Clayton Early Learning

We Believe—Beginning Our Work from Why

Social Media Team


Social Media Team

The Clayton Early Learning Blog Team has multiple goals—(1) To educate and inform our community about critical early childhood issues, (2) To generate new ideas and increase our knowledge through the process of writing, and (3) To build connections with each other and our community. In light of these goals, this team has recently begun using short video provocations to spark new ideas and connections during our monthly meetings.

During our August meeting, we viewed the TED Talk by Simon Sinek on How Great Leaders Inspire Action Simon Sinek argues the reason why some organizations are more successful as a leader in their industry (i.e. Apple Inc.) is because they follow a different formula for communication about their organization than the rest of us. They talk about what they believe first, then how they translate their belief into a product or service, and last about what it is they are offering at that moment. Sinek believes that we often begin our communications with what we are offering, and miss opportunities to inspire ourselves and others. When we start with why we are there in the first place, our passion for our work becomes evident and other people get excited and want to join our cause.

Through discussion, the team was inspired to think of our own “I believe” statements to communicate why each of us work at Clayton Early Learning and how our belief drives the type of work we do every day. Below are four “I believe” statements from members of the Blog Team:

Healthy familyKelsey Petersen-Hardie, Mentor Coach, Education & Early Childhood Services

I believe we can positively impact the ill effects that poverty and toxic stress have on children and families and that if we begin when a child is young, we see better results. Because I believe this, I work in the field of Early Childhood Education. When young children receive high quality and responsive care and families receive support that is needed, children and families can experience better outcomes.


Wendy Allen, Buell Leaders Alumni Network Coordinator

Leadership wordleI believe all people are born with the capacity to learn and that this capacity should be supported and utilized to the fullest across the lifespan. Because I believe this, I work to enhance the learning experiences of adults serving as leaders across our system of care and education for young children. The Buell Early Childhood Leadership Program and Alumni Network is an opportunity to transform how individuals, programs, and communities support and utilize their own learning capacities.


Nathan Pope, Research and Evaluation Program Associate

research and evaluationI believe that all children are capable of greatness and desire to be challenged. Because I believe this, I use research and evaluation to understand each child’s strengths and provide feedback to support the work teachers do in their classrooms. Research studies at Clayton Early Learning use data to connect the research, practice, and training loop so children reach their full potential.


Cheryl Comstock, Instructional Technology Manager


I believe that anyone willing deserves a chance at a good education, and that technology is one of the most important tools available to us within our educational spaces. Because I believe this, I am here to help Clayton Early Learning move forward into new and innovative spaces that embrace technology for education. Clayton Early Learning now has a thriving Blog, growing Facebook Page, and we are exploring how to incorporate online professional development opportunities for the communities in which we work and serve.

The Blog Team believes that social media, including blogging, is a new tool to support learning across communities. By embracing this new technology and form of connection, Clayton Early Learning is inviting our community to band together as we do the critical work of early care and education.


Would you like to join our Blog conversation? What is your “I Believe” Statement? If so, you can leave your statement in the Comment section at the bottom of this blog.


Images found online September 3, 2013, at

Seamless Pattern Of Flower Illustration Background Stock Image courtesy of Sicha Pongjivanich/


How do Men Impact Early Childhood Education?


Posted by SorenG



Member of MEC, male teacher reading to small childAs staff members of the Clayton organization, we often have one particular issue within the early childhood field that we are particular passionate about.  In my case it is providing support to males who work in Early Childhood Education. In working with this topic, I began to look into what resources were available for males who work in the ECE field. I found that within the Colorado area the resources that a male working in the ECE field could access were limited or non-existent. In 2011, I began the creation of an organization with three other male ECE professionals that would have an active presence for males working in the ECE field called Men in Early Childhood-Colorado (MEC)  The organization is committed to developing a network that provides support, advocacy, and education to in order to retain and to recruit additional males to work in the field.

Member of MEC, male teacher reading to small boyRecently, on June 1st, MEC held the 2013 Summer Conference at Clayton Early Learning. The conference began with a keynote address by Doug Gertner, The Grateful Dad, The keynote address was entitled, Understanding Men’s Lives: Theories of Masculinities, and the included the following discussions:What is it exactly that defines a man and makes masculinity distinct from the feminine? Why are men the way they are? These questions can inform the work of early childhood educators, both men and women, and help to encourage more men to enter this work, and more fathers to be involved in schools and classrooms. We’ll begin by examining several theories about male gender role development, review the major men’s movements, and seek a better understanding of male behavior, in order to deepen our ability to attract and support male teachers and serve fathers in our schools and centers.

