Meet Michelle Crosby. Michelle is a second-year doctoral student enrolled in the Preparing Leaders in Early Childhood Studies and Implementation Science (PLECSIS) leadership training grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. With an extensive background in early education and advocacy spanning decades, Crosby brings a unique perspective to her current role alongside Dr. Maureen Conroy in the Center’s BEST in CLASS Web project.
Alexis Brown: Hi Michelle, thank you for carving out time in your schedule for an interview! Let’s jump into it by discussing your background.
Michelle Crosby: I’ve been involved with children with special needs since I was in elementary school. As a child, my family and I had neighbors whose youngest child had CP (cerebral palsy), and I noticed even then that there were differences in the opportunities this child had in comparison to other neighborhood children. Her family’s struggles to obtain therapeutic services and an appropriate education sparked my passion for educating all children according to their strengths and needs.
MORE ABOUT MICHELLE
Michelle is a second-year doctoral student in the Preparing Leaders in Early Childhood Studies and Implementation Science (PLECSIS) leadership training grant.
HOMETOWN: Salt Point, New York
RESEARCH INTERESTS: Birth to three childhood development, environmental quality
Specialist School Psychology, June 2007, NOVA Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Master of Science, School Psychology, November 2005, NOVA Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
FUN FACT: I spent about 10 years as a recreational saber fencer and traveled frequently serving as tournament bout committee at the local, state and national level!
As an undergraduate, I enrolled in a school psychology internship and was energized by the problem-solving challenges I faced as I learned to recognize the link between children’s experiences and their outcomes. After I finished my undergraduate education, I had many additional experiences in the early childhood field that helped shape my future. One of my earliest career experiences was as a substitute teacher for Head Start in one of the poorest counties in New York state. I had the opportunity to serve as a full-time Head Start teacher for five months and assist the parent liaison in conducting home visits and educating parents about their children’s developmental progress and how their child’s growth could be supported.
Within a month of moving to Florida, I was hired as an education coordinator for a Head Start grantee which served three counties. After that position, I became a preschool early intervention specialist.
AB: What’s something about early childhood that most people don’t know?
MC: I think the biggest thing is that early childhood education is not about babysitting, or only about keeping children safely occupied while their parents are working. Instead, early childhood education is really an opportunity to make certain that young children’s brains have opportunities to develop and thrive so that they can benefit from early learning experiences. If you talk to young children and interact with them on a regular basis, you can watch the gears in their brains turn as they problem solve and figure things out. Children love to talk, and they love to interact with others. I think that’s the biggest thing to remember – they are little people. Thus, it’s important to figure out how to connect with them.
AB: What’s the coolest thing about your work at the Anita Zucker Center?
MC: I think the most appropriate answer is twofold. On the one hand, we’re working with faculty in the field who have such diverse backgrounds in their expertise. It’s hard to find an area of inquiry in which they can’t provide you a great resource or can’t be a great resource. They’ve written a lot of professional readings and materials we use in our courses, so I have to do a reality check when sitting down and talking to my advisor (and she’s written the textbook in the field you are studying)!
The other aspect is the experience that I get to have in the field. Research in practice-based coaching, working with our local early Head Start grantee, and working with the Head Start in Marion County — it’s such an important real-world experience. We’re carrying out initiatives with teachers and children in our community. It’s great to see how the research translates into practice. Sometimes are easy, other times implementation is far more challenging.
AB: Can you discuss a little about your role in various Center projects?
MC: Yes! Currently, I’m working on BEST in CLASS Web. My roles thus far included adapting content for the project’s web training modules, collecting pre/post measures for the project, and coaching a teacher on the BEST in CLASS practices via web-based coaching. We guide teachers who are learning to implement the BEST in CLASS practices (i.e. Rules, Precorrection, Opportunities to Respond, Behavior Specific Praise, Constructive Feedback and Instructive Feedback). As a coach, we collaboratively work with the teacher to set goals for using the practices and develop an action plan, review videotaped focused observations shared by the teacher, and provide performance feedback.
The other project I work on is a technical assistance project in the community. During my first year in the doctoral program, I had the privilege of joining faculty from the Anita Zucker Center in providing service to our community — providing technical assistance to the local Early Head Start Center run through Episcopal Children’s Services. Last spring, Dr. Maureen Conroy and Dr. Herman Knopf applied for and received funding through a UF/City of Gainesville research award. This allowed our team to pilot a process for providing ongoing support to an Early Head Start coach implementing practice-based coaching with teachers.
AB: What’s a way that your work has impacted your perspective on early childhood?
MC: The Center has prompted me to develop a stronger focus on prevention. Everything we do is goal-oriented to support young children and their families. For example, a child between birth and age three may be eligible to receive early intervention services; however, if parents feel the early intervention team doesn’t truly understand their needs, they won’t have very satisfying experiences. If these early interactions with service providers don’t address parents’ goals, they are not as likely to follow through with interventions or to be involved in their child’s education later. I’ve learned that parent and child goals must be the primary consideration during the early intervention process – not simply those goals that we as professionals consider important.
Story by: Alexis Brown