Series: About the Collaborative

Denver Head Start Teachers Sustain Children’s Growth in Math

Denver Head Start Teachers Sustain Children’s Growth in Math
Denver Head Start Teachers

An ongoing professional development program with Denver Great Kids Head Start (DGKHS) shows the power of a multi-year partnership to build sustainable growth in math achievement for young children. Since 2014, the Collaborative has worked with the Denver Office of Children’s Affairs to develop Math Champions, a program designed to deepen teachers’ knowledge about the Big Ideas of early math and how to engage all children in joyful math learning.

The partnership began when DGKHS noticed that child performance data were lowest in math and sought professional development opportunities for their teachers. “We knew we wanted to invest in improving our teaching practices around the area of math,” says Liane Martinez, School Readiness Director at DGKHS. “After looking into several options, we selected the Erikson Institute Early Math Collaborative. We invested in training that was not a one-and-done.”

And that investment has paid off. Martinez reports a positive trend in the data. Math is now the area with the largest growth on the Teaching Strategies GOLD assessment. Some years, it’s been as large as a 68% gain!

A Long-Term Focus

Four times each year, two facilitators from the Collaborative fly out to Denver for two full days of math professional development with Head Start teachers and coaches. One day is spent with teachers who are new to the training and the other day is for returning teachers who are deepening their understanding and application of the Big Ideas of early math. Some teachers have been with the program for 3 or 4 years.

Martinez knows the importance of time. “We know that trainings must continue in order for practices to begin, change, or develop in staff. It is easy to forget if never revisited. Initially it was one group, moved to two groups with returning teachers a second year and another new cohort of new staff. We followed the model and then began to develop a peer coaching cohort along with new and returning staff,” explains Martinez.

Training, application of new practice, and continuity is the best way to invest for greater outcomes.
– Liane Martinez, School Readiness Director

Research supports continuity in professional development. A long-term focus provides teachers with adequate time to learn, practice, implement, and reflect upon new strategies that facilitate changes in their practice.

A Team Effort

Over the years, Math Champions has grown to include coaches working in Head Start centers, in addition to the teachers. Coaches are co-learners with teachers in the morning and in the afternoon, with the guidance of Erikson facilitators, they plan activities with the teachers they support. In doing so, coaches create spaces for teachers to share ideas and collaborate in their learning in a job-embedded context.

It’s been great! I appreciate the interactive approach and holding us accountable for it!
– Denver Great Kids Head Start Coach

In sessions specifically designed for them, coaches deepen their expertise about content and evidence-based practices. They focus on how to meet teachers’ individual needs through built-in time for teachers to think about, receive input on, and make changes to their practice by facilitating reflection.

Teacher assistants are also included as essential team members. By working collaboratively, teachers, teacher assistants, and coaches are creating positive and lasting change in math achievement for children in Denver Great Kids Head Start.