Chicago’s Birth-to-College Collaborative

The Ounce of Prevention Fund (“the Ounce”) has organized a Leadership Summit on the role of districts in Birth through 3rd Grade efforts in Chicago this week. More on the Summit to come, but as a start I’d like to highlight some of the recommendations found in the Ounce’s Birth-to-College Collaborative Toolkit, a compendium of guidance documents and tools that communities implementing Birth–3rd initiatives will find very useful.

The materials in the toolkit are an outgrowth of Chicago’s Birth-to-College Collaborative, a partnership spearheaded by Educare and the University of Chicago Charter School. Educare is a renowned birth-to-five program operated by the Ounce that serves low-income children and whose success in improving child outcomes has helped fuel the Birth–3rd movement. (See David Kirp’s The Sandbox Investment.)

By way of introducing the Toolkit, here are few highlights that resonate with and reinforce many of the themes that we have explored on the Learning Hub.

  • First, note the helpful language the Collaborative uses to describe the Birth-to-College model: “a model of public education that (1) begins at birth and extends through college graduation, (2) is characterized by evidence-based, high-quality experiences and supports for students and their families, (3) is grounded in trusting relationships and communication among all adults who share responsibility for students’ learning and development, and (4) is aligned so that each experience has a cumulative effect—ideally, each coherently contributes to the next by sustaining and building upon the growth and learning that comes before. Therefore, birth-to-college (BTC) alignment refers to the coherent set of educational experiences and supports for students, families and the professionals and organizations that serve them that begins at birth and continues through college completion.”
  • And here is an idea for all Birth–3rd Partnerships: the Collaborative has established a Parent Advisory Committee that helps assess family needs, provides feedback to family engagement staff, and provides advisory support to the Collaborative’s various committees.
  • As a result of the partnership with the two PreK-5 campuses of the University of Chicago Charter School, Educare has begun using the STEP literacy assessment used by the Charter School. The school’s literacy coordinators helped train Educare staff in the use of the tool. Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, the author of Driven by Data and Great Habits, Great Readers, is also a fan of the STEP assessment.
  • The implementation guides include helpful questions for “Defining Your Educational Context”  and advise that partnerships, “take stock of pre-existing structures and processes.” As the guidance says, “Determine how what you are trying to build can honor, support, and inform systems that are already in place, especially around staff professional collaboration and continuous improvement. It is important to note that this is not a ‘new’ initiative. Rather, it is about advancing and aligning the work of teaching children and supporting and engaging families.”
  • Finally, encourage “cross-pollination“: “Consider cultivating strategies that will encourage cross-pollination of beliefs, approaches, and practices that could readily lend themselves to potential “buckets” for alignment, with the added benefit of developing mutual respect and understanding.” Ideas include “observations of classrooms, instructional approaches, and/or family events, as well as opportunities for staff to talk with one another.”

See this Toolbox for a set of practical alignment tools.The Birth-to-College Collaborative is developing a “bottom-up” model of collaboration across three schools structured around six professional learning communities. The thoughtful guidance and documentation the Collaborative is producing provides a fresh perspective on the work of Birth–3rd partnerships.

New Bedford’s Emerging Work on Transitions and Some Good Resources

The New Bedford Birth–3rd Leadership Alignment Team has chosen to focus its work on three strategies: 1) improving transitions, 2) aligned and collaborative professional development for community-based and district early childhood teachers focused on social-emotional  and literacy skills, and 3) effective use of Teaching Strategies Gold data. I’m supporting the New Bedford team along with Titus DosRemedios of Strategies for Children. The Leadership Alignment Team has been investigating the current state of transitions in New Bedford and is developing a survey that will capture additional information on transitions, curriculum, assessment, students served, and related practices.

New Bedford’s Birth–3rd team has also formed a Transitions Working Group that will plan and implement New Bedford’s transitions strategy in consultation with the broader team. As this group begins its work, we have come across a few helpful resources. Karen Surprenant of Pace Head Start shared this slide deck on Effective Transitions to Enhance School Readiness from Head Start’s National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning. In addition to the two sample transition forms shared by Somerville and Pittsfield, we are reviewing the Articulation Checklist and Transition Discussion Template found in the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s very useful Birth-to-College Collaborative Toolbox. Also see this page of transition resources from the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Of course these resources only scratch the surface of the many useful guidance documents on transitions, so please share ones you have found helpful by commenting on this post or emailing me at jacobsondl [at]

Birth–3rd Policy Developments in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts team that participated in the National Governors Association early learning policy academy reports several new developments:

  • The Boards of the Department of Early Education and Care and Department of Elementary and Secondary Education have created a joint birth through grade 3 sub-committee that will include representatives from both boards.
  • The team has released an updated version of Building the Foundation of Future Success for Children from Birth through Grade 3 and hopes to get it approved by both Boards this spring. 
  • The team is exploring the possibility of holding a series of birth through grade 3 regional meetings this spring.
  • Resources and information will be posted at the state’s birth through grade 3 website, including a presentation that Ralph Smith and Amy O’Leary shared at the joint EEC/ESE Board meeting.

For additional information, here is the team’s latest email notification: Continue reading “Birth–3rd Policy Developments in Massachusetts”

Family Engagement Teaching Cases

The renowned Harvard Family Research Project has developed a new resource that is available to the public, The Create Your Case Toolkit. This toolkit builds on the Harvard Family Research Project’s extensive work on Family Engagement Teaching Cases.

