeska Hinton Early Learning Center, Peoria Public Schools) also weaves in the value of using intentional language to help children talk and think about what they have created.  Take a look…here!

FAMILY FRIDAY FUN… Ilaeyc put together a Family Friday Activity Choice Board that is just wonderful.  It provides different family learning choices in food, gardening, focus on living things, photography, crafts and SO MUCH MORE!  On this ONE board (with linked activities) are 50 activities that could take a family into the summer with wonderful ways to BE together!

“LEARNING AT HOME and ON THE GO” ACTIVITY CARDS…The Early Childhood Professional Learning Center and a team of early learning educators developed Family Learning QUICK CARDS that are short, 5-15 minute activities to be printed off with NO extra materials to buy or collect.  There are activity cards for Social Emotional Learning, Science, Physical Development and Health, Mathematics, and Language Arts!  These would be great to use ANY TIME for fun, family-focused learning extensions.

LAST THOUGHT…A parent on twitter wrote, “My son’s kindergarten teacher is doing an optional bedtime story. She’s saying hi to each child as they log in and how she misses them.” The parent went on to say, “This MORE THAN anything is what makes my child’s teacher great.  She knows that it is ALL ABOUT helping children and their families feel safe and connecting with them.”

In all the stress of this pandemic don’t forget what’s most important for us as early learning educators…making meaningful connections and memories of joy with our children and families during COVID19!

So remember, when given a choice between encouraging families to make pancakes (or ANY of these non-technology activities) versus get an online activity done, PANCAKES SHOULD ALWAYS WIN!

New Normal for Now with Early Learning

How different our world feels as we experience this COVID19 pandemic with our youngest of learners. One thing that I am learning as I figure out my “new normal for now” is that “less is BEST”!  So this month’s blog is going to be short AND hopefully super supportive for what we need right now.  Take a look…

HOW TO TALK ABOUT COVID-19: One of the most important things a teacher, leader, or an adult family member of a young child can do is to find the right words to talk about COVID-19.  One of the BEST resources I have found is from Zero to Thrive with their special front/back guide sheet focused on Helping Young Kids Through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) CrisisThis might be one to keep out as a quick reference or an important resource to email to our families.

CONSIDERING REMOTE LEARNING RESOURCES for YOUNG LEARNERS: It is NOT for lack of virtual resources that we sometimes get overwhelmed when figuring out what to virtually do with our early learners.  It is often because there are JUST TOO MANY resources out there to consider.  I really appreciate the “homemade” lists where early learning educators pull together their favorites and make a well-organized resource list that we can use to find our “just right”.  Here are two of my favorites from early learning educators:

  • The Play Field curated by Kerrie Fanning is a simple list of resources (listed alphabetically) that include ideas from Conscious Discipline, NAEYC, Sesame Street and Scholastic (plus a few others)
  • Illinois Resource Center’s Remote Learning Support has put together a one-stop resource that is updated on a regular basis that includes lists, tools, and resources…wowzer…there is a lot to explore!

MAYBE IT IS JUST TIME TO SETTLE IN WITH CHILDREN TO READ:  Sometimes we forget to just read, listen, and discuss books again and again and again.  Luckily there are so many amazing sites for doing just that!  Here are a couple of my favorites:

Early Learning English Learners

Photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash

Effective teaching for early learning Els…In a survey about what is most challenging in education, teachers expressed more apprehension about teaching English Learners (ELs) than they did for teaching any other type of student, including those with special needs (EPE, 2013).  This survey points out struggles in planning and instructing our fastest growing student population. Almost all Early Learning Classrooms have students who are ALSO English Learners AND the easiest way to improve our instructional approach is by making more time to have CHATS!

CHATS is an acronym for a powerful research-based framework for supporting ELs that was developed by Persida and William Himmele (2009)!  Each of the letters of this instructional framework directly aligns to the Framework for Teaching AND best practice EL instruction that can be seen “in action” on  Read on, consider how you might integrate one or more parts of CHATS into your current lessons, and look-n-listen as your ELs’ language acquisition becomes the talk of the school!

