Kind is the New Beautiful: ECIS Conference in Belgium 2017!

13 Apr Kind is the New Beautiful: ECIS Conference in Belgium 2017!

I recently had the opportunity to attend the ECIS (Early Childhood International Schools) conference in Belgium with my fellow-teacher, Daphne Hicks. Teachers from all around the globe came together for two full days to attend lectures, network, and discover what early childhood education looks like in different countries. There was also a lot of chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate.

The photo for this blog was my favorite one taken during this trip.

“Why have you come to Belgium?” the customs agent asked me at Brussels International Airport.

“I’m here for a conference.” I replied, “I’m a teacher.”

His eyebrows raised and he smiled at me. “Oh, you’re a teacher? That’s wonderful! Welcome to Brussels!”

It is clear that education and educators are held in high regard overseas. Whether it be the taxi driver or the waiter at the restaurant, I was always greeted with a warm smile and a look of respect when I mentioned my profession.

Beyond politics, the United States of America is often the center of international debate and scrutiny. I worried what the reactions of the other conference attendees would be upon learning where I was from and where I taught. What was the global perception of American teachers by our foreign peers? However, my concerns were quickly put at ease; we were fellow-educators and deserved as much respect and admiration as anyone else.

If anything, people were very curious about what our daily schedules looked like, how our classrooms were organized, and the goals we have for our students. We spoke to many Americans who were teaching overseas in England, Kuwait, and even a women from South Carolina who taught outdoor studies in Dusseldorf. Her classes were held entirely outside, no walls, no matter what the weather.

Daphne and I shared an Uber with a woman from Scotland who was teaching in Madrid and another who lived in Barcelona who had once visited Kentucky in the USA. We had an amazing conversation about the various structures of our schools, how they have evolved over the years, and the philosophies we have adapted through our experiences. People genuinely wanted to know how we did things at our school, and the more we spoke, the more we learned that our practices are more similar than different.

We also had the opportunity to tour the Early Childhood Center that was located on the campus of the school where the conference was held. The differences were obvious. A preschool in the quiet countryside of Waterloo tends to look very differently than a preschool located on the busy Upper West Side of Manhattan. However, once we looked passed the large outdoor spaces, the indoor tree houses, and the chicken coop in the back, we once again saw that our learning spaces are structured in a similar way. The same materials and manipulatives are used in the classrooms and goals and we the themes of kindness and community are represented everywhere through children’s work and art.  Pictures documenting classroom projects painted a very clear perspective of their day to day activities and reminded me of much of the work we are doing here in our own rooms.*

I haven’t yet begun to discuss what I learned through the lectures and conversations at the conference. I brought back so much fresh knowledge that I am eager to share with my colleagues and anyone else who will listen! However, that will take more than one blog piece.

What I wanted to express here is that I traveled to a place far from home and met many people who were different from me, while I still felt like I was a part of something greater as our mission as educators is so closely aligned. It reaffirmed my belief that we are doing good, important work here at Montclare Children’s School and are fortunate to have a school community of families and fellow-educators who respect and appreciate that conviction. Knowing that teachers from around the world are united in working to achieve similar, universal goals for our young children, inspires me and gives me great hope for our future.

Kind is the new beautiful!

*Full disclosure, I also saw some really great ideas that I will borrow and plan on implementing soon!

Brenna Riley is an innovative, dedicated teacher at Montclare Children’s School for nine years. Brenna attended the Hunter College graduate program for Early Childhood Education.