Here is how the Family Research Project describes the new tool:

Stories help people form relationships and make sense of the world around them. Business, medicine, and education have long used stories—or cases—as teaching and professional development tools. In the family engagement field, reading cases challenges those who work with families to consider multiple perspectives; think critically about real-world issues; communicate effectively; and identify family strengths. These are all abilities that educators need to work effectively with families.

With this in mind, Harvard Family Research Project and the Community Engagement Team in the Department of Human Services in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have developed the Create Your Own Case Toolkit. The toolkit was inspired by your enthusiastic response to our casebook, Preparing Educators to Engage Families, and the family engagement cases on our website.

The Create Your Own Case Toolkit is a practitioner-driven professional development resource designed to help those who work with families—teachers, librarians, afterschool staff, and camp counselors, to name a few—reflect on experiences with families and recreate stories as cases. The resulting cases that they develop can be used to create conversations among practitioners and families in parent cafés and formal meetings. These conversations will enable practitioners to better serve children and families.

Announcing: New Early Educators Leadership Institute in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) is sponsoring Getting It Right for Children: Early Educators Leadership Institute, a series of four full-day workshops that begins in late February. The EEC has contracted with Early Childhood Associates to offer the Institute. The Institute will feature prominent national and state early learning leaders, including:

  • Albert Wat (National Governors Association)
  • Valora Washington (The CAYL Institute)
  • Amy O’Leary (Strategies for Children)
  • Saeyun Lee (Massachusetts Department of Higher Education)
  • Kristie Kauerz (University of Washington)
  • Gail Joseph (University of Washington)

I’m working with ECA’s planning team and will be presenting at the Institute as well. The Institute will convene over 100 educational leaders for workshops that include presentations, case studies, interactive discussions, and small group work. Participants are asked to attend all four workshops:

  • February 27 at Clark University
  • March 20 at Clark University
  • April 10 at the Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center
  • May 1 at the Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center

See the Early Educators Leadership Brochure 2015 for additional information. Use this link to submit your online application.

Hope you and leaders from your community can make it. The Institute promises to be an excellent opportunity for learning and exchange.

Not To Be Missed: Chris Martes in Commonwealth Magazine

Don’t miss the recent article in Commonwealth Magazine by Chris Martes, president and CEO of Strategies for Children: “A Chance to Lead on Early Education.” As Martes says,

From the White House to business boardrooms to the offices of scores of Republican and Democratic mayors, governors, and members of Congress, we’re seeing historic momentum on expanding and improving preschool programs.

As the country moves forward, Massachusetts has a chance to lead. Standing on the shoulders of Eliot and other pioneers, the Commonwealth is poised to build a preschool system whose graduates will grow up to transform our families, workplaces, and communities.

Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others?

Are some teams “smarter” than others? Researchers at MIT and Carnegie Mellon say yes. They have found three characteristics that distinguish smarter teams. You may be surprised by the results, which make a strong case for well-structured, interactive meetings guided by discussion protocols that create a level playing field for rich conversations.

Playbook for Becoming an Early Learning Community

The White House has released a Playbook for Becoming an Early Learning Community in conjunction with its recent Summit on Early Education. The Playbook outlines 7 steps, each with a number of recommended strategies and helpful examples from around the country:

1. Mobilize key stakeholders in your community.
2. Use data to share the basics on young children in your community.
3. Develop a community-wide strategy or plan.
4. Determine funding mechanisms that work best for your community.
5. Develop a data tracking system.
6. Implement and expand on your plan.

“Collective Seeing, Learning, and Doing”

"Essential Mindset Shifts for Collective Impact," p. 2.
“Essential Mindset Shifts for Collective Impact,” p. 2.

I have occasionally referred to the Collective Impact Model, a powerful approach cross-sector collaboration used by many communities across the country, including Pittsfield. The approach is based on the five conditions shown in the graphic above. The Collective Impact Forum has recently shared a great collection of resources in its Top Reads and Resources for 2014. In particular I recommend Committing to Collective Impact: From Vision to Implementation and Collective Insights on Collective Impact, the second and third items on the list. Also, see the video about Somerville’s Collective Impact initiative, Shape Up Somerville, under Top Videos.

The following passages from “Essential Mindset Shifts for Collective Impact” (in the Collective Insights document) reinforce the connections between relationships, capacity, and innovation that I described in October. Note the joint emphasis on evidence and relationships and on “collective seeing, learning, and doing.”

We have seen that data and evidence are critical inputs for collective impact efforts, but we must not underestimate the power of relationships. Lack of personal relationships, as well as the presence of strong egos and difficult historical interactions, can impede collective impact efforts. Collective impact practitioners must invest time in building strong interpersonal relationships and trust, which enable collective visioning and learning. …Collective impact can succeed only when the process attends to both the use of evidence and the strengthening of relationships. …

We believe that a critical mindset shift is needed: Collective impact practitioners must recognize that the power of collective impact comes from enabling “collective seeing, learning, and doing,” rather than following a linear plan. The structures that collective impact efforts create enable people to come together regularly to look at data and learn from one another, to understand what is working and what is not. Such interaction leads partners to adjust their actions, “doubling down” on effective strategies and allowing new solutions to emerge.