In this episode of The Preschool Podcast, we host Scott Moore, CEO of Kidango, an early learning non-profit organization that is committed to setting every child on a path to thrive in Kindergarten and in life. Scott discusses the impact on children’s development and learning from COVID-19 and groundbreaking findings from their research study.
New research has come out in partnership with Kidango’s SEEDS program validating an innovative and very effective way to support well-being and build early literacy in pre-K classrooms. In light of COVID-19, pandemic-related learning gaps and traumas will have grown and teachers will face the daunting task of trying to make up for lost time and fight growing inequities. The research shows the effectiveness of one of the tools that can help early educators. A single year of SEEDS training for teachers was shown to produce statistically significant, positive changes in teacher knowledge and student early reading skills.
Scott explains that coaching is a huge element in Kidango’s programs. The coaching aspect has a lot to do with reflection and creating a safe environment for that reflection to happen. When you continuously reflect daily and receive coaching weekly, you’re able to pivot and make necessary changes quickly which, in turn, creates a successful program for young children.
In the research conducted…It shocked us all to see that there was no learning loss from last year. The expected growth that we would have seen occurred even if you were at home.Scott Moore, CEO of Kidango on the Kidango SEEDS program
Challenges Educators May Face As Children Return to Classrooms
Trauma Will be More Recognized. Trauma from the last year will be at the forefront of a classroom for both educators and children. While we slowly acclimate ourselves back to the “new normal” trauma will still be a key factor in children’s and educators healing.
Strong Relationships Between Educators, Children, and Families May Be Challenging. The last year has taught us that communication amongst educators and families is of utmost importance. Keeping ongoing communication between families, children and, educators created strong relationships when returning to the classroom as well, essentially avoiding a break in any communication.
Communication May Be Challenging. If communication on children’s development was not communicated clearly during the stay-at-home period, educators may find it challenging to find gaps in learning right away. Keeping clear and ongoing communication will serve as an instrumental part to children’s development now and later life.
Episode 259 Transcripts:
Each day you’re trying out these new activities and demonstrating your own teaching skills and learning and getting better and continuously improving each day.
Scott, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!
Thank you, Ron. It’s great to be back!
Yeah, great to be back. We have another returned guest, which we always love on the Preschool Podcast. We have with us today Scott Moore. He is the CEO of Kidango, an early learning nonprofit out in California in the US of A. Great to have you with us again, Scott.
We’re coming out of COVID-19, fingers crossed. And we’re going to talk to Scott today about addressing pandemic-related learning gaps because, of course, lots of our youngest children have been in different types of learning environments and situations over the past few months.
So, let’s dive into it. Before we do, for those of us who didn’t have a chance to listen to the last time you were on the Podcast, let’s start off learning a little bit about you, Scott, and how you found yourself in this role at CEO of Kidango.
Yeah, I’ve been in early-childhood education most of my career. I love waking up every morning and doing this work. And I’ve had roles with research organizations; I’ve had roles with policy organizations. And at Kidango, which is an organization, we’re actually the largest childcare organization in the Bay Area, I’m fortunate enough to be able to do it all.
So, we have 4,000 children and families that we serve every year. And we’re also able to do a lot of policy work sponsoring legislation and the like. As well as we have some wonderful partnerships with research universities that allow us to do research around the effectiveness of our programs and helps us to innovate and always try and expand the positive impact we have for those that we serve. So, that’s how I ended up here at Kidango and why it’s a beautiful place. We call ourselves a family and we truly are. And we needed that over this past year.
That is very lucky that you can have that scope of both responsibilities and opportunities with Kidango, it’s quite unique. And going back to introducing the topic for today’s conversation, there has been a lot of different learning environments and setups over the last 15 months or so. And what have you noticed with trends in terms of children’s development and how COVID may have impacted this development?
What we noticed, obviously, was just this extraordinary disruption [in] the daily lives of children and families and in the daily lives of our teachers and staff. We’ve all experienced that. The question is, what has that resulted in, specifically in terms of children’s development and learning?