Member of MEC, male teacher helping small girlDoug’s keynote provided some valuable insight into how we as an ECE community can continue to improve our ability to support males who work in ECE and of course, the fathers of the children in our programs. The remainder of the conference topics was ones that we are passionate individually as ECE professionals. We had a panel of three individuals (Andrew Goff, Ben Wilkins, and I).  Andrew spoke about Boys in the Classroom and provided some quick and easy tips and strategies to help with those energetic and active boys in the classroom. Andrew specifically spoke about utilizing the different learning styles of boys and how we can equate them with the different child development theories. Ben spoke about Technology in the classroom and provided the participants some hands-on examples about activities that they could do in their classrooms. He share with the group about items that he has in his classroom and appropriate applications for early childhood setting I spoke on how logical strategies to support men who work in the ECE field. We ended our time at the conference with a guided discussion about, “What does School Readiness Mean.” Being that the participants were primarily all from ECE backgrounds, we had many of the same ideas and thoughts behind this question.  The discussion revolved around how there is different aspects to school readiness. These aspects include cultural, academic, school setting, and home setting.  . With the conclusion of this discussion, our conference was over. It was a good time for all and we look forward to seeing you at our next conference or possibly assisting us with our fall music event for fathers. How would having a male ECE educator benefit your child or school?


Quality Suitcase: What Would You Bring? – Republished from 5/30/12

Brenda Hoge

Posted by Brenda Hoge


Brenda Hoge

The ERS (Environmental Rating Scales) Team at Clayton Early Learning is holding one of their bi-annual trainings here on campus this week. Because of this, it only seemed appropriate to republish Brenda Cobb-Hoge's blog on Early Childhood Classroom assessment from last spring.

From May, 2012

Assessing quality in Early Childhood Classrooms is not new to many of us in Colorado. We have been assessing quality in many of our classrooms and family childcare homes for over 12 years, primarily through the use of the Environment Rating Scales (ECERS-R, ITERS-R, FCCERS-R). As Colorado begins building a new version of the Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS), it’s important to reflect on what we have learned along the way – and what challenges remain. So as I think in terms of packing my “Quality Suitcase,” these are some of the things I would bring along on this next adventure:

The Importance of Training: One of the first things we’ve learned with our involvement using the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scales (ERS) is that training before implementation is critical. Providing overview trainings for teachers, providers and Directors on the tools as well as more in-depth training for coaches was key to improving quality based on the tools because it gave everyone the “why” behind the indicators and assured everyone that they could pick and choose the indicators that they felt was important to implement in their program.

Coaching Support is Key: Another thing we learned along the way is the importance of coaches and their role in the “Improvement” part of this process. As some communities began using the Rating, their programs were getting money for materials based on their ERS scores but we weren’t really changing the quality. We also had TA services where someone would come in and help the program “get ready for the rating” which worked for the “month rating window” but it really didn’t help create lasting improvements. Centers and homes that have been provided with individualized coaching have focused on not just the “test” but rather on more introspection, goal-setting, and education, and again, quality in these programs has improved over time. As coaches have begun working with the Raters, it has become more of a unified support system for the program, which has been very beneficial.

Reliability equals trust: The third thing we’ve learned along the way is how important it is to have a reliability system for our Quality Ratings. As the Qualistar Rating has become more “high stakes” having well-trained Rating Specialists whose reliability is checked regularly has been crucial in building trust in the system. Yes, not everyone can be consistent 100% of the time due to the high variance in the types of programs Rating Specialists encounter, but by having highly reliable Raters, program disputes over the observation portion of the rating have decreased over time.

Incentives: Because child care is so expensive to implement at a “quality level” the fourth important thing is that we need to provide incentives for programs that participate. Whether the incentives come in the form of grants for staff training or coaching or whether it comes in the form of higher reimbursement rates, programs need support to make “quality” happen.

Buy-in to the system: Finally one of the last things we learned over time is the importance of buy-in to the process both from the provider perspective and from the parents who put their children in our child care centers/homes. We want providers invested in improving the quality of their classrooms; that they really understand that quality is something you work on every single day – not just the day or month of the rating. Yes anyone can “pass the test” on any of these quality measures, but to really commit to quality every single day is extremely important. In our programs who have invested the time and energy to work on quality every day, the benefits to the children enrolled in those programs can be life-changing.

