Early Childhood Systems Building Resource Guide

The fourth part of PDCA is acting—using what has been learned (in the check phase and throughout); deciding what actions should be taken to improve, making needed modifications; adapting, adopting or abandoning particular aspects of the plan; revising the plan; and continuing the PDCA cycle.

Questions to consider during this phase include the following: Does the plan need to be changed? What new opportunities have emerged? What is next? Are we ready to make the changes? As you make changes, be sure to celebrate the achievements.

This part should not be viewed as the final step. PDCA is a cyclical process that should be repeated continuously. With each modification, new lessons will be learned, and other changes will be needed. Remember, improvements themselves are changes, and when changes are made at the state level, they have a ripple effect on the intermediary and direct-service levels. A change made by a state or intermediary could affect policies, procedures, or decisions about resource allocation, hiring, or training of those “down the line.” Acknowledge that a systems-level change—even a small one—has implications for the other levels; seek to understand those implications and take them into consideration.

Examples of Act

Several examples of act follow, focusing first on professional development and then on local coalition strategies.

ECE Professional Development System Logic Model, Implementation Strategies and PDCA

In the March 2012 Zero to Three journal, Metz and Bartley[1] explained how implementation science could be used to close the research-to-practice gap and how adults at every level of systems change have responsibilities toward and contribute to the ultimate result of improved outcomes for children. The chart below, adapted from their article, provides an example of implementation of an early childhood professional development system.

Each level of a statewide program is represented, from provider and educators to the state. Strategies for how each population or group will get to the outcome (what must be implemented) are described in the second column. The third column was added to help state planners consider how Plan-Do-Check-Act could play out for each strategy. This chart could be modified into a template for planning and implementing, with additional columns for data and team responsibilities. As you review each level, consider what must happen during planning, doing, checking, and acting to make each strategy happen.

Note that all populations follow a Plan - Do - Check - Act (PDCA) Cycle

Table 5. Implementing Early Childhood Professional Development
PopulationIntervention Strategy (WHAT)Intervention Outcomes

Children ages 0–5

ECE teachers skillfully implement effective early care and education strategies.

  • High-quality early child care and education practices.
  • Positive child outcomes.
PopulationImplementation Strategies (HOW)Implementation Outcomes

Early care educators

Provision of skillful, timely training, coaching, and performance assessment in supportive administrative environments organized by early care and education providers, networks, and leadership.

Early care educators competently and confidently use effective early care and education strategies.

PopulationImplementation Strategy (HOW)Implementation Outcomes

Early care and education provider managers

  • Agreements with trainers, quality consultants, and technical assistance providers.
  • Plans for release time for training, coaching, and ongoing consultation services.
  • Installation of data systems to monitor fidelity.

Skillful and timely training, coaching, performance assessments, and supportive administrative environments for early care educators.

PopulationImplementation Strategy (HOW)Implementation Outcomes

Regional and state early care and education trainers, quality consultants, and technical assistance providers

Professional development system planners develop standardized and centralized approach to professional development services to develop core knowledge and skills of professional development providers.

Timely and skillful provision of services by regional or state early care and education trainers, quality consultants, and technical assistance providers.

PopulationImplementation Strategy (HOW)Implementation Outcomes

Early care and education policymakers, funders, and state leadership

  • Common mission for professional development in early care and education developed.
  • Formal structures created to build policy-practice feedback loops.
  • Changes in funding streams to support new functions and new relationships.
  • Collaborative partnerships to build professional development system infrastructure.
  • Fidelity and outcome data systems developed and maintained.
Skillful leadership and planning for professional development systems to ensure high-quality, consistent training for early care and education professional development consultants and technical assistance providers

Community-Level Coalitions

“The pioneers in statewide systems building have found that a statewide early childhood system is better achieved, and young children and their families are best served, when there are direct linkages and alignment between the state and local systems as opposed to the state and local communities working in isolation.”[2]

The two examples below, from Maryland and Iowa, provide information on each state’s strategy of building local-level coalitions to strengthen their state’s early childhood system.

Maryland’s Local Early Childhood Advisory Councils:[3] Twenty-four local early childhood advisory councils (LECACs) are part of Maryland’s efforts to create a seamless education reform agenda, which includes young children’s school readiness. Local early childhood councils develop local action agendas to support Maryland’s goals and strategies for quality early childhood education.

The local councils grew out of the strategic planning for Maryland’s Race to the Top–Early Learning Challenge, which identified a local leadership gap. The Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Maryland State Department of Education engaged in a yearlong public-private planning process. The Casey Foundation’s results-based leadership tools and skills supported the formation of LECACs and local action plans. The mission of the LECACs is to implement the action plans that were developed in support of school readiness. Through 2015, the focus is on supporting school readiness for specified populations of children, including children from low-income families, children with disabilities, and English-language learners.

