The COVID-19 pandemic has made it categorically clear, on a national level, how essential the early childhood workforce is and just how challenging it can be to support young children. In the last year, we have been ramping up development of technology to enhance support and professional development for teachers, caregivers and parents.
We now have a 2.0 version of Reflectable, a simple online tool for teachers, caregivers and parents that is like a digital coach in your pocket. Reflectable (previously called the QuickCheck) makes it easy for users to try out best practices for supporting children, reflect on how it is going, and plan next steps – all in a few minutes a week.
Working closely with communities, we customize the tool with content from training and classes that providers and parents have taken to reinforce their professional development. We then break that content into bite-sized, actionable practices for them to choose and try out as they care for young children.
The ultimate goal is for teachers, caregivers and parents to play a leading role in their own continuous improvement and to become fluent in best practices week by week – and we’re seeing exciting results for both adults and children.
“The most exciting thing about all the work is that it seems to be moving the needle for adult practices and, subsequently, for young learners.”
What’s New for Teachers, Caregivers, Parents and Administrators
Beyond the new name, Reflectable is now a mobile-friendly online tool that has gotten major upgrades in its technology, automation and user interface. There are also newly added features to make it easy, effective and overall more enjoyable for practitioners and administrators.
Using Reflectable, practitioners power their own quality improvement through self-reflection, practicing weekly achievable goals, and planning for the week ahead.
For teachers, caregivers and parents, Reflectable now has:
- Quick mindfulness exercises so they can have time for themselves
- Refreshers on training content and reminders through text or email
- An option to reflect on individual children and how they are growing
- Real-time data to track their practice, reflections over time, and progress toward desired outcomes
“Practitioners loved the real-time data. When information is meaningful on a personal level, it is amazing how it gets used.”
Chris Sciarrino, director of early childhood practice and innovation at the Lab, who co-designed the tool and works with communities piloting Reflectable, said, “Practitioners loved the real-time data. When information is meaningful on a personal level, it is amazing how it gets used.”
Most recently, we added a dashboard for administrators so they can see aggregated data for program planning and coaching purposes. While keeping individual data private, this view still allows administrators to gain insight into where people are focusing efforts and how they are progressing.
How Reflectable Came to Be: With Teachers, For Teachers
The idea for the tool originally began in 2015 when Chris was working with early childhood communities that had high-quality professional development, but noticed the gains in child outcomes were often small or inconsistent.
“We were seeing that teachers were saying all the ‘right’ things, yet the children weren’t changing their behavior,” said Chris.
There is an implementation gap – teachers have little ongoing support or time to take what they learn from training and apply it in the real-world context of their busy classrooms.
So, Chris asked herself: How can we address this implementation gap? Could we begin to see changes in the children by providing reminders of practices and a map for reflecting and setting small weekly goals?
To close the gap, Chris worked with colleagues Dr. Kelly Campbell and Hedy Andersson to create a prototype of an online survey with prompts for thinking about how effective teachers felt about their teaching. It also provided simple ways to think about how their actions make an impact on children’s outcomes.
“Because teachers are often overwhelmed by the many competing demands of the job, the one basic principle that we knew we had to adhere to was to keep this to something that was not tied to accountability, and it had to be easy and quick. Kind of like a personal journal and your supervisor never sees it – it is for your own reflective practice and growth,” said Chris.
Then, we took it to teachers in the Franklin-McKinley School District in San Jose, California and began a co-design process. The tool was tailored to support their use of the Pyramid Model to promote social-emotional development. The participating teachers provided feedback on which questions were helpful, which were not, and what they would add.
“We changed based on their feedback – if they did not think it was a useful question then the tool would not be useful to them. We honored their input. We met several times and kept iterating on the content until the group felt confident and began to benefit from the consistent weekly reflection reminders and goal setting.”
Chris says this co-design process is a ‘powerful step’ for building something that users will want and find useful.
