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    • Describe the connection between the arrangement of the program environment and promoting a sense of positive well-being. 
    • Learn about tools that may help you and your staff assess the learning environment.
    • Evaluate a list of evidence-based resources that may be used in professional development activities that focus on positive guidance practices and program improvement.
    • Reflect on staff supervision practices and their alignment to your program’s mission and philosophy.




    “The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences.” – Loris Malaguzzi

    Your program’s values, mission, and philosophy are the foundation for how you and staff interact with children, families, and colleagues. A knowledgeable, well-trained professional staff lays the foundation for building a climate that supports positive guidance.

    As we think about positive guidance practices, we can refer to the Pyramid Model ( ) to illustrate the components of a high-quality approach to positive behavior supports for children and youth.

    Visual pyramid model for foundations of supporting children's positive behavior in child-care and youth programs The Pyramid Model is a graphic representation of how child-development and youth programs can lay the foundations to support children’s positive behavior. This evidence-based model has been found to be an effective tool to guide early care and education professionals in planning environmental strategies, social and emotional instruction, and individualized behavior change programs for children. The Pyramid Model is widely used in many early care and education programs. Watch the following brief video presentation to learn about the Pyramid Model:

    Pyramid Components to Promote Positive Guidance

    As a manager and program leader, you can use this model during professional development activities and in reflective supervision meetings with staff. Each segment of the pyramid contributes to a positive program climate for staff, children, and families. A trained staff is critical in order to effectively use positive guidance techniques. For many staff members, positive guidance practices may be a new method of interacting with children. Your support is critical for staff members to become comfortable with new ways of thinking about and interacting with children that focus on building positive relationships even when children engage in challenging behaviors.

    Yellow: Effective Workforce (Systems and policies promote and sustain the use of evidence-based practices .)

    Your personal and professional support for staff helps them engage in positive guidance practices. Individual goal setting and professional growth plans are critical to creating a program climate that values ongoing, lifelong learning. As a manager, you are an essential resource as you provide staff with the support they need to bring up any concerns or questions about how to address children’s mistaken behaviors. Your use of reflective supervision with staff creates a supportive climate where staff members feel heard and comfortable with sharing ideas and trying new strategies. You contribute to building an effective workforce by:

    • Recognizing staff for outstanding contributions
    • Supporting staff as they learn new strategies for working with children, youth, and families
    • Holding yourself and your staff accountable for articulating and practicing program policies
    • Using data to indicate areas of need or change and planning actions to address those needs

    Blue: Nurturing and Responsive Relationships (Supportive, responsive relationships among adults and children is an essential component to promote healthy social emotional development.)

    To create nurturing and responsive relationships, you must build individual relationships with children, staff, and families. Being available during pick up and drop off to talk with families or drop in on youth games keeps you involved in daily interactions. Continuity of care and assigning primary care providers promotes warm, ongoing relationships among staff and families. When staff and families feel acknowledged and valued by you, they will in turn be more resilient when interacting with the children. Staff members will view you as an ally in their work with children. The trust they feel from you can support them as they engage in problem solving and teaching children “what to do” instead of focusing on who holds power over the child. You may contribute to nurturing and responsive relationships by:

    • Holding celebrations and acknowledging positive events in the lives of staff, children, and families
    • Speaking positively and with enthusiasm about children, staff, and families
    • Welcoming culturally, linguistically, and ability diverse children and their families; providing materials in the home language in print and on the web site
    • Engaging families in the program by asking about their child’s interests, their caregiving practices, routines, and preferences

    Blue: High Quality Supportive Environments (High quality early childhood environments promote positive outcomes for all children.)

    The physical environment of classrooms, offices, lounges, and storage and outdoor spaces is a major component of ensuring a high-quality program. The program environment can influence the use of positive guidance practices. When children feel safe and secure, and have meaningful activities that engage them, they are less likely to engaging in challenging behaviors. As the manager, you are trusted to ensure that the program environments are safe and secure for children, staff, and families. You offer information about how to obtain necessary resources, materials, and equipment to ensure high-quality environments in which staff can engage in nurturing relationships with children and families. Environmental quality includes your oversight of all program spaces (e.g., organized family corner, clear and welcoming paths into and out of the center, attractive working outdoor play and recreation equipment, indoor appropriately sized furnishings, teacher technology equipment and current software, clean and organized staff lounge and work rooms).

    There are several excellent commercially available assessment tools that can assist you and your staff to objectively rate your program’s environment and help you set goals for improving the quality of your program. Training is offered in different areas across the U.S. You may want to speak with your supervisor about how to obtain training.

    Each of the following environmental assessment tools focuses on a particular age range.

    If your program has adopted a particular curriculum, there may be a rating scale that addresses program quality in relation to the components of that particular curriculum model (e.g., High Scope or the Creative Curriculum).

    Program rating scales and other tools that assess the environment are meant to be conversation starters. They provide objective information that is evidence-based and reliable. That information can then be used to have meaningful conversations with staff, trainers and coaches, and community members about what the program is doing successfully and where there is room for improvement. Program rating scales also help you as a manager learn about resources that staff need to be successful.

    Positive Child Guidance: The Environment’s Role

    As the manager, you are trusted to make sure that the program environments are safe and secure for children, staff, and families.

    Green: Targeted Social Emotional Supports (Systematic approaches to teaching social skills can have a preventive and remedial effect.)

    Many young children engage in challenging behavior because they have not been taught appropriate social skills. As the program manager, you will lead staff in intentionally teaching children appropriate social skills. These skills include sharing, turn taking, expressing emotions appropriately, taking another’s perspective, and using words and other communication strategies to resolve conflicts.

