- Learn how to provide instructional leadership to program staff as they implement curriculum, assessment, and instruction.
- Understand how to use reflective supervision, staff observation, and lesson plan review to support the program’s curriculum.
- Understand the importance of being a lifelong learner and staying current in the field.
What is Curriculum? What is Assessment?
"The curriculum consists of the knowledge, skills, abilities and understandings children are to acquire and the plans for the learning experiences through which those gains will occur." - Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth Through Age 8 (2009, p. 20)
Assessment includes the tools and strategies staff members use to understand if children are developing and learning new skills. In early care programs, assessment tools and observations help staff document children’s individual progress to ensure each child is progressing toward their goals. Assessment also informs the curriculum, as activity plans and learning experiences are tailored to the current development and goals for each child. You can learn more about curriculum and assessment best practices by reviewing the joint position statement Where We Stand from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education (NAECS/SDE) attached at the end of the Learn section.
Children and youth attending care and education programs should have a variety of experiences that are intellectually stimulating, engaging, and fun. High-quality programs rely on an evidence-based and developmentally appropriate curriculum as the foundation for teacher and youth leaders to use to plan daily routines and activities. Curriculum should be appropriate for the age of the children for which the caregivers, teachers, or youth leaders are caring, individualized, and culturally responsive. Training & Curriculum Specialists (T&CSs) must have an awareness and understanding of appropriate experiences and developmental goals for the children served in their program. They must also convey and use that knowledge in their work with program staff. Your program may have chosen a particular assessment, curriculum and format for documenting children’s growth and development, so look to your own program’s or Service’s procedures and standards around curriculum and assessment as you work with program staff.
Curriculum planning for infants, toddlers and preschoolers is often tied to teachers’ observations of children (i.e., a form of assessment), which guides the development of activity plans and learning experiences that help children work toward their individual goals and is based on their observed interests. The basis for curriculum in school-age and youth programs, however, often looks different. Activities and experiences for this age group should be designed and developed based on current research and curriculum; for example, activities should be conducted in the following areas: character and leadership development; education and career development; health and life skills; the arts; sports, fitness & recreation; and technology. Children and youth may directly suggest activities or projects they are interested in, and/or activities may be centered around a larger project where there is a defined goal for the group (e.g., creating a community garden, putting on a play, making a model of the human heart).
Staff will bring their own personalities, culture, talents, and interests to their work with children and youth to enrich the curriculum. Families may be invited to share information, knowledge, and skills with the children or youth in their child’s classroom. The curriculum should build on the interests of the children and youth in the setting. For children with disabilities, adaptations and modifications to the chosen curriculum can be made with the help of special-education support staff (e.g., early interventionist or inclusion facilitator) or by following Service or program specific guidelines and policies related to inclusion and working with children with disabilities. The T&CS and program manager are leaders in ensuring that staff members implement the curriculum and any assessments with fidelity.
The T&Cs demonstrates instructional leadership through:
- Conducting classroom observations (examine environmental components such as schedules, materials, routines)
- Conducting teacher observations (using the reflective supervision or practice-based coaching cycle: pre-observation meeting to set goals and action plan, focused classroom observation, and post-observation meeting for reflection and feedback)
- Participation in teacher planning meetings and other team meetings
- Engagement in problem-solving meetings
- Modeling relationship-focused adult-child interactions
- Actively coaching staff when they are implementing new strategies or procedures
- Participation in professional development activities with staff
- Individualizing observation feedback based on the staff member's needs
- Enhancing staff members' knowledge and skills through on-the-job professional development
- Providing staff members with resources and information to ensure that the curriculum is appropriate considering culture, language, and ability for all children and youth
The Virtual Laboratory School is designed to help new T&CS develop competency in these kinds of practices. T&Cs can also continue to strengthen their abilities by partnering with colleagues or seeking mentors and developing professional relationships where they can ask for feedback and share helpful strategies and resources.
As the program manager, you can assist T&CS by providing leadership with regard to curriculum, assessment, and instruction. The program manager secures the necessary resources (e.g., classroom and playground supplies, materials, equipment) and makes sure those resources are in excellent condition and are age-appropriate for the children and youth in the setting.
Program managers understand that together with the T&CS, they make intentional decisions to foster a warm, caring community among staff members. A strong sense of community encourages collaboration as program staff work as a team to implement the curriculum. The program manager and T&CS share relevant information about staff members and also work collaboratively to ensure that staff provide high-quality education and care for all children and youth enrolled in the program.
Observations and Lesson Plan Reviews
Program managers and T&CS demonstrate leadership through planned observations in classrooms and continuous review of lesson plans. T&CSs can coach teachers through meaningful environmental and instructional changes with children and youth. A format for classroom and teacher observations may be predetermined for you by your program setting or Service. Ideally teachers or other staff who are being observed should be included in a pre-observation meeting or conference with the T&CS or program manager to discuss what will be observed and how the observation will be documented (e.g., video, audio, written notes). Goals and action plans should be made in collaboration with the teacher before observations. The observation should include the teacher’s own reflections on practice. T&CSs and program managers can use open-ended questions to find out a teacher’s level of curriculum understanding. When program managers and T&CSs collaborate with the teacher around observation and planning, they acknowledge that this is a collaborative process where the teacher is an active participant in their own professional growth. After an observation, a meeting to review observation data, reflect on the teacher’s practices, and provide the teacher with feedback should take place. Individual supervision (including observational data and collaborative feedback) can be a powerful way to ensure that teachers increase their knowledge and skills around their practices with children and youth.