C=Comprehension: Embedding tools or structures that facilitate student understanding.  The Framework for Teaching focuses on comprehension in BOTH Domain 1: Planning components’1a – Knowledge of Content and Pedagogy and 1e-Designing Coherent Instruction. It is then implemented in Domain 3: Instruction through 3a-Communicating with Students.  We know that we learn language by hearing, seeing and experiencing it in contexts that we understand. Educators should focus on comprehension to help ELs make sense of both the content and key vocabulary.  Key CHATS questions include “How might I help ELs make sense of what they hear, see and experience?” and “How might I help ELs grow academic language and be successful in purposeful tasks that require academic language?” Take a look at Sophia Dubreuil’s PreK class in the large group read aloud (@ 3:42-7:33 – Part 3). Sophia uses open-ended questions, has students clarify key vocabulary, and supports students to strategically explain their thinking and connections to increase comprehension, vocabulary and transfer of key concepts.

H=Higher-Order Thinking: Embedding opportunities and prompts that lead to deep and meaningful learning. The Domain 1: Planning Components include 1c-Setting Instructional Outcomes and 1e-Designing Coherent Instruction. These components align to 3b-Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques “in action”. Evidence suggests a common problem—Els receive fewer opportunities for higher-order thinking than their English-only peers (Himmele & Himmele, 2009, 2016). To address this problem, the teacher needs to consider in CHATS, “What are the big ideas in this lesson?” and “What questions might support higher-order thinking to guide my lesson?”  In Kim Deering’s Kindergarten Whole Group Instruction (@ 0:00-3:8-Part 1), watch as she uses purposefully determined key questions during the read-aloud that students process with thinking partners in turn-n-learn discussions.

A=Assessment: Embedding constant and consistent checks for understanding.

In the Framework for Teaching, Domain 1: 1f-Designing Student Assessments component directly aligns with Domain 3: 3d-Using Assessment in Instruction.  This part of CHATS can be an especially powerful yet challenging area for teachers and students.  Key questions that should drive our thinking for assessment include, “How will I check for understanding?” and “Which of my students need additional verbal or non-verbal scaffolds?” Join PreK teacher Amy Haffner as she shares her approach to assessment (@ 0:00-2:19) through data portfolio “look for” sheets, observation, and picture taking for ongoing, authentic checks on student learning.

T=Total Participation Techniques (TPTs): Embedding techniques that require evidence of cognitive engagement from all students at the same time.

The Framework for Teaching recommends TPT in Domain 1: 1e-Designing Coherent Instruction through activities that are embedded into Domain 3: 3c-Engaging Students in Learning. By planning activities that provide academic interaction with classroom peers woven into ALL aspects of the learning process, students are given MANY ways to link key content and vocabulary into purposeful play and learning. A guiding CHATS question could include “How will I design activities that will allow for deeper understanding of concepts, interactions, and peer modeling of language and higher-order learning?”  Listen-n-look at how Zahidee’ Marcano Kindergarteners are empowered to customize their learning (@ 11:55-17:22 Part 2) through a variety of student-to-student approaches to promote interactions and deep learning.


S=Scaffolding: Embedding nonverbal supports that can help ELLs successful.

The Framework for Teaching really calls out the importance of organizing for non-verbal scaffolds in Domain 1: 1d-Designing with Appropriate Resources which can include pictures and imagery as well as charts and key words posted throughout the learning environment.  These visual resources are used in Domain 2’s 2c-Managing Classroom Procedures and 2e-Physical Space.  CHATS’ Questions that can guide our thinking are “How can I build a bridge between what I want my students to be able to do and the way that I organize the learning environment?” and “What nonverbal scaffolds can support Els success in the classroom?” Take two learning walks that highlight how powerful nonverbal environmental supports can be in Kelly Crenshaw’s PreK-SPED Classroom AND Valeska Bass’s First Grade Classroom.  Each teacher introduces you to the “why, what, and how” of organizing the learning environment for empowering all students, including ELs!

How might you make MORE TIME for CHATS in your classroom to empower early learning ELs? Want BONUS RESOURCES for Early Learning Els? Check out Colorín Colorado,  an online resource that is specifically focused on how to help EL students succeed in school.


EPE. (2013). Findings from a national survey of teacher perspectives on the Common Core. Bethesda, MD: Educational Projects in Education Research Center.

Himmele, P., & Himmele, W. (2009). The language-rich classroom: A research-based framework for teaching English language learners. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Himmele, P., & Himmele, W. (2026). Four things that every teacher should know about English language learners. Akron, PA: Reading Matters.

