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Ayers Institute partners with United Way and the Blueprint for Early Childhood Success to develop free professional learning resources for Pre-K educators in Nashville

Lipscomb is leading the way in providing professional learning resources for early childhood educators

Kim Chaudoin  | 

Classroom with children in the 2s and 3s room.

Lipscomb University’s Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning & Innovation in collaboration with the United Way of Greater Nashville and the Blueprint for Early Childhood Success have partnered to develop comprehensive resources for Pre-K educators across Nashville that are free and easily accessible.

This year-long project to develop a robust offering of professional learning resources focuses on the often underserved Pre-K education professionals. Led by Josephine Appleby, program director for the project, who worked in a collaborative partnership with educators across middle Tennessee, the project resulted in a comprehensive collection of Early Childhood Learning Tools located on the Ayers Institute’s web resource edutoolbox.org. eduTOOLBOX™ is a free academic resource-sharing portal created by the Ayers Institute. The website provides access to over 4,100 academic items including lesson plans, learning activities, and links to academic resources from other educational websites. Educational units, lessons, and activities are housed in the “Instructional Exchange” while additional materials can be found in the “Educator’s Toolkit” and “Tennessee Tools” sections of the website.

Josephine Appleby head shot

Josephine Appleby

The Early Childhood Learning Tools resource on the eduTOOLBOX™ site offers a free, comprehensive, professional learning program for early childhood educators working in a variety of settings. The professional learning program includes model lesson videos, an online learning module and a resource library with over 100 resources. 

“At times there are gaps in the availability of training and resources for early childhood educators because it often requires a fee or membership. What sets this new resource apart is the way this partnership brought many collaborative voices and experts to the project to make this a high-quality set of resources that are easily accessible,” said Appleby. “Everything that has been created can be used by any teacher anywhere for free. It is specifically designed to be accessible for teachers in a variety of settings. Teachers in some schools had access to professional learning resources while others had no opportunities. We really wanted to level the playing field by giving everyone access to high-quality professional training and resources.”

The first phase of the project was for Appleby to connect with early childhood leaders across Nashville to conduct a needs assessment. She met with directors, professional learning coordinators, higher education providers, and teachers to gain insight on professional learning content teachers needed and wanted. In addition, Appleby developed an online survey for professional learning needs that was sent to every licensed childcare provider in Davidson County. Topics for professional learning resources were based on the data gathered from community conversations and surveys. 

During this phase of the program, a seven-member teacher cadre was selected through a rigorous application process. Each cadre member contributed to resource creation and content development. Cadre members representing the following were selected: Metro Nashville Public Schools, Headstart, United Way Read to Succeed, private childcare provider, university childcare provider and a faith-based childcare provider. “This has been a really meaningful project and has been especially empowering to the teachers in the cadre,” said Appleby. “This has also provided a professional platform for the early childhood teachers who have helped develop this curriculum to share their expertise and knowledge with others.”   

Screenshot of EduToolBox screen

In Phase 2 of the project, Appleby and the teacher cadre wrote lesson plans and developed interactive repeated read aloud guides, family engagement materials, classroom management materials, and social-emotional learning resources.  Three model lesson videos were produced to provide footage of real-world classroom lessons as well as teacher vignettes explaining their methods. Each video is accompanied by a viewing guide for early childhood professional learning communities. In addition, three professional development webinars have been offered over the last few months and they are archived on the online resource site. Teachers may view these webinars and apply for a certificate upon completion, which is approved for credit hours through the Tennessee Department of Human Services. Though these resources have been developed with Tennessee standards in mind, Appleby said Pre-K teachers from across the country may also access these free resources at edutoolbox.org “any time from anywhere.”

Members of the teacher cadre said the experience, while the focus has been on developing resources for fellow educators, has proven a valuable learning opportunity for them as well. 

“This experience has enhanced my career because I always leave our meetings or
any conversations that we have with ideas of how to better my classroom and better my practice, based on all of this shared information and knowledge that I’ve gotten from my peers,” said Briana Harris, Pre-K teacher at MNPS’s Cambridge Early Learning Center and cadre member.

“It’s [the cadre experience] been great. I’ve really loved collaborating with the other teachers and getting to know other pre-K teachers in the Nashville area,” said cadre member Katie Donald, Pre-K teacher and director of early childhood at the Episcopal School of Nashville. “That’s something I’ve struggled with since I’ve moved here. Just finding my people and finding people who think similarly and so really it’s made me think a lot about who I am and how I teach and why I teach so I think it’s made me a better teacher. And it’s been exciting to think about influencing new teachers as they come up.”

This project is the latest educator resource developed through the Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning & Innovation, which exists to support teachers and school leaders in improving student outcomes. Using knowledge of best practices matched with the understanding of unique needs of various individuals and organizations, the institute creates individualized educational opportunities to train and embed professional learning that supports positive student outcomes. 

“The Early Childhood Learning Tools project is the latest in a long line of successful collaborations between the Ayers Institute and our community and district partners.  We are proud to work alongside United Way and the Blueprint Committee to create professional learning resources that are crucial for educators in the Pre-K arena.  We are also thrilled to work directly with Pre-K educators through the cadre experience, as we know that educator voices are critical to this work.” said Rachael Milligan, Ayers Institute managing director and assistant dean of Lipscomb’s College of Education.

The Ayers Institute for Teacher Learning & Innovation was established in 2012, as a partnership between the Ayers Foundation and Lipscomb University’s College of Education. For more information, visit www.lipscomb.edu/ayers. eduTOOLBOX™ (https://www.edutoolbox.org). eduTOOLBOX™ is a free academic resource-sharing portal created by the Ayers Institute. The website provides access to over 4,100 academic items including lesson plans, learning activities, and links to academic resources from other educational websites. Educational units, lessons, and activities are housed in the “Instructional Exchange” while additional materials can be found in the “Educator’s Toolkit” and “Tennessee Tools” sections of the website. Resource lists can be narrowed by content area/subject and grade range to help you find the items that are most relevant to the student’s learning focus.
 
The eduTOOLBOX™ website was launched in 2016 and is used by educators and parents across Tennessee and around the world.  Collaborative support and funding for the creation of eduTOOLBOX™ was provided by the Tennessee Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education's Math & Science Partnership program.