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The Angle, September 2018 – Coaching: Supporting Early Learning, One Child at a Time

Pictured above: Program Coach Manny Ramos (left) coaches and supervises a teacher as she interacts with children from Little Stars Preschool in Los Angeles, CA.

What is the magic ingredient to providing a high quality early learning experience for our children?

Just as no two early learning programs are alike, no two children in any classroom have precisely the same needs. Research shows that through a tailored approach, where we support administrators and educators according to their specific goals, we’re able to uniquely support each child according to his or her needs, from the very start.

A strong coaching model offers a collaborative approach to early learning programs, designed to help them reach higher standards of excellence. By building a strong relationship with individual learning sites, coaches share a wealth of comprehensive services and resources, and lead providers in their pursuit to elevate the quality of their programs. With each child’s uniqueness as the nucleus, coaches help educators develop customized goals and action plans, and are with them every step of the way to provide children with the very best foundation for educational success.

Over the past year, Lynwood Unified School District has experienced substantial improvement in behavior management under the guidance of their Program Coach, Angelica Villa. After sitting down with Villa at the beginning of the year, and examining what the program wanted to improve upon, behavior challenges arose as a target area of growth for Lynwood Unified, with goals that included “classroom organization, and maximizing children’s learning during transition times.”

Whether you’re an educator, parent, or accustomed to being around little bodies, we can all relate at times to the disheveled tendencies of our environment and the difficulty that can arise when children are asked to transition from an activity they are immersed in.

Under Villa’s guidance, and her calling upon her expertise to the CLASS tool, teachers implemented a visual schedule with pictures—outlining classroom rules and helping every child anticipate what was happening next.

Immediately there was a noticeable difference in the children’s behavior.

“This approach alleviated the children’s anxiety and their tendency to act out during times of transition,” shared Villa.

The strategy not only improved Lynwood’s CLASS scores in behavior management, but Villa is especially proud that “[all of] Lynwood district has a higher tier rating, either 4 or 5.” In addition, in the years since implementing universal preschool and working to improve their program, the district has seen a dramatic increase in their high school graduation rates.

“When an environment is rich with materials that supports children’s creativity, cognitive growth, and social skills it prepares them to succeed. The environment plays a dual role in education,” said Villa.

A few zip codes north, a similar tune rings for Para Los Niño’s Caruso Early Education Center, an agency that resides in Skid Row.

Last year, in the art area of the early learning center, the teacher noticed a pattern in which her children were resistant to engaging in this mode of learning. Each time she approached the art lesson, she would demonstrate the activity, provide a visual example, and encourage the children to begin their masterpieces. Yet consistently, the children did not want to engage.

After meeting with her Program Coach, Rocio Lagunas, they sat down and reviewed the art section in the CLASS and ECERS handbooks, and crafted a solution. In these handbooks, there was an emphasis on the importance of “free art” and how this can practically translate to the classroom. Next time around, the teacher at Caruso Early Education Center approached the lesson with this philosophy in mind, evoking more flexibility and providing an emphasis on individuality.

“She explained to the children that there are different artists – like Picasso and Jackson Pollock – and we can all draw differently, and things will look different, because we are different and have different ideas,” said Lagunas.

There was an observable shift in the children and their interest in the art area.

Caruso’s teacher and Lagunas observed that when the project was “teacher” led, children were afraid to approach the project out of fear they would mess it up. “When children felt regard for their autonomy and personal expression, there was a drastic difference in the level of engagement,” shared Lagunas.

“It’s important to us to create an enriching space for our children, whether it’s helping infants preparing to transition to the toddler program, or guiding improvements in the art program.”

Encouraging providers to focus on determining every child’s individual needs and challenges is a strategy that often pays dividends outside the classroom. At Para Los Niño’s, this sensitivity has also led to the establishment of a late pick-up time, so working parents wouldn’t have to sacrifice their job to retrieve their children each day. When the agency noticed families eating together in odd places at the site after pick-up, and learned parents were making sure their children would have a meal before the family’s long bus ride home, the agency established a cafeteria space onsite. They have also created a space for families while they wait for the bus—curated with books, and decorated with an inviting carpet and couch to enjoy—so families don’t have to wait in the streets of downtown.

“In our partnership with Para Los Niño’s, we have created a safe and positive space for all. The teachers are open to the coaching and are always eager to learn new strategies that will help them bring quality programs to their classroom.”

Return to The Angle, September 2018