Emotionally Responsive Schools Conference Explores Supporting Communities and Ourselves in Changing Times

On November 17, Bank Street Graduate School of Education hosted its ninth annual Emotionally Responsive Schools Conference, which offered teachers, social workers, and administrators the opportunity to deepen their understanding of child development, social and emotional learning, parent engagement, and techniques for building safe and nurturing school communities.

This year’s virtual conference explored the theme of “Holding and Healing: Supporting Communities and Ourselves in Changing Times.” The day began with a keynote presentation by Lesley Koplow, GSE ’79, founding director emeritus, Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice, Bank Street College of Education, titled “Story Problems and the Problem of Untold Stories: Making Space for Whole School Connection, Creativity, and Healing.” In her presentation, Koplow discussed the impacts of “untold stories” on school life and provided school-friendly healing practices for children and staff members.

Koplow began by mentioning gun violence, COVID-19 disruptions and losses, extremist politics, local violence, and far away wars as stressors for students and teachers alike, and she said, “It is no secret that we are living through traumatic times. You who work in school settings bear witness to these stories and how they impact our children every single day. Without time and space to hear all of their untold stories, it is hard to find empathy for children who act out in response to what they take in but cannot hold all alone.”

Referencing research studies, Koplow affirmed the value of high-quality teacher-child relationships on both the mental well-being of teachers who might otherwise feel burnout and on children who resort to acting out and anti-social behaviors.

“While it is understandable for adults to feel hopeless in troubling times, children need hope the way they need food and water. Children are sponges for adult anxiety and depression. They are wired from birth to organize themselves around the adults. Our ways of interacting with children often become part of the child’s emerging sense of self. Teaching demands connection, being really smart, being very attuned, and being more physically and psychologically present than almost any other profession,” she said.

Using real-world examples, Koplow provided some examples of how educators can create more space for connection. She encouraged teachers and school leaders to reach out to family members to connect the student, family, and school communities. She discussed some of the classroom-friendly approaches to emotionally responsive practice that Bank Street has developed to help weave emotional support and social connection with the tools of cognition. She encouraged schools to co-partner with local mental health clinics, which have led to some innovative programs that support both children and teachers.

Following the keynote, attendees participated in morning and afternoon workshops led by the Emotionally Responsive Practice team at Bank Street and other professionals, including a teacher from PS 15 in Brooklyn, an assistant professor of early childhood education from Hawaii, an early learning center leader from North Carolina, and a social worker, among others. Workshop topics included “Enhancing Teddy Bear Classroom Practice,” “Singing IS Emotionally Responsive Practice,” “Using ERP with Children with Special Needs,” and “Supporting Children with Immigration Stories,” and more.

Amy Stuart Wells, Dean, Bank Street Graduate School of Education, said, “I appreciate the work of Bank Street’s Emotionally Responsive Practice team, and I look forward to learning more about their work, including the work they’re doing with migrant students in public schools in New York City. I hope each and every participant learned as much as I did at this year’s conference.”

Learn more about the Emotionally Responsive Schools Conference