The environment is a critical part of instruction (so critical that often the environment is called the third teacher). The environment includes not just furniture, materials, and equipment but also teacher-child interactions. There are a number of environment rating scales used in early care and education and youth programs. There have also been extensive studies conducted on teacher-child interactions and the impact adult-child interactions have on children’s outcomes. A number of studies found the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), the Teaching Pyramid Observation Tool (TPOT), and the Teaching Pyramid Infant–Toddler Observation Scale (TPITOS) to be valid measures of teacher-child interaction quality. These environmental assessments are often required for child care centers, Head Start, and pre-K programs to complete as part of state quality rating and improvement systems evaluations. Program managers and T&CSs should become familiar with the observational tools their setting has selected. Training is critical in order to be a keen observer of teachers and children.
Written lesson plans are another way to engage teachers in discussing their practice. Again, the setting you work in may have a specific format for lesson plans. Program managers and T&CSs will want to sit in on planning meetings and review plans to examine fidelity to the curriculum. Program leaders must first be well-versed in their program’s curriculum processes to assess how well staff members are utilizing the materials or content, and following your program’s curriculum procedures. Learning to use a curriculum and creating well-developed lesson plans is a process that takes time and guidance. The T&CS should be prepared to provide positive and constructive feedback and offer suggestions to staff as they develop their lesson plans. Activities should be meaningful and build on the interests of the children and youth. Plans for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers should include developmental information and how the planned experiences and interactions support development. School-age children and older youth can join with peers and teachers to plan ongoing project work (e.g., creation of a science lab, creating costumes and food for a medieval festival, etc.). As T&CSs review staff members’ lesson plans, they should remember to ask reflective questions, like the ones listed below. These will help T&CSs find out how well the staff member understands the curriculum and how to use it in their lesson planning. These questions can also help inform coaching support.
- Where did you get your ideas for your lesson plans this week?
- How do you think these plans will help individual children meet their goals?
- What are you hoping the children or youth will gain from this experience?
- Do you think any modifications might be necessary to ensure all children can engage in this idea?
- What resources might you need to make this plan successful?
- Are there ways you could involve families in this activity?
Supervise & Support
Watch the video below to hear program managers and T&CSs and program managers describe how they conduct productive observations and guide direct care staff to create intentional lesson plans.
An important part of program manager's work is staying current with the field of early care and education and youth development. Joining a professional organization (e.g., National Association for the Education of Young Children, Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children, the National After School Association) is an excellent way to receive timely information about what is new in the field. Subscribing to practitioner journals (Teaching Young Children, Exchange Magazine) provides short articles that can be shared with staff during a meeting. Websites that contain evidence-based information can be great resources as well.
Program managers also need to be evaluated and provided with professional development. Look for a mentor, book group, or social groups that have people in similar jobs where you can share ideas and learn news about the field. You will be a better leader for your staff and families when you make sure to attend to your own professional growth.
There are many resources available to program managers and T&CSs to assist staff in implementing curriculum and building positive relationships with children and youth. The Curriculum & Interactions Resources activity contains resources that may be helpful to coaches as they support teacher-child interactions. Review some of the free resources and bookmark these websites. You may find some new ideas to share with the teachers you coach or supervise.
Program managers and T&CSs indirectly support the teaching-learning cycle. Although they are not directly teaching children, their commitment to high-quality learning experiences for all children and youth engages staff members to examine their work.
Leaders support teachers in their work with children, youth, and families by engaging in reflective supervision. Review the Apply Section handout titled Essentials for Supervisors: Knowledge and Skills Needed for Reflective Supervision. Think about what knowledge and skills you currently have to engage in reflective supervision. What would you like to learn about this process? Reach out to trusted colleague or mentor in your role to seek guidance on how you can further refine your skill set.
American Institute for Research (2014). What to Look for in a High Quality Preschool. Retrieved from http://www.air.org/resource/what-look-high-quality-preschool
Copple, C. & Bredekamp, S. (Eds.) (2009). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth Through Age 8 (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Head Start Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center. (n.d.). Practice Based Coaching (PBC). https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/professional-development/article/practice-based-coaching-pbc
Heffron, M. C., & Murch, T. (2010). Reflective Supervision and Leadership in Infant and Early Childhood Programs. Washington, DC: Zero to Three.
Hemmeter, M. L., Ostrosky, M, & Fox, L. (2021). Unpacking the Pyramid Model. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing Co.
National Center for Quality After School Programs. http://www.sedl.org/afterschool/resources/curriculum.html