The Heart of Our Profession in Early Learning

Sorry that our February Blog is a week late but the cold/flu season hit hard at my house and I was one of the victims.  While there is NOT much good or fun that happens laying around in bed, waiting for medicine, sleep, and lots of hot tea to provide healing power, I did find that I had some time to catch up on a few of my professional journals.  One of my favorites is The Learning Forward Journal: The Learning Professional and the December 2019 edition was especially great because it was ALL about coaching!


Instructional Coaching is at the HEART of how we know-n-grow individual and collective teaching practice and professionalism. Charlotte Danielson’s defines The Framework for Teaching Cluster 6: Professionalism as having three key FOCUS AREAS:

1) Continuous Professional Learning and improvement that is valued and consistently demonstrated through an inquiry-based, growth-focused, and results-oriented approach to professional engagement;

2) Collaboration with colleagues that occurs frequently, involves active engagement, and is characterized by commitment and trust; and

3) Honesty and Integrity that is consistently in the educator’s work and interactions with colleagues, families, community members, and students.


Instructional Coaching at it’s very best embodies all three of the focus areas of The Framework for Teaching’s Cluster 6: Professionalism. As I was skimming the journal, I was so excited to see that there was specific article, Bright and Early: Coaching Increase the Quality of Early Childhood Programs, all about the benefits of having a comprehensive coaching model in early learning classrooms!  I encourage your read the whole article yourself but a few highlights regarding the key areas of professionalism include:

Early Learning Coaching Collaboration: Child360 coaching supports focus first and foremost on a relationship-based approach that emphasizes teaching strengths by asking questions such as, “What changes would be helpful in a given situation?”

Early Learning Coaching for Continuous Professional Learning: Coaches reported observing that teachers improved instructional and behavioral strategies that were collaboratively work on such as “increasing their ‘why’ questions, the teachers engaged the children further by having them analyze and reason their comments and ideas more deeply” and “I was able to work with _____ [teacher’s name] on supporting students with aggressive behaviors with strategies…that included helping the teacher practice mindfulness to remain calm.”

Early Learning Coaching with Honesty and Integrity:  The Child360 requires coaches to have six core competencies that are aligned with foundational theories and core values: resourcefulness, professionalism, building relationships, facilitation of learning, clear communication, and reflective practice.


Carl Jung said, “If there is anything that we wish to change in a child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.”

Coaching and Collaborative Learning goes to the HEART of our PROFESSIONALISM as Early Learning Educators! It supports the reflective practice and dialogue that we ALL need to be able to better examine our impact on our young learners.

Photo by Michael Fenton on Unsplash

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone!

What are Your 2020 Teaching Resolutions for Early Learning Impact?

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash


Action Plan adapted from Cult of Pedagogy’s The Gut-Level Teacher Reflection Tool


Use the planning tool below to begin 2020 by celebrating “What’s Working for Early Learning” in your classroom as well as concentrating on your next steps in your professional practice. Consider these five early learning ESSENTIAL teaching areas, using the templates that are provided in the planning tool, to determine what in you practice gives off positive feelings (+), presents growth opportunities (Δ), or might even be an area of challenge for you and your kiddos right now (). 


(PLEASE NOTE: This planning tool was used in the May 2019 Blog. It is a great professional planning tool to self-assess/reflect on your current teaching impact OR reconnect to goals that you might have made during the summer or at the beginning of the school year.)


Now that you have taken stock of your teaching/learning approach, determine some priorities and action steps for the upcoming months! For each of the key five areas documented here, identify one or two priorities with aligned next steps.  They may be positives into which you want to put more energy, negatives you want to correct, or ambiguities that need more investigation. Then, jot down a concrete plan to address each priority in the action planning template below. Think big, develop specific steps and have fun imagining what these priorities can “look and sound like” for you and your students in 2020 ☺!

So…what are your BIG 2020 RESOLUTIONS for your students AND yourself?!!!


Alternative to 2020 Teaching Resolution Action Planning…                                

If the above approach is just a little too much, consider choosing JUST ONE of the Pk-3 teaching areas listed above and go to Download the template, Finding the Right Path for You on Pk-3 Teach Lead Grow. Develop a do-able approach to making your 2020 Teaching sparkle with lots of student learning!

