At the same time the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) is urging policymakers to clear the way for a strong pipeline from pre-K to 3rd grade, it also has advice for principals who want to start or strengthen pre-K programs in their schools.
The latest issue of Principal includes an article co-written by Ellen Frede and Steven Barnett of the National Institute for Early Education Research. It details 10 steps elementary school principals can take right now to offer pre-K in their schools and link it to success in the early elementary grades.
Their recommendations include:
1. Reach out to local partners to create your own early learning advisory council. The group can share resources, training opportunities and develop transition plans for children as they move from pre-K into your elementary school.
2. Convert special education preschool into inclusion preschool by enrolling non-disabled students and adjusting the curriculum to meet everyone's needs. "This is a low-cost way to increase pre-school enrollment," the report advises.
3. Use extra classroom space to offer pre-K, either on your own or in partnership with local Head Start agencies or other providers.
4. Learn what makes pre-K effective and how its expectations, curriculum and teaching methods differ from those used in elementary school. Don't impose the same expectations for behavior, cleanliness, order and scope of curriculum as you would in higher grades. Young children need a balance of group and self-directed activity, and plenty of time for messes and make-believe play.
5. Revise your teacher evaluation and coaching tools to include criteria that match best practices in early childhood education: use of small groups and other means to individualize instruction, for example.
6. Hire only qualified pre-school teachers. Don't just reassign a 4th grade teacher to pre-K. Even 1st grade teachers with an early childhood certificate may not know best practices for working with 3- and 4-year-olds.
7. Do everything you can to create diversity in the classroom. Bring together students of different abilities, incomes, ethnicities, etc. All children benefit from pre-school. The most disadvantaged students benefit the most, and learn the most from more advantaged peers.
8. Provide dual-language classrooms, so all children learn both English and another language. Children in dual-language classrooms (where both languages are regularly used and practiced by everyone) learn just as much English as those in monolingual English classrooms, plus they learn another language. Bilingualism is associated with greater flexibility of thinking and higher achievement.
9. Design professional development days expressly for teachers in the pre-K program and the early elementary grades. Don't just expect pre-K teachers to adapt elementary teaching strategies for younger children7—expose everyone to the developmental span and create standards that keep kids on track to achieve from pre-K through 3rd grade.
10. Look at your school through the eyes of a 4-year-old, and make sure schoolwide practices meet their needs, too. An assembly appropriate for 4th graders almost certainly won't engage 4-year-olds. Cafeterias aren't good environment for young children to eat. Is your playground equipment safe for 3s and 4s?