It’s not yet 10 a.m., but some of the children in the full-day kindergarten class at Peterborough’s Prince of Wales PS have already built a “house” that stretches almost the entire width of the classroom. One boy is dumping basket loads of “firewood” picture books into the fireplace.

Across the room, Shelley McLaughlin is at a table with three students doing word-stretching. They st-r-et-ch words out to discover the syllables and sounds. Her early learning team partner, Diane Istead, is circulating, crouching down to talk to children at various centres. Which is the teacher and which is the early childhood educator?

If you guessed McLaughlin, the one leading the most explicitly instructional activity at the moment, as the teacher, you’d be wrong. She’s the early childhood educator (ECE). Istead, OCT, is the teacher. “We both see teaching a group lesson as something either of us can do,” says Istead. “But we’re in a different place than we were three years ago. Shelley is definitely doing more of the group teaching than she was in the first year.”

Meanwhile, over at École élémentaire catholique Frère-André in London, Tracy Eyles, OCT, has found it difficult to let go of certain aspects of her teaching role to ECE Allison Daigneault. “At first I was doing all the instruction,” she says. “I didn’t ask for Allison’s ideas and didn’t delegate as much as I probably should have. I still felt like I had to do the teaching. That’s what I’d always done.”

Daigneault is Eyles’s second partner in two years. “It was like getting married again,” Eyles says laughing. “You have to work out your role, learn about your partner, how you both like to do things.” That takes time.

Teacher/ECE early learning teams are still new in Ontario full-day kindergarten classrooms. Launched in selected schools September 2010, the full-day kindergarten (FDK) program will finally be in place in every publicly funded school serving primary children in the province by September 2014. So it’s hardly surprising that some aspects of how those partnerships work are still being ironed out. Are teachers and ECEs truly equal partners, more or less interchangeable when it comes to classroom activities?

Partnerships don’t feel equal yet, but things are moving in the right direction.

How do you do joint planning when teacher and ECE work hours and expectations are substantially different? Some teams have had sufficient time together to work through some of these challenges, while others are putting their best professional efforts, and a lot of good will, into sorting them out.

Arguably, this is what one might expect to see early on in the implementation of this new kind of partnership. For, although the intent was for early learning teams to be equals in the classroom, it’s fair to say that though both teachers and ECEs want the best for the children they teach, historically, the differences in their classroom responsibilities and education have created a less-than-level playing field.

Shelley McLaughlin, OCT

Shelley McLaughlin, ECE, and Diane Istead, OCT, are making full-day kindergarten work.

Teaching is perceived as a higher status occupation. Teachers are paid more and tend to have higher levels of education than early childhood educators. Teachers are used to having sole responsibility for teaching and planning. ECEs work shorter and more fixed hours than teachers. And while a Ministry of Education document clearly states that teachers and ECEs have a “duty to co-operate” on most aspects of classroom practice including “planning for and providing education to pupils,” other statements suggest that teachers have somewhat more responsibility for student learning, effective instruction and assessment.

Defining roles

Eyles’s partner, ECE Allison Daigneault, says she has felt OK about letting Eyles take the lead when it comes to planning and instruction. “Tracy has been great about asking for input, and she says I have great ideas,” says Daigneault. “But right now Tracy has more of a long-term, global vision for where the class is going. I’m still learning about things like observation and assessment, so I concentrate more on specifics, like the learning needs of individual children.”

Ann Wosik, OCT, of Twentieth Street Junior School in Toronto, says that responsibility for assessment influences her thinking about who does what, especially with regard to instruction. “I feel I have to do most of the instructional activities because I’m doing the assessment,” she says.

Jim Grieve, OCT, Assistant Deputy Minister of Education, Early Learning Division, says it will take time, experimenting and negotiating before the sharing of roles is fully worked out. “This was a new kind of partnership,” he says. “We consider the ECE to be a full partner, and not playing an assistant role, but we did not attempt to fully define the roles because we expected that, to some extent, educators needed to work out the most effective working teacher/ECE relationship through professional development with the support of our division, board staff and their principals.”

But even if everything about roles were crystal clear, some practical, and at times, even emotional realities come into play as these new partnerships form. For one thing, ECEs are moving onto teachers’ turf. Not to suggest people are being territorial — but, quite literally, ECEs are moving into someone else’s space, one the teacher may have been in for many years, and is preloaded with the teacher’s stuff — resources, materials and books.

Perhaps understanding this, Eyles made efforts to help Daigneault feel like the classroom was her space too. “Tracy found me a desk so I would have my own workspace,” Daigneault says. Even so, there was still a palpable sense that she was entering Eyles’s space. “I understood that I was coming in to Tracy’s room, with her materials set up in the way she wanted to organize them.”

