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Head Start

Data Training

Moving beyond the classroom, to implementation

Over the last decade we have seen a proliferation of data camps, training and certificates designed to build the data skills and competency of early childhood managers and leaders. While Head Start training resources can be helpful and participants should be congratulated for their commitment, these resources by themselves are not a magic bullet.

But you knew that already, right?
Training by itself is rarely sufficient. It’s the ongoing application of knowledge that really moves the needle.

Data bootcamps are immersive programs designed to teach participants about data quality, visualization, analysis, and more over a specified time period.

The goal of these training programs is to boost confidence so that participants can apply their newfound data knowledge at work. Early Intel was delighted to recently host Harvard’s Early Education Initiative Data Bootcamp, which included sessions on promoting children’s social emotional and literacy development through data-use and data analysis practices and creating a data-use culture in leadership and learning communities.

A data bootcamp is a great way to orient staff unfamiliar with basic data practice, but it is really just the starting point. To truly become a data-driven organization requires ongoing support and a commitment to continuous improvement.

Data bootcamps are immersive programs designed to teach participants about data quality, visualization, analysis, and more over a specified time period.

The goal of these training programs is to boost confidence so that participants can apply their newfound data knowledge at work. Early Intel was delighted to recently host Harvard’s Early Education Initiative Data Bootcamp, which included sessions on promoting children’s social emotional and literacy development through data-use and data analysis practices and creating a data-use culture in leadership and learning communities.

A data bootcamp is a great way to orient staff unfamiliar with basic data practice, but it is really just the starting point. To truly become a data-driven organization requires ongoing support and a commitment to continuous improvement.

Data Training vs. Better Data Tools

Just because you can do something yourself doesn’t mean you have to or that you should. While it’s nice to know how to create a pivot table, for example, there are often better solutions for linking data sets.

Many programs are using visualization tools such as Power B.I., Tableau, or Domo to connect their data. They might do it themselves or outsource these tasks to vendors such as Early Intel.

By outsourcing the data warehousing, networking and visualization, these programs are freeing up valuable time, enabling their staff to take on the important jobs of thinking and applying the new insights from this data.

If you can make analysis easier by using visual charts instead of columns of numbers, that is progress. It is not cheating to make data easier! Federal reviewers won’t ask if your staff can make pivot tables. They just want to see the end product.
Data visualizations tailored to stakeholder groups such as families, staff members, or Board of Directors can be a powerful communication tool. Presenting data visually is often more compelling than a list of data points.

Knowing how your program is performing in relation to others is a key lever for improving performance. 

Many early childhood programs, however, lack this perspective — they may not know how their child assessments, family needs, chronic absence or health data compare to peers.

As a Network of programs using standardized dashboards, however, we’re able to integrate this information into our dashboards. Benchmarking your program’s data against others in the Quality Improvement Network shows where you excel and where you can improve.
Our data tools allow you to filter data in a variety of ways to provide deeper insight. Quality improvement requires the ability to disaggregate data using effective filtering tools. For instance, you need good filters to sort for chronic absence, or for children who have IEPs or are in foster care, to monitor their progress and ensure that the needs of vulnerable children are being addressed.

Filtering can also help you identify families and children that are thriving. You could conduct empathy interviews with those families to see what’s behind that success and how you could apply that across your community.

Interactivity to key to the new generation of Head Start data tools. Traditional reports are static, meaning that users typically just scan them but aren’t able to go deeper. An interactive visualization enables the user to click and filter on subjects of interest. Intuitive, interactive tools don’t require much Head Start training. In fact, good tools can replace intensive training and make your job easier.

Data Management vs. Data Analysis

Your MIS provider (such ChildPlus, COPA, Go Engage, etc.) provides training to use their software. This can be helpful, but software training shouldn’t be confused with more comprehensive Head Start training that goes deeper into analysis.

Understanding your MIS is important for collecting and reporting particular data sets, and is foundational to effective data analysis. But it is not the same – not even close.

Proficiency with your MIS is not sufficient for an FA2 visit. During that visit, you still need to show federal reviewers that you can connect data sets, interpret trends and patterns, and show how you are incorporating these insights into your work.

Data Coaching

How long do people retain what they learned from training?

Unfortunately, most of us retain very little from standalone training. It has to be applied immediately, and even then, much is lost without repetition and reinforcement. That is why the Office of Head Start encourages practice-based coaching for teachers. Retention of new information increases dramatically with effective coaching.

The same is true for data practice. School districts began introducing data coaches over a decade ago to enable K-12 teachers, principals and district staff to effectively incorporate data into their work.

Training is most effective when coupled with coaching, which is why every program that participate in the Q.I. Network is assigned its own data coach who is an expert on the Head Start Performance Standards.

Depending on the needs and interests of each program, Head Start data training might look at data in some or all of these areas:

  • NCLASS scores
  • NAttendance
  • NHealth Data
  • NFamily Outcomes
  • NChild Assesments
  • NFamily Demographics
  • NFamily Needs

Data Workflows and Division of Labor

Even after your staff have undergone Head Start training and gained confidence working with data, you have one last hurdle: Incorporating those new insights into your internal communications and decision making. Otherwise, all that hard work will go unused.

This final step can be harder than it sounds, because staff often aren’t used to doing data analysis. It requires more internal discussion and critical analysis. It often means working across organizational silos. Coaches can be invaluable at this stage, along with peers from other programs that have made the same transition. 

