By DAVID GREEN
Everybody benefits in this project. Child care workers receive free coaching. The coaches have the opportunity to interact with area child care facility owners and put their skills to work. A university study obtains data for research.
And let’s not forget the children. Youngsters participating in the project benefit as their teacher gains new knowledge.
The endeavor is known as Project Great Start Professional Development Initiative—an effort to improve the knowledge and skills of early childhood educators.
Once a week for a 10-week span, Sanders receives a visit from Brooke Rains who observes, provides teacher behavior modeling and gives direction and ideas.
Rains is an Adrian College elementary education graduate who owned her own child care center before joining the Child Care Network, a resource and referral agency.
She also works with Jackson Community College and Baker College, and it’s the Baker affiliation that brought her to Great Start as a teacher coach.
With campuses in several cities, Baker is working in collaboration with the Michigan 4C Association and the University of Michigan School of Education in a research project with the end goal of improving literacy skills among young children.
Mark Sullivan, executive director of Michigan 4C (Community Coordinated Child Care), explained the project as a means of finding the best way to improve interaction between children and their adult care-givers.
Participating child care centers are divided into four groups:
1. The teacher takes a class at Baker College and receives a weekly visit from a coach;
2. The teacher takes a class at Baker;
3. The teacher receives a weekly visit from a coach;
4. A control class without a class or coach.
Pre- and post-assessments of pre-school students will help researchers at the University of Michigan reach their conclusions.
“The whole idea of having mentors give teachers the opportunity to gain skills is really pretty exciting,” Sullivan said, noting that many child care providers have no education beyond high school.
“We’ve tried workshops, courses and classes,” he said, “but we haven’t spent a lot of time with coaching.”
Coaches aren’t told anything about the initial assessment, said Jean Allison of Baker College, so their efforts won’t skew the research by focusing on weaknesses.
Instead, coaches will give advice as needed and when requested by the child care providers.
In the end, Allison said, researchers will determine which approach is the most valuable.
Cyndee Sanders has no doubts about the value of her coach.
“Brooke has given me lots of ideas that I haven’t done here,” Sanders said.
They range from how to interact with kids to physical changes in the layout of the classroom.
One youngster in particular has proved to be a challenge in the development of early literacy skills, Sanders said, but her coach offered pointers that have really made a difference.
She’s also brought in a variety of reference materials for Sanders and her staff.
Rains has enjoyed the coaching project, too, not only for the assistance she can give, but simply for the opportunity to get out and visit child care centers in the area.
“It’s so cool to see the centers after talking on the phone to providers or seeing them in classes,” she said.
A recently published paper by the RAND Corporation points out the value of preschool education. If that’s the case, then investment in the early years makes a lot of sense.
“So many families use child care now,” Sullivan said. “We need to make it better.”
He expects the University of Michigan study to be published by the end of next summer.
“For those of us involved in improving child care, we will need to be reading that,” Sullivan said.