A Family Survey Legacy

When distributing the Spark Family Survey to the families of children in your program, it can be nerve-wracking to wait for results!  Part of providing quality responsive care includes seeking input from parents and caregivers to be sure that you are meeting their needs.  We all want reassurance from families that we are doing everything right, that everything is wonderful, and that we have not failed in any way.  We hope for perfect scores and for the comments to include only statements about how charming our program is!

It is only human to hope for overwhelmingly positive feedback and, with all of our hard work, we do deserve recognition for what we do.  While validation of your program is important, it is not the primary goal of the Family Survey. The Family Survey is a way to learn more from families about how they are experiencing specific aspects of your program.  It is a valuable opportunity to learn more about what families truly desire for their children in your care and how you can grow your program to include their vision.

When Tatyana Yurchak collected survey responses from the families of the children in her program, it became very clear that they wanted some change.  It may not have felt great at first to realize they wanted something additional from her, but Tatyana didn’t know then what a legacy her response would create.

Her families were asking for improvement on questions 6 (“The program is interested in and encourages our family to share our culture, traditions, beliefs, home language, and interests”) and 7 (“The program encourages families to assist or lead in planning and conducting special activities to share their cultural backgrounds, traditions, beliefs, home language, interests and abilities”) and for a new focus in her program. They wanted their children to learn more about Slavic traditions. They wanted their children to improve their Russian reading and writing skills. They wanted for their family culture and home languages to be honored.

Perhaps a bit taken aback by these requests but also excited by this new information, Tatyana took it to her network to figure out what to do.  As it turned out, the other providers in her network thought it was useful feedback and a great opportunity.  Because of Tatyana’s surveys, they decided to focus more on providing Slavic culture, education, and Russian language to the children in their programs as well!

Network coordinator, Olga Arshilovich, jumped into action.  She started to create theme boxes for each provider which included creative hand-made posters, learning cards, educational materials, binders of resources and other materials and designed a set of trainings for their use. She was able to get funding from the Child Care Resource and Referral agency for blocks with Russian letters on them, books in Russian language, and toys that, when you pushed buttons, would speak in Russian!  They recruited a Russian-speaking teacher, Marina Meaney, (who is now a Project Specialist at The Research Institute working on the Spark team), to create and lead sessions on bilingualism and how to use different methods and approaches to teach bilingual children to read and write in Russian.  Olga began including monthly articles in her agency’s newsletter with a variety of materials about Slavic culture and resources for working on Russian language with children.

Now that a few years have passed, Tatyana has relocated to another state and the original participants in the group have moved on from the network.  But recently a new network, led again by Olga, has rediscovered the treasure trove of ideas and resources created by those providers who responded to Tatyana’s family survey results with enthusiasm for change and improvement.  The new group is revitalizing the collected materials and trainings by developing a set of binders that contain resources for sharing among themselves.  They are even expanding beyond language and culture to materials for teaching other subjects such as math and science.  Just this month, Olga’s collection of paper newsletter articles has transformed into an online newsletter so now these wonderful resources are just a click away for any early educator to implement for interested families including a link for the Spark newsletter in Russian. Consider the enormous impact of that initial Family Survey and how many positive changes resulted from families being given the opportunity for input and Tatyana embracing their ideas!

Demystifying Data:  How Spark Can Help You Collect and Use Information for Program Improvement

Data feels a bit like a fancy technical word, but really it just means information.  Collecting information can help you understand and improve your program and business strategies, make better use of your money and time, and focus on responsive, effective practices that support the children and families you work with.  Best of all, digging into data can help you to see your strengths and celebrate your successes!

Participating in Spark offers a number of opportunities to gather and use data in your program.

Some of the data sources in Spark are more formal, such as the CLASS observation used for standards LD 11 and 12 for which an outside observer visits your program to observe  how your interactions with children are supporting their positive social and emotional development. The results of the  CLASS observation can give you some data to work with as it relates to the adult-child interactions in your program. Another way of getting information about how your program environment benefits children is to request a visit from an ERS (Environmental Rating Scales) observer.  If you don’t quite feel ready for a formal ERS observation, your Quality Improvement Specialist can provide you with an ERS checklist so that you can begin learning about it, gather your own information, and think about some changes that you think make sense!

The Family Survey is another way that the provider can gather data on their program.  The results from the survey connect to several standards in the portfolio in the Learning Development and Family Partnerships domains.  When you distribute the survey to families in your program, you are asking them to give you specific feedback on  various aspects of the program. But it is not just about getting those surveys back, glancing through the results, and then tucking them away in a folder. Going through your survey data can help you to understand what your families experiences are and  this is information that can be used in concrete ways. Standard FP1 says, “The program uses family input and feedback to guide program planning and policy decisions.”  This is your opportunity to consider their thoughts and then try making a change according to their insights and ideas.

Some Spark data focuses on individual children, such as the ASQ (Ages and Stages Questionnaire) for LD9.  In this case, the screening gives you an opportunity to work with the child’s parent to gather information on whether their child is reaching developmental milestones.  The results of this screening can help you to identify whether further follow up by a doctor or specialist may be appropriate for a child in specific developmental areas.

Other data that will be created or collected by you during your Spark journey relates more to business aspects of your program. You can make important decisions about your program by sorting through the information you gather in employee performance evaluations, through employee feedback, and through identifying training needs. You can also approach your attendance, menu or billing records as data sources for making business decisions.

Some data is so informal, you may not even realize that you collect it.  Noticing what time of day a child generally has more successful social interactions or noting that broccoli is the preferred vegetable within your group would be some of the bits and pieces of information you likely are gathering every day.   This is such a fundamental part of the incredible work that you are doing every day for children’s growth that it may not seem like data gathering.

When you are collecting information about your program, it is helpful to:

  • Think about the type of information you are looking for. What do you want to know? What are you curious about?
  • Consider an information-gathering resource (like a survey, evaluation process or observation).
  • Sort through the data you come up with and reflect a bit on your own, with a colleague, or your QIS.  What did you find out?
  • Focus on something you are doing well and find a way to celebrate your success.
  • Identify something that you would like to change.  Is there something that has been frustrating you?  Did you get some feedback that has inspired you to create change?
  • Try something new. This is the fun part!  Trying something new to create change is kind of like running a small science experiment. If you received a note in your suggestion box that a family would like more frequent communication from you about how their child is doing, which ways of connecting make the most sense?  How frequently?  Brainstorm some ideas or ask for more information from all of your families about their preferences.  Maybe families would love a weekly text update.
  • Now the results of that experiment will be your new data!  After you try something new, check in on how it’s going.  If you started sending weekly text updates to families, did you get any feedback on whether they find them helpful?  Has the practice had a positive impact on your sense of community? Has it been time consuming or well worth the time you are putting into it?  Gather information about how it’s going and decide whether to continue the practice or try something different.

As Shandell Landon, the Quality Improvement Manager at NeighborImpact says, ““When educators collect data to know what is working and what is not, they can make improvements to meet the needs of children.”

Data can help you mark where you are, choose what you want to improve, try something new, and then mark where you are after making the adjustment.    You don’t have to sort through data on your own.  Connect with your local CCR&R Quality Improvement Specialist for support on collecting and using data to spark your improvement!