Early childhood educators have always strived to find the joy in learning. So it’s no surprise that even in this difficult school year, the more than 300 educators who attended the UFT’s annual Early Childhood Conference remotely on March 13 treasured the time they spent improving their practice and connecting with colleagues.
“The instructors were so warm and welcoming, and the time we had to share thoughts and strategies with each other was priceless,” said Heather Parker-Davis, a paraprofessional at PS 315 in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
Karen Alford, the UFT’s vice president for elementary schools, opened the conference by acknowledging the work of early childhood educators in this challenging time.
“It’s incredible and extraordinary what you’ve done this school year,” she said. “Whether you are at home teaching remotely or in your school building every day, you are transforming lives and uplifting our children.”
Participants had the opportunity to earn Continuing Teacher and Leader Education (CTLE) hours by attending two workshops of their choice. In A Frontline Approach to an Emotionally Responsive Classroom, educators discussed strategies for addressing young students’ need and desire for physical connection in socially distanced settings.
“By building a positive emotional space for a child, we’re offering them a place where they can feel valued and where they trust us,” said Olive Tomlin-Lawrence, a teacher at PS 55 in the Bronx.
Sandra Fajgier, a prekindergarten teacher at K280 in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, invited participants in her workshop, Organic Literacy in the Early Childhood Classroom, to share the challenges their learners are experiencing in literacy this year. They all agreed that remote learning demands a lot from their youngest students.
“When we ask students to reflect on their work in progress, to go back to it the next day, it’s challenging when that next day in the classroom is actually a week later, or they’re doing it remotely,” she said.
In Science and Literacy: Making Connections, teachers shared tips for effective hands-on experiments with remote students. If a young student lacks materials or parental guidance, for instance, one teacher suggested encouraging that child to document what she sees on screen with a drawing.
“I learned some user-friendly activities that teach science through literacy and vice versa,” said Yvette Collins, a teacher and the chapter leader at PS 178 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. “The lessons were invaluable. I’ll be using one of the experiments in my classroom right away.”
For educators who attended, the joy was not only in learning but in the opportunity to collaborate with other early childhood educators.
“The pandemic has caused everything to change, and as a remote teacher, I yearn for and miss talking to my colleagues,” said Tomlin-Lawrence. “This conference gave me the opportunity to have a dialogue and hear some of the things we can offer to promote better learning experiences for our scholars. I liked that I was able to come together with teachers from other schools and get to share.”