Inequalities and Disparities in Education (guest blogger: Kali Goldberg)

Inequalities and disparities in education have always been painfully obvious to me. I spent the first five years of my teaching career working in a desperately understaffed school. The district was unable to afford a full-time nurse to support students with a G-tube and other medical needs, or multiple assistants for classrooms with severe needs. Supplies were hard to come by as well. When I saw my students using crayons to write on white boards because the district couldn’t afford dry erase markers, I knew I had to do something.

Through my work with Teach Plus, a teacher leadership organization of which I’m an alumna, I was able to illustrate my struggles through an op-ed detailing what lack of funding looked like and what school funding reform would mean to my students and me. One of my local legislators read the piece and reached out for a meeting. I was able to show him my class and point out areas where additional funding would increase educational outcomes for the children in his district. Through this meeting, I was able to educate my legislator and build a relationship with him. The meeting also inspired the newspaper’s editorial board to come out in favor of the school funding bill. As a teacher, I had a deep impact on policy because I used my passion to share my experience with decision makers. They need to hear our stories; teachers need to be part of these conversations.

My impact multiplied exponentially when I partnered with other teachers from other communities who also shared their stories. Several teachers and I advocated with legislators and in communities across the state. We held a rally in Springfield on school funding reform. Together, as teachers, with our communities and legislators, we passed historic school funding reform in Illinois. Teacher voice made a difference for the children of Illinois and will continue to do so as long as teachers are willing to speak up, share their stories, and advocate for what they believe in.

Teaching is inherently political. There are laws and policies that govern who can be a teacher, what education one needs to attain in order to teach, how teachers can discipline their students, how much teachers are paid, and what standards teachers should teach. The list goes on and on. Teacher voice should be an integral part of the conversations where such policies are set. Professors of teacher preparation programs are in a unique position to teach teacher candidates about the pivotal role they can play in policy and how to do so.

The best way to get started in advocacy is to simply find out who your legislators are. Professors should encourage teacher candidates to use websites such as to research their legislators. State and federal legislators are there to represent all of their constituents, even those who may not have voted for them. Teachers and teacher candidates should establish a relationship with their legislator, even if there is no issue for which they are currently advocating.

To prepare for a meeting with a legislator:

  1. Have a story to tell – Personal stories have a tremendous power to influence policy. These are the stories that lawmakers need to hear to influence their decisions.
  2. Bring data – It is often beneficial to come with research backing up your position.
  3. Engage in dialogue – Influencing policy is not a one-stop shop. Policy is unlikely to change in a single conversation. Be prepared to build a lasting relationship with the decision maker.
  4. Propose a solution – A solutions-oriented approach is often one of the most influential. Teacher candidates should research the proposed solution and make sure that it is applicable beyond their classroom.
  5. Have an ask – Are you asking your legislator to support or oppose a piece of legislation? The ask should be central to your conversation and supported by your data. It should be in line with the proposed solution.Building consensus:

When meeting with legislators and other decision makers it is beneficial to build a consensus. Find something that you can agree on and build the conversation from there. It can be something as simple as wanting to help the students in your community. Keep in mind that legislators are often not experts in education. They are asked to make decisions in many areas, including education, health care, the environment, and the economy and cannot become an expert in each area. Teachers are the experts in education and should use their expertise to teach and inform legislators just as they do their students.

Policies teacher candidates can focus on:

Professors of teacher preparation programs can engage teacher candidates by engaging them in issues that currently impact them, such as the requirements to becoming a teacher in Illinois, particularly the basic skills assessment or the minimum salary for teacher positions in our state. Teacher candidates may not be ready to engage with decision makers and that’s ok. They can connect with other professionals through teacher’s unions, NAEYC, The Ounce, Teach Plus, and other organizations. Following these groups on social media or signing up for their email lists are effortless ways to stay updated on important issues and advocacy opportunities. Most importantly, this will help teacher candidates to build their advocacy muscle so that when they’re ready to engage, they’ll have the tools and connections to do so.

Kali Goldberg holds a bachelors degree in early childhood education from Elmhurst College as well as a masters degree in curriculum and instruction from Western Governors University. She is in her sixth year teaching, currently in a blended at-risk and special education early childhood classroom in Maywood District 89. Kali is a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship alumna.

The large impact of smaller groups (Guest blogger: Cecilia Mintz)

I was recently introduced to the concept of taking large groups and breaking them into smaller groups. I thought that sounds like a good idea. However, is it even possible with the limited time that Early Childhood teachers have? The more I began to think about this concept the more I realized what an amazing impact it could make.

Let’s think about your large group, what do you typically do: Calendar? Weather? Read a story? Are all the children actively engaged with these activities? In the 10-15 minutes that you have are you able to respond and engage with all the children that want a chance to speak? My guess would be probably not. After all, there is one of you and usually about 20 children.

Now let’s think about reading a story to six or seven children instead. You could engage and be present for each child in the group, because of this you would be able to scaffold conversations to further their understanding of the content. You might find yourself inspired to be more intentional in the small group activities you plan, and your observations would be more reflective of where each individual actually is. Most importantly it gives you time to get to know and connect with your children. I would even go as far as to say that real learning cannot begin until there is a strong relationship between teacher and child is established.

You may be thinking about logistics of it all. First of all, I want to clarify that this time would not take the place of the academic-focused small groups, but would take place when you typically would do a large group. Get creative with how you break up your groups! One way that you could try is while you work with one group on a story, have the teacher/para work with another group on another circle time activity like the weather or project work. The last group of children can do an independent work group. You will want to make sure that the materials needed are accessible to them and it is an activity they are familiar with.

I am in no way saying to completely rid your classroom of large group. large group is necessary to build the classroom community. To discuss what is coming up and what we have done. We need that time to dance and be silly with children to continue to build those relationships that are vital for children to learn. I’m suggesting spending a little less time in large group, and a little more time with smaller groups of children.

Are you willing to think outside the box and do a little less large group time? Take a chance, you might be surprised by the outcome.

Cecilia Mintz, B.S. Ed, is an Early Childhood Resource Specialist for STARnet Regions I & III. She has worked in Early Childhood since 2007. Cecilia has worked with a diverse population at Head Start. While working with Head Start she guided children with Project Approach. Cecilia worked at engaging families in their child’s education by encouraging their input on family goals involving their child.