Basically, at this point in the year, I’m a zombie. I’m so tired, my eyelashes ache – which I can assure you, can be a normal symptom after every school year. I can imagine many teachers feel the same and are blessedly counting down the hours, minutes, seconds until school’s out and summer vacation begins. However – some of us work the summer as a choice and some of us don’t have a choice (like, me for instance). Our academic year at Highbridge does not end – instead we have a rolling school year in order to accommodate families’ needs for childcare year-round. Add my own graduate summer classes at Bank Street onto this, and well – let’s just say breaks from anything I’m currently doing are few and far between.
Days are filled with tying loose ends: students’ stepping up to Pre-K preparations— celebrations, paperwork, letting go of my students through surprising tears, final projects for my graduate studies, and gearing up for a brand new class of students. However, the havoc was unwittingly woven with dashes of respite.
Like a sip of cold, lemony sparkling water on a NYC summer day, I, along with several other staff members from my school had the privilege and pleasure of being part of some important professional development via Bank Street’s Center on Culture, Race and Equity (CCRE). It was refreshing because really, my time discussing deep, analytical topics with adults is quite limited— I also actually got to sit down for a while.
CCRE, formerly the Center for Culturally Responsive Practice (CCRP), gave us a chance to reflect about our school’s current conditions and how its high-needs setting affects operations. We got to mingle with others in our community wanting to make a difference— contributing experiences, feelings and thoughts as we engaged in honest discussions about our schools, our children and our neighborhoods. Bronx parents, caregivers, educators and administrative staff from early childhood centers met to facilitate a working group— sessions characterized in listening, reflecting and developing ideas for identifying school needs and addressing these in the most effective ways. Culture, race and equity were powerful anchors, ever-present in our meetings— ideas which afforded revelations to some, more profound awareness to others and a fiery impetus for enacting change in many of us.
Although lovely light music, an amiable social environment and getting to meet Bank Street’s lush new space at the Interchurch Center were quite nice, the sessions’ content proved to be the most spellbinding part of the experience. We examined ourselves— our biases, stereotypes, the core of ourselves and what those facets of us meant for our pedagogy and the impact of our identities on our lives. From the neighborhood we live in and similar economic aspects, to the way other people view us were points of significant interest. The power race, culture and ethnicity have to shape our lives seemed a ubiquitous consciousness. We propelled the conversations and reached far into our thinking for more. For many of us, the conclusions we reached were epiphanic.
We discovered that our schools need significant family involvement above anything else right now. Finding that race, identity and self-value deeply affect very young children were also crucial parts of our discoveries. The ideas flowed easily with CCRE’s facilitation— they seemed naturally derived over time like a cumulative thing— a small snowball rolled down a slope, turned a boulder of knowledge.
Families are paramount in early childhood education. And we discovered that in our community, getting families involved and genuinely engaged in their children’s education is one of the greatest challenges. We analyzed reasons for this obstacle. We examined and picked apart multiple points of view on this matter— reaching down to the micro levels to determine the best ways of solving the problems. We considered families’ cultures and the impact of this on male parental involvement or lack thereof. We analyzed families’ obligations to work, errands— things that take up all of our time and energy. As an educator, it’s easier for me to find fault with families— characterizing them as “uninterested,” as opposed to me looking at myself and my school as providing “uninteresting” material or utilizing ineffective approaches.
Becoming more aware of ideas such as this one, really made me feel that there’s always more learning to be done— being a life-long learner, which is one of Bank Street’s core ideals, can be true for everyone. Parents and caregivers can always learn more about children and how they learn, and why it’s important for families to be actively involved in student’s lives, just as much as educators can always become increasingly effective in their practice and interactions with families. I thought about how content that we provide for parents and caregivers may often be presented invoking the science of education and be more apt for people who already know about early childhood education, versus the real-life, practical application of these ideas and their meaning in families’ lives.
Identifying families’ needs is really at the core of what we do as early childhood educators. CCRE’s project really helped me to become more aware of myself and my makeup as a person as well as the myriad factors that affect our families. Understanding that I will have an important impact in my students’ own identity, self-value and their perspective of others and the world is essential, profound thinking.
I don’t think light, ocean-breeze tinged summer musings are coming my way any time soon.