The Step Up to Quality team is an incredible resource for child care providers going through the five Steps – and they can also connect providers with other early childhood education resources. As a part of the State of Nebraska Department of Education’s Office of Early Childhood, the Step Up to Quality team works closely with their colleagues within the government, and with partner agencies across the state.
To help providers get to know the people behind Step Up to Quality better, we’re featuring each of the team members and their role. This time we’re highlighting Lynne Cook!
Lynne Cook always knew she wanted to be a teacher, even as a child.
After spending her entire career in a variety of early childhood education roles, she landed at Step Up to Quality nearly five years ago as the Coach Specialist. While the coaches support the teachers, she supports the coaches.
“I love teaching and I am drawn to it knowing how many lives you can enhance over the years,” she said. “But knowing how many hundreds and thousands of lives we impact across the entire state, makes it very rewarding to be on the Step Up to Quality team.”
Providers have the opportunity to be matched with a coach once they complete the coach interest questionnaire, after they complete Step 2 in the process. While having a coach is optional, Lynne shared it’s one of the most important benefits of the program.
“Our entire Step Up to Quality team, from our staff to the coaches, is here to support the providers,” she said. “We understand that they have an incredible responsibility and a huge role to play in children’s lives, and we want to encourage them on their journey.”
Step Up to Quality contracts with 20 experienced early childhood education professionals from around Nebraska to serve as coaches. The group has grown from 12 coaches in 2016 when Lynne started, illustrating the growth Step Up to Quality has experienced. The coaches meet regularly for professional development training, program updates and camaraderie.
“Every six weeks, it’s like a college reunion,” Lynne said. “We’re always excited to see each other. They are truly the best of the best.”
Currently, 143 programs are assigned to coaches. Once Step 2 is achieved it’s time to complete the coach questionnaire, and a common misconception is that this is a form to fill out, but in fact it’s a phone call with Lynne. It’s perhaps her most favorite part of her job.
“I ask them about what they are looking for out of the process, what they love about their job, what their journey has been so far,” she said. “I love hearing their stories and it always makes my heart so happy to hear from these providers who have the best intentions for the children they serve.”
When Lynne thinks about how important early childhood education teachers are, and how necessary quality care is at early ages, a little boy named Andrew always comes to mind.
Lynne was a preschool teacher in Kansas when Andrew was assigned to her classroom. He came with an IEP (Individualized Education Program) and a stack of paperwork about his special needs. Lynne was nervous.
“The first two weeks were rough,” she said. “He had challenging behaviors. He would bolt out of the classroom, he would toss chairs, he would scream. I had to remind myself what my job was: to instill a love of learning.”
Through some trial and error, and a lot of patience, she and Andrew began to understand each other.
“He learned to trust me, and I learned how to bring out the best in him,” Lynne said.
Andrew’s sweet personality began to shine. At the end of the school year, Lynne remembers Andrew’s mom in tears, telling Lynne that Andrew only hugged three people in his life: his parents, and Ms. Lynne.
“I wrote a letter to his kindergarten teacher, sharing strategies for how to teach him and what his likes and dislikes were,” Lynne said. “I wanted to set him up for success.”
Lynne lost touch with Andrew – both families were in the military and moved often. But she’s hopeful he grew to love learning.
“Their little brains absorb everything at that age,” she said. “It’s prime time for learning and it’s up to the early childhood professionals to make the most of this opportunity.”