Monthly Archives: November 2011

Nothing Less for Our Children

By Lucy Hart Paulson

After a recent training on developing early literacy skills, an early childhood educator shared this comment:

“The information I received in my educational training was not specific in literacy instruction. I feel early childhood educators lack the knowledge base to teach these skills. Even for teachers who have been trained, their opinions vary drastically as to the most appropriate way to teach these concepts.”

You can sense the level of frustration and concern this teacher felt with the depth of knowledge needed to help young children learn the early literacy skills vital to their development. The content was not provided at a preservice level in college, and there is a general lack of understanding of how to use evidence-based practice in early childhood settings. Within the field, early childhood educators hold a wide range of instructional beliefs and practices.

The Evidence:

  • A significant body of research has established the foundational skills of early literacy in oral language, phonological awareness, and print knowledge. Developmental sequences for what children learn within each of these areas have been identified in the preschool years that lead to success in early reading in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade.
  • As identified by the National Reading Panel (NRP) in 2000, the two best predictive indicators of successful reading in second grade for children transitioning from preschool and entering kindergarten include phoneme awareness of sounds in words and letter knowledge.
  • Teaching preschool children how to segment and blend phonemes in words has been determined to be twice as effective as the same instruction with children in kindergarten with much larger effect sizes for reading outcomes (NRP subgroups, 2000, chp. 2, pg. 24).
  • From a developmental perspective, letter-name knowledge generally occurs before letter-sound knowledge (Neuman, 2000). The skills that are needed for letter-sound understanding reside in letter-name knowledge and phoneme or sound sensitivity. Letter-name knowledge often serves as a bridge to letter-sound knowledge.
  • Preschool children can successfully learn these skills when they are intentionally and explicitly taught (National Early Literacy Panel, 2008; NRP, 2000).
  • Knowing what the target skills are in each of the early literacy foundations and having an assessment plan to assess them early to then provide needed instruction are components of high-quality early childhood settings.
  • Young children are capable of learning a lot; and we have, at times, underestimated their abilities.
  • Children who learn to be competent readers and writers are more likely to experience success in school and beyond with positive societal and economic impacts.
  • The activities used to teach these skills can be fun, engaging, effective, and developmentally appropriate.

Historic Practices in Early Childhood Education:

  • The scope and sequence of curricula broadly used in early childhood educational settings, such as those implemented in many Head Start programs, have not been designed to systematically, intentionally, and explicitly teach the early literacy skills that provide the foundation for early reading and writing.
  • There is a strong focus within early childhood settings on creating language- and literacy-rich environments designed to follow children’s leads and respond to their interests.
  • Skill development is more likely to be embedded into everyday classroom routines and activities through exploration and play.
  • Intentional and explicit instruction is considered by some not to follow developmentally appropriate practice (DAP).

Characteristics of High-Quality Early Childhood Settings:

  • Teachers are well-trained in understanding the developmental sequences and age expectations of the skills young children learn in building their early literacy foundations.
  • An ongoing assessment process is in place to identify what children know and to monitor their progress.
  • An evidence-based curriculum is in use with a scope and sequence that result in developmentally appropriate learning outcomes of the skills that children need to acquire.
  • There is a balance between teacher-directed and child-directed activities.
  • Developmentally appropriate practices are used.


Supporting Early Childhood Educators:

Developmentally  appropriate practice includes teaching approaches that consider (NAEYC, 2009):

  • Knowledge of the sequences of child development, learning to set achievable and challenging goals for literacy learning, and planning and using teaching strategies that vary with age and experience of learners
  • An ongoing assessment procedure that identifies individual children’s progress in literacy in order to plan successive lessons or to adapt instruction when children do not make expected progress or are at advanced levels
  • An understanding of social and cultural contexts that affect how children make sense of their learning experiences in relation to what they already know and are able to do

Early childhood educators are dedicated professionals who make a significant difference in the lives of the children in their care. Providing these professionals with the knowledge of early literacy foundations and the support to use evidence-based assessment and instruction strategies should be standard practice in all educational settings, beginning with preservice opportunities, continuing and ongoing in-service experiences, and follow-along coaching in the settings where young children are learning. Our children deserve nothing less.

Lucy Hart Paulson, Ed.D., CCC-SLP, is a literacy specialist with years of experience working with young children and their families in public school, Head Start, private, and university settings. She is on the faculty of the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders at the University of Montana, sharing responsibilities for teaching, supervising, research, and service. Lucy is the lead author of Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS) for Early Childhood Educators; Building Early Literacy and Language Skills (BELLS), a resource and activity guide for young children; and Good Talking Words, a social communication skills program for preschool and kindergarten classes.

About Lucy Hart Paulson

Books by Lucy Hart Paulson: LETRS Second EditionLETRS for Early Childhood EducatorsGood Talking WordsBuilding Early Literacy and Language Skills (BELLS)

Categories: Literacy, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

Are Principals Being Left Out of Critical Professional Development?

