Early Childhood Education 
and Principal Leadership
April 2015
In This Issue

Early Childhood Competences
for Effective Principal Practice
Click here to read a brief summary and order a copy. The page also contains a link to the Executive Summary. 
Early Childhood in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
Read what the NEA says about their position and the actions the group has taken.

Government Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education members whom you may want to contact!


Remember to register soon for the Innovations Ship session sponsored by CEI. (see article on right for details)
 Register by June 2, and you'll receive a copy of
CEI's Revised Technology Use Guidelines for Principals.
To register, put Innovations Ship in the title of an email and send to [email protected]


Another source:
Pennsylvania Early Learning Standards 
Required implementation begins July1. Read how the Keystone State has defined and upgraded their previous standards. The site contains PDFs to download.

Dear Educators,


Universal kindergarten and best practices for early childhood education are on the radar for many educators. In February, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated that he wants to make sure "that the nation understands that learning starts at birth, making sure we're investing, making sure that more children have access from [ages] zero to 3, home visiting, Early Head Start and Head Start, and pre-K." A 2014 NAESP survey found that over 60% of responding elementary school principals are responsible for Pre-K programs in their schools. Yet, far too many schools are not meeting the NAESP competency of "embracing the Pre-k-3 Early Learning Continuum."
Today there is a wealth of resources and research available to guide principals and other leaders who are not well-schooled in early childhood education. Many of them, such as the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Learning Standards for Early Childhood and Pre-Kindergarten, highlight the importance of learning through developmentally appropriate play.
In this edition of Wow! we add our voice by urging leaders to ensure that schools are safe and compassionate environments for our youngest students. See also our articles by guest author and principal Heather Smith on how cognitive neuroscience is impacting elementary instruction and Lindsay Reeves' review of best practices in early childhood math instruction.
Come Aboard the CEI
21st Century Innovations Ship, June 30, in Long Beach, Calif.

Tuesday, June 30, 8-9:45 a.m. in Long Beach CA.


Come aboard CEI's Innovations Ship as we imagine the future. With our distinguished panel we will discuss how neuroscience, heart centered education, STEM, rigor, and principal mentoring are being implemented in ways that advance critical thinking, student metacognition, problem solving, and deep conceptual understanding. Our session will include time for sharing from the field.   

Join Christine Mason, CEI Executive Director, and CEI Board members Dr. Kathleen Sciarappa, Dr. Nancy Phenis-Bourke, and Paul Liabenow, along with Dr. Melissa Patsche, Jill Flanders, Heather Smith, Joe Crowley and others as we discuss how we are implementing 21st Century learning and considering Classrooms of the Future at the National Association of Elementary School Principals Conference in Long Beach, CA on Tuesday, June 30, 8- 9:45 a.m.


Each of our panel members will describe their innovations, followed by time for Q&A from the attendees. Seating is limited so please register by emailing [email protected] with Innovations Ship in the subject line. Register by June 2 to receive an advanced copy of CEI's Revised Technology Use Guidelines for Principals.


More information on our Panel:

  • Dr. Mason will describe CEI's work this year with STEM/STEAM and Heart Centered implementation in schools, and update attendees on the revised CEI Technology Use Guidelines.
  • Relationships & Resiliency in our Schools. Dr. Melissa Patsche, NAESP Board Member and Principal of Upper Providence School in Royersville, PA, will explore practical classroom and building-wide strategies for "Encouraging Trusting Relationships Among Learning Stakeholders," including how modeling inner strength and flexibility in your leadership will contribute to a system-wide, intentional, resilient school community.
  • The Michigan Elementary Middle Schools Principal Association guides principals with presentations and technical assistance for innovative neuroscience and STEM projects. Paul Liabenow (MEMSPA Executive Director) will describe implementation and results with three of 20 schools districts in Michigan that have introduced Neuroplasticity and Education United.
  • Nancy Phenis-Bourke, Ed.D., NAESP's Principal Mentor Certification Program creates a core of experienced principals with appropriate skills and tools to promote leadership consistent with professional standards. The NAESP Principal Mentoring program builds mentoring skills for veteran principals through a network of experienced mentor coaches and Professional Learning Communities via monthly online professional development interactions including leadership skills and designing thinking strategies. These skills and strategies include but are not limited to the following areas: empathy, feedback, listening, questioning, sensitivity, networking, and goal setting.
  • Kathleen Sciarappa, Ed. D., will update attendees on NAESP Rigor Rubric and its focus on student metacognition, goal setting, and developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Poverty impacts children and schools in so many ways; Joe Crowley, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Association of School Principals will discuss the influence of poverty on student well-being and learning, including 21st Century solutions.
  • Heather Smith, Principal, Lilja Elementary School, Natick, Massachusetts, will discuss how she helps teachers in her school in "Understanding and Integrating Core Findings from Cognitive Neuroscience" into their daily decisions to conduct engaging lessons and target student cognitive skills. (see article below)
  • Jillayne Flanders, Principal of Plains Elementary School, South Hadley, Massachusetts, will discuss Early Education at her Pre-k-1 school, including a heart centered song and program, KindMinds developed at her schools.

