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I is for Investigate: three ways to look at your current practices

Before beginning a journey, you need to know where you’re starting. In Quality First, we use the VISION model to guide the quality improvement journey. The second stage in the model focuses on investigating current practices. In this stage, you’ll gather information about children’s daily experiences in your program. (To learn about the first stage, read our blog on vision casting.) Having a clear sense of where you’re starting helps you identify what to work on and how to get there.

The goal of the second stage is to get a clear picture of your daily practices—what’s great, and what could be even better? Read on for three ways to look at your current practices.

You’ll need information from multiple sources to get the clearest possible picture. Include the following in your investigation: your own knowledge about your program, observations from others and formal data.

Your Own Knowledge

You are the expert on your program. Take time to reflect on what you already know. A few tips:

  • What is going well? What does your program do especially well? What areas have you already improved? Where do you shine? Where do teachers feel natural and most “in their element”? 
  • What is challenging? What is most challenging for you or your staff? Are there certain routines or times of the day that are stressful? What would you like to see changed? 
  • Include staff. If you employ staff, ask for their input. A variety of perspectives helps you identify trends and themes.

Observations from Others

Although you know your program best, a fresh perspective highlights things you may not see. This includes observations from a Quality First coach or another technical assistance professional (TAP) such as a Child Care Health Consultant, Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant, or Inclusion Coach. A few tips:

  • Ask for an observation – Invite your coach or other TAPs to observe.  This isn’t for them to evaluate you; it’s to see what children’s daily experiences are like.  Their observations may reinforce what you’re already seeing, and they may identify things you had not noticed. 
  • Consider family feedback – What have families shared from their observations? Family feedback about what’s great and what could be better is important to consider.
  • Use video observation – If you have digital recording equipment like a tablet or smartphone, record a daily routine or activity. Share the recording with a colleague, your coach, or other TAPs as another way to invite a fresh set of eyes to your daily practices. Be sure to get family consent before recording—photo and digital waivers should be on file for each child included in video observation. 

Formal Data

Formal assessment offers data about your program from a standardized, objective lens. If you’re a Quality First participant, you’ll receive a formal assessment at the beginning of participation and about every two years after that. A few tips:

Read your reports Read your program’s assessment reports, take notes and jot down questions. Your coach is a great resource to help you reflect on the information in the reports and answer any questions you may have.

Share feedback with staff If you employ staff, share the reports so teachers can benefit from the feedback. 

  • Be sure to highlight strengths so teachers know what they are doing well. These strengths can become a focal point for peer observations, mentoring and continued professional growth.
  • When highlighting opportunities, share resources and supports. If you work with a Quality First coach or technical assistance team, let teachers know how the team can help.
  • Share overall highlights with your whole staff. Even teachers who weren’t directly observed will benefit from learning the trends identified through assessment.

Use assessment resources – Use the assessment tools, guides and websites as resources. They provide the assessment standards and information to help you understand the lenses of the tools:

  • Environment Rating Scales – third editions (ERS-3)

    • The ERS tools and All About books – The tools provide the indicators and scoring information for the assessment. The All About books provide additional explanations, examples and photos to help you further understand how the tools look at indicators of quality environments in practice. You can use Quality First incentive funds to purchase these through early childhood and book vendors.

    • ERSI website – The Environment Rating Scales official website provides training information, answers to commonly asked questions and clarification on the tools.
  • Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS)

    • CLASS tools and Dimensions Guides – The CLASS tools provide indicators and scoring information, descriptions and examples of interactions across levels of quality. The Dimensions Guides provide an at-a-glance overview of the dimension of the CLASS tools. You can use Quality First incentive funds to purchase these through Teachstone’s website.

    • CLASS website – Teachstone’s CLASS website hosts many resources, including professional development tools and opportunities, a blog and more.

Request an Informal Assessment It won’t impact your star rating and is only provided for professional development purposes. You choose the classroom and timeframe that works for you. You’ll be observed through standardized assessment tools, and written feedback will be emailed. To learn more, read our blog on informal assessment.

Once you’ve looked at the data from all different sources, it’s time to pull it all together. As you review formal data, observations from others, and what you already know—pay attention to what trends emerge. Things that come up from multiple sources can be great goal areas.  At the same time, keep your quality improvement vision in mind. Which trends are most connected to the vision you have for your program? Which strengths will help you reach your vision? And what areas need to change to help you get there? Take some time to consider these questions and you’ll be ready for the next stage, setting goals. 

At Quality First, we love to hear from you. Share your innovative practices so that others can be inspired. Email us at QualityFirst@FirstThingsFirst.org