Teaching Kindergarten Conference Examines “Making Good Trouble”

This April, teachers, administrators, higher education faculty, and more gathered online for Bank Street Graduate School of Education’s annual Teaching Kindergarten Conference: Where Did the Garden Go? hosted by Continuing Professional Studies. The event celebrates the important role of kindergarten in the lives of young children and provides learning opportunities for educators to enrich their early childhood teaching practice.

The theme of this year’s conference was “Making Good Trouble,” inspired by the impactful words of Congressman John Lewis and his life’s work as a civil rights leader challenging injustices and creating social change.

“Incorporating the values of social justice, equity, and fairness into our kindergarten classrooms and curriculum has always been within our work but it is particularly crucial for educators to strengthen their understanding during this time,” said Joy Lundeen Ellebbane, Director, Continuing Professional Studies, and coordinator of the Teaching Kindergarten Conference. “We are encouraged by our presenters and workshop facilitators to continue our work and are grateful to our participants for joining us.”

The conference, which was founded by early education experts Betsy Grob, GSE ’72 and ’99, and Fretta Reitzes, GSE ’69, began its first day of programming with a keynote presentation titled “Teaching and Learning in the Midst of Global Pandemic(s): Race, Politics, and Young Children” by Haeny Yoon, Assistant Professor of Early Childhood in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching, Teachers College, Columbia University. Next, Laura Simms, Storyteller, Writer, Arts-Educator, and Humanitarian, led a group activity titled “Stories that Nourish the Hearts of Children.”

The second day featured additional speakers, including a keynote presentation titled “Reclaiming the ‘Learning Loss’ Narrative to Reimagine Kindergarten” by Soyoung Park, Supervised Fieldwork Advisor & Course Instructor, Bank Street Graduate School of Education; a lunch-and-learn session titled “Back to the Garden: Inspiring Kindergarteners to Grow into Curious and Generous Citizens of the World” by Maritza Macdonald, Faculty, American Museum of Natural History; and a group activity titled “Songs that Nourish the Hearts of Children” by Jaquetta Bustion, Music Teacher, Community Roots Charter School.

“Although schooling has been totally upended, this project of forcing conformity among young children and teachers has persisted in rather troubling ways during the pandemic,” said Park. “The stronghold of schooling around kindergarten children and teachers just tightened in this pandemic. We need to lose the things about kindergarten that we don’t want anymore…. Kindergarteners in this pandemic don’t need more academic pressure or more forced conformity, they need the freedom to be their full, whole selves and kindergarten teachers need the same.”

Attendees also joined breakout sessions in the morning and afternoon on day two of the conference. Workshops explored topics ranging from culturally responsive teaching to dramatic play, such as “Making Good Trouble Together: A Story About a Teacher Collaborative Journey,” “Teaching the Guiding Principles of Black Lives Matter to Young Children,” and “Reimagining Traditional Kindergarten Classrooms Through Play: A Case Study,” among others.

The Teaching Kindergarten Conference was established in 2017. Grob is an early childhood specialist who served on the faculty of Bank Street for over 20 years. Reitzes, who founded and directed the annual Wonderplay Conference during her 35-year tenure at the 92nd Street Y, has been a classroom teacher, educational therapist, teaching artist, parent educator, and author.

To learn more about the conference and view details on this year’s keynote presentations and workshops, visit the Teaching Kindergarten Conference webpage.