The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) will be holding its Annual Conference  in Long Beach, CA, this summer - June 30-July 2. Its forward thinking agenda includes the following:

  • Keynote Speaker Heidi Jacobs on "The Future of Education: Mapping the Big Picture"
  • Kim Marshall on "Educational Trends, What's Next?"
  • Keynote Speaker Erik Wahl on "Rediscovering Your Creative Genius"
  • Bob Marzano and Darrell Scott on "Awakening the Learner."                                                             
Crossing the Boundaries of Home, School and Community with Compassion, Courage and Confidence: Part II

By Michele Rivers Murphy, Ed.D.,  

Research Associate for CEI

In last month's article, Dr. Mason began by noting that educators must believe in and exhibit behaviors that support the concept of universal success for each and every child. This strong statement reminds us of similar words penned over a century ago by the father of Progressive Education, John Dewey (1907), "

What the best and wisest parent wants for his child, that must we want for all the children of the community. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy" While our world has become increasingly more globalized and fast paced, "equal access to quality education is inscribed in our national, social and moral DNA" (Cookson, 2014).   


Today, Americans still believe that "public education is the heartbeat of democracy"(Cookson, 2014). Many of the things we need can wait; the child cannot. Today, his bones are being formed, his blood is being made, his senses are being developed. To him, we cannot answer 'Tomorrow.' His name is today. (Gabriela Mistral, Nobel Laureate in Literature -- 1945)


 Public education as we know it is rapidly changing:

  • The days of traditional 20th century education where the teacher (depositor) deposits information into the depositories (students) and students recite, repeat, and regurgitate (Freire's banking method) are no longer suitable for 21st century college and career readiness, citizenry preparedness, or life success.
  • The new 21st century education format is all-encompassing. School leaders and educators must not only accommodate the child, but also the complexity of a child's world and future.
  • Our knowledge of neuroscience and neuroplasticity has increased exponentially. Early childhood years are most critical in the life and development of a young child, given the significant impact on brain development, establishing the neural connections that provide the foundation for language, reasoning, problem solving, social skills, behavior, and emotional health.                               

To Keep Up with Changes, Leaders and Schools Must Change. Five components are critical for schools that want to provide the most beneficial education for young students in our tumultuous world: compassion, visionary thinking and courage to move forward, shared leadership, and community building.


Compassion.Before early educators can open the minds of our young children, we must open our hearts to understanding the magnitude of the stressers, trauma and circumstances that surround their lives.The best solutions come from a compassionate heart.  


It is estimated that one out of every four children experiences a traumatic event in their lives, and many live in a culture of violence, bullying and trauma (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014).

  • Understanding the stressers associated with today's young children and families requires the collective collaboration of a small village.
  • It will take a whole village approach to meet our children where they are instead of where we think they should be, in order to achieve the outcomes they deserve. In the end, the best solutions come from a compassionate heart.

 Visionary Thinking Requires Courage and Confidence to Move Forward. School leaders must have the courage, confidence, and fortitude to change with the changing times in education and our world. Otherwise, we risk leaving many children behind.

  • If we are to provide high quality and equitable education for all, it will require a paradigm shift in the way we think about education, our children, families, and our world.
  •  A fresh vision of school improvement and 21st century learning, according to the Institute for Educational Leadership, will require a move towards whole-child community education and a collective effort of shared vision and leadership among school systems, families, communities, business and government (2014) if we hope to meet the needs and goals of every child.             

These are not new ideas; shared responsibility (leadership) and a whole-child community education are a century-old (Jane Addams and John Dewey) foundation for educational philosophy. However, these resurgent trends are growing in popularity, with favorable results across many school districts and communities. For many school leaders this is a logical response to the challenge: that schools today must be all things to all children and provide equal opportunity to succeed.

