The New Pre-K-3 Leader

By Julie Bloss

Since #naesp16, I’ve reflected on my experience attending the pre-K-3 strand sessions, and my mind is still racing with new ideas and knowledge. All of my takeaways can be streamlined into one category: leadership.

Session: Pre-K-3 strand sessions, including the Pre-K-3 Town Hall Meeting

Key Takeaway: To strengthen pre-K-3 education, principals should forge community ties and make sure teachers are trained in best practices.

Here in my state of Oklahoma, I can’t remember a time when most of our communities did not offer preschool or kindergarten. I’ve spent my 27 years an early childhood educator based in a state that has offered state funding for universal preschool and mandatory kindergarten. Yet, only recently—thanks to organizations like NAESP—have educators nationwide begun to recognize the importance of the pre-K-3 continuum. The days of preschool and kindergarten being separate entities are gone. Educators now understand that aligned early learning begins at home through parental involvement, progresses through child development centers such as Head Start to preschool, kindergarten, and finally to the first through third grade and beyond.

In each realm of the child’s educational journey, a school leader has the power to impact success. At #naesp16, many sessions explored effective principal leadership in early childhood education. Here are some of my conclusions on the actions principals should take.

Inform stakeholders about the value of early learning. As pre-K-3 principals, it’s our ongoing responsibility to inform others about the value of early childhood education and how it impacts lifelong learning. We must educate our colleagues and our communities about what we know to be true in child development and the early years. Equally important is the task of integrating our preschool and kindergarten personnel into first- through twelfth-grade staff activities, events, and professional development.

Collaboration is critical. Pre-K-3 principals must pursue relationships with preschool providers in their communities. These providers hold important information about students that can save K-3 educators time and effort. Equally important is the relationship between the student’s family and the school; communication between the principal and the family is key. Also vital is your school’s learning community team of stakeholders, both internal and external.  

Ensure developmentally appropriate teaching. Pre-K-3 principals must ensure that staff members have adequate professional development opportunities in developmentally appropriate teaching. If the principal is new to the field of early childhood education, it is crucial that he or she seek out training in the aspects of developmentally appropriate teaching. Pre-K-3 classrooms do not look or sound like traditional classrooms of yesterday. As leaders, we must keep apprised of current best practices.

In her #naesp16 presentation, Ruby Takanishi (author of First Things First!: Creating the New American Primary School) called on principals to rethink teaching methods.

“Not only is the elementary principal an instructional leader, but also a creator of new ways of thinking,” she said. She reminded principals that pre-K-3 programs and schools should, “respect who children are, what and how they are capable of learning, and [be] a partner with their families and community institutions to provide opportunities.” This idea summarizes the pre-K-3 conference strands.

Julie Bloss is Principal of Grove Early Childhood Center in Grove, Oklahoma.