Photo by Wout Vanacker on Unsplash


Unwrapping the Gifts of Culturally Responsive Teaching in the Early Learning Classroom

December is often seen has a time of “Ho! Ho! Ho! Happiness” in early learning that includes stories, activities, treats and even gift-giving.  One of the BIGGEST and ENDURING gifts that early learning educators can give their learners (and families) is to commit to culturally responsive teaching as a daily practice! Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain defines culturally responsive teaching as, “An educator’s ability to recognize students’ cultural display of learning and meaning making and respond positively and constructively with teaching moves that use cultural knowledge as a scaffold to connect what the student knows to new concepts and content in order to promote effective information processing. All the while, the educator understands the importance of being in relationship and having a social-emotional connection to the student in order to create a safe space for learning.” (p. 15)


Let’s look at how The Framework for Teaching focuses on this critical aspect of teaching through the use of Common Themes. The Framework’s Common Themes and their implications are essential to supporting each child’s early learning success!



Equity is the primary Common Theme and is supported by the others. Teachers strive for excellence, but “a commitment to excellence is not complete without a commitment to equity.” Each student deserves access to world-class teaching and to learning environments that promote joyful inquiry, intellectual rigor, and reflection.


Culturally competent teachers create culturally responsive and inclusive learning environments that move beyond surface level attention to cultural differences and foster a sense of belonging by embracing and giving power to diverse points of view.


Excellent teachers hold and communicate high expectations and ensure access to rigorous content for all students. Teachers also demonstrate high expectations by encouraging productive struggle and tenacity.


Learners do the learning, and excellent teachers understand the cognitive and social-emotional development of students in ways that support their creation of appropriate learning environments and opportunities.


Classrooms are comprised of individuals with unique characteristics and needs. For this reason, excellent teachers ensure that goals and tasks have the potential to challenge students at different levels and with different needs.


Excellent teachers create the conditions for students to assume responsibility for their own learning. Student agency may be fostered through a variety of different school models and instructional approaches but is essential to successful teaching and learning.


Now, let’s consider “unwrapping” gifts for culturally responsive teaching in early learning through some resources aligned to the Common Themes of The Framework for Teaching:

First Gift: Videos and Resources for Culturally Responsive Teaching

  • Theme of Equity can be seen through the classroom’s environment and learning activities that are all student-developed and facilitated through a literacy-rich, thematic-based approach
  • Theme of Cultural Competence is supported through morning meetings that foster a shared belief in the importance of learning, social acceptance and positive interactions
  • Theme of High Expectations encourage students’ Plan-Do-Review learning plans that can be personalized, often starting orally and then moving to include drawing and writing
  • Theme of Developmental Appropriateness can be seen in these teaching vignettes that focus on accountable talk and high expectations for “just right” learning challenges
  • Theme of Attention to Individual Students is fostered through a learning structure that 1) supports student ownership of classroom routines, 2) individual student choice, 3) independent and student-to-student ownership of learning, and 4) large group adaptations through alternative seating, student-interest aligned activities, and adapted language supports
  • Theme of Student Assumption of Responsibility is modeled through teacher-student interactions regarding high quality work and the teacher’s perseverance in supporting students to productively struggle in important learning


Second Gift: NAEYC’s Culturally Responsive Practices that Support Young Learners

This article provides five culturally responsive core strategies to promote positive teacher relationships with young children in preschool and minimize challenging behavior: learn about children and families, develop and teach expectations, take the child’s perspective, teach and model empathy, and use group times to discuss conflict.


Third Gift: Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain Website

This is Zaretta Hammond’s website where we can get answers to our collective and individual questions about how we can help students become confident and competent learners. In this space, Zaretta wants to highlight what she is learning from being out in schools and classrooms with teachers who are successful with diverse students. She provides everyday strategies and practices that can easily be put into different classrooms to be more culturally responsive.


Fourth Gift: The Open Book Bag…A Blog on Race, Diversity, Education and Children’s Books

In the first post of the series on Culturally Responsive Teaching, educator Lindsay Barrett shares ideas for read alouds that build relationships in Early Learning that honor and respect students’ experiences as well as introduce children to diverse authors and illustrators. Examples of some of these read alouds include  Quinito Day and Night and Quinito’s Neighborhood which portray a large Spanish-speaking family living in an urban setting. Moony Luna tells how parents comfort a young Latino girl who is nervous about starting school. My Steps recounts an African American girl’s experiences on her front stoop in different seasons.