  • "Shared leadership has emerged as a vital and practical strategy with unprecedented impact in evidence-based family strengthening programs and strategies."
  • When other voices such as parents, teachers and community members are affirmed, encouraged and accepted as leaders by the school principal and staff, "shared leadership becomes the cornerstone of effective programs, caring communities and responsive social policies to address a plethora of social issues."
  • Collaborative community engagement can also lead to an increase in "protective factors" and "decrease in risk factors" that result in more favorable and positive outcomes and prevention of "child maltreatment and other social problems."

Courageous action is never easy, yet many school-community partnerships have courageously adopted innovative and imaginative whole-child community education strategies to combat the myriad of child challenges. Many school leaders, many of whom were in corrective or receivership status, found the courage and dared to do the nearly impossible. As Eleanor Roosevelt put it, "You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. (1960)"In other words, visionary leadership may occur when the risk of not doing anything becomes greater than the risk of trying something new. This is when people are compelled to move forward. 



Whole Child Community Education Approach. There is plenty of evidence to support the positive impact of community schools and even bipartisan support in Congress with the newly introduced, Full-Service Community School Act (2014). In a community school model, the growth, development and needs of children, families and neighborhoods are centered on the hub (school) (IEL, 2014), crossing the boundaries of home, school and neighborhood and providing vital partnerships in education, social services and health programs at one location.


Superintendent Ramona Bishop of Vallejo's Unified School District (VUSD) in California is one example of this kind of unwavering courage. Upon her arrival in 2011, Vallejo was in state receivership. Dr. Bishop proceeded to move quickly and "laid out a vision for a full-service community school district that focused on the whole child." "Her agenda consisted of an aggressive set of goals with a particular focus on social justice, student engagement, and support for all students" (Association of CA School Administrators). In four short years, all 23 schools in the district have transformed to full-service community schools, with strong student outcomes and results. A presentation can be viewed here. 


As our collective leaders continue to meet the responsibility for all children and their growing needs, this community effort (model) helps rise above barriers to build "effective systems" that will prepare our children for their future education, career and citizenship (IEL, 2014). For more information on Community Schools, see the CEI Blog.


With constant budgetary cuts and increased needs unmet, it makes good sense to align a community's collective resources and house them in one central location. And, while a whole child community education strategy should be designed to meet the individual needs of each community, Vallejo Unified School District (as previously mentioned) consists of full-service community schools that have demonstrated that the power of possibilities are limitless.


Vallejo Unified School District: Wall to Wall Academics 




Association of California School Administrators. (2014). ACSA leader honored for community schools work. Retrieved from:



Cookson, P.W., Jr., (2014, September 3). Public education's deeper purpose. [Guest Blog on Eric Cooper's site.] Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-cooper/public-educations-deeper_b_5758842.html 


Dewey, J. (1907) The school and society. University of Chicago Press. 


Dryfoos, J. G. (1996). Educational Leadership. Full-service community schools. Working constructively with Families, v.,53, pp., 18-23. Retrieved from:



Institute for Educational Leadership. (2014). Leading across boundaries. Retrieved from: http://iel.org/sites/default/files/IEL-at-50-Cross-Boundary-Leadership-for-the-Common-Good_0.pdf 


Lambert, L. (2002). Beyond instructional leadership: A framework for shared leadership, Educational Leadership, v59, no.8., pp. 37-40. Retrieved from: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may02/vol59/num08/A-Framework-for-Shared-Leadership.aspx 


National Association for the Education of Young Children: Promoting excellence in early childhood education. Washing, D.C. Retrieved from:



Parents Anonymous.org. (2015). Retrieved from:         


Counting, Quantity, and Apps for PreK- K Math

By Lindsay Reeves, CEI Intern

Over years of research and development in math education, one principle has always stood strong: math is taught best with a holistic approach. That is, it must be integrated into a "makes sense" curriculum that accounts for both student learnedness across other disciplines and, most importantly, student development.

Children begin learning about math concepts at an early age. While some may easily graduate from "counting fingers" to adding and subtracting, research has shown that, by the time children enter formal education, they have at least some basic insight as to how math "works".   Also, thanks to technology, educators can help best gauge their students' capability at the earliest stages.


Think Math!, a site hosted by the Education Development Center, Inc., is a resource center for multiple ages. This online compendium contains not only intriguing classroom activities, but additionally serves as a guide to understanding what kinds of activities are appropriate for each grade level.  