Nicole Roome-Smith, Wosik’s ECE partner, quickly bumped up against the practical difficulties around integrating her own resources into the shared classroom. “I have lots of toys, puzzles, books and other resources that I’d like to use in the classroom,” she says. “But there is no shelf room for them. So when I want to use my resources I have to bring them with me in the morning and take them home at the end of the day.”

Challenges for ECEs

Working in schools puts ECEs into a new system, not the one they were trained for — bigger organizations, bigger groups of kids, more staff people, new acronyms and new kinds of expectations around curriculum and assessment.

“A lot of things are different here,” says Domenic Vicedomini an ECE at St. Raphael Catholic ES in Sudbury. “I found some of the curriculum expectations hard to understand at first and there’s a lot more assessment done in kindergarten than we did in daycare.”

One major challenge for early learning teams is how and when to plan. “Teachers get prep time every day,” notes Roome-Smith. “I get it once a week. It’s hard to plan what we’re doing right now let alone do advance planning.”

“I’d like to get Nicole more involved in the planning,” says Wosik. “But she works a six-hour day, and the children are here for almost all of that. It has been hard to find the time to plan during her working day, and I don’t feel that I can ask her to work outside of her paid hours.”

Although they say planning time is still a challenge, Istead and McLaughlin have found ways to plan together over the three years they have been a team. “We talk during set up and cleanup,” says McLaughlin. “We debrief from the day and talk about what we will do the next day. Then once a week we have a longer meeting for a half an hour after the children go home, but within my workday. That’s when we share our documentation and plan for the following week.”

Istead then sends McLaughlin a weekly email that includes the day plan for the next week and also some notes that reflect their shared observations and reflections about the class’s progress. They also exchange emails at other times to share programming ideas and deal with “housekeeping” items.

One thing that has helped Istead and McLaughlin with planning is that they have become more efficient about sharing their observations. “Our planning is based on our observations so the two go hand-in-hand. In our first year, Shelley would do her assessment in her book and share it with me at report card time,” says Istead. “That was very time consuming, so the next year I set aside an area in my daybook for Shelley to record observations.” Now in the third year, they record their observations in a shared electronic file using a note-taking program called OneNote. Vicedomini and his team partner Rosemary Tripodi, OCT, have started using an iPad app called Evernote, which they have found to be very helpful for streamlining their planning.

Complementary skills

Amid these challenges, early learning teams are quickly discovering some of the benefits of combining the skills, training and perspective of teachers and ECEs in one classroom. Tripodi says Vicedomini was instrumental in helping her adjust to the new, more play-based curriculum. “Domenic helped me open up the environment in a way that is much better for an inquiry-based approach,” she says. “We also spend much more time outdoors because Domenic is very experienced and comfortable with outdoor activities.” And that’s a good thing: going outside seems to rev up some young students. “One time we took the children for a walk on a small bridge to examine and explore it,” Tripodi recalls. “That led to some students wanting to replicate the bridge by building a model out of clay when we got back to the classroom.”

Similarly, McLaughlin’s experience has helped Istead navigate one of the changes in the new curriculum: developing learning activities based on children’s natural interests. “Right now we’re doing a unit on character,” says Istead. “In the past I would have started with the curriculum, and asked, ‘What do I want to teach?’ and then I would have devised activities to fit the curriculum goals. Shelley’s approach is start from where the children are, what they are interested in, and then use those interests to build activities related to the curriculum. It’s the approach we’re supposed to take in the new curriculum, but it’s a way of thinking that Shelley has more experience with.”

Tripodi recalls a reading response activity where Vicedomini’s understanding of preschooler’s developmental abilities was particularly useful. The children had to identify action or scenes from the beginning, the middle and the end of a story Tripodi had read aloud. The plan was to have the children draw pictures in boxes that represented the different parts of the story, but Vicedomini pointed out some of the JK children in their mixed class wouldn’t have the fine motor skills for the drawing task. “So I worked with the younger kids to act out the different parts of the story. I thought they would remember it better if they acted it out,” says Vicedomini. Tripodi could immediately see that acting was a better approach for the younger students. “Some children are reluctant to draw when they first start school,” she says. “They will say, ‘I don’t know how to draw. Acting it out removed the stress of drawing and allowed them to focus on the real task, which was remembering the parts of the story.”

The learning is reciprocal. ECEs are also learning a lot from teachers — about the curriculum, managing a larger group of children, and, in particular how to observe with assessment in mind. “I knew how to record observations on children’s developmental progress, but Diane has taught me how to make my observations more purposeful and more tied to the curriculum and what has to be reported on the report card,” says McLaughlin.

