Researchers in the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning are exploring ways to bring more TLC into Head Start programs across the nation. In this case, however, the TLC is a Teacher Learning Community.
TLCs, as they are currently conceived, are a hybrid of the professional learning community concept adopted in many schools over the last decade and the video-based coaching model for teachers called MyTeachingPartner™, which was developed at CASTL.
“It’s a combination of peer and expert coaching in a group context with teachers and a trained facilitator,” said Leslie Booren, a CASTL researcher. “The goal is to create a community of teachers that support each other while practicing effective teaching strategies that have been linked to increasing teacher-child interactions and improving classroom practices.”
The TLC professional development process is still being developed and piloted. Booren, lead researcher, Bridget Hamre, CASTL’s associate director, and other colleagues at CASTL are working under contract with the U.S. Office of Head Start in a partnership with the National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning, or NCQTL. The coalition of seven universities comprising the NCQTL work with Head Start programs to provide resources for preschool teachers that help foster children’s learning and readiness for school.
“Some teachers are unaware of the types of interactions with young children that are most effective in spurring their academic development,” Booren said, “while others may need to be more intentional about promoting high quality interactions.”
Changing the ways teachers interact with children is sometimes difficult, primarily because children’s needs are so varied and classroom demands are constantly shifting, Booren said. Learning communities and coaching are often more effective than one-time workshops because they take advantage of supportive relationships over time and promote job-embedded teaching practices.
In the TLCs teachers meet every two weeks in ninety-minute sessions across the school year, where they can collaborate in small groups that encourage dialog in a safe and private environment. Teachers learn more about effective classroom practices, have the opportunity to implement strategies in their classroom, and are supported by other teachers and a trained facilitator. The TLCs also take advantage of a web-based video library of teachers demonstrating exemplary interactions with preschoolers, while also encouraging participants to video their own classrooms for later viewing and reflection.
The CASTL NCQTL team has recently concluded three pilots in Head Start programs across central Virginia. “We have learned a lot of working with these teachers on the ground,” Booren said. “It has been challenging to provide TLCs with the flexibility to discuss issues teachers are concerned about but also to provide structure so that the program and evidence-based content is scalable across all of the Head Start programs.”
The TLC’s challenge is to take an integrative approach that provides teachers with strategies in an environment where teachers support teachers, according to Marcia Kraft-Sayre, CASTL’s site manager for the NCQTL work.
“Teachers are coming to the TLCs with different levels of experience and demands in their classrooms,” Kraft-Sayre said. “What we are trying to do is meet them where they are and provide ongoing support to enhance their practice in ways we know are linked to child outcomes.”
Booren, who led two of the three pilot groups this year, added that teachers naturally want help with behavioral issues in their classrooms and discussions tended to focus on this topic in the TLC meetings. “We also worked to provide support in the TLCs for high quality classroom interactions, including a positive focus on challenging instruction strategies,” she said.
The CASTL NCQTL team has developed a number of other resources for Head Start teachers over the past two years. These include video-based resources on effective and engaging classroom interactions which are used in the TLCs, regional trainings to support program improvement efforts, and state transition summits, as well as materials to help community-based teams develop plans to foster children’s transitions into kindergarten. The NCQTL is also developing college-level courses for Head Start teachers and a rating tool for Head Start to use in evaluating comprehensive preschool curriculum. A brief they prepared on Understanding and Using the CLASS for Program Improvement can be found on the NCQTL section of the Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center website.
by Lynn Bell