Local Professional Development Sessions Promote Collaboration to “Bridge the Gap” for Young Children

As an early childhood educator, I often wondered about the best ways for stakeholders to work together in meeting the academic needs of young children. Recently, I had the chance to see collaborative planning and intergovernmental work in action at the municipal level, when I attended an event held by the city of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

The theme was Bridging the Gap – School Readiness by 5, and the event was jointly organized by the office of Mayor Johnny DuPree, the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education, and the National League of Cities Institute (NLCI), to help boost the success of the city’s young children. In an effort to support teachers and child care center directors, the mayor’s office led a professional development session for educators of young children. The day also included a roundtable discussion by representatives of civic organizations, municipal leaders, and educators who committed to improving the outcomes of young children.

The professional development session was extremely beneficial for me. As an educator, I always welcome meaningful opportunities to gain new skills and learn about resources that I can implement in the classroom immediately.

One of the most memorable presentations was by Dr. Joe Olmi, the director of school psychology at the University of Southern Mississippi. He spoke on the value of social-emotional learning and the importance of teaching self-regulation in and outside of the classroom.  He gave great insights on strategies such as “Time-in and Time-out,” in which consequences and privileges are built into the relationship between students and teachers.

Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, the Department’s director of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, offered her thoughts on the value of family and community engagement. She shared some powerful reflections about her grandmother, who helped her develop a love for reading.  She also urged educators to enlist the help of their students’ families to foster community-building in their classrooms.

Another thoughtful presenter was Dr. Tonja Rucker, the program manager for Early Childhood Development in the Institute for Youth Education and Families at NLCI. She provided suggestions to help children and families transition from preschool to kindergarten. I also had the privilege of sharing my perspective, as an African-American male preschool teacher, on transitions within an early childhood program, and ways to increase rigor in literacy for students.

By fostering collaboration among various agencies and organizations, school leaders in this community have been able to make a positive impact in the lives of young children.

This collaboration means a lot for educators like me, who often struggle to find the resources, information and support we need to teach our youngest pupils.

To provide the best start for all our nation’s young children, we need more state and local communities to show the cooperative spirit that NLCI, the Department and the city and school leaders of Hattiesburg demonstrated in hosting this valuable “Bridging the Gap” planning session.

James Casey was a summer Leadership in Educational Equity fellow in the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education.