Culture of Continuous Learning Project

This 3-year project began in October 2016 and is being conducted by Child Trends and partners at the University of Massachusetts Boston JRA Consulting Ltd. and the Center for the Study of Social Policy. Information about the Breakthrough Series Collaborative is available from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.


A challenge for current efforts to improve the quality of early care and education (ECE) programs is to produce sustained changes in practices that support positive outcomes for children and families. The field is seeking innovative models that can be tailored for and tested in ECE systems. The Culture of Continuous Learning (CCL) Project, funded by the Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, will assess the feasibility of implementing a Breakthrough Series Collaborative in child care and Head Start settings.


The Breakthrough Series Collaborative differs from other ECE quality improvement initiatives. Rather than supporting changes in individual practice through a single coach or consultant, it supports change by building capacity and recognizing leaders across an organization. The model promotes change through collaborative teams that include staff (at all levels) and families, and engages teams in problem-solving that takes local context into account. A goal is to spread and sustain change in the use of evidence-based practices. The model has supported practice and process improvements in the health, child trauma, and child welfare fields, but has not yet been widely tested in ECE.


CCL project staff will implement a Breakthrough Series Collaborative with ECE programs in Boston for approximately 12 months. The Collaborative will focus on improvements in practices to support children’s social and emotional learning. Project staff will hold a community meeting to develop the areas for improvement on which the Collaborative will focus, and to discuss measures program teams can use to assess their progress. Local ECE programs will apply to participate, and project staff will identify Collaborative members from each Head Start or child care program. Team members will attend three in-person learning sessions with experts in social and emotional learning and quality improvement specialists over the course of the year. Between each learning session, teams will test the practices and processes they identify, primarily using the plan-do-study-act cycle as they strive to implement, spread, and sustain the improvements across their organization.


CCL project staff will gather information throughout implementation of the Breakthrough Series Collaborative to assess the feasibility and potential effectiveness of the model. Data collection will incorporate a variety of local perspectives, including those of leaders in the ECE system, program directors, teachers, and parents. Research questions will address issues such as what makes an ECE program ready to participate in an intensive quality improvement process; what support ECE program staff need to collect and use data; what changes can be documented in organizational culture as a result of participation; what conditions promote learning within and across organizations; and what adaptations to the Breakthrough Series Collaborative model would enable it to work best within the context of ECE.


CCL project staff will complete a literature review, final report, video, and slide presentations to share key results and lessons learned. Findings will inform quality rating and improvement systems, child care and Head Start training and technical assistance, and professional development for early care and education. Results are expected to spark interest among practitioners, policymakers, and researchers, and generate new opportunities to implement the Breakthrough Series Collaborative in early care and education settings. The CCL team will develop plans to inform a potential next phase of the project. All project activities will be shaped by technical expert consultants and stakeholder feedback.

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