By Pati Montgomery

Schools and districts have responded to AYP and increased accountability with professional development for teachers that aligns to data, is specific to student needs, and focuses on increasing academic achievement through teacher effectiveness. All attempts to increase student achievement by focusing on educator effectiveness should be seen as a step in the right direction. But in our attempts to focus on the frontline, have we forgotten to enhance the effectiveness of those leading the charge—our

With a conglomerate set of consumers and demanders—including the federal government, the state and its initiatives to meet federal mandates, and not least of all the local community, whose knowledge base of “what good educators do” has grown exponentially in the past decade—principals are besieged with paperwork, demands, and little spare time to increase their own efficacy. Yet their impact is significant; it is second only to teaching among school-related factors in its impact on student learning.

School leadership training has changed little over the past 20 years. The focus has been on school management practice and not leadership reform. Preparation programs for school leaders are usually led by former school principals who haven’t recently stepped into school buildings, with the exception of seeing their student-interns. Usually they have not had recent experience in high-need school cultures—an area desperate for well-trained, exceptional school leaders. Their training or leadership experience can only be characterized as theoretical or hypothetical.

Beyond leadership preparation, the story appears to worsen. After a principal is placed in a building, little or nothing takes place to enhance his/her skills. Quality professional development for principals seems to be an oxymoron. Districts are recognizing this and doing their best, but recognition is coming at the same time as extraordinary budget constraints. Public schools have budgets so tight that little is left for anything except mandatory expenditures. District leadership is further overburdened because of fiscal constraints; there are no extra personnel resources to tend to earnest, quality professional development for school leaders.

Is it a hopeless situation given the economic current in public education?

Frankly, school reform will not occur unless leadership reform occurs. The best professional development for teachers cannot be sustained and supported unless there are knowledgeable principals supporting teachers’ efforts. Further, the population within our schools is changing dramatically from year to year. Principals who were in a school with a 30 percent poverty rate just three years ago may now be facing a poverty rate of 60 percent in the same school. Focused, quality professional development is critical to create the right skill sets to meet changing student needs.

Perhaps by rethinking what good principals need in order to be effective—and then creating a resourceful way of delivering the information—we can find the answers we seek. In an age of accountability and reform, school leaders need to have the following skills:

  • The ability to foster high expectations in school communities: Successful school leaders have developed skills that engender high expectations for both teachers and students in a caring environment. They establish school structures that are safe and welcoming with effective communication systems. Principals rarely receive these “how-to’s” in principal preparation programs.
  • Instructional knowledge: School leaders need to be able to use data, especially data specific to their school. They must be able to understand the instructional implications that align with that data, support the development of adult and student learning, and model effective teaching practices. They need to know how to continually evaluate curriculum and resources that will ensure sound practices. They should have an understanding of a standards-based instructional system that recognizes good instructional practices and motivates students to increase their achievement.
  • Implementation of evaluation systems that support teachers and encourage the exit of poor teachers: Principals need to become evaluation specialists by understanding and utilizing good teaching practices. They need to be able to provide teachers with specific growth-producing feedback and be able to handle honest, difficult conversations with teachers who are failing our students.

So how can we provide principal development in a fiscally responsible manner?

  • Problem-solving opportunities: Schools are not stagnant entities, and principals need authentic problem-solving opportunities that mirror situations they face daily. School leaders should have the opportunity to come together with their peers from like schools to solve problems, receive feedback, and reflect on their learning.
  • Mentorships and coaching: Principals, particularly in the first several years of their practice, need to have quality mentorships. These mentorships, comprised of accomplished retired principals in similar types of schools, meet on-site with principals weekly or biweekly to offer coaching and just-in-time feedback on real-life situations.
  • Cooperative learning situations: In large school districts, school composition varies greatly. In light of such diversity of student populations, districts should form cooperative learning groups of principals from like schools to discuss similar situations. These cooperative learning sessions should give school leaders the opportunity to learn new procedures and consider how to apply that learning before being faced with a situation requiring implementation. These situations also give school leaders a chance to network with their peers and foster a sense of community within their own district. Districts that are using peer observations and feedback within leadership roles are showing positive results. Further, districts could develop instructional leader teams for principals. These teams would be comprised of district leaders who come to schools, or meet with leaders in like schools, with an eye toward developing skills applicable to current situations.

Principals are like the students they lead; they want to be successful. However, the fabric of our schools and the age of accountability require learning new and different skills from those that were obtained in “principal school.” Districts and states must recognize this, and principal development must become a higher priority if our schools are truly to reform.

Written by Pati Montgomery. Ms. Montgomery received a B. A in Elementary Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, an M.A. in Special Education from the University of Northern Colorado and Ed. S. certificate in school administration from the University of Denver. She has been both a regular education teacher and a special education teacher and has taught students in grade levels from Kindergarten to seniors in high school. Ms. Montgomery has been with Jefferson County Public Schools for 20 years and taught in Denver Public Schools for 5 years. She has been a special education administrator; an elementary school principal; and a middle school principal. Currently she is the Project Director for a Strategic Compensation Teacher Incentive Fund Grant in Jefferson County, Colorado. Ms. Montgomery spent one year as an editorial director and staff developer for an educational publishing firm.