We were fortunate to be in the middle of a study, a randomized control trial that the University of Chicago is doing on our language and literacy curriculum called SEEDS [Sensitivity, Encouragement, Education, Development through Doing, Self-Image Support]. And we just got some data which really surprised us all, researchers as well as us. And because throughout the year when the pandemic hit, which for us in California was really Friday the 13th of March, is when a lot of schools and childcare organizations said, “Okay, we’re going to close down.”
But it Kidango, we were only closed for a week. And then we started opening up centers again, especially those that were in hospitals for emergency childcare. And over those next couple of months, we actually reopened all of our centers by June. And so we were able to provide in-classroom services for most of this past 14 or 16 months for half of the children that we serve. So, half were in class and then half were at home.
And we created what we feel like was a very robust at-home learning experience – we called it Kidango At Home – where not only did we have a lot of Zooming [online video conferencing] circle time and that sort of thing, but also we provided every family with learning materials at home: books, art supplies, games, that sort of thing.
But again, who knew what the impact was? So, that’s been a huge question and concern for us because we know, looking overall at education, whether it’s early education or not, that students have fallen farther and farther behind, and especially low-income students, which are the students that we serve.
And we also know that when it comes to online learning in classrooms that you go to through Zoom or whatever platform you’re using, [it] doesn’t work so well the younger you are. And certainly that is true for preschool. And so we were really concerned that the learning loss was going to be significant.
I want to come back to that study. But before we dove into that a little bit more, can you just tell us a little bit more about what the SEEDS of Learning program is all about, how it works, give us sort of a flavor of the look and feel of that?
Sure, absolutely. It’s an amazing program, I’ll just say that outright. It’s language and literacy and social emotional development blended together. What’s special about it is its focus on the critical skills or the skills that we know are most predictive of reading by the third grade that are most critical for children’s language and literacy development.
And it’s all about relationships and building those relationships and meaningful interactions between teachers and children that create the enriched language-rich environment in a classroom.
It’s a year-long training program and you’re doing while you’re learning. So, everything… you go once a week to the training and then you’re right back in the classroom with your teaching team working on what you learned that week.
And it’s not just professional development, it’s also ongoing coaching. And so there’s a coaches training that all the coaches go through. And for us, those were our center directors of our centers. They all became coaches. So, there was ongoing coaching and very intentional coaching. It was very clear who needed to be doing what, when. And that all came together during the nine or 10 months of training that our teachers go through to do SEEDS.
And then last but not least, three times a year we take a look at the skills that we’re focusing on the most. And in SEEDS, that’s vocabulary, rhyming, alliteration, letter names and letter sounds. Three times a year, our teachers look at and do an assessment of where children are developmentally in those different skill areas so that it can then inform instruction.
And so it’s an assessment that takes about 15 minutes. And basically it’s a one-on-one. The teacher sits down with a child and they play games for that amount of time. You don’t even have to do it all at once. If the child only wants to sit down for a few minutes, that totally works.
But that’s really critical for us to be able to understand, how do we tailor instruction to meet every child’s individual needs, whether it’s through one-on-one or small group or large group activities? And it helps us to do things like RTI [Response To Intervention] and other interventions to support every child so that they’re achieving to their potential.
And last, I guess I would say is it’s fun. I would say I’d see more smiles in classrooms and engagement happening after SEEDS than before. So, not only were children learning a lot more, but everyone – teachers included – were having more fun. And that’s because the level of engagement was higher.
So, when you have a higher level of engagement and you have a higher level of interaction between children, between teachers and children, that just makes it a much more enjoyable day. And so our experience with SEEDS is that it’s had a tremendously positive impact on the quality of our instruction and on, ultimately, how much children learn.
Cool. And the SEEDS program is something that you developed internally, and then I guess you kind of like partnered with the University of Chicago who conducted this research?
Yeah, no, actually, we did not develop it internally. It was developed by an early educator, her name is Kate Horst, and she is from Minneapolis, Minnesota. And it actually first began at its scale, or in a large way, with the Minnesota Reading Corps. They did an evaluation on that, I think somewhere like 12 or 15 years ago.