For parents, who are the consumers, it’s also important that they buy in to this system and that they no longer accept poor quality care for their children. Yes, the problem that we continue to face is that many parents’ choices in child care may, out of necessity, be driven by costs of programs rather than the quality. I’m fairly certain that if you asked any parent, they would prefer to put their child in a quality program if we could find a way to make it affordable.

So as we look to introducing more quality improvement measures for our child care centers and homes, it’s important to take what we have learned and improve upon it. And like any suitcase, there are some things that we take with us but we never use, and some things we forgot to bring along or couldn’t fit that are critical to our journey. Some of these include the buy-in of providers and parents, approaches and tools for working with Dual-Language Learners and Staff, support for the wide array of curricula that are being used by our programs, funding for our improved QRIS system, and having resources in place in all areas of Colorado and for all types of programs. And while this is just a small list of what we’ve learned and what we still need to answer, it’s a start. What other things have you learned from our ERS journey that we need to pack with us in our “Quality Suitcase” as we embark on this new direction?


Pinwheels for Prevention

Jennifer Smith

Posted by Jennifer Smith


Jennifer Smith

Child Well-being Month - Entry wall decor at Clayton Early LearningIf you were to walk to the Clayton Early Learning building today you would walk along a path of blue and silver pinwheels (given that the children haven't already "plucked" up all the enticing spinning sparkles)! Walk inside and you see a rather large Pinwheel on the wall. Why all the pinwheels you may wonder? Well, April was National Child Abuse Prevention month and the pinwheel is symbolic of the bright futures that ALL children deserve. To learn more about the Pinwheels for Prevention campaign visit their website: Child Abuse is a topic that hits the pit of your stomach. It’s tragic, horrifying, and unthinkable. But it's important that we do talk about its presence in our community, because ignoring the issue isn't going to make it go away. Pinwheels grace the pathway by Clayton Ediucare main entrance.Support for child abuse prevention efforts have expanded due in part to the growing body of evidence that suggests home visitation programs for families with young children can reduce the incidence of maltreatment and improve child and family outcomes. Additional research has shown the impact Six Protective Factors have on strengthening families and as a result reducing the likelihood of child abuse within those families. Programmatically we are working within home visitation programs and these ‘protective factors’ every day. Therefore, it is easy to see how Clayton Early Learning is poised at the front lines to be making giant impacts with this work. We don't need a specific "month" to work within these concepts (because it is what our program is fundamentally about) but it's a great opportunity to align with community efforts to help spread the word. So let me tell you a little bit more about what those ‘protective factors’ are.

6 Protective Factors

  • Jenny with small girl putting pinwheels in the lawn at Clayton Early Learning.Nurturing and Attachment - It is the basis of all development. Babies are born social creatures and need attachments to survive. This protective factor emphasizes the importance for caregivers to understand and meet their child’s need for love, affection and stimulation.
  • Social Connections - Much like the Nurturing and Attachment factor. The social connections protective factor addresses the importance of caregivers to build a network of emotionally supportive friends, family and neighbors.
  • Parental Resiliency - All families have inner strengths and skills. This protective factor focuses on the ability of families to tap into these resources, which can help serve as a foundation for building their internal resiliency.
  • Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development - Knowing what is the usual course of child development helps provide families with the ability to set realistic and consistent expectations for their children.
  • Social Emotional Competency of Children - The more children are able to identify, regulate and communicate their feelings, the more responsive families can be to meet their children’s needs, which leads to decreased stress and frustration.
  • Concrete Supports for Parents - This is the tangible supports we can offer to families such as parenting support groups, resources, and educational classes.

4-30_pinwheel-cTo learn more about these Protective Factors and how you can be active in strengthening families visit the websites of The Center for the Study of Social Policy and the Child Welfare Information Gateway [].

Please take a few extra minutes this month to educate yourself on ways Colorado is addressing Child Abuse.

Whatever your role, you can find ways to encourage providers and parents in building these protective factors within their families and communities.


History of Child Abuse Prevention Month. Retrieved from

Preventing Child Maltreatment and Promoting Well-Being: A Network for Action 2013. Retrieved from

Supporting Evidence-Based Home Visiting to Prevent Child Maltreatment.  Retrieved from

Other ideas for setting a positive environment.



