Executive Function & 21st Century Skills

Lisa Kuh, Somerville’s Director of Early Education, has started the Somerville Early Education blog. For a good introduction and number of helpful links, see two posts Lisa wrote on Executive Function & 21st Century Skills:

Executive Function & 21st Century Skills – Part 1: Making Choices and Environmental Design 

Executive Function Part 2: Tools to Support Choice Making & Self-Regulation

In Lisa’s words:

This post is the first in a series about how children move through environments and the role of self-directed activity, classroom schedules and room arrangement, and what “counts” as choice time in school and at home. 

A young child moves across the room to put away her supply box.  For some of us a simple task. For the young child, a potential obstacle course where many things can happen along the way – an accidental bump of a peer turns into a conflict; a joyful conversation with a friend ensues; difficulty figuring out how to get from one side of the room to another during a high traffic time.  We take for granted what goes into getting from one place to the next.  But young children need time and modeling to make these excursions successful and also develop important cognitive and motor abilities while doing so.

Executive function skills support planning, completing and evaluating tasks, and oversee communication exchanges (Cognitive Connections – Sarah Ward, FAQ). Executive function is like the air traffic control system for the body and mind (The Art of Control). It helps us to understand a series of steps such as: come into the classroom, put my things away, wash hands, go to the rug – and to make choices about how to approach tasks.  Many children need previewing and practice for their executive function systems to work efficiently and for some children, this must be an important part of their day – and not just with arrival and clean up routines.

Education Week and the New America Foundation On the Primary Years Agenda

For external perspectives on “The Primary Years Agenda: Strategies to Guide District Action,” see:

Happy Holidays!

“Collective Seeing, Learning, and Doing”

"Essential Mindset Shifts for Collective Impact," p. 2.
“Essential Mindset Shifts for Collective Impact,” p. 2.

I have occasionally referred to the Collective Impact Model, a powerful approach cross-sector collaboration used by many communities across the country, including Pittsfield. The approach is based on the five conditions shown in the graphic above. The Collective Impact Forum has recently shared a great collection of resources in its Top Reads and Resources for 2014. In particular I recommend Committing to Collective Impact: From Vision to Implementation and Collective Insights on Collective Impact, the second and third items on the list. Also, see the video about Somerville’s Collective Impact initiative, Shape Up Somerville, under Top Videos.

The following passages from “Essential Mindset Shifts for Collective Impact” (in the Collective Insights document) reinforce the connections between relationships, capacity, and innovation that I described in October. Note the joint emphasis on evidence and relationships and on “collective seeing, learning, and doing.”

We have seen that data and evidence are critical inputs for collective impact efforts, but we must not underestimate the power of relationships. Lack of personal relationships, as well as the presence of strong egos and difficult historical interactions, can impede collective impact efforts. Collective impact practitioners must invest time in building strong interpersonal relationships and trust, which enable collective visioning and learning. …Collective impact can succeed only when the process attends to both the use of evidence and the strengthening of relationships. …

We believe that a critical mindset shift is needed: Collective impact practitioners must recognize that the power of collective impact comes from enabling “collective seeing, learning, and doing,” rather than following a linear plan. The structures that collective impact efforts create enable people to come together regularly to look at data and learn from one another, to understand what is working and what is not. Such interaction leads partners to adjust their actions, “doubling down” on effective strategies and allowing new solutions to emerge.

Joint Sub-Committee on Birth–3rd Alignment Approved Last Night

Last night at a joint meeting of the Boards of the Department of Early Education and Care and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Boards approved motions to create a joint sub-committee on Birth-3rd Alignment. The Sub-Committee will focus on alignment and coordination and include two members from each Board and one staff member from each agency.

Live Streaming Event: The Leading Edge of Early Childhood Education

I just learned that tomorrow’s convening at Harvard, The Leading Edge of Early Childhood Education: Linking Science to Policy for a New Generation of Pre-Kindergarten, will be live-streamed at this URL. The event includes an impressive roster of presenters and discussants (LeadingEdge_flyer).

“You Undermine the Very Thing that Produces that Value”

NPR’s story on the recent report, Worthy Work, STILL Unlivable Wages, includes several quotations from Deborah Phillips, one of the co-authors of the study:

“There’s a disconnect between our 21st-century knowledge about early childhood teaching and these 20th-century wages,” says Phillips. “We desperately need educated young people to be working with young children, but they look at this job and say, ‘It’s a pathway to poverty. I can’t pay my student loans if I do this.’ ”

“Wages come out as the strongest predictor of observed quality of care,” says Phillips. “The caliber of teachers is tied to their wages.”

Better-paid teachers and caregivers have lower turnover, can afford more training, and, not incidentally, are less stressed and preoccupied — not a small consideration when screaming tantrums are a normal part of the workday.

“Policymakers and the business community are all now turning to early childhood education as one of the best investments we can make,” says Phillips. “But if you don’t pay adequate wages, you undermine the very thing that produces that value.”