To Support Our Nation’s Earliest Learners, We Must Support Our Earliest Teachers

Guest Blog Post by Abbie Lieberman, Senior Policy Analyst at New America

A growing body of research shows that a strong Head Start program can have long-term benefits, equipping children with a foundation of skills that will help them succeed not just in kindergarten, but into adulthood. But what makes an effective program? While many factors play a role, it’s the teachers and leaders that are essential to children’s learning.

Working with young children, you see on a daily basis how their learning and development is influenced by their interactions with caregivers and educators. That’s why it is so important for the Head Start workforce to have both the knowledge and skills necessary to work with young children and the supports to provide quality care and education.

In 2015, the National Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council (now the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine) released the Transforming the Workforce for Children from Birth through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation report, which has become a guiding document for much of the work underway in the early education field. Written by the country’s leading experts, the report lays out a vision for what early childhood education professionals should know and be able to do, and presents principles for effective preparation, professional learning, and practice. It calls for reforms to improve how early childhood educators are prepared, credentialed, and supported.

While very influential, the report can be less than accessible. Yes, it’s readily available online and easily searchable, but it’s also over 600 pages long. It is chock full of useful information, but it can be difficult to know where to begin. And with complex recommendations that will take time, and require buy-in and funding from multiple sources to become a reality, it’s important that different stakeholders know how they can play a role.

About one year ago, my team at New America released Transforming the Early Education Workforce: A Multimedia Guidebook, an interactive space that makes the key takeaways from the report more digestible and actionable. We included a section specifically for educators working directly with young children or leading programs to highlight the parts of the report most relevant to the workforce. We included discussion questions to guide their thinking and practice, such as:

  • Does your program provide developmental screenings to identify any potential delays and ensure that children have access to the services they need?
  • How can you identify and build relationships with the early care and education programs that feed into your elementary school and vice versa?
  • How are you using assessment in your classroom or program to inform lessons and improve child learning and development?

We boiled the most important takeaways down to about 10 pages because we realize Head Start teachers and administrators already have a lot on their plates. For those interested in digging in deeper, here’s an overview of what else you will find in the guidebook:

  • An introduction with background on the report
  • Frequently asked questions adapted from chapters 1 and 2 of the report
  • Summaries of report chapters 3–11, which include key takeaways, key quotes, videos, and discussion questions for policymakers, institutions of higher education, and the workforce
  • An overview of the report’s recommendations, including key takeaways for implementation
  • Videos on key topics
  • Related resources from leading organizations that build on the research and recommendations in the report
  • Tools such as interactive U.S. maps for comparing state policies and online mapping software for visualizing connections between stakeholders
  • A glossary of key terms used throughout the guidebook
  • Summaries and discussion geared toward two specific audiences: educators in higher education who prepare early childhood educators and policymakers interested in improving early learning

We hope this guidebook is a useful resource for all interested in strengthening the early education workforce and realizing the National Academies’ vision.

Abbie Lieberman is a senior policy analyst on the Early & Elementary Education Policy team at New America, where she provides research and analysis on policies that impact children from birth through third grade. She has been the lead author on multiple policy papers, including: A Tale of Two Pre-K Leaders: How State Policies for Center Directors and Principals Leading Pre-K Programs Differ, and Why They Shouldn’t (2017), Building Strong Readers in Minnesota: PreK-3rd Grade Policies That Support Children’s Literacy Development (2015), and Slowly but Surely: How Indiana is Building a Pre-K Program (2016). Her writing has appeared in Slate, The Hechinger Report, The Washington Monthly, Real Clear Education, and Pacific Standard.



Dedicated to supporting the health and well-being of the Head Start teachers, caregivers, and staff who are directly responsible for implementing the Head Start model every day.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
National Head Start Association

NHSA is a nonprofit organization committed to the belief that every child, regardless of circumstances at birth, has the ability to succeed in life.