So, great impact. When we were looking at, “Okay, we want to start using better language and literacy curriculum,” we looked for one that was evidence-based. And so SEEDS already had that research to show that it worked, one, that we could have a strong partnership with the creators or the developers of the curriculum – which we did – and then also have a research partnership, which, thanks to a foundation in Oakland – the [Kenneth] Rainin Foundation – we were able to do with the University of Chicago.
Got it. One of the things that you mentioned there that I’d like to touch on further – because we don’t hear about it very often in early-childhood education and I think it’s really interesting – is coaching. I really like that idea. And again, I don’t think we see that very often. And just the concept of having kind of like a buddy system or having somebody you can go to as a coach or a mentor sounds great. Can you talk a little bit more about how that’s integrated into this program?
Absolutely, Ron. That’s sort of what we call the secret sauce of SEEDS. Coaching is all about reflection and creating a safe environment for that reflection to happen. You’re taking videos of a teacher conducting some kind of activity and then you’re meeting with the teacher. And you’re asking open-ended questions about what they saw in the video.
It’s really important to understand how to create that open, safe environment for a teacher to be able to reflect on their own practice and to do that not just once a week, which is how often you meet with your coach, but daily. Because you can go to a training and there’s a certain amount of time where you remember that training and then you forget it. But with coaching, it’s as if you’re getting trained every day and every week and you’re getting that reflection.
So, each day you’re trying out these new activities and demonstrating your own teaching skills and learning and getting better and continuously improving each day. And that’s what’s so critical about coaching, is that you’re getting that constant feedback and you’re able to sort of be… a teacher is able to see themselves doing it through video in a way that is very empowering in terms of their own continuous improvement.
Yeah, that’s really interesting point you’ve touched on there. So, yeah, between the coaching being that secret sauce, as you mentioned, and that sort of continuous coaching and training, as opposed to sort of the one-and-done does sound so key. And not just from the learning perspective, but I imagine also just from, like you said, sort of creating that safe space and that culture of sort of like, “We’re here together to help each other develop and grow and learn.” Just sounds like a great environment to create from a cultural perspective.
You’re absolutely right, it is. And when you can create momentum around instructional practice because teachers experience that higher level of engagement, they see the excitement that children have in learning and learning more. And then, of course, you see those results in the data, too. And you hear from parents, “Hey, my child came home singing this song,” or, “My child knows this word. How’d that happen?” It’s exciting and it’s really motivating.
And so we found that our teacher retention went up, our morale went up. And it also, because we used a teacher supervisor as the coach, which we did because we didn’t have funding to hire a bunch of new coaches, it changed the relationship for some of our supervisors. It changed the relationship between the supervisor and the teacher from one that’s more traditional to much more of a o supportive style of management and leadership where really you’re in it together. And this is about everyone’s success. And so that was a big cultural shift for us. It’s just been a tremendous experience for us as an organization.
Yeah, very cool. And so just pivoting off of that, you mentioned a lot of children were still able to go into Kidango programs even through last summer, which is great. But also you were doing this Kidango at home learning program and whatnot. So, some children are still going to be coming back or are coming back and are going to have to adjust. What challenges do you think educators are going to face in the classroom as those children are coming back and adjusting? And is your SEEDS program able to support without in any way?
Yeah, this has been a really hard time for everyone and I think especially children who are low-income or children of color, which is by far who we serve. So, there’s a lot of trauma that people have experienced and the children have experienced during this time. We all can relate to that.
And so that trauma, of course, is brought to the classrooms. And it’s not just children’s trauma, it’s teacher’s trauma, too. How we can create a supportive environment where we’re able to help each other manage that trauma so that we can slowly acclimate ourselves back to the new normal and create that new normal. That’s really what we’re experiencing now.