Listening to our Echoes and Cultivating a Culture of Courage



Kids say the darnedest Picture of a small girl with a teddy bear sitting on a chair.things. I am still caught off guard when I hear our preschool students use one of my phrases. Sometimes I hear a student say, “Okey Dokey Artichokey” or “Silly Willy,” two of my common goofy phrases. Other times I hear my students say, “How can I help you?” or “What are we going to do about this?” When I stop and listen, I hear myself in my students. Considering how much my students absorb from their environment, I realize my approach is deeply influential in our classroom culture.  After hearing my echo across our classroom, I decided to more intentionally examine how to shape our culture to foster vulnerability, courage, resilience, and security.

The Office of Head Start describes ideal classroom environments as:

…places where children feel well cared for and safe. They are places where children are valued as individuals and where their needs for attention, approval, and affection are supported. They are also places where children can be helped to acquire a strong foundation in the knowledge and skills needed for school success. (“Creating a Learning Environment,” 2002)

In my efforts to move closer to this ideal environment, I began reading books and listening to TED talks  by Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. Brown researches shame and vulnerability and identifies practices that lead to “wholehearted living.” In her recent book, Daring Greatly: How Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brown discusses how vulnerability is both the core of difficult emotions like fear, grief, and disappointment and the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, empathy, innovation, and creativity. While reading Brown’s book, I discovered that vulnerability is a vital part of any culture that inspires innovation and learning.

Picture of book cover, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York: Gottham Books.Brown describes culture as “the way we do things around here” (Brown, 2012, p. 174). She writes about how culture describes who we are and what we believe. When thinking about cultures of organizations, schools, faith communities, and teams, Brown asks these ten questions:

  1. What behaviors are rewarded? Punished?
  2. Where and how are people actually spending their resources (time, money, attention)?
  3. What rules and expectations are followed, enforced, and ignored?
  4. Do people feel safe and supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
  5. What are the sacred cows? Who is most likely to tip them? Who stands the cows back up?
  6. What stories are legend and what values do they convey?
  7. What happens when someone fails, disappoints, or makes a mistake?
  8. How is vulnerability (uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure) perceived?
  9. How prevalent are shame and blame and how are they showing up?
  10. What’s the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning, trying new things, and giving and receiving feedback normalized, or is there a high premium put on comfort (and how does that look)?

These questions stirred me to consider the culture in my classroom, my workplace, and my family. While all questions provoked my thinking, questions seven and ten most inspired me to think the cultures in my life.

Question #7: What happens when someone fails, disappoints, or makes a mistake?

Failing, disappointing, and making mistakes are part of the learning process. Everyone makes mistakes, but we need to fix our errors, clean up our messes, and reconcile injured relationships.  When resolving issues in our classroom, we collaboratively problem-solve and identify a solution. We acknowledge the mistake, but we spend most of our time and energy working toward a resolution.

Question #10: What’s the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning, trying new things, and giving and receiving feedback normalized, or is there a high premium put on comfort (and how does that look)?

This question caused me to consider how I give feedback and challenge my students. I often tell my students, “I am still learning how to do this.” All of us are still learning something, but we also recognize our strengths so that we can help each other improve. Comfort in our classroom has more to do with our relationships with each other and less to do with the content of our curriculum. When we work on challenging projects that push us out of our comfort zones, each of us is stretched to try new things and do our best.

After reflecting on Brown’s questions, I pay more attention to my echoes. What are my students saying? How are do they respond to each other? Can I see evidence of their sense of security, their willingness to try new things, and their tolerance for the discomfort of learning?

Where do you hear your echo? In your family? In your co-workers? In your students? What do your echoes tell you about your culture? Which question(s) provoke you to try something different in your communities?

 Blog by Megan Bock


Brown, B (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York: Gottham Books.

Creating a Learning Environment for Young Children. (2012). Teaching our Youngest. Early Childhood-Head Start Task Force. ED/HHS. Retrieved from


Examining House Bill 13-1117 and its Journey through the Colorado General Assembly.

Posted by Molly Yost


Molly Yost

Policymaking occurs on several different levels – at the federal, state, and local level. What is policy and why does it matter to us? Policy is a course of action, selected from alternatives which guides and determines decisions and practices. Policy may refer to action of governments and of public and/or private organizations. This post will explore a significant piece of early childhood policy and the process by which it makes its way through the Colorado General Assembly.

