Reflections on Bank Street’s UPK Training Initiative in Partnership with the NYCDOE

Posted by Jim Clay ’88

Well, we did it!  Twenty facilitators, including myself, have just come off of the high of three full days of training at the Getting Ready of Pre-K Institute for Educators at Queens College – August 19-21.  What an opportunity to be a part of this endeavor in New York City!  We truly felt the excitement of being a part of a movement.

I know there were also 20 facilitators at Brooklyn College too, but we at Queens truly became a community of learners – as I’m sure the folks at Brooklyn did as well.  I have rarely felt the level of support from colleagues that I during those three days.  Folks were able to share resources and ideas freely, richly, and in detail – as freely as they shared hugs.  Our debriefing on the last day was full of stories of connections – connections that lead to learning, growth and transformation, hopefully.  More about this later

The participants (and I’m not sure how many there were, but let’s think 20 facilitators with 20-30 in each group) came largely from Queens.  My group of 20 had only four who taught for Department of Education (DOE), and the rest taught in community-based organizations (now known as CBECCs).  I was fortunate to have in the group one principal of a Catholic school in Brooklyn and a new DOE coordinator.  No paraprofessionals in my group but one person moving from para to group leader.  Half of my folks came from two schools – so they came as a cohort.  That was good for their comfort the first day, but as one person said on day three, “I think I’m learning more from the folks who are not in my school.”

What did I learn about my participants?  Most of my teachers were very seasoned – many with more than 10 years of experience.  For the most part, I would feel comfortable placing my child in their care.  Even when they professed putting in place very tough policies towards parents who might overstep what they thought should be very clear boundaries, I thought they had the children’s best interests at heart.  On the other hand I picked up a definite thinness of knowledge about child development and skills at observing children beyond the social/emotional domain, and a lack of knowledge of resources that might sustain them in their work.  Clearly they will need professional development on Emotionally Responsive Practice (ERP) that the DOE will offer.  Many of the teachers said their schools didn’t train them in discipline/behavior management techniques.  And they were quick to point out that their classrooms didn’t look like the model ones in the videos – they experienced much more disruption because of behavior challenges.  It seems that some of the supports available to CBECCs don’t get past the executive director down to the teachers’ level.

I feel certain that ECERS is helping them to deliver higher quality education to the children, but they feel it as an outside assault to their identities as teachers and not an aid to do a better job.  Of course, one of the benefits of such a training is giving folks a necessary opportunity to vent – and yes they did.


I was also surprised at the lack of technical support teachers felt was available to them.  Though some posted observations on on-line observation and assessment tools (like Teaching Strategies Gold), they could not be assured of consistent internet service in their building.  And none of them seemed to have the ability to scan a document in order to share the work they were generating in our class.

Well, we at least know some of the areas in which there needs to be improvement in connecting classroom teachers to the support and training available to them.

So what did I learn about myself?  Aside from this course, I am no longer doing any training as part of my professional life – I leave it up to the fine consultants I use at my school.  So I need to brush up on my facilitation skills.  I also learned that though I used the activities in our guidebook and curriculum to help the students get to know each other, I didn’t consistently build on that to create a stronger community of learners.  I was more focused on the content than on the relationships.  In the future, I would build in more of these activities – each day and even more than once a day.  I see more clearly now the emotional/social content of that bond and how it brings about transformation and will change my focus if I were to do this or any other training again.  What an opportunity for growth for me!

August 26, 2014 at 10:39 am Leave a comment

Getting Ready for Pre K– a view from the Institute for Educators

Submitted by Jim Clay’88, BSCAA Alumni Association President

I am lucky to have been chosen to be a facilitator for the Getting Ready for Pre K Institute for Educators, part of the UPK Initiative partnership between Bank Street and the Department of Education.  BSCAA Board member Labiba Abdur-Rahman is also one of the facilitators!  We will be training up to  6,000 “new” ece teachers that DOE will be hiring for UPK.  They have been attending the training in two cohorts during the weeks of August 11 and August 18 – both at Queens College and at Brooklyn College.

