Monday, November 20, 2017

Urban Schools Conference proves inspirational & motivational

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Urban Schools Conference in Albany with a team of educators from our schools. The conference, presented by the Schenectady City School District and the Capital Region BOCES, featured diverse speakers and offered breakout sessions on topics relevant for educators – most especially those teaching in urban classrooms.

While I have attended many seminars and workshops during my 26 years in education, this conference was the most dynamic and engaging professional development I have participated in by far. The keynote speaker ‒ Dr. Christopher Emdin, Associate Professor of Science Education and Director of Science Education in the Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology at Teachers College, Columbia University and Associate Director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education ‒ delivered a powerful message. In it, he challenged educators to think differently about their practices and approaches to teaching and learning from the student’s perspective, which includes allowing the culture of our youth in guiding instruction.
Dr. Emdin earned a Ph.D. in Urban Education with a concentration in Mathematics, Science and Technology, a M.S. in Natural Sciences, and Bachelor’s degrees in Physical Anthropology, Biology, and Chemistry, and he was awarded the 2016 Early Career Award by the American Educational Researchers Association and 2015 Multicultural Educator of the Year by the National Association of Multicultural Educators.

Other speakers and presenters at the Urban Schools Conference focused on topics including understanding trauma, meeting needs of students, awareness and empathy, cultural responsiveness and building resilience.

The team of educators who attended the conference with me all agreed this was an enlightening and worthwhile experience. Below I share with you their thoughts and takeaways from the event.

Dr. Emdin's keynote address at the Urban Schools Conference was full of "grit," which made every educator who was listening think about their approach to urban students. Teachers have been steadily teaching with the existing model, the way that they learned when they were in school. Dr. Emdin made us all think about the needs of our urban populations facing poverty, broken families, racial tension, and so on. As the conference continued the various sessions focused on instructional practices and suggestions for educators to begin putting Dr. Emdin's words into action. Our team from Watervliet now has the mission of sharing with the rest of our staff about the careful consideration and approach we use with our urban population. ∼Don Stevens, Director of Literacy and Universal Pre-Kindergarten 
I was impressed by the entire conference. There were so many practical strategies shared. Watching Dr. Emdin speak reinforced why I became an urban educator. What really resonated with me was when Dr. Emdin said, "they don't need you to save them, they need you to introduce them to their brilliance on their own terms." Educating urban students is no easy task.  Plain and simple, our students face more obstacles than we do.  Some wake up hungry and go to bed hungry, many uncertain of their future. We can't fix everything and we certainly can't pretend to understand where they're coming from.  We can just help guide them and reinforce the good that they are. It won't happen overnight, and for some, it may not happen at all, but it is our job to show them their brilliance, on their terms.  Kelly Webster, WJSHS Assistant Principal
I felt the conference was motivating. All the speakers were very professional and engaging. I would recommend others listen to Byron Garrett and his ABC's of life. I found it to be quite inspiring.  Dennis Lane, teacher 
I thought the conference was great. I have never been so engaged by a keynote speaker, Dr. Christopher Emdin really hit home when speaking about connecting with students and allowing school to be a free place to express their feelings and emotions. As educators, we need to embrace their culture and welcome the diversity into the curriculum we teach. A real "ah-ha" moment for me was when Dr. Emdin spoke about how we as educators need to just be us when teaching our kids. If we want to be able to connect with our students, we need to show them we aren't just teachers but actual people, too. Once that happens, we will be able to connect and gain trust, and ultimately bring out the greatness within them! ∼ Katelyn McKenna, high school guidance counselor
The Urban Schools Conference was very eye-opening. Dr. Emdin challenged our current practices by reframing how we look at education. He said that the pedagogies of the past won't help our students be successful in the future. ∼ Maria Westbrook, school social worker
I think one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Christopher Emdin was, "if you don't clear the emotional space, you can't learn in the place." This is something I think is essential for us educators to understand. It is vital for us to relate to our students, and for them to feel comfortable first, then they will be in a much better mind to learn. ∼ Kelly Bariteau, elementary school counselor
As a small urban school district, our student population, while not as numerous as our neighbors in Schenectady, Albany or Troy, still faces the same significant challenges. We have children living in poverty, who struggle on a daily basis with hunger, physical or mental health issues. Some face adversities at home that we cannot imagine that affect their behaviors in school and often become barriers to learning.

As urban educators, we must be cognizant of this reality and its impact on students. It is imperative that we adjust our mindset and find ways to meet our students’ needs and improve outcomes. This can be a daunting task, but I know we are all up to inspiring, educating, challenging and supporting every student, every day!