In her introductory remarks, UFT Vice President for Elementary Schools Karen Alford urged the educators in attendance to find joy in their classrooms, to “be urgent” in their work and to “stand for your vision of a kind, abundant, equitable world where your students reach their full potential.”
Alford presented the Abe Levine Award, named for the UFT’s first vice president for elementary schools, to Zenzile DaBreo, a kindergarten teacher at PS/IS 109 in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
In November 2018, DaBreo was honored with the Sanford Teaching Award as the “most inspirational teacher” in New York State.
“We’re there to support our students and love our students every day, even when they are showing the most unlovable behaviors,” DaBreo told the audience.
Keynote speaker Shawn Brown, an educational entertainer and the host of “The Super Fun Show,” encouraged the audience to snap, clap and sing along in his energetic, upbeat address.
Brown, who shared his own story of being a challenging student, demonstrated ways that teachers could use music throughout the day in their classrooms to manage transitions and provide emotional support to students like him.
“Imagine pushing play on your device and your students automatically start to do what the song says! The solution is in the music,” he said, playing samples of songs with lyrics including, “If you want to have friends, you have to be friendly.”
“I thought he was hilarious and put things in a real-world context,” said Felicia Coombs, a 3rd-grade teacher at PS 38 in East Harlem. “I work in a high-needs school with students who have a lot of social needs. Coming to this conference helps me to refocus and to confirm that I’m on the right track.”
The conference participants chose two 90-minute workshops from a selection of 15, all designed to help them support the youngest learners.
In a workshop titled Exploring My World, participants discussed the characteristics of “inquiry learners,” or curious children who interact with the world by posing questions.
“You can say, ‘Don’t touch that,’ but they’re going to touch it!” said Roz Odinga, a UFT Teacher Center facilitator, who led the session. “So in classrooms, I love to see exploration, to see kids thinking and using their hands.”To try their own hands at inquiry learning, participants worked together to complete a challenge: Design the tallest free-standing structure strong enough to support an entire marshmallow using tape, string and 20 pieces of dry spaghetti.
In another session titled Devising an Early Childhood Performance, educators seated in a circle worked collaboratively to develop a performance that incorporated storytelling and drama using their own words and movements.
“I already use some of these strategies in my classroom, but now I realize the importance of it and that there are things I could enhance to make storytelling more animated,” said Evie Delgado, a prekindergarten teacher at the District 20 Pre-K Center. “It’s helped me get into the mind of a pre-K student.”
Attendees said the conference not only provided them with strategies to add to their toolboxes, but the experience of being among fellow early childhood educators gave them a much-needed boost.
“I laughed, I cried,” said paraprofessional Lizette Rodriguez, who works with special-needs students at PS 196 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “Being here motivates me like an injection of energy.”