So, while the partnerships don’t feel completely equal yet, there are signs that things are moving in the right direction. In a survey by OISE/UT (see “Statistical snapshot,” this page) preliminary results showed that more than 90 per cent of ECEs in Peel region felt that their professional training was valued and almost as many said they felt welcomed by their schools.

Professional goodwill

Educators are working on ways to level the playing field. Roome-Smith and Wosik have monthly meetings with their principal and the schools other early learning team where they discuss issues around implementation of program and early learning partnerships. “One of the things we have identified is that ECEs would like to be more involved and included,” says Roome-Smith. “For example, we are now copied on all emails and all materials that go home have both the teacher’s and the ECE’s name on it.”

Daigneault agrees that it will take lots of professional goodwill and open communication to bring teacher-ECE partnerships to the next level of collaboration. “You’ve got to be flexible and you have to be able to communicate,” says Daigneault. Istead agrees adding: “It’s important to recognize that there will be differences of opinion, and you just have to work them out.”

Eyles remembers one watershed moment that occurred last March. For most of the year parents who came to the classroom had always asked to speak with her, even if Daigneault answered the door. Then one day, just before March Break, a parent came to the door, bringing a child to school after a doctor’s appointment. The parent spoke briefly with Daigneault and went on her way. That marked the first time a parent had not asked to speak to “Madame” about official business, a clear sign that parents were understanding that there were two educators they could consult with. “It was wonderful,” says Eyles. “I felt like a big weight was lifted off my shoulders.”

Whatever the growing pains in the OCT-ECE partnership, Eyles points out that the young students ultimately benefit. “Some of the children are attached to Allison and fairly reserved with me, while others come to me for everything and seldom speak to Allison,” she says. “Because, as a teacher, you know that if you and a child don’t click, it’s going to be a long, difficult year for that child. Now that child has another person to potentially connect with. That’s really valuable for children, especially at this age.”

statistical snapshot

Preliminary results from a multi-year survey* of teachers and ECEs in the Peel region suggests teachers are taking the lead in kindergarten classrooms and that teachers and ECEs have differing views on how the sharing of roles and responsibilities is playing out.

Survey results are part of a study conducted by researchers at OISE/UT to monitor the implementation of Ontario’s full-day kindergarten program.

Registrar Michael Salvatori, OCT

A Q&A with College CEO and Registrar Michael Salvatori, OCT, and Sue Corke, Registrar, College of Early Childhood Educators.

Q: The College has standards of practice and ethical standards that govern members of the profession. Are early childhood educators (ECEs) governed by similar standards?

A: ECEs are regulated by the College of Early Childhood Educators (CECE), a self-regulatory body established through the Early Childhood Educators Act, 2007. The CECE’s Standards of Practice are remarkably similar to those of the College. Both organizations emphasize a primary commitment to students. The CECE Standards of Practice express this in terms of consideration of children’s needs, support of learning styles, and applying early childhood education knowledge and theory in professional practice. Similarly, both colleges have standards regarding the importance of ongoing professional learning, professional knowledge, practice and competence and collaboration with colleagues and members of the broader community. It is this common commitment to students and their learning that brings together teachers and early childhood educators in the full-day kindergarten class, and that strengthens their collaborative relationship.

Q: In what ways can the College as a regulator support teachers around the collaborative relationship within the full-day kindergarten (FDK) team?

A: The College supports teacher-ECE collaboration in a variety of ways including providing professional advice on maintaining safe learning environments for students and through the availability of AQ courses. For example, the College issued a professional advisory on April 4, 2013, entitled Safety in Learning Environments: A Shared Responsibility ( to clarify and inform educators’ professional judgment and practice related to the safety of students. The College has developed the guidelines for a three-part AQ course Kindergarten, Part 1, 2 and Specialist designed to enhance professional practice, and extend knowledge and skills in the delivery of kindergarten courses. All of the College’s AQs are available through providers in different parts of the province.

Q: Collaboration between the teachers and ECEs in the FDK classroom is essential. Is there this same kind of collaboration between the College of Early Childhood Educators and the Ontario College of Teachers?

A: As the CECE was being established the College shared many resources and documents to assist with the CECE’s development. The CECE has also shared documents and resource materials with the College, including information about its Leadership pilot project, which will focus on building leadership capacity in the profession. CECE registrar, Sue Corke, has addressed the College Council and, likewise, I have addressed the CECE’s Council and will attend the CECE’s symposium this fall. The two colleges have also worked co-operatively on communications designed to enhance understanding and professional collaboration between teachers and ECEs in FDK classrooms.