I was in the second cohort of folks attending the facilitator preparation at BSC – August 4 & 5.  Approximately 40 people were present.  I was surprised by the number of BSC alums and other folks already connected to the college.  It was like a reunion where, through less than six degrees of separation, we all found out we knew each other in some way.  The energy in the room was great.  Both Dean Roach and President Polakow-Suransky came by for greetings, and Shael even stayed for part of the training.

The folks who led our work together, Nancy Gropper and Mary Ellen Markham, practiced and demonstrated collaborative learning.  We connected as a group and began to depend upon each other to learn what we must do.  And there is a lot to do.  The initial committee has put together so much, but also we as trainers must flesh it out.  It’s a lot to go over in two days of preparation and three days of training.  More than once during the two days, I felt saturated!  I guess you could say – in a good way.

We will need to establish trust with the folks we’ll be training – paraprofessionals, lead teachers, and NYPS teachers who now will all become, if they aren’t already, teachers of Preschoolers (and I don’t want to say four year olds, since a third of them won’t be four at the beginning of the school year).  And inspire them.  And empower them.  Some of them may have years of experience others, not so much.  In any case, we will be modeling for them.

We are really focusing on the first three weeks of school!  And want to encourage them to be reflective teachers – to anticipate and respond appropriately to the events in a day.

It’s great that we are to emphasize Emotionally Responsive Practice (ERP), that has been developed at Bank Street, and that we definitely are promoting learn through play.  And of course the Common Core is there.  The daily schedule developed by the Office of Early Childhood at DOE is really a good one, incorporating two outdoor times and a naptime as well as long blocks of play.

The BSC website includes much about the institute at ; Go check it out.  The webliography is amazing!

August 19, 2014 at 10:17 am Leave a comment

Bank Street’s Getting Ready for Pre-K

Submitted by Elizabeth McKenna ’05

July 25, 2014

This summer I am delighted to have been selected to participate in Getting Ready for Pre-K: An Institute for Educators,upk 2 a groundbreaking opportunity for early childhood educators. The New York City Department of Education and Bank Street College are partnering in the rollout of a teacher training program for educators involved in the Universal Pre-K Initiative.

Over the past two days, Early Childhood educators, many of us who have a current or past affiliation with Bank Street College, gathered together for the first of two facilitator trainings led by Bank Street’s program developers, Nancy Nager and Nancy Gropper. The Dean of the Graduate School Virginia Roach welcomed us and shared her excitement. She expressed her appreciation for everyone’s time and expertise.

Educators, CBO directors, DOE employees, and many more, expressed their joy and excitement over the initiative and were thrilled to be part of the cohort who will implement the curriculum,

The facilitator guide focuses on the importance of welcoming the child and family to their new school setting, while supporting the needs of the individual child in the opening weeks of school.  Upon conclusion of the second facilitator training session on August 4th and 5th, 80 early childhood leaders will have been trained and ready to implement the Institute’s curriculum helping teachers across the city learn to develop a high quality prekindergarten leaning environment.

Bank Street’s commitment to play-based education remains paramount. What a unique and potentially transformative time for the schools, families and communities to celebrate the full potential of the four-year-old child.

July 29, 2014 at 10:50 am Leave a comment

Slate Podcast Featuring Bank Street Alumni on Teacher Tenure

Bank Street grad student and admissions blogger John Kuckens writes about three Bank Street alums on Mike Pesca’s the Gist on Slate. Read John’s article and listen  to the podcast.

See and hear what our alums Alisa Algava,  Ada Rosario Dolch, and Margaret Ryan have to say.

July 11, 2014 at 10:10 am Leave a comment

Identity Narratives

Identity Narratives.

June 18, 2014 at 11:30 am Leave a comment

Identity Narratives

Submitted by Amelia Clune ’11


“It is the story that owns and directs us….“ Chinua Achebe.


In order to promote engagement and engender achievement in the classroom, we as teachers must appreciate how “identity narratives” impact perceptions of societal roles.

