To improve quality in child care, Dallas nonprofit looks to LENA Grow with virtual coaching sessions

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As the economy begins to recover from the novel coronavirus pandemic, high-quality child care will be an essential service to allow parents to return to work.

It’s so crucial that Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas — a nonprofit tasked with driving local economic development — has prioritized increasing quality and access to child care as a key strategy.

It began when they noticed that many of the child care centers they work with were scoring low for caregiver-child interactions in the state’s quality rating and improvement system, Texas Rising Star (TRS). To boost interaction, they decided to pilot LENA Grow professional development for early childhood teachers in partnership with ChildCareGroup. They began the pilot at four centers in July.

Because of the new pandemic-related safety precautions, ChildCareGroup coaches aren’t allowed to visit teachers in person, but they didn’t let that stop them from launching the program.

“We looked at each other and said, if the state says we can’t go into the center, we’ll have to come up with some other way to implement the program,” Racquel Washington, Early Learning Quality Initiatives Manager, said. “Our department has never done any training online. It took us about a week of putting our heads together to come up with a system that works.”

They planned out a schedule for each week, determining when to pick up and drop off devices and reports at each center, then set up times each week for virtual coaching conversations via Zoom. Coaching virtually has made it easier to coordinate logistics, as the centers are spread out over a wide geographic area in Dallas.

“It’s been helpful to be able to virtually meet with teachers at a time that works for them. For example, if we had two centers that both needed to meet at nap time, it would be hard to travel from point A to B and still have time to coach,” Sarah Moreno, who coaches the teachers, explained.

The team has explored strategies to make virtual coaching engaging for teachers, such as hanging up Conversation Starter posters in the background of their calls and packaging reports as surprises.

“We try to make it fun for them. We put the report into a brown envelope and seal it up with a cute sticker, so that they can open it at the start of the coaching session. Teachers love to see the stars in there, and we always make a point to ask them what they think they did to earn a star, so that they’ll be able to communicate that accomplishment back to parents,” Washington said.

Along with fostering better communication to parents, the coaches see LENA Grow as a tool to help teachers maintain normalcy during uncertain times.

“The important thing is to focus on keeping things normal for teachers. We want to remind them to keep talking throughout the day, especially during small moments like transitions and changing clothes, instead of moving through the day in a panic,” Moreno said.

LENA Team

The LENA Team is a dedicated group of professionals who are passionate about increasing awareness of the importance of early interactive talk. We are statisticians, speech-language pathologists, curriculum specialists, engineers and linguists.

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