Fifth Gift: Equity and Early Childhood Education: Reclaiming the Child

(A Research Policy Brief produced by the National Council of Teachers of English)

This policy brief is definitely worth our time and attention.  It focuses on “creating a space and open dialogue around the issues related to fairness, opportunity and every child’s right to participate in equitable early childhood practices”. This document is hyperlinked to other research briefs that expand upon the following subsections: High Quality Culturally Responsive Early Childhood Teachers, Strength-Based Views of Children and Their Languages, Racial Equity and Anti-Racist Teaching in Early Childhood Education, Children’s Right to the Language, Access to Diverse Books, Playful Explorations, and A Shift from Readiness to Learning.


Last GiftPaulo Freire wrote in his seminal book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

What a GIFT of transformation we could give our youngest learners through Culturally Responsive Teaching…!

Happy Holidays and Connect soon in 2020!!!

Self Care Isn’t Selfish

Wow!  What was that?!!!  August to November…start of school with so many new and challenging_____ (fill in the blank)! Teaching the “wee ones” can leave many early learning educators with very little energy in the teaching tank.  With teaching being a profession that loses 50 percent of its workforce in the first five years of their careers, it would be an understatement to say teaching is challenging. It traps us in small rooms with an unpredictable assortment of personalities, energies, and needs. It forces us to make hundreds of small, exhausting decisions every day. And over and over again, it puts us in predicaments that test our confidence, wear out our patience, and break our hearts. You can learn all the techniques, plan outstanding lessons, and set up a water-tight classroom management system, but to do this work and stick with it long enough to get good at it, you need a level of emotional resilience most other jobs will never require. This month we are going to take a DEEP BREATHE (my personal favorite is 1 minute Triangle Breathing) and focus on self-care.


Below are ideas and resources focused on helping us to not only survive BUT thrive in our amazing profession.  Find a comfortable place to settle in, a favorite beverage of choice, skim through these possibilities of self-care and find a “just right” for you!


Pair a Self-Care New Habit with a Regular Routine: In this Cult of Pedagogy interview (with resources): Why is it so hard for teachers to take care of themselves, teacher/author/blogger Jennifer Gonzalez interviews Angela Watson. Angela has spent the last few years really focusing in on how teachers use their time and searches for finding solutions to help them find work/life balance. About a year and a half ago she started the 40-Hour Teacher Workweek Club, a year-long program that provides resources, support, and community to teachers who are committed to getting out of survival mode and living a balanced life. Over 10,000 teachers have already joined the club and are seeing incredible results in their own lives.


One of the simple, yet powerful strategies that she suggests to all educators is to pair a new self-care habit with a regular routine, so that the self-care habit becomes automatic. This is a really powerful principle that is based heavily on neuroscience, where you can pair a new habit with an existing habit to make it easier to lock that new habit into place. The idea is that you should look for something that you already do automatically and integrate self-care into that.


Watson give these examples: “When you get in the car in the morning to drive to school, you put on your favorite song that uplifts and inspires you. Or, when you brush your teeth, that’s something that hardly anyone has to think about, right? You just do that automatically. When you brush your teeth, you will think of words of affirmation and repeat positive thoughts about your day. Whatever it is, do the same thing, time after time, and it will create this almost Pavlovian kind of response. Pairing up habits in this kind of way is really powerful, because you’re relying on the strength of an existing habit to make that new habit automatic, and it’s a lot easier than relying on willpower or trying to make a decision, should I do, or should I not do it? When am I going to take care of myself, when will I have time for this today? You’ll follow through a lot more easily with your self-care goals if it’s part of a habit.”


November is the month to “Be Here Now”:  Elena Aguilar, educator/instructional coach/author has developed a month-by-month “resiliency resource” call Onward. is the companion website to Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators by Elena Aguilar, published by Wiley. Both the book and this site (which has MANY free and useful resources) are dedicated to helping people cultivate resilience:

  • uncover their true selves
  • better understand their emotions
  • use their energy where it counts
  • adopt a mindful, story-telling approach to communication and community building
  • create an environment of collective celebration.


