Endowment Helps UW Professor's Work in Early Childhood Education in Wyoming
University of Wyoming faculty member Michelle Buchanan's research and support of Wyoming's early childhood education program initiatives received a major boost this fall when received the first Everett D. and Elizabeth M. Lantz Distinguished Professorship in Education.
The award, endowed by the Lantz family, was established to attract and retain outstanding education scholars and teachers with a proven track record and national reputation in their chosen fields. The professorship provides salary or discretionary funding to enhance the recipient's research and teaching programs for two years.
It will both support Buchanan's individual research and will contribute to her work on a Wyoming Department of Education initiative to develop "a system for school readiness that will help families, schools and communities work together to make sure that children come to school with the support that they need to be successful." She is an associate professor in the UW College of Education's Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education.
Buchanan the last three years has worked closely with the Wyoming Department of Education and the state's early childhood teachers in developing an observation tool for documenting children's foundations for learning including social competence and self-regulation. The Instructional Foundations for Kindergarten (IF-K) is being used statewide this fall by preschool and kindergarten teachers. While many states have opted to adopt standardized instruments to assess kindergarten readiness, Wyoming's early childhood education leaders have chosen a different approach: engaging those who know best what contributes to a successful early school experience, Buchanan says.
"What makes the IFK unique is that we have been working for the past three years with preschool and kindergarten teachers in the state to develop this instrument," she says. "It really has been a grassroots effort. From the beginning, we have asked teachers to tell us what they think is important for children as they move from early childhood programs into kindergarten and that work has laid the groundwork for what I am doing now."
Buchanan will travel to 13 Wyoming communities this fall to observe preschool and kindergarten classrooms and talk with teachers about their successes and struggles in helping young children develop the social competence and self-regulation abilities that are key to a successful experience in kindergarten.
The award allows Buchanan to conduct on-site research in classrooms, creating an opportunity for deeper exploration of her research questions. The results of this research can contribute to our understanding of how better to support young children at risk for school failure.
Buchanan adds that, "it can also be used to inform program development for elementary education pre-service teachers and professional development in-service activities for teachers in the field."
The award funds a graduate student who will assist with data collection and analysis. It also will fund Buchanan's participation in a national conference of state early childhood education specialists and U. S. Department of Education early childhood policy makers in November.