“There are two things you don’t want to see being made – sausage and legislation.” Attributed to German Chancellor Otto von Bismark (1815-1898), this timeless comparison of sausage making and lawmaking has endured for centuries. John A. Straayer offered this description of our very own state legislature in his book, The Colorado General Assembly: a venue in which “a score of basketball games are progressing, all at one time, on the same floor, with games at different stages, with participants playing on several teams at once, switching at will, opposing each other in some instances and acting as teammates in others.” Casinos, marketplaces, and zoos are also metaphorical favorites when expounding the chaotic and awesome nature of legislatures.

All bills, in accordance with state statute, follow a common format. Bills are assigned a number, a title, and a sponsor. HB13-1117 indicates that the bill was the 117th bill introduced in the House (all House bills are numbered from 1001) in the year 2013. HB13-1117, sponsored by Representative Hamner and Senators Hodge and Newell, was introduced earlier in the session and assigned to the Public Health Care and Human Services Committee (committee of reference) by the Speaker of the House. This introduction is commonly known as the bill’s “first reading.” In Committee, the bill is presented by a sponsor and its details are carefully scrutinized. Research, testimony, and studies on the bills fiscal impact are reviewed and discussed by committee members. From here, committee members can amend the bill, refer it to another committee, postpone indefinitely (also known has “killing” a bill), or lay it over for consideration later in the legislative session.

400px-Visualization-of-How-a-Bill-Becomes-a-Law_Mike-WIRTHSo what are the ingredients in the bill? HB13-1117 has two major components. The first component of the bill is the transfer of several programs from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to the Department of Human Services in order to promote greater alignment and increase the efficiency of program administration, policies, and procedures to better serve children and families. As you may know, there are several different programs serving children and families spread across several different state agencies. The result is a very fragmented system that is often difficult for families to navigate. The following programs will be relocated from CDPHE to CDHS to enhance coordination and collaboration at the state and local level:

• the Nurse Home Visitation Program;
• the Tony Grampsas Youth Services Program including the Colorado Student Dropout Prevention and Intervention Program and the Colorado Before-and-After School Project;
• the Colorado Children's Trust Fund and its board; and
• the Family Resource Center Program.

The second component reauthorizes the Early Childhood Leadership Commission (Colorado’s Early Childhood State Advisory Council) until 2018 and relocates it from the Lieutenant Governor’s Office to the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) Division of Boards and Commissions. This commission, comprised of state agency representatives, business leaders, providers, and parents, will be responsible for making recommendations and advising further alignment of early childhood programs and funding streams.

After discussion and testimony, HB13-1117 was slightly amended (or altered) and successfully “passed out” of the House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee. After making its way through the House, the bill was sent to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services where it passed with bi-partisan support (6-1). Next stop: the Senate Appropriations Committee.

If you would like to read HB13-1117, view voting history, or find other information about the Colorado legislature, visit:

“How Our Laws Are Made” infographic by Mike Wirth and Dr. Suzanne Cooper-Guasco for Sunlight Foundation “Design for America Competition” 2010, sources: “How Our Laws Are Made” by John V. Sullivan (Rev. 6.24.07 and What is a Lobbyist? - wiseGEEK and Reconciliation in the Senate - Brookings Institution. See full-size image at, Learn more at:


My Experience as a Buell Early Childhood Leadership Fellow

Cassandra Johnson


Cassandra Johnson

Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) is an approach to teaching grounded both in the research on how young children develop and learn and in what is known about effective early education. Its framework is designed to promote young children’s optimal learning and development. DAP involves teachers meeting young children where they are (by stage of development), both as individuals and as part of a group; and helping each child meet challenging and achievable learning goals.

Buell logo1-colo_mediumIn my opinion, the planning team for the Buell Early Childhood Leadership Program (BECLP) rooted and grounded the program’s framework (for leaders and emerging leaders in the field) with the same Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) concept as listed above. Whether purposed or incidental it is the responsible for the success of the program!

I first learned of BECLP in 2009 and decided to attend an open house. I considered applying for the 2010/2011 cohort, but life presented me with the birth of my 3rd child. The 2011/2012 cohort was the 5th and possibly final cohort and my last opportunity to take advantage of such a uniquely developed and prestigious program. As an administrator with over 15 years experience in Early Childhood, Bachelors in Management and an MBA in Administration, I attended numerous ECE workshops and conferences, but did not have an extensive amount of college credits related directly to ECE. BECLP provided an opportunity for me to advance to a Level V Early Childhood Credential. I was curious and initially unsure how BECLP’s curriculum would strengthen me as a leader in the field, especially since my work role lies in the business sector with a focus outside the classroom.

