Regardless of your position in the decision making hierarchy or efforts to improve inclusion to-date, building the momentum necessary for change can begin with you. Collectively, from the top-down and bottom-up, small tweaks create the enabling context to move Virginia’s preschool inclusion needle in the right direction.
The Inclusion Opportunity
The Placed vs Served Gap
Virginia has an inclusion gap. Of the nearly 50% of children placed in a “regular early childhood program”, only half receive special education services in that inclusive setting.
Closing this gap by serving children in those placements (e.g., providing itinerant services within a Head Start classroom) would ensure skills are functional to the child’s routine and generalizable to the setting in which they spend a majority of their day. It would also push Virginia above the national average for serving children in the least restrictive environment, as reported by Indicator 6a.
The VQB5 Opportunity
The Virginia Department of Education’s unification efforts in early childhood, including the new quality measurement and improvement system (VQB5), have created new inclusion opportunities. Divisions can leverage these changes to make major shifts in unifying their own preschool programs across departments. These include (see guidelines):
- Optional expansion of Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) slots to include 3-year-olds;
- Changes to the entry criteria for VPI, waiving the income requirement for children with IEPs;
- And a new inclusion target for VPI programs to include at least 10% of children with IEPs.
These new opportunities have the potential to reduce the number of children served in self-contained settings, as reported by Indicator 6b.
Download Virginia’s Inclusion
Gap Opportunity Infographic
Tweaks to Move Mountains
At a time when staffing challenges and evolving student needs are important priorities, how can educators and administrators take advantage of these opportunities through smaller, more incremental actions (i.e., “tweaks”)? According to Clear (2019) in his book, Atomic Habits, real “breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change.”
What tweaks might begin to change routines, improve information and resource flow, or support new mindsets? These actions can apply to program staff, colleagues, or families. Consider how small decisions made every day either enable or create barriers to inclusion. What changes are needed to the environment or context in which decisions are made to support inclusive practices? What is one action, behavior, or habit you can commit to implementing and learning from this year (Marquet, 2020)? If others do the same, what might your program or practices look like next year?
“Systems change is about shifting the conditions that are holding the problem in place (Cahill & Spitz, 2017).”
Grow what’s working.
When attitudes and beliefs are a barrier to improving inclusive practices, start with what’s working. Taking a cue from Solutions-focused coaching, teams and individuals perform better and embrace growth when focused on “developing strengths, rather than mending weaknesses (Jackson& McKergow, 2007).” Gather authentic data for learning (rather than inspection) to find where one component of inclusive practices is working (Heath & Heath, 2010).
Is there a co-teaching team, or itinerant teacher consistently giving feedback on positive relationships and collaboration between adults in the classroom? Is there a school or center where families seem to be more engaged? Has an informal group popped up who co-plan together across preschool programs (e.g., VPI+ECSE)?
Study these “bright spots” with the assumption there are ideas to be learned (and spread) already working within your program and with resources that already exist. Lessons learned from within the community or group are often embraced more readily than those provided by “external experts.”
“It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking rather than think your way into a new way of acting.”Postive Deviance Collaborative
Nudge the right habits.
What is the smallest unit of change that can guarantee a quick win?
Shrinking the change allows for a sense of progress that is highly motivating, while requiring a smaller commitment. One way to shrink the change is to consider how the environment or system drives behaviors. Or as Chip and Dan Heath say in Switch (2010), “what looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.”
What small changes at key decision points could make it easier for inclusive practices to grow in your program (Thaler & Sustein, 2021)?
- How could a job description be revised to prioritize hiring dually endorsed teachers?
- What information about inclusion can be incorporated into a program brochure shared during Part C transition meetings or after eligibility has been determined?
- Can professional learning events for one program be open to other preschool partners?
- Would a “conference room copy” of a resource like Guiding Questions for Discussing Services in the LRE prompt an IEP team towards richer discussion on placement options?
What’s one activity you can commit to implementing and learning from this year?
Start where it’s new.
Context forms cues for behavior, change the context (or in this case, start fresh) to have more success (Clear, 2019). While the ideal time to take advantage of “the new” might be in preparation for a new school year, the changing landscape of Virginia’s early childhood programs offers opportunities year-round.
What new policies or procedures are needed? What new staff might need to be hired? What collaborative relationships across departments are required to fulfill new expectations?
Taking advantage of these opportunities might look like:
- A program-wide plan for implementing a new evidence-based curriculum.
- VPI and ECSE administrators collaborating on a program handbook.
- Program policies revised to meet new requirements for inclusion targets.
- Professional learning plans developed to address program-wide CLASS feedback.
- New collaborative agreements or partnerships within the community (i.e., child care centers, Head Start).
Implemented with intention, these opportunities can help divisions respond to new requirements and expectations efficiently, while ensuring inclusion is woven (or universally designed) into “the new.”
How can TTAC support you in moving inclusive mountains in preschool?
Contact us for help deciding where to start or for other questions on this topic.
Barton, E.E., & Smith, B.J. (2015). The preschool inclusion toolbox: How to build and lead a high-quality program. Paul H. Brookes Publishing, Inc.
Cahill, G., & Spitz, K. (2017 ). Social innovation generation: Fostering a Canadian ecosystem for systems change. The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation. https://thesigstory.squarespace.com/s/
Clear, J. (2019). Atomic habits: An easy and proven way to build good habits and break bad ones. Penguin Random House.
Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2010). Switch: How to change things when change is hard. Broadway Books.
Heifetz, R., Grashow, A., & Linsky, M. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and tactics for changing your organization and the world. Harvard Business Review Press.
Jackson, P. Z., & McKergow, M. (2007). The solutions focus: Making coaching and change simple. (2nd ed.). Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
Marquet, L. D. (2020). Leadership is language: The hidden power of what you say and what you don’t. Penguin House Press.
Senge, P. M. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. Penguin Random House.
Stevenson, A., & Bockstette, V. (2018, April). Being the change: 12 ways foundations are transforming themselves to transform their impact. Foundation Strategy Group. https://www.fsg.org/resource/being-change/
Struck, B. (Host). (2022, February 27). Nudging organizational visions into reality with Katie Rice [Audio Podcast Episode]. In The Decision Corner. The Decision Lab. https://thedecisionlab.com/podcasts/nudging-organizational-visions-into-reality-with-katie-rice
Thaler, R. H., & Sustein, C. R. (2021). Nudge: The final edition. Penguin House Press.
The Decision Lab. (n.d.) Biases. https://thedecisionlab.com/biases-index