Each local advisory council created its own action plan. Local councils use resources to support work such as professional development for early childhood professionals; family engagement and support from health care professionals on strategies such as Reach Out and Read; early childhood participation in EXCELS, the Maryland QRIS; and overall community engagement. The local advisory councils submit annual evaluation reports and quarterly progress reports on the action plans. Regional leadership sessions were initially conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Booster sessions, also conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, were to be held in 2015 to focus on what was accomplished, what remained to be done, and how sustainability would be achieved.

For more information on Maryland’s local early childhood advisory councils, please refer to the Resources section of this guide.

Early Childhood Iowa:[4] In 2001, Iowa leaders founded Early Childhood Iowa (ECI) Stakeholders, an alliance of stakeholders focused on building a coordinated state early childhood system. In 2010, the Iowa General Assembly passed the Early Childhood Iowa Initiative, merging a preexisting board and ECI Stakeholders into one coordinated state and local system-building effort identified as Early Childhood Iowa. This entity now serves as the state’s early childhood advisory council and promotes and invests in a comprehensive early childhood system that improves outcomes for children. ECI was founded on the premise that communities and state government can work together to improve child well-being by increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of early care, education, health, and human services provided to families.

Local strategies and performance results in ECI’s 2014 annual report include the following: 100 percent of children identified with elevated lead levels received follow-up service; 88 percent of children who received dental screenings were cavity free; 100 percent of those screened who needed follow-up services received them; 98 percent of parents reported an increase in talking with their children about new words in stories; 98 percent of programs that received emotional and behavioral support reported an increase in supporting children demonstrating emotional and behavioral challenges; and 85 percent of professional development opportunities resulted in ratings, certificates, credentials, or renewals[5]

A full set of resources for local system development is available online. These resources include the following:

  • Board supports
  • Budget templates
  • Information for fulfilling responsibilities related to Levels of Excellence (a rating system for ECI area boards)
  • Achieving Results resource guide
  • Toolkits
  • ECI’s annual reports

For more on Early Childhood Iowa, please refer to the Resources section of this guide.

To provide an illustration of how change at the state level affects needed change for the direct-service provider, consider the following scenario.


A state identified new data indicating that the quality of infant/toddler classrooms across the state is poorer than previously understood. A decision was made to redirect professional development program resources to provide more coaching and education for infant/toddler teachers.

This shift required intermediary organizations to make changes. As a first step toward providing more coaching for infant/toddler teachers, these organizations needed to recruit and hire coaches with knowledge and expertise in infant/toddler programming. Additionally, they need a method for prioritizing the infant/toddler classrooms in their work with direct-service providers. The community college system agreed to add classes for infant/toddler teachers and to hold them at places and times that are conducive to the schedule of a full-time teacher. This meant locating classes in community-based facilities rather than on campus. To do this, outreach was needed to identify and secure convenient locations and appropriate teaching spaces. It also meant identifying specifically what infant/toddler content the community college needed to provide. Data were needed to inform this decision. Did the community college have faculty qualified to provide the content needed?

At the direct-service-provider level, as program directors gained a better understanding of what high quality infant/toddler practices looked like and what qualifications were necessary, they considered changes to their programs’ teacher recruitment and hiring practices, changes in infant/toddler teacher position descriptions, and changes for teacher’s self-assessments and the performance evaluation process. Is there a need for new or different classroom materials? Does the program have the right equipment and schedule to facilitate high-quality interactions?


[1] Metz, A., & Bartley, L. (2012). Active implementation frameworks for program success: How to use implementation science to improve outcomes for children. In Zero to Three (March, pp. 11–18). Retrieved from http://www.iod.unh.edu/APEX%20Trainings/Tier%202%20Manual/Additional%20Reading/4.%20Implementation%20article%20Metz.pdf.

[2] Ponder, K. (2015). Local systems building through coalitions. In Rising to the Challenge: Building Effective Systems for Young Children and Families, edited by H. Dichter. Retrieved from http://www.buildinitiative.org/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/E-BookChapter2LocalSystemsBuildingThroughCoalitions.pdf.

[3] Child Care State Systems Specialist Network, A Service of the Office of Child Care. (2014). Maryland Local Early Childhood Advisory Councils profile. Fairfax, VA: Author. Retrieved from https://childcareta.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/public/maryland_profile.pdf.

[4] Early Childhood Iowa. (n.d.). ECI Initiative [Web page]. Retrieved from http://www.state.ia.us/earlychildhood/ECI_initiative/index.html.

[5] Child Care State Systems Specialist Network, A Service of the Office of Child Care. (2014). Early Childhood Iowa profile. Fairfax, VA: Author. Retrieved. Retrieved from https://childcareta.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/public/iowa_profile.pdf.