I was ecstatic when I received the letter stating I was one of the 20 chosen to go through the program. During our summer symposium the BECLP teaching staff brought in Dr. Jill Stamm to present on early brain development: birth to three. Dr. Stamm’s shared knowledge awakened my interest in the neuroscience connected to early brain development. The more I learned through BECLP the more I wanted to know and the more my passion grew for “chocolate” aka children (inside story).

The most rewarding aspects about the program were:

  • Learning patience with my passion through the Theory U tool
  • The teaching techniques used by the BECLP team accommodated differentiated learning styles
  • More than just text books: field trips, presentations, projects, group work, Q&A sessions with a panel of experts, guest speakers (doctors, politicians, business personnel, researchers, experts) all of whom were extremely knowledgeable and who presented content directly related to the field, face-to-face experiences with legislators on the legislative floor, curriculum connected to real work and hands-on activities covering all arenas of ECE from teaching to finance to advocacy
  • Assigned a personal BECLP mentor and able to elect our own field mentor
  • Being a BFF (Buell Fellow Five) – which generated new relationships. These relationships opened network opportunities and connections to different leaders with diverse roles in ECE representing numerous counties in Colorado.

The BECLP team created the ideal classroom for adults. The classroom modeled how school systems should create learning environments for early learners; taking them out from behind the desk and chairs and adding fun (neuroscience brain note: fun is connected with pleasure, which in turn creates a chemical release in the brain to want more). Creating fun learning environments = the desire to want to learn more (an ingenious concept).

Navigating through Theory U was my biggest struggle, but it helped me unveil an ACT for my critical issue. With this program I was able to identify a need in the field and ACT as a leader to generate a ripple toward a solution. In extension to my capstone project I collaborated with two BECLP fellows (Sena Harjo & Dorothy Shapland) to create The Nest Matters: Advice from egg to flight.

The Nest Matters focuses on early child development from prenatal (the egg phase) through the stages of tweens when children prepare to leave the nest (the flight phase).In partnership with the Denver Urban Spectrum, The Nest Matters features a monthly column and has created its own blog ( sharing the latest research from experts, researchers, and doctors in Early Childhood Education and Child Development. The owner of Denver Urban Spectrum is working with The Nest Matters in building its audience with the goal to launch its own community magazine focused on early child development.

The BECLP helped foster me as a leader and it has been an awesome journey ever since. The BECLP Alumni Network continues to provide an opportunity to remain active and stay connected with other fellows. Learning that BECLP had been extending was the best news and I am looking forward to meeting and possibly working with the next group of fellows.


Working With Young Families: Training That All Early Childhood Providers Should Have, But Rarely Receive


Candice Leary-Humphrey

Most early childhood professionals have taken at least one course (if not several) about how to engage families in their child’s education, how to promote cultural diversity in early education programs and the educator’s role in serving families from all socio-economic backgrounds.  While these courses are incredibly invaluable to the competent and intentional teacher, they typically fail to provide an adequate focus on one of our country’s most vulnerable populations: the 1,354 children that are born each day to a teenage mother (DeJong, 2003) Having worked in the early childhood realm for over 8 years as a teacher, administrator and family services professional, I have enjoyed the benefit of extremely advantageous access to professional development opportunities; though I have been consistently surprised regarding the lack of formal training or education that is available for early education professionals who will almost certainly serve teen parent families at some point in their careers.  As educators, we know that developing effective relationships with our students and their parents will only serve to support a positive education experience.  Like all families, serving teen parents and their children requires a professional approach that is culturally competent and individualized according to the needs of the family.  In order to provide this, educators require in-depth training that recognizes the unique needs of teen parents.