The great Nigerian novelist, and a professor of mine at Bard College, Chinua Achebe once stated that: “People from different parts of the world can respond to the same story if it says something to them about their own history and their own experience…” It is thus in classrooms where we can help to nurture these commonalities and identify connections. I believe that in today’s pluralistic society, we must be ever more flexible in our teaching-styles and use a variety of tools in evaluating success. Our mandate is to develop pedagogy that respects and values differences, to create learning communities that deliver warmth and opportunity without devolving into rigidity or conformity,to cultivate character by promoting academic growth and personal transformation.

Children, especially those growing up in under-privileged inner city neighborhoods, are at risk of reverting back to their community’s expectation and scripted narrative of failure. In Young Gifted and Black: Promoting High Achievement Among African-American Students, the authors argue that if “identities are the stories we tell ourselves and the world about who we are…” then the most important thing schools, families, and communities can do is to figure out how to develop among African-American children and youth, identities of achievement.”

As we ourselves are in constant negotiation with those “stories,” our purpose as educators is to help students to recast their identities in ways that contribute to a story of hope and success. In the final analysis, teaching is about connecting with people, as individuals, on a personal level. By helping students identify shared stories – narratives which render virtuous tales of courage, humility, integrity, and kindness in spirit – we are modeling for students how those principles can be applied to a common way of life, giving children the confidence to open up in order to connect with anyone, regardless of cultural beliefs or customs. In doing so, we are fostering a shared understanding of what it means to be a member of today’s pluralistic society.

June 18, 2014 at 11:29 am Leave a comment

Literacy: Writing the Personal Narrative

Submitted By Jane Willis, a Bank Street 2001 Graduate

Staying Strong in School

A Playbook for Parents

MONDAY, MARCH 17, 2014

Writing to Reflect Real Life: Why the Personal Narrative is so Important to Students: Pre-K – 12th Grade

As you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a sh*t about what you feel or what you think. –David Coleman at NY State Department of Education presentation, April 2011

As one of the architects of the Common Core, which now places emphasis on evidence-based writing and the synthesis of other peoples’ ideas (CC Shift 5), Mr. Coleman dismisses personal writing as frivolous.  His comment above is prefaced by his criticism of the teaching of “the presentation of a personal matter” in schools. On the contrary, the personal narrative is a critical and relevant teaching tool for students ranging from Preschool to 12th grade. To leave massive populations of kids behind in devaluing the written expression of their personal experiences, and to try to divorce public schools from a genre of expression that our culture emulates- -doesn’t make sense.

The Common Core claims to aim students toward college and employment readiness. So, what’s additionally peculiar here is that this also architect of the college application process would “forget” that an applying student’s personal narrative is the primary audition piece that Admissions Boards scrutinize.

Devaluing or eliminating the personal narrative from an English class in any grade runs counter to how students develop as writers and thinkers, and, how our culture learns and instructs through the personal narrative form.  Let’s remember, Socrates urged all to “Know Thyself.”

For decades, the educational psyche has always encouraged students to use their own lives for writing and communicating.  How many of us remember Show and Tellas a social time to tell something about ourselves which helped us to figure out who we were among those other kids in our first schooling days?   This is the tomato I grew in our garden…  This is my grandfather’s Yankee cap…

Through her Writing Project, educator and writer Lucy Caulkins embraces the personal narrative as a genre to help teachers help students with the writing process.   Caulkins’ program, developed over decades with Columbia’s Teachers College, mandated by the Old Standards and implemented in schools across the country, now appears to be stranded with the onslaught of the New Standards. Experienced teachers who know the value of working with the personal narrative have been trying to calibrate it among the new demands of more synthetic and evaluative writing.  But it is in danger of being choked out of lesson plans.

There are abundant reasons why the personal narrative resonates with students of all ages and abilities across the socio-economic school scape.

In working with urban middle school students living in poverty or learning English, as well as with more affluent students, this type of writing is developmentally appropriate because it solicits the grist of a young student’s life as writing material.

