by Step Up to Quality
Coaches are universally valuable people to have in your corner – they help unlock potential, they help you learn new skills, and they can encourage you to accomplish goals you never before thought possible.
For those child care directors or owners who are going through the Step Up to Quality program, a free coach is a big asset to participating. Programs are eligible for coaching once they have achieved Step Two. The coaches help providers navigate through the process, and ultimately improve educational experiences for children.
Aiesha Rahn is one of the original Step Up to Quality coaches in Nebraska, and currently is guiding six programs through the five-step process. She’s spent her whole career in various aspects of teaching and early childhood development, and has earned her master’s and EdS in the field, too. She credits her mom with being her coaching inspiration.
“My mom poured so much into me, so I could be that little light for others,” she said.
Helping teachers learn has been her calling – she’s also an adjunct instructor at Metropolitan Community College.
“I’m like the bus aide,” she said. “I’m not driving the bus. I’m helping to guide, and we all fall together, and we all get up together.”
Child care directors are the ones driving the bus, Aiesha said. She works with people like Jill Garrett, Early Childhood Site Director at Kids Can Community Center in Omaha, meeting with them once or twice a month for a few hours at a time to help them navigate the process.
“I follow her lead of what she wants,” Aiesha said. “Jill is the expert at her center, and I’m here to motivate, affirm and uplift.”
Two things help guide the discussions between Aiesha and Jill:
When Kids Can was last rated, the program came in at a Step Four. Almost two years have passed, and the program is about to submit the paperwork to be rated again. In that time, Aiesha and Jill have worked from the same Action Plan, which is continuously updated and tracks the progress and achievements attained. For example, half of Jill’s staff has earned their Child Development Associate designation, which is a remarkable accomplishment.
“The Action Plan is the heartbeat of what we do for Step Up to Quality,” Aiesha said.
For Jill, a seasoned early childhood education professional, the role of a coach at her center is to encourage and inspire.
“I need her to motivate me,” Jill said. “As a director, there are several things on my to-do list daily, but when I know Aiesha is coming over, I’ll get out my folders and start gathering what we need. She keeps me on-task.”
At the same time, Aiesha is humble enough to know that she doesn’t have all the answers.
“I don’t pretend to act like I know everything,” Aiesha said. “If I don’t know, I’ll call who does right then and there. And I don’t tell her what she needs to do. I’ll ask her things like, ‘What do you think we should do?’ It’s all about the director, and meeting them where they are, and providing guidance.”
Regardless of a center’s overall rating, the journey to improving quality is on-going. Jill openly recognizes there are always tweaks and enhancements to be made to increase quality in the care provided.
One of the tools Jill uses for continuous improvement is a biannual parent survey, which they recently administered. More than half of their parents responded, and overall the satisfaction with Kids Can was very high. However, part of the Step Up to Quality process includes Improvement Plans, which focuses on continued growth in all aspects of the center. Jill’s Improvement Plan centers around communication with parents regarding learning opportunities.
For example, the center’s teachers celebrated Las Posadas in December with a piñata for the children to break open. On its surface, it may just look like a party. But the children were learning social and emotional skills – they were waiting for their turn, cheering each other on, and learning about a historic and cultural event. The Improvement Plan encourages the teachers to communicate those skill building opportunities they have with the children throughout the day to their parents.
“Step Up to Quality makes programs stretch and bend in ways they probably would never have thought to do,” Aiesha said. “It gives them the opportunity to show that they are producing quality care. It empowers, affirms, holds accountable the people that are in place to support families and children.”
Jill and her team have implemented significant curriculum upgrades and professional development programs, among many other changes, as a result of participating in Step Up to Quality. With the support and encouragement from Aiesha, who is just a phone call or text away at all times, Jill continues to push her team to move forward every day for the children at Kids Can.
“Birth to five is the most crucial period of a human’s life,” Jill said. “The quality of language they are hearing, the type of experiences they’re getting, will have lasting effects throughout their lifetime. That’s why quality care is important.”