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Safe and Sound Schools Conference Extends Learning and Awareness of Emotionally Responsive Practice

Posted by Bank Street on December 18, 2017

Every year for the last 3 years, Bank Street has hosted the Safe and Sound School Conference, a day of collaboration that invites professionals from elementary schools and early childhood programs to engage in a deeply interactive study of emotionally responsive practice. At this year’s conference held on December 8, hundreds of teachers, leaders, administrators, and social workers came together to further their understanding of how a knowledge of child development and a respect for children’s life experiences leads to classroom climates that support emotional wellbeing and learning.

This year’s event commenced with a thoughtful and touching keynote presentation by Lesley Koplow, GSE ’79, Director of the Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice at Bank Street. Her speech, titled “Light in the Schoolhouse Window: Helping Children Find Their Way in Dark Times,” centered on the critical role that schools play in fostering environments that offer children a deep sense of safety, comfort, and protection during these difficult times, so that they can engage more deeply in learning.

Building on the metaphor in the title of her presentation, Koplow explained how schools have a responsibility to “leave a bright light burning in a schoolhouse window” so that children and families can find a supportive community resource in their school buildings during dark times. In addition, according to Koplow, “The lights within the classroom need to burn bright enough to allow for adults to see all that children carry into the building so their challenges do not remain hidden or isolated within the child with no way of expressing themselves other than with anxious habits or explosive behavior,” she said. 

Koplow expressed that teachers, leaders, and social workers often “take the role of ‘interpreter’ for young children” and act as a voice of clarity as children attempt to make sense of what they hear, see, and read in the world around them. She noted that responding to children’s questions about sensitive and delicate topics is no easy feat in a time in our country when the news can be confusing and disturbing, but doing so thoughtfully contributes to building a protected space for children to learn, grow, and understand. 

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Koplow’s insightful presentation set the stage for interactive breakout sessions later in the day led by Koplow and ERP staff members Noelle Dean, Margaret Blachly, Rachel Hass, Felice Wagman, Eva Peck, and Leslie Gartrell, who are experts in engaging participants in a more focused exploration of supporting social and emotional development at school. Topics included: When Trauma Comes to School, The Power of Transitional Objects, Quilts and Curriculum: Using Metaphor and Reflective Technique to Build Community, Literacy As “Good Mirror” for Emotional Well-being, Working with Children’s Deportation Anxiety, ERP for Children in the Upper Grades, and The Essentials of Emotionally Responsive Practice. 

In the Working With Children’s Deportation Anxiety workshop, participants addressed how children of all ages are impacted by immigration policies that threaten undocumented families with deportation. The session centered on how educators and other practitioners can nurture a safe space for anxious children and parents at school, create a classroom culture where all are welcome, and support children and families through learning projects. 

“We were very happy to see so many teachers, school leaders and social workers representing schools both in and outside of New York City at this this year’s conference. Each conference serves as another opportunity to increase connection to school communities that can weave Emotionally Responsive Practice in to their culture and climate. It’s so important for all school staff to be aware that emotional wellbeing is foundational for learning,” said Koplow. 

Participants left the conference with extended knowledge and newly acquired tools and techniques to support them in successfully implementing emotionally responsive practice in their own settings.

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tagged: emotionally responsive practice, lesley koplow, safe and sound schools