Children at this age are appropriately egocentric: They organize the world according where they are in relationship to it.  A child who is just learning English, or a child with learning differences can first orally tell about an event in his life.  A partner transcribes the story.  Once on paper, the writer can further develop language and organize the story, as per Caulkins’ drafting process. Other students can more directly deliver their story straight to the page.  The most enduring message that teachers of writing can deliver to students:  A writer’s thought process is as individual as s/he is.  As a writing template, the personal narrative provides differentiation and invites diversity.

Next:  As they gather the facts around their own story, students are engaged with concrete thinking. These, they categorize, as ideas are organized and developed around this chosen life event. A student’s process is also scaffolded to more formal thinking as students move from ‘this or that happened to me’ – to – ‘what this means to me today’, for reflective and contemplative writing.

Another way that the personal narrative form works is that students without previous opportunities to obtain knowledge of novels, or a strong background in reading, are first invited to look at their organically grown story, which is a solid way to establish experiential knowledge of narrative structure before being asked to analyze other narratives in novels or informational texts.  More privileged students who have been exposed to books are perhaps able to run more speedily with this kind of writing assignment, and can be directed to aim for greater scope and depth. Yet, ask any professional writer: The process is ongoing.

Moving to high school:  Again, we have young individuals developing on the spectrum of egocentricity.  Some of them are still concrete thinkers; others have developed into more formal thinkers.  All of them have even more stories to tell. With critical life choices looming closer, this narrative form becomes even more relevant to teach: College-bound high school juniors attack it with clear intent: This is their audition piece for college applications.  For students moving directly into employment, it is a narrative that reflects and promotes their experience and values.  Sharing personal narratives creates inclusion and builds community:  We listen to the student who reads his story about when, as a camp counselor, he ferried a boatload of children across a lake when the motor suddenly died… The BOCES student on a vocational path relates how he scaled a 60-foot tree…  Another student shares how she learned to navigate Celiac disease, and how it has piqued her interest in studying nutrition.

Students who have been encouraged to explore the landscape of their own lives have a stronger foundation in thinking and writing from which to approach, when it is developmentally appropriate in higher grades, more synthetic writing with its quest for, and, examination of, evidence in informational or fictional narratives. Pushing students prematurely via the demands of the Common Core toward this kind of writing with an “agenda” will make writing seem even more difficult and inaccessible to kids.  It’s an oddly Victorian approach to treat children as miniature adults, and to ignore all of the research and studies that reveal all of the complexity with which children actually learn.

As teachers, we continuously ask ourselves: What are we teaching that will actually prepare our kids for the adult world?

Let’s look at the bigger picture: Our culture is saturated with what Coleman refers to as personal matters.  The personal narrative is everywhere, in long and short forms. It’s on the last page of every New York Times Magazine section, and in medicine, it is becoming more widely used as a way to give doctors greater holistic knowledge of their patients.  It is a treatment tool in the Recovery field.  It won this year’s Academy Award:  12 Years a Slave. The shelves in physical and virtual bookstores are filled with memoirs.  People with a story can now self-publish. The scientific story slam, where scientists relate their own stories of setbacks and discoveries is breaking new ground as an entertainment and instructional venue. (See TED Talks.)Think of the impact if schools more fully embrace the personal in the narrative for aspiring STEM students.

Personal narratives enlighten, instruct and reflect.  They invite identification with pain, joy, hope, absurdity, determination and uncertainty.  They offer escape into someone else’s world. It’s a form that began with every ancient community and still creates bridges over perceived differences. It mirrors the health of a culture that values memory, reflection, diversity, and individuality.

To eliminate this humane writing genre as a primary teaching tool would be an attempt to sever schools from the real world, and make them scarily Orwellian; narrow, colorless, and all pent up.

