October 15, 2020
Many teachers of young children are struggling to balance developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) with virtual instruction and pandemic-related health and safety guidance. As classrooms operate using a combination of virtual, in-person, and hybrid approaches, it is important that early childhood professionals continue to place the developmental needs of their students front and center. To explore this topic, we sat down with Dr. Barbara Cooper, Alabama’s Secretary of Early Childhood Education; Tabatha Rosproy, 2020 National Teacher of the Year (Winfield Early Learning Center, Winfield, Kansas), Tamara Johnson, Executive Director of Malaika Early Learning Center (Milwaukee, WI) and a member of NAEYC Governing Board; and Dr. Edward Manuszak, Superintendent of Dundee Community Schools (Dundee, MI) and Co-Chair of the AASA Early Learning Cohort.
Tabatha Rosproy started the conversation answering the question: “What do children need the most?” acknowledging the stress teachers, families, and children are experiencing. She expressed families need support and educators must have reasonable expectations for families. She added that her classroom has shifted from a classroom teacher model to a family coaching model to help families with boundaries and routines at home; educators should focus on relationships with children in the classroom and those at home: “Relationships are now and will always be the most important thing.”
Secretary Cooper agreed relationships and connections between teachers, children, and families, including the relationship between families and their children, are what children need the most. She stated: “We’re recognizing we absolutely must make sure the family engagement opportunities we are providing are actually what parents need.” Cooper also shared Alabama’s Department of Early Care and Education (ADECE) and the First Class Pre-K program have worked to make sure classrooms have retained appropriate practices creating reopening guidance with input from teachers and other staff. The guidance includes expectations for high quality early learning environments based on the First Class Pre-K framework.
Tamara Johnson was then asked as a board member of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and director of a program what children need most. As a board member, she shared NAEYC is in the process of updating their Developmentally Appropriate Practice Position Statement and has recently released an Advancing Equity in Early Childhood Education Position Statement highlighting the efforts of the organization to address the needs and concerns of teachers. NAEYC has offered professional development and webinars as well as dedicated resources related to COVID-19 including a blog post, DAP in the Time of COVID: Questions to Consider. NAEYC also hosts Interest Forums and a platform online, Hello NAEYC. As a Director, Johnson shared some of the adjustments her program has made while trying to keep things as normal as possible at Malaika Early Learning Center such as decreasing enrollment, adjusting arrival and departure procedures as well as meals. She also emphasized flexibility and creativity focusing on self-care.
Dr. Manuszak shared his district began with a staggered start to ease the transition back to school. He emphasized connections with children prior to returning to school as well as allowing parents or guardians into the school building to walk children to classrooms: “If you have to heighten your cleaning, do it.”
Panelists were then asked how they are addressing equity issues accentuated by the pandemic. Johnson started looking for resources by applying for grants, so all the children received technology to use at home which included training for families. Alabama provided a communication system for teachers and families so they could focus on those connections with children and families. Cooper also shared they offered the Born Ready platform, which is an outreach platform for families to receive tips every day; provided vouchers so Pre-K parents could request broadband services that are provided through the K-12 system; and expanded mental health services to provide services throughout Alabama. Dr. Manuszak shared that AASA, the School Superintendent’s Association Early Learning Cohort is holding an Early Learning Symposium on Equity October 22, 2020.
The panelists then offered strategies they have adopted for in-person learning such as smaller class sizes; hiring additional custodians with more intensive daily cleaning; cleaning materials after each use as well as rotating materials; and using outdoors and open windows as much as possible. Rosproy’s district followed the Pod approach and partnered with the local health department to adjust practices and make allowances such as decreasing physical distancing requirements as long as children are wearing masks. Secretary Cooper emphasized the importance of partnering with their K-12 system when developing guidance to promote alignment and understanding of developmentally appropriate practices. She stated: “We absolutely support safety and guidance around safety, but we want to do it in developmentally appropriate ways. And I think just forming that partnership has helped us be able to do that in a way that’s not as disruptive to both environments.”
Throughout the webinar, the panelists stressed the importance of elevating teacher voices and advocating for themselves and the children and families they serve. The webinar closed with one last piece of advice from the panelists:
Secretary Cooper: “I think it’s just critical that as educators, as leaders, that we find our voice. This is an opportunity for us to stand for something. Being the voice for those children that we’ve spoken about tonight. We have to be the person to actually say it’s not OK the way we’ve been doing things, this is our opportunity to reimagine education. It’s an opportunity to reimagine our health system. But it’s an opportunity, most importantly, for us to align every resource we can to maximize those resources and use them to the fullest so the children benefit. And ultimately, our economy and our nation will benefit from the things that we do around this pandemic experience.”
Tamara Johnson: “I will keep it short and sweet. Offer patience, grace, and kindness to yourself and to the children and families.”
Tabatha Rosproy: “The most dangerous words in the English language are ‘but we’ve always done it this way.’ I keep telling people when they’re scared to speak up, or when they’re not sure what to do that they can love something a whole lot and still want it to change and grow. So as educators, we have the responsibility to learn from the past, but we also have the responsibility to serve the future. Remember that as you’re in this situation, that feels really overwhelming sometimes. What can you learn from this? What opportunities exist? Don’t let this defeat you. Let it make you stronger.”
View the full webinar below.