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Supporting New York City's Early Childhood Educators in a Global Pandemic: Challenges, Innovations, and Implications for Professional Learning

Start Date January 2021 End Date July 2022


This descriptive mixed-methods study aims to examine NYC early childhood educators’ experiences of supports and professional learning (PL) while navigating new challenges and modes of teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, understand variation in these experiences, and identify major gaps in support and innovative solutions. By leveraging existing administrative data, administering surveys with program staff, and conducting in-depth interviews, we will gather broad and deep information about “outside-in” PL experiences provided by the NYC Department of Education’s Division of Early Childhood Education and “inside-out” PL experiences, initiated and facilitated by educators themselves (Sheridan et al., 2009). Our research questions are:

1.     What are NYC early childhood educators’ experiences with shifts in the PL process (including PL/supports provided by the district and PL/supports at the program level) during the COVID-19 pandemic?

2.     To what extent do PL experiences vary across neighborhoods, programs, and individuals, with implications for supporting program quality and advancing equity across the Pre-K for All system?

3.     What challenges and innovative strategies related to PL have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, with implications for future practice and policy?

Through this work, we strive to inform efforts to support educators within Pre-K for All and national early childhood education systems moving forward, as we emerge from the pandemic.

Please see the resources section below for the final report.


Our sample is drawn from, and reflects, the NYC early childhood workforce, which includes ~11,000 teachers in 1111 NYCEECs, 650 district sites, and 82 pre-K centers. Pre-K sites were recruited from 12 sampling strata made up of two dimensions: program type (public school, NYCEEC) and PL series. The survey sample includes pre-K leaders (e.g., principals, assistant principals, center directors) and pre-K/3-K teachers and assistant teachers from about 50 programs.  A smaller subset of leaders and teachers are participating in qualitative interviews.


This descriptive mixed-methods study leverages existing administrative data, surveys, and interviews with teachers and leaders to develop a rich understanding of PL experiences during COVID-19. These data allow us to gather (a) basic information about PL for the entire population of Pre-K for All educators (through administrative data), (b) more detailed information about PL experiences in a sample of programs representing the diversity of the NYC early childhood system (through surveys), and (c) a deep understanding of challenges and innovations in a strategically selected subset of programs (through qualitative interviews).


Rachel Abenavoli, PhD, (PI), Research Assistant Professor of Applied Psychology

Pamela Morris, PhD, Professor of Applied Psychology

Elise Cappella, PhD, Professor of Applied Psychology and Vice Dean for Research

Contributing Institutions

Institute for Human Development and Social Change, NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development


Authored October 2022

Rachel Abenavoli, Jessica Siegel, Natalia Rojas, Pamela Morris-Perez, Elise Cappella

Institutions N/A
Type Working Paper

This report summarizes findings from research by New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development in partnership with the NYC Public Schools’ Division of Early Childhood Education (DECE). The study examins professional learning (PL) experiences of New York City (NYC) early childhood educators during the COVID-19 pandemic (2020-2021). Through surveys and one-on-one interviews, the research team gathered broad and deep information about “outside-in” and “inside-out” PL experiences. “Outside-in” PL includes learning provided by external sources (e.g., group-based training series, individualized coaching), while “inside-out” PL describes support among colleagues (e.g., teacher-teacher interactions).