ThinkMath! suggests that "four- and five-year-olds -- even the ones who can't count -- are, in many ways, thinking like little mathematicians." It goes on to state that four- and five-year-olds:

  • Classify and make categories
  • Compare and quantify
  • Sort
  • Are able to handle both concrete and abstract concepts
  • Are fascinated with counting

Paper and Pencil or Hands-On?Because each student is different, educators are divided in how best to approach teaching pre-K and kindergarten math. Many lay claim to the traditional method of pencil and paper, while others state that students should be "playing and experiencing and talking," or working in tactile ways.   


Despite the many advocates for hands-on methodology, research has also found value in teaching traditional addition and subtraction. In fact, it is said that "95 percent of kids have mastered basic number skills" (Engle, 2013).


Mimi Engel, assistant professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt's Peabody College, spearheaded a study that followed previous research from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort (or ECLS-K). Engel pointed out that (2013):

Kindergarten teachers report spending much of their math instructional time teaching students basic counting skills and how to recognize geometric shapes - skills the students have mastered before ever setting foot in the kindergarten classroom. . . The findings reveal a misalignment between what the students are being taught and what they already know.


More students than ever before are attending prekindergarten and are learning basic math skills at an earlier age, which may be somewhat of an impetus driving these kinds of conclusions found with the longitudinal study. If these young children have already mastered the "how to" count numbers and manipulate various objects, it may be more helpful for kindergarten teachers to actually begin to introduce math in more abstract fashions. While this may be cumbersome for the few who lag behind, it may be an overall benefit for the majority, the "95 percent."


Developing a Sense of Quantity. Whatever the case, the common thread linking these techniques is that of the primary importance of learning number concepts. As early as pre-kindergarten, students need to be developing a sense of quantity. While many students may already understand the notion of counting, as research suggests, the developers of ThinkMath! doubt some students' capability in written mathematics. This is because each student varies in his or her understanding of vocabulary appropriate to the content, so it may be difficult for some to record how or why operations actually function.


Math Apps. Many apps have been developed to help children understand math. The blog, Technology in Early Childhood, sponsored by the Erikson TEC Center, provides a platform and identifies the "5 best apps" for math and counting.


Typically, most young children are familiar with using their fingers to count, but these apps provide a different kind of visual representation. Contrasted with the "count by fingers" method, it has been said that children who are familiar with a different way of thinking about what "math looks like" are able to more readily retain advanced math-related vocabulary (Technology in Early Childhood, 2013).  


What about the students who do not have access to technology? Will they fall behind or lack the skills necessary to fully function in the classroom? Despite the skills that children have when they enter school, teachers still need to assess individual learners to find where each stands and what is needed for each student.




Education Development Center, Inc. (2014). Think Math! Kindergarten. Retrieved from http://thinkmath.edc.org/resource/kindergarten  


Ertelt, B. (2013, May 16). Most math being taught in kindergarten is old news to students. Retrieved from http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2013/05/kindergarten-math/  


Technology in Early Childhood. (2013, March 8). 5 best apps for math and counting. Retrieved from http://technologyinearlychildhood.com/2013/03/08/5-best-apps-for-math-and-counting/  


Let's Dwell in Possibility: Using Brain-Based Learning for the 21st Century

By Heather L. Brennan Smith, M.A.T./M/Ed. Lilja Elementary School, Natick, Massachusetts

Instructor, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland



I dwell in Possibility --

A fairer House than Prose -- 

More numerous of Windows -- 

Superior -- for Doors --

                      -- Emily Dickinson


"It is a matter of posing questions on both sides and of loving the questions that merge with one another, questions about living in the world and creating communities and collectivities, caring for each other, making each other feel worthwhile"   

                                                     -- Maxine Greene


Let's dwell in possibility for a moment and imagine a school where classrooms are filled with teachers who seek to master the art of learning, rather than the art of teaching, where student needs are informed by scientific findings about brain functionality rather than chronological benchmarks, where families partner with educators to make informed decisions about how to support a child's intellectual growth and development. These schools are possible but it starts with leadership. And what better time than the present?


I have the fortunate opportunity to share each day what I learn from the fields of cognitive neuroscience and educational psychology with a teaching faculty composed of highly motivated and thoughtful educators. As I talk to educators in my school, in courses I teach, in my doctoral program, at professional conferences, and at Friday night dinner tables, the question remains: "I'm fascinated by developments in brain research, but how does it apply to my daily practice?" It's not enough to simply know what the hippocampus is and how it functions.


How do we decide which information from the field of cognitive neuroscience is pertinent to the study of teaching and learning? How do we engage teachers in building enduring understanding of these core ideas and principles so that they can make informed decisions about how to adjust their daily practice? And what should principals do about it?


