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Small Change, Big Results: How Pre-K 4 San Antonio Used The Essential 0-5 Survey to Improve Staff Trust & Well-Being

In this blog post Start Early business development manager, Jenna Schuster, shares how The Essential 0-5 Survey helped one organization make impactful changes.

Jenna Schuster May 27, 2022
  • Professional Development
  • Blog

Teacher burnout, under enrollment, workforce retention and well-being – we know many programs across the US are struggling with multiple problems of practice. Addressing these problems of practice can be overwhelming. How to build trust with staff? How to encourage collaborative practice? How to embed these solutions into our ways of working?

Decades of study by the University of Chicago and Start Early reveals that program conditions at the organization level are more closely linked to child outcomes than what’s happening in individual classrooms. The Essential 0-5 Survey, developed in partnership by Start Early and the University of Chicago, is a measurement system that provides insight into the strengths and weaknesses of organizational climate for programs.

At this year’s Shared Services Technical Conference, hosted by Opportunities Exchange, Start Early co-presented with Pre-K 4 San Antonio (Pre-K 4 SA) to share the amazing work Larrisa Wilkinson, Director of Professional Learning and Program Innovation, and her team are doing to make impactful changes in their community.

Data & Goal Setting

The Essential 0-5 Survey data elevated two Essentials as areas for improvement in Pre-K 4 SA’s program – Effective leadership and Collaborative teachers. After completing their first root cause analysis, the leadership team came up with a shared goal: to improve their organizational culture of growth and learning by starting the year developing stronger relationships with educators at both the personal and professional level. Using what they learned about their teachers (interests, needs, etc.), the idea of collective problem solving became integral to moving forward with organizational change.

Our process and what was really integral to that process was making sure that we carved out a dedicated time for reflection and collaboration. So that is really difficult as we all know in organizations where you never have time to sit and reflect but [its] critical.

- Larrisa Wilkinson, Director of Professional Learning and Program Innovation, Pre-K 4 SA
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Small Action Steps

The PreK-4 SA leadership team begin to implement 30-day Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) improvement cycles. Initially, they implemented a “getting to know you” tool with teachers. Directors and Assistant Directors started classroom walkthroughs during the first 30 days of the program year. They looked for and celebrated strong teacher practice and positive classroom environments. Both the South and East Centers dedicated time for peer learning communities (PLCs) to reduce staff meetings. At the South Center, they established a Campus Leadership Team and read receipts to improve two-way communication. The East Center, in addition to increased staff collaboration time, added need-to-know information for staff to their newsletters.

First cycle came and went and we felt so accomplished.

- Belinda Gonzalez, Director of the South Education Center, Pre-K 4 SA
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When staff were asked directly, the overwhelming response was it was an effective practice:

  • Staff felt more ownership in meetings
  • Staff felt increased responsibility and accountability towards continuous organizational improvement;
  • Staff felt connectedness and agency, which strengthened trust with leadership
  • Transparency was key for Pre-K 4 SA leadership to build trust during the PDSA cycles of improvement

Key Takeaway

Start small. You cannot solve every problem in the world at once. Use the Essential 0-5 Survey data and toolkit to build common language, guide your efforts and identify areas that will have the most impact. When staff see even small amounts of progress, they are motivated to keep trying and start to trust that change is possible.

I want to do so much because I want to make all these big changes…that was the hardest part was to narrow it down.

- Tonda Brown, Director of East Education Center, Pre-K 4 SA
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Are you interested in making organizational improvements but are not sure where to start? Contact us to learn more about how Start Early can help focus your efforts to ultimately improve child outcomes.

About the Author

Jenna Schuster headshot

Jenna Schuster

Former Manager of Business Development

Jenna Schuster, M.S., joined Start Early in 2018 and currently serves as Manager of Business Development.

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