Early childhood education has not always been considered a critical area of focus for school principals.  Center for Education Leadership Director Steve Tozer, EdD, is working with state legislators to re-envision school leadership as encompassing a continuum from pre-K through grade 12.

Tozer met with the Connecticut Governor’s Pre-K to 3rd Grade Policy Symposium in April to communicate that strong school leadership needs to understand the value proposition of early childhood education and needs to foster strong instruction that maintains a continuum of development in pre-K through third grade.

“In most early childhood centers, as in most schools, teachers are working really hard and child care givers are working really hard, but that doesn’t mean they are achieving what they want in terms of child development and learning,” Tozer said. “Our preparation of early childhood caregivers and teachers is uneven, so it becomes important for these centers to be sites of strong professional development and adult learning.”

The need for ongoing professional development of early childhood educators is key across all learning environments, but the need for strong early childhood education is particularly resonant in rural and urban low-income contexts.  Tozer argues that these students are often not accessing cultural capital in early childhood education that future schooling rewards.  Students in low-income contexts are asked to learn a second set of cultural codes that will be tested on exams normed to the majority population, or the middle class population.

Tozer says the challenge for school leaders is to understand the key developmental ways that young children learn differently from older children and to work with teachers to further develop this understanding.  Specifically, Tozer recommends school principals protect time for early childhood educators and primary grade teachers to work collaboratively to ensure that curriculum and learning goals are aligned.

The Center is currently researching the success of a professional development model called Educare, launched by the Ounce of Prevention Fund.  Educare operators work with early childhood center leaders to build strong professional learning communities in early childhood centers so that the adults arein a constant state of learning.  Through data collection, teachers and caregivers are able to work to mirror practices in public pre-K and primary grade schools.

“The whole idea that there are things going on in kindergarten and pre-K that would be very good for teachers in second and third grade to understand is pretty powerful,” Tozer said. “It’s bringing those two communities together around question of what it means to have kids engaged, or what is the tension between engaged learning and learning the kinds of things standardized achievement tests will test and not making compromises.”