A graduate of Bank Street College of Education, Ms. Nixon Willis holds a MS.ed with a focus on Early Adolescence.  A Certified New York State English Language Arts Teacher, she has taught grades 7 – 12 in both urban and suburban schools.  Prior to public school teaching, as a produced and published playwright, she taught playwriting as an Adjunct Professor at Sarah Lawrence College, where she solicited her students to harvest their own life’s experiences in writing their plays.  A mother of three, she lives in Brooklyn, and is working on a book: Staying Strong in School: 10 Ways to Advocate for Your Child: A Guidebook for Parents.

March 18, 2014 at 10:56 am Leave a comment

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Some of Our Past Bloggers

Alisa Algava ‘08, leader of a small Hudson Valley progressive school
Gloria Arenson ’58, psychotherapist
Bill Ayers ‘84, UIC professor, Chicago
Fred Baumgarten ‘84, writer/musician/naturalist/father
Keith Berman '03, founder/president of Options for College and Bank Street’s LinkedIn moderator
David Bowles ’08 (SFC ’93), museum educator at the Rubin Museum of Art
Elena Canaras ‘07, Special Education teacher, Hawaii
Virginia Casper, Bank Street faculty member
Jim Clay ‘88, director of a Washington DC Quaker preschool
Mary DeCamp Cotterall ‘87, Reading Specialist, Michigan
Judy Coven ’77, retired public school teacher and former Antioch University faculty member
Leslie Day '93, adjunct instructor at Bank Street and author of Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City
Mary Louise (Molly) Day ‘76, Lab School teacher, Chicago
Liezel de La Isla ‘99, Prague International School teacher
Diane Trister Dodge '70, founder and president of Teaching Strategies, Inc.
Meghan Dunn ’08, 3rd grade teacher, Brooklyn
Steven Evangelista ’01, co-director Harlem Link Charter School, NYC
Janine Fetters ‘02, Senior Associate of Parent Engagement at NACCRRA
Dena Florczyk '88, middle school teacher and founder/director of The Nigerian School Project
Hollee Freeman '94, writes about parenting issues for the alumni blog and was featured on BSCAA's April 2012 Career Panel
Ellen Galinsky '70, is President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute and author of Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs
Joanne Ruvolo Gannett ‘84, Columbia College art history professor, Chicago
Joan Goldstein ‘67, sociologist and educator
Margot Hammond, Director of the Center for Early Childhood Professionals
Carol Hillman ‘67, early childhood educator, author, and Long Trip co-leader
Pam Jones ‘05, Bank Street advisor and instructor
Lee Klinger Lesser ‘87, trainer for the Parent Services Project
Preminda Langer ‘97, teacher trainer
Claire Milam ’97, life coach, Austin, Texas
Rabin Nickens ‘03, Speaker, Trainer and Educational Consultant
Beth Norford ‘89, consultant and former School for Children teacher
Susy Ogden ‘97
Marion Palm ‘95, Leadership in the Arts alum, writing tutor, poet and singer
Jessica Poser, assistant professor of art education at UIC, Chicago
Jesse Pugh '76, BSCAA President
Meg Rauen ‘06, former Chicago elementary school teacher, NY
Linda Reing, Bank Street Director of Alumni Relations
Rosalind Rothman '62, retired NYC teacher and guidance counselor
Kyla Ryman '92/'97, educational coach and consultant
Ariel Sacks ‘06, middle school teacher, Brooklyn, NY
Linda Appleman (Guidall) Shapiro ‘81, psychotherapist and author
Barbara Silver ‘80, literacy consultant and former NYC first grade teacher
Andrea Penny Spencer, former Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Bank Street
Debbie Stone ‘84, former teacher/co-director of High Valley School
Rachel Theilheimer ‘74, chair of teacher education at BMCC/CUNY
Theodore Timpson ’05, founder/president of Young Spirit Foundation
Eleanor Traubman '95, is Editor in Chief of Creative Times, a blog which promotes NYC's performing, visual and literary arts
Allison Warren '08, new mom, recent grad, and early childhood teacher
Max Weinberg ‘03, Francis Parker School teacher, Chicago
Ted Wells ‘07, 4th grade teacher at The Park School, Brookline, MA
Tracy Wiessbrod ’03, kindergarten teacher and stay-at-home mom


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