In an ideal situation, data workflows include everyone from frontline staff all the way up to the Board of Directors. Each of these people plays a data role that reflects their particular areas of responsibility.

Your Head Start program likely has frontline staff that collect and analyze a certain amount of data that is relevant to their day to day operations. For instance, teachers may collect progress toward school readiness goals in the learning domains while family service staff may collect progress toward family goals and outcomes. 

Once they collect that data, it may roll up to the center level so that managers can take a broader view. Aggregating, analyzing and sharing that data with staff can help everyone understand how the program is doing, where it might need improvement, and why certain changes need to happen. 

Data work should be included in job descriptions, so it’s clearly a non-negotiable part of the job, never an afterthought or a “nice to have.” Our dashboards democratize data so everyone on your team can access it, comment on it, and tag each other for better information-sharing and collaboration.

Federal reviewers think in terms of “who, what, what, where, why, how.” In preparation for federal monitoring, discuss questions questions like these with your team:

  • How do we analyze who is doing data work?
  • What exactly are they monitoring?
  • When do they come together?
  • Where do they keep this data?
  • Where do they collect it from?
  • What are the systems?
  • Why do they use these particular tools and procedures?
  • Can they articulate why this is the best way to do this work?
  • How do we know when we're effective?

Applying Head Start Training to Problems of Practice

Once you’ve gotten some Head Start training under your belt, it’s time to apply that knowledge. But don’t worry, because a coach can help at this stage.  

Working with a CQI coach, Head Start programs choose a problem of practice to focus on and identify what data sets will be most relevant. In some cases, they may already have data collected and can work with their coach to analyze it and draw deeper insights. In other cases, they may need to formulate a plan for collecting that data.
Coaches support programs in addressing their biggest challenges. This might include enrollment, chronic absence, family engagement, and staff recruitment and retention.

Challenge #1: Child Enrollment

Several programs in the Head Start Q.I. Network have chosen child enrollment as their problem of practice. One program might look at ways to shorten and streamline the enrollment timeline, while another might look at reducing enrollment errors. These programs might look at data sets such as the number of days from first interaction to enrollment and the number of families correctly placed in their program and location of choice.

A coach will support the team in mapping the enrollment process and identifying obstacles and bottlenecks that are preventing eligible families from learning about them or completing the enrollment process.

Challenge 2: Chronic Absence

Chronic absence occurs when a child misses 10% or more of classes for any reason. Severe chronic absence occurs when a child misses 20% or more of classes for any reason.

Chronic absence can be a powerful indicator in predicting school readiness and performance standards mandate that programs track and intervene when chronic absence happens.

Bar graphs show the percentage of children who are not chronically absent, moderately chronically absent and severely chronically absent from school by period. Head Start training can help programs cope with problems of practice such as attendance.
A coach can help a program identify patterns that are influencing chronic absence, and identify strategies for intervening.Traditionally, programs are used to case managing chronic absence on an individual basis, and a coach can help teams to address underlying patterns that are affecting groups of children and families. This strategic systems approach is more efficient and can create greater impact across the program.  

Challenge 3: Family Engagement

One of the most powerful elements of the Head Start program is the philosophy that children do not thrive if their families do not thrive. Understanding this, programs take a holistic approach to serving not just the child, but the whole family.

Programs measure family engagement in a variety of ways, such as attendance at parent meetings and special events, classroom volunteerism, and participation in parenting curriculum.

Programs collect a lot of data around family needs and outcomes, but if it isn’t linked to child and classroom data, it isn’t nearly as useful as it could be. Once it is linked, family service staff will gain greater insight.

With the support of a coach, a program might also map the parent experience in a way that creates triggers and action steps for staff.  Every family is different, and better data linked to more intentional processes will ensure that every family receives the support they need to thrive.

Challenge 3:Family Engagement

One of the most powerful elements of the Head Start program is the philosophy that children do not thrive if their families do not thrive. Understanding this, programs take a holistic approach to serving not just the child, but the whole family.

Programs measure family engagement in a variety of ways, such as attendance at parent meetings and special events, classroom volunteerism, and participation in parenting curriculum.

Programs collect a lot of data around family needs and outcomes, but if it isn’t linked to child and classroom data, it isn’t nearly as useful as it could be. Once it is linked, family service staff will gain greater insight.

With the support of a coach, a program might also map the parent experience in a way that creates triggers and action steps for staff.  Every family is different, and better data linked to more intentional processes will ensure that every family receives the support they need to thrive.

Challenge 4: Staff Recruitment and Retention

Staff recruitment and retention is a challenge for many Head Start programs. While many leaders cite budget constraints as an issue, there are often other factors at play. 

Are staff members leaving because they need more support from managers? Are they stressed out by administrative processes that could be more streamlined? Are teachers overwhelmed by behavioral issues in the classroom? 

Data can help program leaders understand why they’re struggling to retain staff and fill vacancies. Coaches can help a program form a plan to address the issue, whether it’s a staff wellness program, instructional aids for classrooms with a high incidence of behavior issues, or some other solution.

Training is a Helpful Resource, But Don’t Forget Tools and Coaching

It is tempting to treat Head Start training as the solution to everything. While training has its uses, it isn’t a replacement for data tools or coaching. Unless you expect your staff to create their own data warehouses and visualizations, you need to make those tools available. And if you want the training to stick, your team needs coaching to support implementation.

Early Intel is available to help programs assess their needs in these areas and determine the types of Head Start training, tools and coaching that would best meet their needs.