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Case Study: Improving Early Education Quality Through Leadership Support

Learn how Massachusetts used The Essential Survey, along with leadership training and supports, to transform their early childhood system.

The Challenge:

The state of Massachusetts wanted to improve early education program quality across the state by testing a theory of change: they believed that effective program leadership is a key driver of early education program quality, but lacked rigorous evidence of how leaders’ impact on organizational performance improves child outcomes. To test their theory, the state created an Early Childhood Support Organization (ECSO) initiative to offer childcare leaders three intensive support models. Early Education Leaders, an Institute at University of Massachusetts Boston invited Start Early to co-create one of the ECSO’s by integrating the Start Early Essentials into its model design.

The Results:

Early Education Leaders and Start Early combined their expertise in instructional leadership to design a customized, state-wide leadership support program. Their two-year Essential Leadership Model centered Start Early’s evidence-based Essentials Framework and included the Essential 0-5 Survey for data collection on culture and climate, the Data Use and Improvement Toolkit to address problems of practice, and leadership training in the form of courses, communities of practice, and coaching.

Massachusetts’ theory of improving quality through leadership support is already showing promising results across the state. Third party evaluation of all three ECSOs shows:

  1. Leaders have more confidence and engage in more positive leader practices.
  2. Educators maintain a positive perception of program climate and are more likely to stay in the field.
  3. Supports for leaders may be moving programs toward improvements in quality.

(As a leader,) you’re changing your mindset. You’re giving up a little of your power and giving it back to (the staff) and they feel included in what’s happening in the program. They’re not just being told what to do, they’re helping. ... It makes them feel empowered, like we’re collaborating more. When they feel that way, they’re going to be just as excited as you are.

Mandy Chaput, Director, YWCA Northeastern MA Early Childhood Center
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Participant Spotlight

The YWCA of Northeastern Massachusetts offers one of many examples of how child care leaders are changing the way they lead. They explain how working with the Essential Leadership Model “changed their entire program:”

    • When leaders give up power, staff engagement increases. With autonomy to choose the Collaborative Teachers Essential as their first area of focus, staff became immediately invested in program improvement outcomes.
    • Using root cause analysis changes mindsets. By following the Essential Toolkit’s visual root cause analysis exercises, the YWCA team discovered that recommitting to being child centered shifted their collective mindset from defensive behaviors to constructive, professional peer engagement.
    • Focusing on data works. Program leaders found that having visual Essentials data was key to moving staff improvement efforts forward. It replaced guessing and gossip with facts.
    • Seeing incremental change motivates staff to keep improving. When staff saw immediate improvements from their first 30-day Plan Do Study Act (PDSA) cycle, they became eager to tackle more problems together.
    • Essentials work creates a clear roadmap for strategic investment. Through root cause analysis and PDSA cycles, the team saw that investing in classroom observation and coaching was most critical to increasing quality and positive outcomes – and created a new Preschool Curriculum Coordinator position to sustain this focus for years to come.
    • Continuous improvement cycles become routine ways of operating. The protocols in the Essential Toolkit became so embraced by YWCA staff that they now routinely apply the root cause analysis and PDSA cycle across any problem of practice in their program – from raising CLASS scores to implementing a new curriculum. These cycles are now baked into the program culture.

(Adopting) the child-centered mindset was a huge thing. Everybody’s understanding this is about coming together, working together. All the teachers and the admin – everybody working together towards a common goal.

Gabby Giunta, Preschool Curriculum Coordinator, YWCA Northeastern MA Early Childhood Center
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