I’d heard that students at Bank Street like to eat. It came as no surprise when I heard one of Bank Street’s classic symposiums, the Weismann Dinner, always featured good chicken – lots of good chicken. This was my first brush with Emotionally Responsive Practice (ERP) – my interest piqued, and I was hooked.
The Bronx Cohort and I were first invited to attend a Weismann Dinner in the Fall of 2016. It highlighted Emotionally Responsive Practice (ERP) as a vital ingredient in a recipe for optimal early childhood education. Much like Culturally Responsive Practice(CRP) and many other progressive practices, ERP seeks to meet a child’s specific needs within a nurturing and developmentally appropriate pedagogy. For instance, CRP seeks to satisfy cultural acknowledgement and acceptance – ERP seeks to satisfy emotional wellness via acknowledgement and responsiveness.
Bank Street’s Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice, directed by Lesley Koplow, walked us through the ERP philosophy and its implementation in the classroom. I was taken aback not only by its simplicity but also by how it was such a glaringly obvious concept that I (and maybe many others) hadn’t given a thought about previously. There is an elemental humanness to ERP that in the commotion of daily life sometimes just gets lost. Being kind to our students is a given – and yet, ERP goes beyond that. The practice utilizes that essential kindness and responsiveness early childhood educators should share with students. This practice utilizes the essential kindness and responsiveness early childhood educators should already share with students, and challenges it to become a vehicle for learning, emotional wellness, and emotional literacy.
Children are complex and they’re a bundle of feelings. ERP gives educators tools to learn how to navigate these emotions while acknowledging their importance and having emotion-centered teachable moments become learning experiences for both the student and the educator. This leads to a feeling of safety within our classrooms and an internal empowerment that is a crucial aspect of healthy development in young children – particularly in areas of the city which may face significant emotionally taxing or stressful life conflicts. I myself have often had to artfully mask my feelings of sadness or anger at some of their familial or personal anecdotes – but the information is always an integral part of learning more about the child and facilitates my approach in helping him or her. Sometimes the process of ERP is not easy because of the work of talking through issues and attempting to offer comfort or assurance, maybe even a solution – but it really helps our students feel safer and valued. It also helps to build trust and openness.
I know that when I first learned about ERP, I immediately reflected upon my own interactions with my students. I thought about them and how I could best respond to their resonant joys, their melancholy blues, and their fiery angers. I thought about my classroom and where I could use more stuffed animals and a comfier area for them to unwind when they feel overwhelmed. I also thought about how, by responding to their emotional needs, I was fulfilling needs oft-overlooked yet just as important as many physiological needs. Creating a safe and emotionally responsive classroom community is necessary in generating a foundation for progress through educative experiences.
As educators, understanding a little about children’s home environments and familial situations can further inform our Emotionally Responsive Practice. Whether a child who usually seems happy comes to school unlike himself, or a child frequently tantrums or is physically aggressive – we are better equipped to respond when we are acquainted with some of the situations they might be going through. ERP highlights the whole child while focusing on emotional aspects, to find effective ways our children can ultimately learn and grow.