Interpreting Data to Drive Instruction: Data-Driven Decision Making for Teachers

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it 1,000 times…… data is the driving force of decision-making. Effective Head Start programs develop a culture of data-driven decision making, the process of making choices based on appropriate analysis of programmatic information. As programs consider multiple data sources and analyze their results, they are able to create changes that increase their overall quality and improve child outcomes.

Teachers play a critical role in this process through the use of ongoing assessment data to guide classroom instruction. Observing and gathering assessment information for every child is the starting point for decision-making in the classroom. Teachers must be intentional with every step in the assessment-instructional cycle, increasing their interpretive skills in order to monitor and support student progress.

Here are a few suggestions for strengthening this process:

  • Focused Observations: Teachers must target their observations and look closely for specific information. After observing that a child has difficulty with a given task, teachers take a more in-depth look at the areas of development that would support (or hinder) success in that task.
  • Interpret Data: Following a focused observation, teachers develop a hypothesis to be tested at the next instructional opportunity. For example, “Could Sara do the task if I provide more visual cues?” or “Could she do this in a different context?”
  • Adapt and Modify: Teachers use their data to design intentional groupings of students, increase environmental supports and adjust their instructional interactions to support students’ needs.
  • Engage Families: Parents are always an important part of the cycle, including the assessment feedback loop. The process of sharing with families provides teachers more information to improve their classroom practice and target learning goals.

Could your classroom staff strengthen their teaching strategies while using their assessments of children’s play to drive instruction?

Contact us at (704) 451-3255 or email us at to shedule training for your Teachers to support them with data-driven decision making.

Strategic Planning: Setting the Direction for Your Program

Does your strategic plan include broad, long-range goals that define what your program wants to accomplish and short-term objectives that are specific and measurable? Are the goals and objectives based on your program’s critical documents? Strategic planning is a great opportunity to bring stakeholders together, provide focus for the program and ensure that everyone is on the same page. When creating your strategic plan, consider the following:

  • Achieve buy-in before you begin. Include all stakeholders in strategic planning to establish buy-in from the beginning. Staff from a variety of positions (teachers, family service workers, center directors, home visitors, management staff, etc.) will bring a different point of view. Also invite members from your Policy Council and Board of Directors. Ask everyone to complete a survey prior to strategic planning. Be sure the survey includes questions about what they want the program to accomplish for children, families, staff and community.
  • Create a list of your program’s strengths and challenges. This list should contain valuable information to establish your program’s goals and objectives. The challenges represent potential goals and the strengths represent potential strategies to achieve the goals. Also take time to review your program’s mission, vision and guiding principles. Ensure that they accurately reflect what you are working to achieve. Finally, for each goal and objective, in addition to timelines and persons responsible, include a “success indicator” column. This information will specifically describe how it will look when each goal is achieved.
  • Review and utilize your programmatic data. Strategic planning is a great time to collect and review key programmatic documents as a group. Critical data includes items such as your community assessment, self-assessment, child assessment data, CLASS data, ongoing monitoring data and family engagement data, just to name a few. Review this important data when creating your goals and objectives.

Looking for someone to facilitate your program’s Strategic Planning and end up with a written Strategic Plan? Give us a call at (704) 451-3255 or email us at

A Full Community Assessment: Your Essential Planning Document

A full Community Assessment will provide you with all of the data that you need to make critical programmatic decisions.  Examples of these programmatic decisions are:

  • Determining recruitment areas and selection criteria;
  • Selecting program options;
  • Determining the type of content area services that are most needed;
  • Creating long-range and short-range program goals and objectives;
  • Determining available community resources to support family stability.

Consider the following when creating your program’s Community Assessment.

  1. Collect a wide variety of data. There is a wealth of data available. Externally, there is the Census Bureau, State and County Departments of Health, American Community Survey, Kids Count Data Center, American FactFinder, State Data Centers, United Way as well as local school districts and early intervention programs, just to name a few.  Internally, there is your PIR, Annual Report, wait list and list of community partners. Surfing the Net, making phone calls and conducting surveys of your parents, staff, Policy Council, Board of Directors and community partners will yield a great deal of valuable data.
  2. Look for trends. When you are collecting current data, also gather information from recent years. This will give you an opportunity to compare data. By aggregating and analyzing the information, you will be able to identify key findings and trends. This will provide you with the information that you need to make critical programmatic decisions.
  3. Create a user-friendly format. Be sure that your community assessment is a document that is easy to read. It should also be user-friendly so that you can find needed information quickly. Include a combination of graphs and charts as well as text. With each graph, add a “Key Finding” that describes the data. After each major section, include a “Highlights and Considerations” section tht summarizes the key information. This will allow you to reference your Community Assessment frequently throughout the year.

