How Principals Can Promote Early-Childhood Learning

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To the Editor:

Your article "Better Training on Early Years Urged for Principals" (Aug. 11, 2010) discusses a critically important subject. Communication between preschool and elementary school teachers—particularly kindergarten teachers—can yield enormous benefits and definitely help lessen achievement gaps.

During my career, I have been both a site-based principal (K-8) and a director of early-childhood education, and I have found that the following yield very positive results:

• Literacy specialists who work with preschool and kindergarten teachers as well as principals, bringing the three groups together for collaboration;

• Professional learning communities that tackle the achievement gap and are composed of kindergarten and elementary teachers working together;

• Visits by preschool teachers to kindergarten classrooms and kindergarten teachers to preschool classrooms; and

• The sharing of data between preschool and kindergarten teachers. Many types of data can be shared, and doing so results in rich discussions focusing on the needs of children and families.

Many of these activities are free or low-cost, yet they often have dramatic results in helping level the playing field for the neediest children, understanding early-childhood education, and promoting collaboration and dialogue. Well-trained principals are poised to promote these activities.

Rebecca Wheat
Program Field Supervisor
Principal Leadership Institute
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, Calif.

To the Editor:

As a longtime early-childhood educator, I have witnessed methods in preschool and kindergarten classrooms that have made my hair stand on end. So I favor professional development that illustrates the importance of developmentally appropriate practices, as long as the goal is meaningful implementation.

Instead, what usually ends up happening is more force-feeding of academics to 5-year-olds under the guise of “closing the gap.” Can gaps be closed using developmentally appropriate practices? Yes, but most people and many teachers don’t know what this truly looks like.

Maybe professional development will help, but I remain skeptical. What I see is administrators giving only lip service to “best practices for early learners” because they are simultaneously removing play from children’s lives while purporting to support learning. Anyone associated with early-childhood education knows that play is the backbone that supports the development of all critical learning. This isn’t mere opinion; scientific data exist to back this up, but it remains an unpopular view and one that is consistently ignored.

The fact is that for those not actively involved in the field, the concept of school readiness is widely misunderstood. Certainly, the quotes in your article from Douglas B. Reeves continue to misguide. He writes, for example, about “stubborn resistance to the idea … that kindergartners should be able to read and write.” I don’t have resistance to the idea of young children’s having the ability to read and write, but I do stubbornly resist the notion that teachers should use textbook worksheets to help that happen, in place of an environment rich with books and writing materials that encourage their naturally evolving literacy skills.

Probably the only comments to be trusted come from Akimi Gibson of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, who maintains that it is up to principals to see that developmentally appropriate practices become a necessity in classrooms. We can only hope that this becomes a reality.

Ellen Cassidy
Sawyer, Mich.

Vol. 30, Issue 02, Page 21

Published in Print: September 1, 2010, as How Principals Can Promote Early-Childhood Learning
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