Equity in pre-K classrooms

By Helen Barahal and Humberto Cruz
October 2020
Vol. 41, No. 5
High-quality early childhood education supports later student success. School districts around the country are focusing on their early childhood classrooms, investing in their youngest learners to get better outcomes in the upper grades. A high-quality early childhood classroom is a bustling place, full of activity and conversation. It’s where children begin to learn the routines, communication skills, and love of learning that support them as they advance in their schooling. School systems need leaders who understand what good early childhood education looks and feels like so some of the tenets of the early grades can make their way into upper elementary grades, middle school, and even high school. Early childhood education leaders are dedicated, resilient, and caring professionals. They are master multitaskers, seamlessly transitioning from

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What learning looks like

New Teacher Center designed many of the activities for the site coordinator professional learning and shared drafts with us for input. In one of our first sessions, New Teacher Center previewed a role-play scenario that they wanted to use.

The scenario portrayed a teacher and a coach debriefing something that had happened in the classroom. The pre-K students had been working on self-portraits. One child reached for a light brown crayon for her portrait. Another student stopped her and said, “That color is too light for you.” The student handed her a darker brown crayon and giggled. In the role-play, the coach asks the teacher about their response in the moment.

When we initially shared the scenario, the room got quiet. Questions and concerns emerged about elevating race: Was it too early in the year? Would it overshadow the coaching strategies being taught? It was a critical moment for Leader Learning Lab and the collaboration. We knew it was essential to be able to have explicit conversations about race.

In that moment, we allowed people to share, process, and ask critical questions. The group was able to name how racial inequity is perpetuated when we do not give it voice. We were able to connect this imperative with the Division of Early Childhood Education’s mission and the Early Childhood Framework for Quality, and anchor the conversation in the needs of New York City’s children.

We ultimately used the role-play in the first Leader Learning Lab session. Site coordinators later said that they appreciated the role-play’s authenticity, as well as the opportunity to discuss with New Teacher Center’s facilitators and their peers.


Horng, E., Klasik, D., & Loeb, S. (2010). Principals’ time use and school effectiveness. American Journal of Education, 116(4), 491-523.

U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. (2014, March). Civil rights data collection: Data snapshot: Early childhood education.

Helen is executive director, teaching and learning programs, in New York City Department of Education’s Division of Early Childhood Education.

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