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Student Success from the Start

A Q&A with Michelle Steele about MN CoE

Educators know that early intervention is key when identifying children with disabilities. In fact, research proves that intervention is more likely to be effective when provided earlier in life.

In 2021, more than 15,000 children in Minnesota received early childhood special education services. Providing these necessary interventions throughout the state requires the dedication of passionate individuals. For our young learners, Michelle Steele is one of those people.

Michelle Steele has worked in the early childhood special education field for nearly 30 years, including the last three years as a Professional Development Facilitator (PDF) in Region 5 for the Minnesota Centers of Excellence for Young Children with Disabilities, known as MN CoE for short.

We sat down with Michelle to learn more about MN CoE programming and how it’s positively impacting young learners with disabilities.


Q: What is MN CoE?

Michelle: It is the statewide professional development system for early childhood special education (ECSE) designed to support local programs and to regionalize a professional development system that connects, supports, and empowers leaders with necessary tools for their districts.

MN CoE meets professional development needs around evidence-based practices that are the most effective ways to improve the learning outcomes and promote the development of young children birth through 5 years of age who have, or are at risk for, developmental delays or disabilities.

MN CoE is funded by the Minnesota Department of Education and Sourcewell is the sponsor, facilitator, and manager for regions 5 and 7.


Q: What is your main role with MN CoE?

Michelle: My key role is to promote recommended practices and support ECSE leaders and teams to implement the practices in their programs. 

Facilitators in each of the state's eight economic development regions – myself included – work to connect, support, and empower local leaders to build capacity. Through these joint efforts, young children and their families are accessing and benefiting from high-quality programs and services throughout the state.

One of the greatest feelings as an external coach is to connect with, support, and empower leaders to feel confident in their professional development planning for their staff, knowing this has a huge impact on children and family outcomes.


Q: How is MN CoE programming shaping our youngest learners?

Michelle: MN CoE works with all programs to provide ECSE practitioners with professional development that equips them with evidence-based knowledge, skills, and the supports necessary to be effective in working with young children with disabilities and their families.

In addition to this general support, MN CoE offers three specific innovations that programs might consider. Through providing the ECSE community a sustained focus on scientifically researched innovations, the probability increases that these children will achieve positive outcomes as they enter the school system. Each innovation is installed using Active Implementation Frameworks.

As a PDF, I assist local implementation teams as they work through the phases of implementation, paying careful attention to the implementation drivers which include training, coaching, and data systems.

Minnesota has chosen to center its efforts on three specific innovations: 

  • Evidence-based Quality Intervention Practices (EQIP)
    • EQIP is an approach to early intervention which incorporates evidence-based practices to build caregiver capacity using a coaching interaction style and to embed intervention into daily routines in the child’s natural environment. 
  • Pyramid Model
    • The Pyramid Model is a multi-tiered framework for supporting social competence and preventing challenging behavior in young children, particularly those with or at risk for delays or disabilities.
    • The model emphasizes building positive relationships with children and families, creating supportive environments, intentionally teaching social skills, and individualizing interventions when needed.
  • Classroom Engagement Model
    • The Classroom Engagement Model is a set of research-based teaching practices that lead to increased engagement and full participation of every child in the classroom, which in turn leads to more learning, increased skill acquisition, and better outcomes.

Q: How do districts participate in an innovation? Are local districts currently participating?

Michelle: Currently, teams apply for one of the innovations after an exploration process and staff buy-in survey. Teams are chosen by MDE for a five-year joint powers agreement, then utilize coaching and fidelity data to create action plans and increase the use of evidence-based practices in their programs.

There are four school districts in Region 5 that participate in Pyramid Model innovations: Brainerd, Crosby-Ironton, Pequot Lakes, and Pine River-Backus. Pequot Lakes was selected for a five-year joint powers agreement in 2021-22. Perham-Dent is also a participant and considered part of Region 5 for this programming.

Both the Freshwater and Paul Bunyan education districts are involved in the EQIP innovations.


For a deeper dive into MN CoE, visit mncoe.org/mncoe.