We create Full Community Assessments that include all of the required items in the Head Start Program Performance Standards as well as any additional data that you request. If you need help creating a Community Assessment, give us a call at (704) 451-3255 or email us at to discuss your needs.

Essential Elements of Learning

Did you know that your classroom is the third teacher? Your learning environment profoundly impacts skill-building, both socially and academically. Time is our greatest commodity. Therefore, as early childhood educators, we must make the most of our daily schedule (and our space) to increase children’s learning and impulse control.

The essential elements of learning involve intentional interactions that are developed through structure and a nurturing environment. If you want to improve either of these components in the classroom, but you don’t know where to begin, here are some great ways to get started.

  • Build on interests – Children’s interests are aroused when new learning is relevant to their lives and integrated across activities and content areas.
  • Respond to signals – Children’s feelings and attitudes are responded to throughout the day to build a sense of trust between the children and teacher and to increase connections as a school community.
  • Secure the Environment – Children will try new experiences more readily when working in a structured and safe environment where they are allowed to explore freely.
  • Support and Challenge – As children become more independent and self-regulating, the teacher changes interactions to scaffold students to a higher level of learning.

To receive training for Teachers on creating a classroom environment that supports effective learning, please give us a call at (704) 451-3255 or email us at

Listen up! Setting the Stage for Reading and Writing

The Literacy Knowledge and Skills Domain of the Head Start Early Learning Framework sets the stage for reading and writing development in school. As early childhood teachers, we must provide activities that lend themselves to not only developing these critical skills, but that also fully engage children in their learning.

Did you know that Phonological Awareness is a continuum of skills that leads directly to emergent reading and writing? Phonological Awareness calls children to listen to the sounds of our language from a whole word or sentence, down to the individual letter sounds in a word. Later, these skills will help children develop strategies for decoding words when they are learning how to read.

If you want to implement phonological awareness activities in the classroom, but you don’t know where to begin, here are some great activities to get started.

  • Focus on a nursery rhyme or poem every week. Write it on chart paper or poster board and, each day, read it together, making sure that you point to the words as you read it and plan different ways that you can play with the words (for example, hum the rhyme or poem or have the children listen for specific sounds).
  • Use counting, tapping, clapping and jumping to segment a word into syllables.
    For example: cupcake = cup – cake = 2 syllables
  • Play fun word games that manipulate phonemes by removing, adding or substituting sounds in a word or sentence.
    For example: “Let’s play the MISSING game!”
    Can you say “smile” without the /m/; or say “bat” without the /b/“)?

Interested in early literacy, phonological awareness and how to effectively implement it in your classrooms? Give us a call at (704) 451-3255 or email us at

Increasing Your Instructional Support Scores

In most Head Start programs, it is the instructional support domain that produces the lowest CLASS scores. As you know, high CLASS scores are important to ensure best practices in the classroom as well as to prepare for a successful CLASS Review event. Consider providing training to your teaching staff specifically on strategies to increase instructional support scores.

We’ve found that successful teacher training in this area includes the following 3 points:

  • Share examples of the dimensions, indicators and behavioral markers.  Review what each part of the instructional support domain is all about.  Describe each dimension, indicator and behavior marker – in terms of the Head Start classroom.  Provide teachers with examples that that they can use every day with children.  Examples can include what to say to children to help them think critically, activities to encourage their creativity and lessons to expand their language.
  • View and discuss videos of “rich” classroom interactions.  Show video clips that demonstrate the interactions and teaching strategies your teachers should display. Take each dimension within the instructional support domain and view videos of what each dimension should look like and shouldn’t look like.  Take time to discuss the video clips.  “What did you see?” and “How can you do that in your classroom?” are good questions to explore.  Seeing videos and discussing them are effective, hands-on learning strategies.
  • Play to all learning styles.  Use a “learning by doing” training methodology.  Be sure that the teaching staff can truly experience each facet of the instructional support domain.  In addition to showing videos and facilitating large group discussions, include other types of learning such as pair and share, make and take, small group activities, role plays and other highly interactive exercises.  This interaction results in high impact learning, in which the teaching staff can take back the information that they learned and implement it immediately.

Looking for highly interactive training for your teaching staff on increasing instructional support scores?  Give us a call at (704) 451-3255 or email us at

Health and Safety: A Major Focus in Head Start

While health and safety has always been emphasized in Head Start, it is more important than ever that you have systems in place to ensure that your program is in full compliance with all health and safety-related matters. Health and safety is a major focus of many of the newer parts of Head Start – 5 year grants, the newly aligned monitoring system and Recompetition.

