Children starting activity with teacher

The Professional Development Initiative

The implementation and evaluation of a pioneering approach to professional development for the early childhood system.

The Early Childhood Instructional Leadership Professional Development Initiative

A strong organizational climate and conditions that support instruction and family engagement are integral to a quality early learning environment. Research findings from adjacent fields, including K-12 grade school improvement, demonstrate that instructional improvement occurs when leaders and program staff work in collaboration, with access to data that helps enhance their practice and improve learning outcomes for children.

That is why Start Early implemented and evaluated a pioneering approach to professional development for the early childhood education system: the Early Childhood Instructional Leadership Professional Development Initiative (PDI). The program’s initial design and development focused on early learning programs in under-resourced communities, while building professional capacity for leading instructional improvement across an entire organization.

Unlike other professional development efforts that primarily focus on the classroom, our initiative engaged leaders and staff to improve strategies that support learning in school as well as at home, through parent engagement and social-emotional learning practices. This work laid the foundation for The Essential Fellowship, an intensive leadership development program for early education professionals across the country.

Key Findings

This initiative was independently evaluated by the University of Illinois at Chicago, Center for Urban Education Leadership. Their evaluation found that the PDI successfully:

  • Increased leaders’ knowledge, skills and dispositions with instructional leadership
  • Increased leaders’ encouraging and emotionally supportive interactions with teachers
  • Established a system of job-embedded professional learning routines in which leaders and peers shaped and guided practice on a weekly and monthly basis in the context of team lesson planning and peer learning groups
  • Increased teachers’ knowledge, skills and dispositions of ambitious, developmentally appropriate practice
  • Achieved statistically significant improvements in children’s social and emotional learning and development compared to children enrolled in non-participating sites

Publications & Resources

Research & Evaluation Team & Collaborators


  • U.S. Department of Education Investing in Innovation (i3) development grant
  • The Stranahan Foundation
  • Crown Family Philanthropies