Shifting to a Focus on Learning. Cognitive neuroscience holds great promise in helping us shift our perspective from teaching to that of learning. If teachers have a better functional understanding of how the brain learns and processes information, teachers can design instruction that supports authentic and meaningful learning opportunities for children:

  • lessons with greater attention to appropriate timing for learning episodes,
  • assessments that target students' cognitive skills rather than their content knowledge.

After all, we no longer live in a "knowledge economy" where a student's ability to recall information is enough; rather, we live in what Sawyer (2006) calls an "innovation economy" where students must learn how to persist in the face of challenge, to think creatively when solving complex problems, to produce new knowledge that seeks to inform future generations of learners.


Findings from the brain-based literature show great potential for future implications in the classroom. The brain's ability to adapt is quite impressive. Some children, for example, who are "late learners" of language learn to use both hemispheres of the brain for grammatical processing as opposed to relying primarily on the left (Goswami, 2004). Such findings about the brain's plasticity may help us explore new strategies for helping children adapt and achieve greater success in school.


Because of advances in our understanding of how people learn, we know that successful teaching affects brain function, by changing connectivity (Goswami, 2004, p. 2). Likewise, brain development quadruples from birth to adulthood (Goswami, 2004), so why wouldn't we focus our efforts on intervention during the primary years, a period during which there is still so much more to learn?


Piaget Challenged. Scientists are questioning the conventional wisdom of early developmental psychologists and uncovering new ways of understanding children. Jean Piaget's concept of object permanence was recently challenged by a team of researchers who were able to disprove this theory (Aamodt & Wang, 2011). Likewise, new developments are published each month -- studies that help us understand:

  • how the brain learns and remembers,
  • how exercise affects children's executive skills,
  • how novelty helps children attend,
  • how learning episodes should be "spaced,"
  • how inquiry promotes engagement and motivation,
  • how imaginative play sharpens a child's interpersonal skills.

With such advances in the study of psychology and cognition, there is great potential to develop theories of the mind that can change the outcomes for learners of all types.




Collaborative Inquiry. It's not enough to send our teachers to a conference or two. Dubinsky (2010) points out that large conferences are not enough to provide teachers and school administrators with the background they need in neuro-education, articulating that such an approach: "spreads general knowledge but fails to answer individual teachers' questions, to model specific strategies that can be used in the classroom, or to provide teachers with practice in applying this new knowledge" (Dubinsky, 2010, p. 8058). Building communities of practice where educators are engaged in the continual study of learning begins by

  • promoting school cultures where teachers are committed to collaborative inquiry,
  • engaging in action research informed by the most recent literature,
  • taking risks with one another and reflecting upon our successes and our failures.

Teachers are in the business of learning. Let's support our teachers by building the knowledge base together.  


This April, I will lead a book discussion for families and faculty on Aamodt and Wang's Welcome to Your Child's Brain (2011).This book is an incredible resource for families and educators as it provides great insights into the brain's ever-changing development over the lifespan. While the book may sound slightly intimidating, this is truly one of the most down-to-earth books I've read about brain development. Aamodt and Wang describe the brain in terms that just about anyone can understand.


The discussion is merely an entry point into the dialogue about how we can better serve our students.




Aamodt, S., & Wang, S. (2011). Welcome to your child's brain. New York, NY: Bloomsbury


Bruer, J. T. (2008).  In search of...brain-based education. In K. Fischer & M. H. Immordino-Yang (Eds.), The Jossey-Bass reader on the brain and learning (pp. 51-69). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.


Dubinsky, J. M. (2010). Neuroscience education for prekindergarten - 12 teachers. The Journal of Neuroscience, 30(24), 8057-8060.


Goswami, U. (2008). Neuroscience and education. In K. Fischer & M. H. Immordino-Yang (Eds.),  The Jossey-Bass reader on the brain and learning (pp. 33-50). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.


Hardiman, M. (2012). The brain-targeted teaching model. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.


Sawyer, R. (2006). The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

The Importance of Play
In a recent Time magazine article, Hillary Conklin asserted that play isn't just for kids. She mentions the mental health problems that have increased for youth as play decreased, and she describes the benefits of play for many, children and adults. There is much that can be learned from children and their natural inclinations. Twenty-first Century education is about finding the right fit between the old and the new. As we focus on Early Childhood, let's all take time to play!



Christine Mason
Center for Educational Improvement