  • 5 year grants.  As a part of the 5 year project periods, you must complete a screening of the health and safety environment of each of your centers. This must be completed within 60 days of the start of the project period. Additionally, your Board of Directors must sign a certification of compliance confirming that all centers have received a health and safety screening within 75 days of the start of the project period.
  • Newly aligned monitoring system.  An Environmental Health and Safety Review event is one of the Review events in the newly aligned monitoring system. This Review event focuses solely on health and safety across your program. A Health and Safety Reviewer will visit each classroom in every center of your program. The Review event includes safe and clean facilities, healthy learning environments, safe learning environments & supervision as well as safe transportation.
  • Recompetition.  One of the top reasons that programs are in Recompetition is due to health and safety issues. Deficiencies in the area of health and safety during federal monitoring reviews as well as self-reported health and safety issues are leading causes of programs that have to recompete.

Looking for training on Health and Safety? Give us a call at (704) 451-3255 or email us at

Getting Back to Basics

As we approach the 50th anniversary of Head Start, I think about how Head Start began – and it’s evolution over the years.  It’s important that Head Start staff is familiar with the history of Head Start – as well as its mission, vision and guiding principles.  Understanding the purpose and intent of Head Start provides staff with valuable information – and perspective – as they go about their daily work.

As we all know, Head Start has a language of its own.  It’s critical that all staff is familiar with the basics of Head Start – the Performance Standards, the content areas, self-assessment, community assessment and ongoing monitoring, just to name a few.  It’s important to understand that everything we do is to ensure that children are school-ready and that families are fully engaged and become self-sufficient.  It’s also crucial to understand the importance of accountability – having systems in place and staying Review-ready. These are all functions that are important, not just because we’re required to be in full compliance, but because they are best practices for people working with children and families.

Staff often talk about how much work Head Start is.  It’s true – it is.  But it’s also very rewarding.  The joy that teachers experience when a child learns something because of their efforts… the joy that family services workers feel from linking families to needed services… the joy that we all feel from knowing that we’re making a difference in the lives of children and families – these are the rewards.

Looking for training on “Head Start 101: Getting Back to Basics”?  Give us a call at (704) 451-3255 or email us at

The Life of a New Head Start Director

Are you a new Head Start or Early Head Start Director?  Let me offer you my congratulations! This is a wonderful opportunity and, as I’m sure you’ve already found out, the beginning of an exciting journey.

As a Head Start Director, you are responsible for ensuring that the children and families receive high quality services, that your program is fully compliant with all regulations, and that you provide great leadership to your staff.  I know what you’re saying…….. I have a million things on my to-do list… so many things to address.  Where do I start?

We’ve found that there are 3 key areas for Head Start Directors to focus on:

  • Build relationships.  Having good working relationships is key.  Take time to build relationships with the staff – the staff at your office and the staff at the centers.  Get to know your Policy Council and Board members.  Reach out to your community – to other service providers.  And establish a good relationship with your Program Specialist.
  • Plan well and create systems.  Good planning is essential in Head Start.  Whether you’re designing training for your staff or preparing for a successful Federal Review, plan with your key stakeholders.  And be sure that the planning consists of setting up systems in your program – spelled out in your policies and procedures manual.
  • Provide strong leadership.  One of your most important roles is to provide great leadership to your staff.  Share your vision with the staff – and the critical role that the staff plays in your vision.  Make strategic planning a priority – set goals and monitor the progress frequently.  Communicate your expectations and provide staff with feedback and support.

Looking for “New Head Start Director Training: The Keys to Head Start”?  Give us a call at (704) 451-3255 or email us at

A Time for Reflective Supervision

Reflective supervision and coaching is becoming more of a growing need in Head Start. The more we ask staff to be involved in the emotional needs of families, the more staff requires emotional support. Reflective supervision provides an opportunity to explore the many emotions and experiences that occur in a relationship – relationships between the supervisor and the staff person, between the staff person and the parent, and between the parent and the child. It is essential to understand how each of these relationships affects the other.

Reflective supervision and coaching provides an opportunity to:

  • understand the experiences that each of our families brings to us;
  • understand the beliefs and experiences that our staff brings to their interactions with children and families; and
  • incorporate the new knowledge from these understandings to increase the staff’s skills in working with children and families through a shared partnership with the supervisor.

Training on reflective supervision includes hands-on practice with emotionally-sensitive listening and responding skills. Supervisors are provided with role plays, real-life case scenarios and sensitive, constructive feedback through coaching. The training experience will serve as a model for creating a Head Start setting in which reflective supervision will be put into consistent practice.

Looking for training on reflective supervision and coaching? Give us a call at (704) 451-3255 or email us at