As Elena Aguilar shares “It’s really hard to build community or to cultivate compassion or be a learner—some of the other habits—when you’re just sick, when you’re worn out!”


Want to Build a Self-Care Backpack: Teaching Channel, in their teaching back-to-school kits, has included self-care as one of the top things that we MUST put in our teaching backpacks. There are MANY great ideas of how to go deeper or reboot your own self-care. My favorite as an early learning educator resolves around being “playful” as an adult… Plan for fun: How will you bring joy to your classroom and beyond every day?”

And finally…

Yoga for Teachers with Adriene: If you have never done yoga or have not discovered Adriene as a yoga teacher (free on YouTube), this 30 min yoga practice is a special sequence for teachers. This practice is about taking care of yourself, recharging your batteries, nourishing that special you. Who knows, yoga may be that “just right” self-care habit that you have been looking for!  Be well, wise, and wonderful this month my fellow friends in early learning 🙂 !!!

Parent-Teacher Conferences are just around the corner! Although the ability of families to participate in their child’s learning at school varies widely, it is a KEY RESPONSIBILITY in early learning for educators to provide opportunities for families to understand both the instructional program and their child’s progress.

Teaching staff establish and strengthen relationships with families by 1) communicating with them about the instructional program, 2) conferring with them about individual student learning progress, and 3) inviting them to be a part of the educational process itself.

Before we consider “what works” in supporting family communication during in these early years, let’s take a look at how The Framework for Teaching focuses on this critical aspect of teaching in 4c: Communicating with Families.


The elements of 4c: Communicating with Families are:

  • Information about the instructional program. The teacher frequently provides information to families about the instructional program
  • Information about individual students. The teacher frequently provides information to families about students’ individual progress.
  • Engagement of families in the instructional program. The teacher frequently and successfully offers engagement opportunities to families so that they can participate in the learning activities.


The Indicators of 4c: Communicating with Families include:

  • Frequent and culturally appropriate information sent home regarding the instructional program and student progress
  • Two-way communication between the teacher and families
  • Frequent opportunities for families to engage in the learning process


Want to add some different tools for enhancing your 4c: Communicating with Families to your Teaching Toolkit?  Here are a variety of approaches and resources to consider:

Example 1: Early Learning DEEP Family Involvement

In this family-teacher conversation, (which is a follow-up to a recent parent conference),  one of Sophia and June’s families share the changes that they have seen in their child since coming to the center at age two, when he was not talking, to now at age four being on target to go into a regular Kindergarten classroom without additional learning supports.  Special family learning supports that are emphasized in the conversation include:


PLUS take a look at how Sophia keeps track of family feedback week-by-week:


Example 2: Technology Enhanced Student-Family Communication

In Valeksa’s Parent Connection, one of Valeska’s students share how she and the other students in the class communicate learning progress using a technology tool called See Saw (an IPAD-based, video student learning portfolio platform). Take a look at how this first grader captures, narrates and sends her learning progress to her family in “real learning time” in order to provide opportunities for her family to engage in her learning progress.


Example 3: Preparing for Family Conferences in the Early Learning Grades

This tip sheet, developed by the Global Family Research Project, Harvard University, outlines what principals, teachers, and parents can do to better prepare for and make the most of parent-teacher conferences. These meetings, usually held in the fall, are just one part of successful family engagement programs, which also include working with parents as partners in understanding data related to their children’s progress—both in and out of school. Take a look and see how you might use this resource to form stronger connections with the families in your school.


Example 4: Early Elementary Family-Teacher Shared AND Student-Led Conferences

In this family-teacher conference, Kaia, the student, and Mr Frankel, the teacher, co-conference about learning goals that she has mastered and how she is setting new goals in math and reading.  Mr Frankel prompts Kaia to share her thinking with her parents not only about “what” new goals she is setting but also “why” these goals are just right to continue to support her learning growth.  The Student Learning Goal documentation that was used in the parent conference includes 1) Kaia’s Personalized Learning Plan (p1); 2) Student Goal Setting Worksheet (p. 2); and 3) NWEA Map Student Progress Report (p3)


If your school/district requires student-led conferences OR you just want to organize your Parent conferences in this manner, here are really helpful resources:


Last thought…4c is ALL about communicating to engage families in the student learning process.  What is your approach? . How will you define family communication this year?  

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 🙂!

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