“The more the teachers used the tool, the more consistency we were seeing in implementation. We observed a level of confidence and fluency that we were missing before. I thought staff may barely use the tool – in actuality, they filled it out approximately 85% of the times they received it, which, in their busy lives, was a great accomplishment.”
Over time, we made Reflectable into a webpage that would allow users to get feedback loops of data on demand. In 2018, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation mentioned Reflectable as an exciting innovation in technology and early education. In 2019, Reflectable was voted the Pilot Track winner of Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Zaentz Early Education Innovation Challenge, which recognizes promising new ideas that have the potential to accelerate and advance the quality of early childhood education.
Promising Results for Adults and Children
What we’re most thrilled about are the results.
“We began seeing that as the teacher’s perceptions of their teaching productivity increased, the children’s outcomes increased as well,” said Chris.
When we talk to teachers, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We heard Reflectable helps them plan, be more intentional, and remember what they learned from their professional development.
“It’s just keeping that intention on ‘this’ is what I’m going to be working on. ‘This’ is what I’m going to try. It definitely allows me to stay with that intention that I set for myself and then reflect on that.”
In a focus group, a teacher said, “It’s just keeping that intention on ‘this’ is what I’m going to be working on. ‘This’ is what I’m going to try. It definitely allows me to stay with that intention that I set for myself and then reflect on that.”
The majority of teachers who used Reflectable to supplement their professional learning got highly proficient teaching practice scores (98%), far exceeding benchmark scores (80%), on the Teaching Pyramid Observation Tool (TPOT).
“The most exciting thing about all the work is that it seems to be moving the needle for adult practices and, subsequently, for young learners,” said Chris.
Children with teachers who used Reflectable appear to have improved child development scores, are more likely to have higher scores on formative assessments for desired child outcomes, and indicate more kindergarten readiness.
In a recent 2021 retrospective study by Engage R+D, teachers who used Reflectable to supplement their existing professional development saw significantly improved teacher practice scores compared to those who did not use the tool. Evaluations from the multi-year pilot also show that teachers who used the tool with other professional development supports for longer saw the highest gains.
Two New Pilot Programs
Currently, we are piloting Reflectable with two communities: Family, Friend and Neighbor (FFN) caregivers and Dual Language Learner practitioners. With each group, we co-designed content to complement their professional development. By pairing Reflectable with their training, it gives staff a path toward owning and understanding daily work in personal and individualized ways.
At Educare California at Silicon Valley, family services and teaching staff are using Reflectable with strategies to provide high-quality support for Dual Language Learners. Reflectable is available to them in English, Spanish and Vietnamese to support the diverse needs of the community.
“Reflectable allows the participant to remember the important parts to focus on…Now they can completely adapt it to ‘My children, my context, and what I am seeing.’”
Dr. Carola Oliva-Olson, the lead on dual language learning at Educare California at Silicon Valley, says Reflectable is integrated in practice, helping users contextualize, continually learn and follow through.
“Reflectable allows the participant to remember the important parts to focus on in the context of their work,” said Dr. Oliva-Olson. “They are able to select what makes sense based on what they have been observing and documenting. It helps them individualize with a child and a family. Now they can completely adapt it to ‘My children, my context, and what I am seeing.’”
In the Arizona Kith and Kin project at Association for Supportive Child Care (ASCC), caregivers who are family, friend and neighbor providers are using Reflectable to practice positive guidance techniques.
Sarita Downs, an early childhood specialist at ASCC says participants are giving positive feedback on Reflectable. “In class, we were talking about brain development and one of the participants mentioned the Reflectable app, that there were such great activity suggestions,” said Sarita. “It was just really neat to hear that she’s able to make that connection to an in-class topic we had and tie it to Reflectable.”
Regarding possibilities for Reflectable in the future, Chris said, “I am so excited to work with others to adapt Reflectable for the benefit of different users like parents, home visitors and more family services staff.”