    There are some excellent social skills training curricula that you should learn about and perhaps adopt as part of your program’s curricula. This is a short list of widely adopted social skills curricula:

    You can obtain more information about a variety of evidence-based social-emotional curricula and behavior interventions in Powell and Dunlap’s Evidence-Based Social-Emotional Curricula and Intervention Packages for Children 0-5 Years and Their Families.

    As you interact with staff and families, think critically about your own intentional interactions. As the program leader, everyone looks to you for guidance on providing information and feedback to others. Carefully plan what you will say if you have to deliver some difficult information to a staff member or parent. Your modeling of positive interactions will reinforce the relationship-based climate you want to promote within your program.

    Red: Intensive and Individualized Intervention (Assessment-based intervention that results in individualized behavior supports)

    You will find that some children will need intensive individualized intervention to address their challenging behaviors. Some staff will require a great deal of support to determine the meaning behind children’s challenging behaviors and to choose appropriate responses to that behavior.

    Assessing behavior, determining the meaning (or function) behind that behavior, and planning appropriate responses is a team effort. You cannot create an intensive behavior plan for a child without using a team approach by including the child’s family.

    As program manager, you will need to create a system for staff to use when they have a concern about a child’s challenging behavior. Staff members need training and guidance about how to observe and record information about challenging behaviors so they can provide objective, data-based descriptions of children’s behavior. You also need to be a keen observer and recorder of behavior as you are an important participant in planning behavior supports. You play a significant role in working with staff to plan meaningful professional development that will empower them to engage in documenting, understanding, and addressing challenging behavior. In this lesson's Supporting Infants and Toddlers with Challenging Behavior Learn activity, you will read about a manager who used the Pyramid Model to support her staff.

    Supervise & Support

    Importance of Professional Development

    To effectively supervise staff to use positive guidance practices, you will need to feel comfortable and adept at them yourself. There are several activities you can do to prepare yourself in order to promote positive guidance practices:

    • Receive training in the components of the Pyramid Model so you can supervise staff and assist them in implementing recommended practices in child guidance.
    • Receive training on one or more of the environmental assessment tools. These tools can then be used to open a discussion with staff and families about how to improve the program environment.
    • Plan and implement reflective supervision so that you are able to listen and respond to staff needs and concerns. Provide staff with written feedback and work with each staff member to develop personal goals that will improve their knowledge about environmental arrangement, teaching intentional social skills, and working as a team member to address intensive, persistent challenging behavior.

    The foundation of the Pyramid Model for promoting social emotional competence in young children is the effective workforce. The rest of the model’s components would not exist without the foundation of an effective workforce. As the program manager, you are responsible for making sure quality improvement occurs continuously in your program. You will do this by engaging in training opportunities for yourself and ensuring that your staff have opportunities to access high-quality professional development.

    Supporting Staff: The Importance of Professional Development

    Effective managers cultivate a culture of continuous improvement in their program.

    Supervision Cycle

    The reflective supervision cycle is the manager’s best tool for supporting continuous program improvement. Evaluation of staff is a regular and planned activity. Staff will require different levels of supervision depending on their needs and experience working with children. All staff should know ahead of time when they will be observed and how they will participate in the reflective supervision process. As part of the effective workforce, you too will need to increase your knowledge and skills in promoting positive guidance practices among the staff. Sharing your own goals for learning more about positive guidance practices, social skills curricula, and environmental assessment with staff will demonstrate your willingness to grow professionally.



    There are many high-quality professional-development resources available to you through publishers, websites, free webinars, videos, etc. As a manager, you can provide resources for staff development about using positive guidance practices, enhancing the learning environment, observation and documentation of child behavior, and planning responses to children’s behaviors.

    Use the attached Improvement Resources document to explore a few high quality resources. Consider how you might use these resources to improve your program’s quality. Use this chart to determine what training and supports you would need to incorporate these resources into your staff development activities.



    It is helpful to develop a written timeline to plan staff supervision. Think about who will conduct the supervision, when the evaluations will take place, what observation tools will be used to evaluate staff, and when you will meet with each person to provide feedback after the evaluation.

    Be sure that within your observational tools or evaluation forms you outline behaviors you expect to see that reflect the philosophy of guidance in your program.  In the attachments below there is a blank sample evaluation form from the Child Care Lounge website ( and it provides just one example of a staff evaluation form that could be used.

    • Does this form capture all the job skills with regards to positive guidance you think should be included in a staff evaluation?
    • How does your current staff evaluation plan support your mission and program philosophy about child guidance?

    Next, look at the example staff evaluation form.  Based on this staff member’s performance,

    • What would be your next steps? 
    • What would you recommend in terms of professional development?  Would any of the tools you researched in this lesson be applicable?
    • What goals might you construct with this staff member?




    True or False? The Pyramid Model is a graphic representation of how management can lay the foundation to support staff members’ positive interactions with families.


    Finish this statement: As a manager, you can help build an effective workforce by…


    You are new to your role as program manager and would like to begin staff evaluations. What steps should you follow?

    References & Resources

    Center for the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL). Retrieved from

    Child Development Institute. Retrieved from

    Hunter, A., & Hemmeter, M.L. (2009). Addressing Challenging Behavior in Infants and Toddlers. Zero to Three, 29(3), 5-12.

    Lentini, R., Vaughn, B. J., & Fox, L. (2008). Creating Teaching Tools for Young Children with Challenging Behavior. Retrieved from

    National Association for the Education of Young Children Accreditation Systems. Retrieved from

    Powell, D., & Dunlap, G. (2009). Evidence-Based Social-Emotional Curricula and Intervention Packages for Children 0-5 Years and Their Families (Roadmap to Effective Intervention Practices). Tampa, Florida: University of South Florida, Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention for Young Children. Retrieved from

    Technical Assistance Center for Social and Emotional Development for Young Children. Retrieved from

    The Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute Environmental Rating Scales. Retrieved from