Submitted by Lorraine Yamin ’95
Late last spring, deputies from the New York City Department of Education asked early childhood professors at Bank Street College to create a Universal Preschool (UPK) institute, in order to provide professional development for the nearly 2,000 teachers hired to fulfill Mayor de Blasio’s UPK promise.
By early June, Getting Ready For PreK: An Institute for Educators was conceived by professors, deans and program coordinators devoted to the mission of expanding UPK. They tackled long sequences of logistical problems to deliver this “Big Hairy Audacious Goal.”
Once the institute had form, the designers, Nancy Nager, Nancy Gropper and Joy Lundeen Ellebbane, emailed alumni and friends of Bank Street, explaining the new partnership with the NYC DOE. They hoped and prayed for enough applicants to cull 80 facilitators who would provide the PD. Most people had already solidified summer vacation plans, so finding the 80 facilitators could have been daunting. It was not.
There was a tremendous response from the early childhood community. Bank Street sent out a clarion call to service and many responded, offering to be facilitators before knowing the pay, despite having to rework vacation plans. I was one of the facilitators selected to provide the PD and am enormously grateful to have had that opportunity.
At the end of July, at the facilitator training, I sat in a conference room with 39 other early childhood educators brimming with enthusiasm for this historic UPK initiative. Along with me in the 2-day workshop for trainers were three former bosses and many colleagues that I had worked with over the past 20 years. It felt, at once, like a conference and a homecoming. Our sleep-deprived hosts presented us with the training manual and led us through the PD as the new hires would experience it.
On August 12-14 at Queens Community College, Bank Street and the DOE held the first 3-day UPK institute. My job was to facilitate experiential, small group activities and discussions on the content provided by Bank Street. I was assigned a dreary, dingy classroom with rows of tightly packed chairs, and 40 people preparing to either teach in, or supervise, UPK classrooms.
On that first morning, when the long train of people poured in, I wondered, “How are we going to maintain the tremendous enthusiasm for this project, in such a drab, grey room?” The content and multi-media tools provided by Bank Street were fantastic and we were told to be true to the curriculum while making it our own. For me, the linchpin proved to be stories about the children. I knew that each educator in the room carried with them memories of children, and that those memories would animate the content. Throughout the three days, I told stories, the participants shared memories and together, we brought the children into the room which instantly united us as a community of adult learners.
This September, the NYC DOE expanded the number of UPK spots by 30,000. There were imperfections in the plan, and many challenges to this great initiative remain. I was thrilled to join a legion of early childhood educators who would not allow imperfections to halt the tremendous benefit for children and families whose daily lives have been supported by Mayor de Blasio’s expansion of UPK. It was an amazing experience and I hope to be part of it again some day.
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!
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 http://www.bankstreet.edu/pre-k-summer-institute. ; Go check it out. The webliography is amazing!
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, 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.
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.