Instructional Support Part II: What Can We Do to Grow?

Just before the new year, we shared the work of an incredible early childhood team in Norfolk who grew in their instructionally supportive interactions over the past few years. Norfolk’s team has been sharing their lessons learned through interactive Showcase PreKinVA visits (read to the end to register!).

The point of these visits is less about THEM (showing what they did)… it’s about YOU (and what you can take back to YOUR programs!)

Block pyramid
Source: istock.com/plufflyman

In this month’s blog, we’ll break down 4 time-tested steps you can follow to grow.

4 Steps to Improving Instructionally Supportive Interactions

Step 1: Build Readiness for Change

Before leaders can support teachers’ growth, everyone needs a shared vision for the WHAT and the WHY.

What are we trying to improve (and what will success look like)?

And why are we putting our efforts and resources into making this change?

Norfolk accomplished this by having teachers and leaders come together as a team (including shared Professional Development). They developed a vision of what quality interactions– including instructionally supportive interactions– look like and why they matter (see below for a summary).

WHAT are instructionally supportive interactions? Instructionally supportive interactions involve teachers: promoting children’s thinking and problem-solving skills, using feedback to deepen understanding and promote persistence, and helping children develop more complex language skills.
WHY do they matter? Studies have shown, time and time again, that instructionally supportive interactions benefit children both in terms of their social-emotional development as well as academic learning in the areas of language, literacy, and math.

Step 2: Use Data as a Flashlight

You can’t change everything, and data can help you focus on what matters most.

Data on classroom interactions allows you to “shine a flashlight” on what is working as well as areas for improvement (what we like to call “glows and grows”). The CLASS-PreK-TM observation tool has provided valuable data on interactions for VPI+ classrooms and will be used across VPI classrooms as well. When thinking about improving, it is helpful to look at CLASS data both across your program as well as at the classroom level.

CLASS-PreK-TM Tool Summary

CLASS domains and dimensions
source: UVA-CASTL 2018

For instance, maybe your program has 10 classrooms. Program-level data might show you that classrooms, overall, show strong language supports (Language Modeling) whereas feedback to children about their learning (Quality of Feedback) is weaker. But as you dig in further to the classroom-level data, you might also notice that a couple classrooms have strengths in these areas, and a few classrooms have additional needs in these and other areas of interactions (like Behavior Management). Once you’ve really understood the data, what’s next?

Step 3: Plan for Quality PD (for Teachers– and You Too!)

Program-level data can help you to plan targeted PD for all teachers that incorporates a focus on delivering feedback—and perhaps the teachers with great strengths can serve as leaders among their peers?

Classroom-level data helps you plan individualized PD for teachers to address unique or additional areas of practice, like proactive behavioral management, especially for classrooms with more intensive needs.

When planning PD, keep in mind that quality is key. Single-shot workshops are not sufficient to change teaching practices (especially interactions). Teachers need ongoing PD that provides multiple opportunities to learn about and see quality interactions, reflect on their practices, plan improvements, and then try new strategies out in the classroom– with feedback!

Video review
source: UVA-CASTL 2018
Quality PD Tip: VPI+ teachers, including Norfolk’s, have shared that watching video clips of themselves and each other has been especially helpful! If that’s too intimidating, teachers can start by watching video clips on the VPI+ site together and then move on to reviewing their own videos as comfort and trust is built.

Think SHARED PD—grow alongside your teachers. As an administrator, building your expertise around instructionally supportive interactions enables you to provide the kind of specific feedback that helps teachers grow!

Step 4: Get Connected 

How often are we siloed as professionals , working in isolation?

We all have better ideas when we collaborate.

Connect Teachers in Learning Communities. Norfolk intentionally held regular meetings where teachers networked and shared what strategies and resources that were working in their classrooms. For instance, teachers shared how they found it helpful to post visual prompts around their classrooms with questions to promote children’s thinking and language skills (see an example below!)

Visual with science center questions
Source: Showcase PreKinVA

Connect with other Leaders. VPI+ is offering more Showcase PreK in VA events where you and your team can connect with teams around the state. All classrooms have been identified as models for instructionally supportive interactions as well as other practices. Explore topics, dates, locations, and register here with your team to see high-quality in action around the Commonwealth and kickstart your community of learning!

P.S. Promoting connections will be a big focus of the Virginia’s early childhood initiatives going forward –and we’ll be applying lessons learned from what worked in VPI+. Stay tuned for upcoming connection-making opportunities, starting at this spring’s regional VPI coordinator meetings!

 

 

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