(R)evolutionize Relationships in Early Learning

A panel conversation hosted by Ed Trust and the New Teacher Center

Recorded August 26th, 2020

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Carrie Gillispie

Senior Analyst, P-12 Policy, Ed Trust



Carlyn Rahynes

Director of Early Childhood, Community School District 7, New York City Department of Education



Pam Crookedacre

Senior Early Learning Training Specialist, CAP Tulsa



Vanessa Rodriguez, EdD

author of The Teaching Brain



Kaytie Brissenden-Smith

Program Consultant, New Teacher Center



Atyani Howard

Chief Program Officer, New Teacher Center



Erika Reese, Host

Senior Director, Internal Learning, New Teacher Center (NTC)


(R)evolutionize Relationships in Early Learning

A panel conversation hosted by Ed Trust and the New Teacher Center

In partnership with the Education Trust, New Teacher Center recently hosted a panel discussion to focus on our youngest learners with education thought partners from across the nation.

Some key themes are included below:

Student-Teacher-Family Engagement 

  • One of the most important things we can do right now is help early learning students, families/caregivers, and educators engage and connect, even in this virtual space.
  • In addition to illness, job insecurity, shifting homes, etc. families are stressed about losing their children’s spots in early learning centers, the cost of tuition, and the lack of subsidies. 
  • This is our chance to reimagine relationships: let’s address students’ and families’ trauma, and create space for them to process that trauma with their teachers.
  • Give families/caregivers a voice; people want to feel like they are doing things together, no one wants to feel like things are being done to them. 
  • Change your mindset— in these difficult times, it’s not about monitoring behavior and tardiness—prioritize, above all, the health and safety of families and children, and your relationships with them. 
  • If something good is going to come out of the “world turning upside down” let it be the transformational potential of finally having families experience school as a source of partnership and active support, no matter their socioeconomic backgrounds. 


Teaching is a Human Endeavor, and Yet We’ve Dehumanized It

  • We know one-size-fits all does not work for students, but we assume that it does for teachers. The way in which we build the social emotional capacities of a teacher of color, versus how we do that for a white, middle class teacher who has had many more privileges and experienced different worlds should be different. 
  • If we are hoping and expecting teachers to be able to support students/families, then we need to be thinking deeply about what they are dealing with themselves. As they enter this space, they are going to need healing too.
  • Many early learning teachers are teachers of color, they themselves have existed in systemic racism for their entire lives, and now are being asked to break that cycle. How can we expect them to be there for students/families, when they themselves are dealing with open wounds? We have not supported teachers this way in the past, and we need to.
  • Just the idea of teachers “serving” students; historically, the idea of “serve” is embedded in pain, and this can be disempowering. Teachers need to be valued as a powerful source of love, compassion, and relationships. That is one example of what we need to unpack and heal.
  • We can’t expect educators to show up 100% when our system is not supporting them. Stop focusing on fixing teachers and students, focus on disrupting the system.


Maintaining an Optimal Learning Environment in Less-than Optimal Conditions

  • It’s helpful if teachers can set up systematic, predictable routines, including consistent scheduling of 1:1 meetings with students/families, and then small (not large) online group gatherings.  
  • Maslow explained that we must meet our foundational needs first – start there. For example, start with wellness checks; engagement and learning can only follow.
  • For early learning Zoom sessions, try rhythmic, predictable patterns of activities to help activate the brain’s pathways into learning. 
  • When schools bring families together, live into equity. For example, have translators available for those parents who speak languages other than English. Commit to creating access and engagement in every step.


Tune into the webinar to hear more — including Dr. Vanessa Rodriguez share a study where she asked a group of highly experienced early learning teachers of color to reflect on the impact of their race in the classroom—and what their responses revealed about the environments in which teachers of color are asked to teach. 

Follow Up Resources:

And check out recent NTC blogs and podcast here: Support Hub