The early childhood sector is celebrating unprecedented federal investments in our nation’s youngest learners, especially children and families from historically underserved populations. Rising to this unprecedented opportunity will require coordinated, coherent and collaborative action, and state, community and early childhood professionals know they must stay focused on quality and evidence-based decision making to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of this moment in time. Two new publications featuring Start Early research offer leaders information about research-practice partnerships (RPPs) and embedded workforce development that they can use to navigate change confidently and collaboratively.
First, the most recent and final issue of the “Future of Children” focuses on how RPPs can strengthen early education. In our chapter, researcher Maia Connors and colleagues illustrate Start Early’s approach to RPPs; one that partners program implementation and research teams within our single organization to build capacity for “research within practice” and “practice within research.” Our “embedded” RPPs have assisted with evidence-based policymaking, data-driven decision making, continuous quality improvement, innovation, and overtime, stronger early learning outcomes for children and their families.
The Future of Children chapter highlights the importance of building strong infrastructure to successfully organize, conduct and sustain RPPs. It highlights Start Early’s organizational culture that values research evidence, sound measurement, and continuous learning, along with interdisciplinary expertise and teaming. We draw key insights from our experience conducting research and evaluation as part of two of Start Early’s longest standing RPPs: one focused on improving and scaling The Essential Fellowship (formerly Lead Learn Excel), a professional development program for early childhood leaders, and a second focused on implementing and improving outcomes of Educare Chicago, Start Early’s innovative early learning school serving infants, toddlers, preschoolers and their families on Chicago’s South Side.
Second, in a chapter in the forthcoming edited book from the Kenneth C. Griffin Applied Economics Incubator titled “The Scale-Up Effect in Early Childhood and Public Policy: Why Interventions Lose Impact at Scale and What We Can Do About It,” Start Early researcher Debra Pacchiano and colleagues discuss Start Early’s approach to professional development. This chapter examines how and why our approach equips early childhood leaders with a key antidote to the problem of declining impacts when interventions are implemented at scale. Specifically, it shares insights and evidence from the work of our embedded RPPs regarding innovative models and delivery of professional development for program leaders and supervisors, teachers and home visitors.
The challenges and realities of the early childhood workforce have compelled Start Early to reimagine workforce development as an emotionally supportive cycle of learning, embedded in the program and leader-facilitated, that nurtures staff well-being and results in staff commitment, persistence and skillfulness with evidence-based models and practices. In the Scale-Up Effect chapter, we define the key elements of embedded professional development and provide three case illustrations of how Start Early partners with leaders to use embedded professional development in their programs to achieve high levels of administration and implementation quality for their chosen evidence-based models and interventions.
These exciting new publications come at a pivotal time. Communities, states and early childhood programs across the country are seeking information and partnerships that empower them to navigate new opportunities and effectively lead change. Together these two publications provide actionable information on how:
- RPPs can strengthen evidence-informed decision making to build and sustain strong early childhood policies, systems and programs; and
- Leader-facilitated, embedded professional development can nurture staff well-being and capacity in the daily delivery of quality, high-impact early childhood experiences before kindergarten.