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Blog | | TKCalifornia, 21CSLA

TK Expansion in Action: Professional Learning: Best Practices and Evolving Policies from The UTK Leadership Initiative by 21CSLA

Our TK Expansion in Action blog series covers California’s Transitional Kindergarten (TK) expansion through interviews with school districts and institutes of higher learning across the state to highlight strategies they have employed to make expansion successful. This is the tenth blog in the series which has been running since the beginning of the 2022-23 school year.

As California continues to move towards fully expanding Universal Transitional Kindergarten (UTK) by 2026, a major part of this effort is recruiting candidates and preparing the workforce. While much of the focus is on ensuring teachers have the required Multiple Subject credential and 24 units of Early Childhood Education and/or Child Development for lead TK teachers, some Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) in California are engaged in complementary efforts aimed at preparing this workforce by way of professional learning. One example is the Universal Transitional Kindergarten Leadership (UTK) Initiative created by the 21st Century California School Leadership Academy (21CSLA) State Center – a collaboration between UC Berkeley School of Education, the UCLA School of Education, and the California Subject Matter Project. 21CSLA provides high-quality, equity-centered professional learning programs for educational leaders of schools and local districts. Their programs are provided at no-cost and include leadership coaching, with a focus on improving instruction and achievement outcomes for English Learners, students with disabilities, low-income students, and other historically marginalized students.

The mission of the UTK Leadership Initiative is to support the policy implementation of UTK and its equity promise by building the capacity for instructional leadership for the TK-12 workforce. The initiative was developed from 21CSLA’s theory of action and its design is informed by current policies and early childhood experts. The initiative’s 2 distinct programs, the UTK Professional Learning and the UTK Leadership Certificate, focus on developing preschool through 3rd (PK–3) grade instructional leadership knowledge and capacity for teachers, school site and district leaders. Instruction will be informed by current policies and early childhood experts, ultimately helping guide local implementers to realize the equity vision of UTK. 

The UTK Professional Learning component is designed for teacher leaders, site leaders, principals, and central office leaders implementing UTK in California school districts. Through eight specially designed modules, program participants will be able to engage in equity-centered UTK leadership professional learning that features a “train-the-trainer” model and certification, which includes more than 60 hours of content. Professional learning topics will include developmentally appropriate instruction, socio-emotional development, inclusive practices for English Language Learners and bilingual students, recruiting and retaining highly trained and qualified teachers who reflect the community, family engagement, and integration PK–3 grade. The eight modules have been piloted across every geo-region of the state and engaged over 250 leader participants that were representative of mixed-delivery constituents, local educational agencies, non-profits, higher education, and others.

The second component of the initiative is the UTK Leadership Certificate, which is tailored for the aspiring UTK workforce and offers 2 specialized courses by UC Berkeley Extension. The purpose of these courses is to allow participants to delve deeper into instructional leadership issues, practices, and educational equity, both in the classroom and at the school site level. At no cost to them, eligible candidates can receive university credit-bearing courses centered on equity-focused instructional leadership in a PK–3 context. This certification is a way to help advance educational equity and understanding as UTK is integrated into the larger TK-12 system, while also creating more desirable candidates for the workforce.

Having the programs of the initiative be locally informed and also connected to current policy discussions is crucial to the ongoing development and effectiveness of the programs. “Participating in workgroups hosted by the state department of education and engaging in national and statewide policy discussions are how we are constantly adapting to the evolving landscape of early childhood education policy and practices,” said Dr. Rebecca Cheung, 21CSLA Director and Assistant Dean of Leadership Development Programs at the UCB School of Education. “Being responsive to current practices and policies will help us better prepare TK-12 leadership to support its youngest learners and ensure more developmentally appropriate instruction that also honors California’s existing mixed-delivery system for early care and education.”

Future plans for the UTK Leadership Initiative will focus on gathering data on how local leaders “learn” the content they will be receiving from the UTK Professional Learning and UTK Leadership Certificate programs, adjusting for improvements and expansion where possible. 21CSLA hopes to partner with private philanthropy on how they can help take things a step further. Ultimately, 21CSLA hopes to determine what is effective leadership for the TK grade as it is being implemented while simultaneously uplifting effective and new learning practices.

To learn more about 21CSLA and its programs visit: If interested, please visit this link for an upcoming webinar by 21CSLA.

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