Candice and KalebMy experience with teen parents is both professional and personal.  At the age of 16, I became a mother for the first time.  Like many teen parents, the news that you will be having a baby took me by surprise and stimulated a great deal of stress and fear for myself as well as the father of my unborn child.  The most primitive logistics of how I would care for another human being were completely overwhelming to me throughout my pregnancy and even after Kaleb was born, I lacked confidence in my ability to care for my child.  For this reason, introducing Kaleb to a group childcare environment was simultaneously a relief and an additional stress.  Throughout Kaleb’s earliest years, I experienced both positive and negative interactions with his early education teachers.  Some professionals treated me with the same doubt and shame that I already innately felt, while others were nurturing to me as well as my son. In addition to the challenges presented by the educators’ own biases, my own behaviors were as incomprehensible to them as most teenagers’ actions and words are to their own parents.  After years of reflection, I continue to wonder how the interactions between me and providers could have been improved had the teachers been trained on how to support teen families.  What kind of parent could I have been for Kaleb if I hadn’t been so resistant to the advice of his teachers? Is there a way that Kaleb’s caregivers could have approached me so that I wouldn’t have felt so judged? So inadequate? Ultimately I wonder how Kaleb’s experience could have been more complete and successful if his parents had been more engaged in his preschool community.

This month I will be presenting my personal story with supporting data and research at the Rocky Mountain Early Childhood Conference.  I am looking forward to this opportunity to provide guidance for educators and administrators who strive to develop effective relationships and program engagement with the teen parents they serve today or may serve in the future.  The sub-topics that I will discuss are intended to guide teachers in understanding what type of individualization may be necessary to effectively communicate with teens, as well as encourage teachers who may not realize the extent of the impact that providers can have on young families.  Some of the content areas that will be reviewed include:

  • Teen brain development and how we can use Erikson’s 8 Stages to better understand challenging teen behaviors
  • How the psychological effects of teen parenthood may present challenges for providers
  • Strategies for building effective and trusting relationships with teen parents (including establishing appropriate roles and professional boundaries)
  • How effective early educators can positively impact teen families immediately and in the long-term

Though I will not be the first to present this information for educators, I believe that this topic requires far more academic attention than early education professionals receive in traditional degree or certificate programs.  As providers see more and more teens bringing their children to early education centers for care, we must take the initiative with our professional development plans to ensure that we can effectively serve families of all kinds. Teachers can have a powerful impact on parenting behaviors and philosophies.  While I look forward to hosting a forum where I can support educators’ practice and approach with teens, I am mutually excited to remind teachers of the potential that exists within their relationships with all families; but especially our teen parents. Though the interactions that teachers have with young families may not be without challenges, there is a great reward in knowing that you have been a support for a parent as well as their child. The chance to educate young families is an opportunity that early education programs cannot afford to lose; especially when the greatest barrier to teacher efficacy is simply a lack of training.

Are you ready to learn more about how we can effectively serve teen families?  If so, please attend my presentation at the RMECC on March 1, 2013 at 3:30pm in room 503.


DeJong, L. (2003). Using Erikson to Work More Effectively with Teenage Parents. Young Children, v58 n2, 87-95.


Planting Seeds, Sprouting Wings



Several years ago, I decided that it was time to further my career by enrolling in a Master’s Degree program. I had spent my post-Bachelor years in the human services field; however the focus always was on children and families. As a matter of fact, my lifelong passion had been children and families; however, I had a specific interest for English Language Learners and the importance of maintaining individual home languages. Nonetheless, I was at a complete loss for what type of post graduate degree I should aim for.

I knew that I wanted to help advocate for this particular community, but I had no idea what career paths were available to take. I contemplated getting a Master’s in Bilingual Education but that never seemed to come to fruition. As I continued my work with children and families, I started to notice a large portion of culturally insensitive practices continuing to occur in the preschool classroom. Oftentimes these occurrences led to unnecessary IEPs and/or inappropriate goals placed on IEPs. This led me to consider a Master’s degree in Special Ed, yet I was unaware how this would allow for a specific concentration on ELLs, nor could I imagine what path I would embark on after receiving this degree.
I continued exploring different options for obtaining an MA, that would really allow for individualization for my passion. Eventually the perfect program came along. They were looking for candidates for the 1st year of the Buell Early Childhood Education Leadership Program. I was encouraged to apply. Again, I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure that I could embark on my desired career path from the resulting degree.
After tons of discussion with multiple mentors, I decided to go for it. I applied, was called in for an interview and waited excruciatingly long for a response. Unfortunately I was not accepted. The following year, I was personally contacted with a request to reapply. I did so begrudgingly, expecting another rejection. Luckily this wasn’t the case.

I recall the first day, sitting in the familiar classroom setups that are so often trademarked by interactive classrooms to facilitate discussion and collaboration. I was completely intimidated as we went round robin “telling about ourselves”. By comparison, the breadth of knowledge all my fellow fellows (pun intended) seemed expansive.