About Pati Montgomery

Book by Pati Montgomery: A Principal’s Primer for Raising Reading AchievementWhole School Leader

Categories: General Education, Professional Developement | Leave a comment

Do Technology and Social Media Enable Relational Aggression?

By Hill Walker

In the past decade or so, our collective awareness of bullying and its harmful effects has grown, due in part to media exposure. Forty-four states now have antibullying laws ranging from highly restrictive to merely increasing public awareness. The U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Justice Department, and national media have all initiated actions to address this growing social toxin in our society.

Definitions and commentary about bullying, which can involve physical intimidation and threats, now commonly include less direct forms of aggression, sometimes referred to as peer harassment or indirect aggression. A subset of this form of bullying is the phenomenon of relational aggression. This is a less confrontational but much more sinister form of aggression because it involves reputational damage that is often not discovered by the victim until after considerable damage has occurred. Relational aggression involves peers ganging up on a targeted victim, often in a conspiratorial fashion, in order to inflict malicious reputational damage.

While the overt bullying and harassment of peers is more likely at younger ages, relational aggression occurs more often among older students in middle and high schools. It involves deliberate plans and attempts to “trash” someone’s reputation and social status for reasons that are invariably not defensible. Relational aggression is accomplished through such techniques as spreading false rumors, revealing confidential information, excluding the person from peer-controlled activities, and rejecting or interfering with his or her attempts to form social relationships among peers. All of these techniques are designed to isolate and socially punish the target(s) and can cause considerable psychological damage, which is all-too-often associated with tragic consequences experienced by the victim.

Recently there have been numerous media accounts of suicides and attempted suicides by the victims of these relentless peer actions. Such events disrupt students’ schooling experience and cause many to miss school in order to avoid the cruelty and shaming associated with bullying.

Cyberbullying: A Whole New Realm


Experts on bullying, harassment, and aggression have been aware of relational aggression for some time. Research shows that even very young children will endorse negative beliefs and characterizations of their peers. However, research on this phenomenon remains at a generally low level of scale, and there have been very few reports of schools’ involvement in addressing or coping successfully with relational aggression that occurs outside the school or in the context of peer-controlled settings that are poorly monitored or supervised by adults and school staff (e.g., playgrounds, before- and after-school areas, school bus stops, cafeterias). Because of its subtle and covert nature, relational aggression is very often difficult for schools to detect and address effectively.

The development of social media technology and the widespread use of cell phones and computers by our children and youth have added a complex and potentially more destructive element to the occurrence of relational aggression among peers. This subrosa form of bullying, harassment, and aggression is called cyberbullying. Aside from interpersonal exchanges, cell phones are now the primary means that peers use to commit acts of mean-spirited relational aggression. Relational aggression perpetuated through cyberbullying is potentially even more psychologically destructive due to its impersonal and often anonymous nature. For example, it is now possible for a single person to send an unlimited number of messages to a cyberbullying victim and make each message appear as if it came from a different individual.

Approximately half of all adolescents say they have been bullied at least once online, and about the same percentage admit to engaging in cyberbullying. More than a third of youth report that they have been the target of online threats. A quarter of teens have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or the Internet. In half of all cases, parents are not told about cyberbullying incidents.

The pervasiveness of cyberbullying, its covert nature, and the reluctance of victims to report its occurrence pose serious problems and obstacles for adults who seek to prevent and control it. Laws against bullying often do not address cyberbullying, and they are perceived as less than effective.

Approaches to Addressing Cyberbullying


If one thing seems clear, it is that cyberbullying reaches beyond the purview of the school and is a shared responsibility of youth, parents, and educators. To effectively combat this fast-growing problem, it is essential that these three groups work together effectively. Ideally, a school professional such as a school psychologist, counselor, behavioral specialist, or social worker could take the lead in coordinating these efforts.


A leading expert on cyberbullying is Nancy Willard, who is an attorney and trained special educator (M.S., J.D.). She has been investigating, researching, writing about, and consulting on this topic for the past decade. Willard is the founding director of Embracing Digital Youth. She is author of the following books on the topic of cyberbullying: Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats: Responding to the Challenge of Online Social Cruelty, Threats, and Distress (Research Press); Cyber Safe Kids, Cyber Savvy Teens: Helping Young People Learn to Use the Internet in a Safe and Responsible Manner (Jossey Bass); and Cyber Savvy: Embracing Digital Safety and Civility (In Press; Corwin Press). She has developed a sensible approach to addressing cyberbullying that appears to be school and community compatible. It includes the following major components:

  • Surveying local conditions involving cyberbullying and providing feedback of results to create positive peer norms designed to change it
  • Promotion of safe and responsible uses of the Internet
  • Design and training in instructional activities for teachers
  • Use of school progress indicators and positive reinforcement to strengthen responsible Internet use
  • Program evaluation


There seems to be little doubt that technology and social media enable relational aggression. Our challenge as a society is to forge constructive uses of this media in the context of peer relations.


Hill Walker, Ph.D., is codirector of the Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior at the University of Oregon’s College of Education.

About Hill Walker

Books by Hill Walker: Systematic Screening for Behavior DisordersFirst Step to SuccessThe Acting-Out Child



Categories: Positive School Climate | Leave a comment

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