On Innovation: Welcoming 2016 with CEO Henry Wilde

We hear the word “Innovation” tossed around so often that it can mean just about anything in Head Start programs.  Changed suppliers of your consumables?  Innovation.  Updated a process to reflect new regulations? Again, an innovation. Developed an entirely new curriculum? Another innovation. Depending on which business article you read, the term means different things to different people – and we can probably all agree that it is overused.

At Shine Early Learning and Acelero Learning, innovation is not an impulsive reaction to less-than-expected outcomes.  Innovative is not a synonym for creative. An innovation is not a new product or an invention. There is not an exclusive subset of senior leaders who are the only ones who have the keys to the innovation kingdom.

To the contrary, innovation is a process requiring long-term focus and discipline. 

Innovation requires evaluation of the vexing problems we need to solve and the opportunities we see to improve outcomes for children. It requires observing and questioning our own practices, probing and discussing and learning from early childhood education providers in our network and even leaders in other fields, and experimenting in controlled ways. It requires a tolerance for allowing ideas that seemed brilliant at inception to die on the vine when they do not work. And it takes time.

More than that, innovation requires trade-offs. How long must we implement and evaluate an initiative before we make additional changes? How many new practices can our staff successfully absorb and execute on at the same time? What are we ready to pilot? To scale up? Or to roll out across our network? What are the financial implications? How will we internally market the change to increase buy-in prior to the change?

There are no perfect answers to these questions, but I am writing this today, because January marks an important time in our innovation cycle. We are four months into our new school year, and we have the requisite data to recognize or confirm necessary areas of improvement or gaps in our practice. Absent a regulatory change requiring an immediate response, we roll out all new initiatives at the start of the school year, which necessitates a planning process beginning nine months in advance.

We aspire to a two year cycle, which we metaphorically shorthanded with a simple framework: in two years, innovations move from Pencil to Pen to Sharpie. We use Pencils to represent our pilots -- small scale experiments in individual centers or markets to test the efficacy of an idea. The funnel narrows as experiments that show promise are adapted and refined (or written in Pen) and we see whether the pilot can be scaled up to a larger group of centers and locations and implemented with fidelity. Finally, each year, our aspiration is to roll out 1-2 Sharpies, or what we believe to be game-changing, network changing, field changing innovations that drive better outcomes for children.

The Shine Early Learning and Acelero Learning network is vast and growing, and thus can support and, to some extent, necessitates this process-driven approach to innovation. As innovators and educators, we are also lifelong learners –- and we would love to learn from all different types of Head Start programs. How do you plan for innovation in your program? What is your process for developing and rolling out new initiatives and managing change with your staff? Please join our dialogue and share your stories of successes and hiccups. We know that there are no perfect answers –- but there is always the opportunity to learn from one another.

We'd love to hear about your organization’s approach to innovation. Submit your comment below or email us with comments, questions, or thoughts at info@shineearly.com.

Acelero Learning’s Public Comments on the New Head Start Performance Standards

Shine Early Learning is pleased to present Acelero Learning’s public remarks on the latest Head Start Performance Standards. We did not address all standards, but chose to focus on key proposed changes that we support and, in contrast, changes that we believe will not drive outcomes based on our expertise and experience. You can view the full, public document here

  • Training and Professional Development: We strongly support §1302.92(4), which requires that programs implement “a coordinated coaching strategy,” aligned with relevant aspects of their ECE approach. At Acelero Learning, we know that high-dosage, structured coaching is one element of our educational approach that has led directly to higher child outcome gains.
  • Curriculum: We also support §1302.32(a)(1)(iii), which emphasizes the need programs to implement a content-rich curriculum with an organized development scope and sequence. Based on external research and evidence in our own programs, we know that a curriculum that is scientifically valid and has an organized scope and sequence has a direct impact on closing the Achievement Gap.
    • With that in mind, we also have requested that OHS specify that the requirements with regard to scope and sequence do not apply to Early Head Start, where the expectations of sequential development are not always appropriate.
  • Teaching and the Learning Environment: §1302.31(b)(1)(iii) requires that program ensure that teaching practices integrate child assessment data into individual and group planning. We support this requirement. At Acelero Learning, teachers regularly analyze formative assessment data to make informed decisions about individual and small-group instruction. We have found great benefit in implementing the direct and embedded assessments in our Ready to Shine Head Start curriculum, as well as the Assessment Work Groups and Curriculum Collaboration Meetings to help promote this practice.
  • Family Partnership Services: Acelero Learning firmly supports OHS’s clear focus on fostering parent efficacy and skills to promote children’s learning and development, outlined in §1302.52 – particularly the emphasis placed on parenting curricula that integrate modeling and practice.
    • We also support the changes with respect to individualized family partnership services, which states that individualized family partnership services should take into consideration the urgency and intensity of identified family needs and goals.
    • We would request that OHS remove the “laundry list” of required family assessment areas in §1302.52(b) – reducing the likelihood of programs focusing on creating yet another “checklist” and allows programs to determine how best ot assess their families’ status in each of the PFCE Framework domains.
  • Center-Based Option: “Full Day” Head Start: Acelero Learning supports the emphasis the Office of Head Start has placed on full-day, full-year services, as outlined in §1302.21. The proposed Standards explicitly acknowledge that dosage matters and gives programs permission to reevaluate program options, even if it results in lower funded enrollment – while still allowing waivers for programs that experience high demand for half-day programming or alternative program options.

Click here to read more about items we have requested that OHS remove or clarify (including excessive paperwork on previously purchased facilities, and requirement on one-hour outreach on attendance), and a list of our proposed additional changes related to program administration, ERSEA, state-level coordination on education and child development, health administration and coordination CCDBG administration at the state level.

Did your program respond to the NPRM? What were your highlights? Email us with comments, questions or thoughts at info@shineearly.com!