As the year passed, and we discussed, debated and informed ourselves about the issues in the Early Childhood Field, I became more confident. I found my voice. I spent my year researching my passion which was centered on English Language Learners with Special Needs. All the research culminated in a grant to develop a Toolkit for Families going through the IFSP/IEP process. In short, I built a strong foundation that would propel me for the next stages in my career.

In the years since then, my tie to the Buell community has served me well. Since the first year that I applied, 97 Buell Fellows from all around Colorado have completed the program. The beauty of the program is that your learning doesn’t stop the day you end the program. You continue participating and advocating in a variety of ways in the ECE community. You continue growing, discovering and evolving. You find a new sense of purpose and passion.

I signed up for the Buell ECE Leadership Program with the sole intention of getting a MA. I got that and so, so much more.
(…and now you can too. Buell is currently accepting applications. The deadline is February 22, 2013. Apply here)

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Early Childhood Response to Intervention- Best Practices in an Emerging Field

Nathan Pope

Posted by Nathan Pope


Nathan Pope

Many readers may have heard of the concept Response to Intervention (RTI), but may not know what it looks like in practice, or that RTI can be applied to Pre-K settings.  This blog is an introduction to RTI, and the goal is for educators and administrators to recognize the need and value in implementing or expanding an effective RTI program in their preschools.  Future articles in this series will address what parents need to know about RTI, emerging RTI models, and effective interventions.


What is RTI?

RTI is a recognized evidence-based practice to improve educational outcomes for all children regardless of whether they are in general or special education.  In addition, federal and state accountability policies support the use of RTI in annual reporting of individual child progress (Head Start for School Readiness Act, 2007).  The RTI problem-solving model has been increasingly implemented in K-12 education since the late 1990s, and research suggests that an RTI approach can be beneficial in the years prior to kindergarten.

Why Do Schools Need RTI?

Many children enter preschool without having a strong foundation of language, early literacy, and socio-emotional regulation skills.  Do you have a child that is having trouble recognizing letters?  If so, implementing RTI could help children learn key skills.  Pre-K RTI provides an evidence-based practice for preventing or mitigating the occurrence of language, literacy, and academic learning difficulties or learning disabilities.  In schools where universal screening in key areas of academic and behavioral areas occurs, students who are falling behind are quickly identified and interventions are discussed, implemented, and monitored to see if the interventions help the student get back on a trajectory for success.

What does a RTI model look like?

RTI is a dynamic, multi-tier framework of support to provide differentiated instructional interventions for individual students based on their demonstrated need.  There is no universal model of RTI, but the common features of Pre-K RTI include:

  1. Providing all children research-based curriculum and instructional methods to reach the desired educational outcomes (Tier 1).
  2. Universal screening to identify children not learning as expected, and providing additional focused, intensive instruction and monitoring their progress more frequently (Tier 2).
  3. Providing additional support to students when Tier 2 instruction failed or who need even more intensive intervention (Tier 3).

At the state level, the Colorado RTI framework promotes high-quality research-based curriculum and interventions based on children’s academic and behavioral needs.

What can RTI look like at my Preschool?

Many preschools already have some of the components of RTI in place, but need to supplement their existing program and refine professional development in areas that need additional support.  For instance, if a preschool is already using a research-based core curriculum such as Teaching Strategies Gold, Tier 1 instruction will stay the same.  The universal screening measure will depend on what skills or behavior you want to evaluate.  Schools evaluating receptive vocabulary may want to use the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT-4) or the Preschool Language Scale (PLS-5).  There are now several pre-k progress monitoring tools available for Tier 2 including the Early Communication Indicator (ECI) and the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS).  Tier 3 interventions include more frequent and intensive individualized interventions.  Under the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), children may be referred to see if they are a “child with a disability.”  RTI may not be used to delay or replace a full evaluation to determine if they are eligible for special education and related services.

Next Steps

Are you ready to implement or improve RTI practices at your preschool?  You can start by filling out a school-level RTI rubric.  Stay tuned for additional blogs on this critically important topic!

My Top 5 RTI Resources
  1. Colorado Department of Education RTI page:
  2. Colorado Response to Intervention: A Practitioner’s Guide to Implementation
  3. Roadmap to Pre-K RTI: Applying Response to Intervention in Preschool Settings
  4. The Response to Intervention (RTI) Approach in Early Childhood
  5. The RTI Action Network