Those of us who live and work in pre-K know, all too well, how it feels when a district initiative, professional development event, assessment mandate, or curricular adoption, once again, doesn’t fit “our world”.
Meaning, when it doesn’t match our needs to best serve three, four, and five-years olds, many of whom have identified disabilities or delays.
So what can we do about the “pushdown” of K-12 practices and policies?
To offer solutions to the “pushdown” of K-12 policies and practices, I’m using the lyrics from Kenny Roger’s, “The Gambler.”
This highly “valid and reliable” metric is designed to change classroom practices from the inside out, by helping you know when to “hold” onto a practice and implement it with fidelity, when to “fold” a practice so it makes sense for young children, and when to “walk away” (or even run) from a particular practice.
Let’s explore how this metric of holding, folding, and walking away, offers three solutions to a few “real life” problems.
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Knowing When to Hold ‘Em
I’ve been working with pre-K programs who are being asked to implement frameworks, models, and school-wide interventions. For example, the Marzano Art and Science of Teaching Framework, The Daggett System for Effective Instruction, and School-Wide Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (SW-PBIS).
In this work, pre-K leaders and teachers, alike, struggle to see how some of the principles and practices apply to young children. In particular, they struggle when the children they serve are English language learners, live in high poverty and high stress situations, have identified disabilities or delays, and well, who are young.
One solution, to avoid these tensions, is to have pre-K leaders and teachers at the table when the district is in the planning phase.
Having pre-K experts involved, from the beginning, allows the district to identify:
- Modifications that need to be made to core elements of what may be adopted (e.g., how teachers are evaluated)
- Additional supports and training required to “decode” the practices for younger children
- Clear plans for pre-K teachers to “opt-out” of certain aspects of the framework or model
Involvement of pre-K expertise, from the beginning, increases the likelihood that pre-K teachers can “hold onto” the practices that are adopted district or school-wide, have the ability to apply the practices with fidelity, and the authority to say when practices are harmful, illogical, or lack an evidence base for younger and more diverse children.
Unfortunately, a preventative approach isn’t always taken when crafting policies and/or when adopting assessments or curricula. However, even after the fact, pre-K leaders and teachers can gather stakeholders together, and explore which aspects of the framework or model can be held onto, folded into a different shape, and which they can be permitted to walk away from.
Knowing When to Fold ‘em
“Folding” has to do with ensuring practices are appropriate for young children, particularly those with diverse abilities.
A second solution to address to the “pushdown” of K-12 policies and practices is to look for common ground between the K-12 practices, and our core early childhood values, beliefs, and evidence base.
Case Example: The Daggett System
My first reaction was to bristle (and pushback) at the notion, which as stated in a Daggett System white paper, our goal as educators is to prepare children to be a part of the “highly-skilled workforce.” To me, and in spirit of Grace Lee Boggs, education requires a shift away from global competition, privatization, compliance, and standardization.
However, in an effort to practice what I preach, I dug deeper into the white paper and the system, in search of common ground. I eventually found some, particularly with regard to a shared desire to be intentional, to use data to drive decision-making, and the power of differentiating instruction.
That said, within this system, there needs to be acknowledgement of the uniqueness of the early years, and that we can’t rush development or learning. In other words, many children may require multiple opportunities to strengthen their skills and ability to “gather and store bits of knowledge and information,” which Daggett refers to as the “A” quadrant or “Acquisition” phase. Young children, particularly those living with toxic stress, and/or with cognitive disabilities related to executive functioning, require multiple opportunities to engage in recall and basic comprehension is a top priority. These children should not be rushed or pushed to “other quadrants” of the system such as being expected to analyze problems, identify solutions, or engage in more complex reasoning.
Case Example: Marzano’s Art and Science of Teaching Framework
In looking for common ground, we can find some, rather quickly, with Marzano’s framework. For example, in the elements that encourage teachers to “celebrate success,” “establish classroom routines,” and “use physical movement.” These are things most pre-K experts would agree are important for young children with diverse abilities. We need to spend time, however, talking about what these elements look like in a pre-K classroom, particularly ones that may be self-contained or which serve children 2.5 hours a day, two days a week. In these instances, districts may need to “fold” other practices into the framework. For example, they may need to also value and prioritize instructional time which is spent building children’s foundational skills and working with families (not elements emphasized in this particular framework).
Knowing When to Walk Away
The last solution to responding to the “pushdown” of K-12 practices and policies is to know when to “walk away.” For example, related to the Marzano element of “providing clear learning goals and scales,” districts need to recognize that a school-wide practice of asking teachers to write and post their objectives, even as “I can statements,” may not be effective, practical, or even logical in pre-K classrooms.
Another example of needing to “walk away,” relates to district-wide or school-wide interventions around addressing challenging behaviors. My colleagues, Lise Fox and Denise Perez Binder, write about this issue in their article “Getting Preschool Classrooms on Board with School-Wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (SW-PBIS).”
In the article, they offer several key positions, which pre-K teachers can use, to convey to others, why they need to “walk away” from a given district-wide or school-wide behavioral intervention or practice. For example:
- “Young children often do not have the symbolic representation skills or social development to understand a token economy and are not motivated by reinforcers that are not immediate” (p. 1).
- “The development of discipline referral and tracking systems, related to identifying common rule violations and uniform responses is not applicable to the preschool classroom (p.1).
- “Common SW-PBIS data decision-making tools…do not offer considerations for the unique context of the early childhood classroom” (p.1).
The next time you face the tensions and pressures of implementing K-12 policies and practices, take a deep breath, and then “pushback” using the solutions provided here. The solutions include taking a preventative approach and making sure pre-K leaders and teachers are part of the decision-making process. Second, working collaboratively to find common ground, which can be used to then modify and adapt aspects of the policy or practice for the population of children you serve. Lastly, not being afraid to walk away, or even run, when the policy or practice does more harm than good.
Hold ’em–your preschoolers. Fold ’em–in your arms. Walk away from the “shoulds” that keep you from being the amazing teacher you are.
P.S. Unfortunately, many of the frameworks, assessments, and curricular practices used in K-12, lack an evidence base for young children (even children in K-3), and lack consideration for applying the practices to children with diverse learning needs.
Therefore, I maintain a stand I took some time ago, where educators should not be required to adopt practices for K-12 (and certainly not Pre-K-12) as if it is a single unit. We should not be in the business of adopting instructional models that are designed for older students and assume they can be applied district wide.
We should not create professional development opportunities, forget about preschool teachers, and then say, “Go to the sessions with the lower elementary grades, that content should apply.” Lastly, we should not assume that assessment practices, which MAY have been validated for older students, lead to valid scores and interpretations for younger children. Click here to read more.