And yeah, all of our classrooms are now back up to full capacity. So, we’re no longer having to serve half the number of children. However, that doesn’t mean every family has felt comfortable sending their child back, one. And then two, obviously they’re still masked. Everyone’s wearing masks, that sort of thing, which clearly is not an ideal circumstance for an early-childhood and building relationships and learning language, all of that.
What SEEDS has been remarkable at – and we’ll talk about the study results soon – but is actually first developed as a parent-family engagement program. So, the training was for parents who then were able to provide language and literacy activities for their children at home. So, it was sort of a natural curriculum for us to be able to offer to parents, for them to do at home with their children, which is what we’re able to do.
And so the fact that the heart of SEEDS is relationships, strong relationships and meaningful interactions between adults and children, that works wherever you are. And it also served us well when children came back because the relationships were stronger to begin with and they were able to sort of reestablish those relationships quicker, I think. And so the learning loss that we might have anticipated, we just haven’t seen that.
Yeah, that makes sense. And before we run out of time here, I would like to go back to some of those research findings. What were some of the highlights of that research or that study on the SEEDS program with Kidango?
Yeah, I mean, it shocked us all to see that there was no learning loss from last year. And we looked at children who had been with us for only a year and children who had been with us for two years.
And what we found is that the expected growth that we would have seen occurred, even if you were doing Kindango at home. That might have been because students weren’t gone for the full year. They might have come back; they came back earlier. That might have been because we were able to successfully offer SEEDS at home through distance learning and providing materials at home and learning activities at home that parents could do.
And that might have been the fact that when children did come back, they were able to catch up, if you will, faster than we would have anticipated. And that our baseline was done in 2018 on Kidango children who have been in Kidango classrooms but hadn’t been in SEEDS. We saw the same level of growth that we would have expected in children that were in SEEDS classrooms relative to children who weren’t.
So, the fact that we were able to basically find no learning loss at all, we just feel very grateful for. Certainly we know SEEDS had a big part of making that happen. Definitely another big part was just the incredible effort that the team at Kidango made to support children’s learning throughout the year, no matter where they were, and supporting families in whatever way they needed, we were there.
And so there was a lot of heavy lifting that went into bringing that all together. But the results are in and they’re really incredible. And we’re so happy that as children come back, we’re not looking at catching them up. We’re looking at lifting them up to reaching their potential because they are where they need to be.
Yeah, that’s great. And it’s also great when you put in all that effort and you know that you’re getting results and it’s having an impact. So, congratulations to Kidango and the team for that. Sounds like some great work happening there.
Before we wrap things up today, one of the things we’re trying to do with the Preschool Podcast is continue to grow and learn, just like you’re doing at Kidango with the SEEDS program and coaching and development that’s happening on a continuous basis. From your perspective, any interesting resources you can share with our listeners, which they can go check out to continue their learning and development, whether they’re in the classrooms, back in the classroom or at home?
Yes, absolutely. I mean, I would strongly recommend that people go to the SEEDS website, a tremendous program and one that we would highly recommend that anyone go to learn. And so it’s the SEEDS of Learning program and it’s the CARES [Confident and capable Adults through Relationship and Evidence-based Support] organization that runs it. We would strongly recommend for you to or for anyone to go to that. And their website is [https://www.seedscares.org].
Wonderful.Thanks for sharing that. It sounds definitely worth checking out. Sounds like there’s some interesting innovative aspects to that that have certainly paid off for Kidango and, most importantly, the development of the children in your programs, even during these trying times.
Scott, before we wrap up today, where can our listeners go to get more information about Kidango, as well, or if they’d like to get in touch with you or someone from your team?
Sure, please visit our website, which is www.Kidango.org, and you can learn more about SEEDS, you can learn more about a lot of our work, as well as contact information for myself or anyone else on our team. And we’d love to hear from you.
Wonderful. Really appreciate you sharing those resources, Scott, and sharing more about the SEEDS of Learning program at Kidango. Wonderful having you back on the show. And thanks for all you’re doing with childcare programs and bringing children’s development forward over there in the Bay Area. Pleasure having you on the Podcast!
So, thank you so much, Ron. And thanks so much for inviting me!