3 STEPS TO HELP YOU STRENGTHEN THE FOUNDATION OF YOUR EARLY LEARNING PROGRAM
Editor’s Note: There’s a lot of movement and change happening in Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS). If you’re like many program administrators, this rapidly changing tide may seem overwhelming, leaving you wondering what you can do to get your feet wet. During the next few weeks, the McCormick Center will publish blogs that offer suggestions and resources for navigating the currents of QRIS.
You’ve gotten the emails, read the flyers, heard the whispers…QRIS is in your state. But how do you know if your program is ready to jump in and how do you ensure you’re doing more than going through the motions? My personal journey with Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) has led me to believe the programs providing early care and education need to have a strong foundation in place in order to have a meaningful experience with a QRIS initiative.
In a recent report titled, A Blueprint for Early Care and Education Quality Improvement Initiatives, the authors offer a framework for how states can support quality improvement practices. The framework suggests foundational elements including clear goals and a specific model must be in place. In other words, what is a state QRIS trying to achieve and how will they do it? I propose that this same concept of a framework is true for programs that participate in a QRIS. If your program is engaged in a QRIS, you begin by determining a clear goal and committing to it. It’s critical that all staff are sincerely invested in embarking on a process to strengthen and enhance the quality of your program.
As part of a QRIS readiness assessment process, program leaders and teachers should ask themselves:
- What do we hope to achieve through this experience and how will we do it?
- Are we ready to take on an in-depth approach to better understand program and classroom strengths and learn how to build on them?
- Is our organizational climate one that fosters an openness to look at and consider making changes to strengthen quality?
- What is our level of commitment to improving program and teaching practices?
In thinking about a program’s foundation, the concept of organizational climate comes to my mind. What is the work life like within the program? In our book, A Great Place to Work: Creating a Healthy Organizational Climate, Paula Jorde Bloom, Jill Bella, and I use the metaphor of weather to think about this question. Would you describe your program as sunny, partly cloudy, or stormy? This is important when determining whether your program is poised to take on the work of strengthening program and classroom quality.
In A Great Place to Work we characterize healthy organizational climates as having a sense of belonging, warm caring interactions, a collective sense of purpose, and upward influence. One of my favorite insights about preparing to engage in QRIS comes from a colleague. She works as a quality specialist offering consultation to programs engaging in ExceleRate™ Illinois, our state’s QRIS initiative. Her observation is that if the program leader and teaching staff do not have a high level of trust and shared values, there is little chance for lasting, meaningful quality improvements.
I believe QRIS initiatives are an opportunity for all of us in the field to move the quality of care and education for young children from good to great. QRIS is an important vehicle for us to show our capacity to improve quality practices. To do this successfully we want to assure a strong foundation is in place within the programs serving children and families. Here are three steps that in our experience help support this type of foundation building:
1. Take a deep look at your organizational climate.
In order to assess your program’s foundation—such as a high level of trust, clear goals, and a healthy work life—consider conducting an organizational climate survey. This will provide an understanding of your team’s perceptions about their work climate. If this is of interest to you, one tool that can help you assess the organizational climate of your early childhood program is the Early Childhood Work Environment Survey (ECWES). The results will provide you with insights into staff perceptions and help you discover which components of the work environment are more likely to motivate your staff and prepare them for engagement in a QRIS.
2. Target areas for improvement within your organizational climate.
Once you have assessed the perceptions of the team regarding the organizational climate you have an opportunity to target the areas you want to strengthen. Which dimensions of organizational climate will assure your team is ready to engage in meaningful quality improvement practices? If you want to better understand your program in terms of collegiality, opportunities for professional growth, supervisor support, clarity, reward system, decision-making, goal consensus, task orientation, physical setting, and innovation and learn strategies for how to enhance organizational climate, the book A Great Place to Work is an excellent resource.
3. Build your skills as an instructional leader.
In the same way that state QRIS initiatives need a model as part of their foundation, programs need one too. An option that has been successful for programs is using Coaching with Powerful Interactions: A Guide for Partnering with Teachers. It offers simple steps that use strength-based principles to support teachers. The Powerful Interactions coaching approach describes a way of being and thinking that can stand alone or complement a coaching model you are already using. This approach begins with you, your attitude and perspective, and how you perceive and understand interactions: Your coaching stance. Powerful Interactions between adults—as with a coach and a teacher—support individuals as they build on their strengths to enrich their practice ultimately promoting children’s well-being and learning.
By investing time in assuring your program’s foundational elements are in place, you position your program and team for greater success in a QRIS initiative.
What successes and struggles have you had with building your program’s foundation? Share your stories in the section below.
If you would like to learn more, please join Judy Jablon, author of Coaching with Powerful Interactions, and I at the BUILD QRIS National Meeting. We will be presenting “Recalibrating Quality Improvement: Who is in the Driver Seat?” on Thursday, July 16 from 2:45 p.m. — 3:45 p.m. at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland.