Teacher Feature – Brenna Riley

07 Dec Teacher Feature – Brenna Riley

I recently had a chance to talk with one of our experienced 3s Classroom Head-Teachers, Brenna Riley.  Brenna attended the Hunter College graduate program for Early Childhood Education. She has been teaching at Montclare Children’s School for nine years.

Hi, Brenna.  When did you start working at Montclare? I joined Montclare Children’s School nine years ago! I was hired as a floater and then became an assistant in the Polar Bear Room. I assisted in a couple of different classrooms for the next few years before I came back to the Polar Bear Room to become the head teacher.

Where did you grow up? I grew up in Massachusetts but moved to New York when I was eighteen — so I consider myself an official New Yorker now.

What did you want to be when you were in preschool? I actually wanted to be a veterinarian for a long time. Then I dissected a frog in school and decided that it was not for me.

Was there something else you wanted to do prior to becoming a teacher? I did not want to be a teacher in my youth! I was accepted into an acting program in NYC and I figured it was only a matter of time before I was starring on Broadway. My (very wise) high school drama teacher pulled me aside one day and gently cautioned, “You know Brenna, if acting doesn’t work out or if you ever find yourself wanting do something else, I think you would make an excellent teacher.” I shrugged it off.

When I got to college, one of the first things our professors told us was “If you find anything you love to do as much or more than acting, you should do it. This is a brutal business.”  Needless to say, the acting career did not take off as quickly as planned and I was looking to make a big change in my life. I had been working with children in different capacities since I graduated from college, but when I walked into Montclare on my first day, those words from my teachers kept replaying in my head. It seems I had found something that I loved more. I haven’t really looked back since. That’s so cheesy, I know!

How do you feel about technology in the classroom? I think technology is a very important tool in the classroom and can be utilized in many different ways.  When technology is integrated into a classroom, it should actively support creativity, communication, and problem-solving skills.  Technology is a large part of our every day lives and I feel it is important to teach children how to use it effectively and appropriately.

Could you provide an example of what that kind of technology integrations looks like? A few years ago, I worked on a big project with a technology coordinator. “QR” codes were becoming popular at the time as a way of scanning images and receiving information. There was an app that allowed you to create and scan your own QR codes and I thought that using these codes would be a fun way to create a treasure hunt of sorts for the students.  I hid our class bear, Icy, in a secret place in the building and hid the QR codes that we had printed in different classrooms and places throughout the school.

The children learned how to use the app to scan codes, and whenever they scanned a new one it would show them an image or video that would lead them to the next clue. The children were using technology as a tool to gather information, but they also had to communicate, work as a team, and problem-solve in order to reach their goal.

It was such a fun day and it was great to have so many teachers and administrators participate. We ended up presenting the project at the Microsoft Partners in Learning Conference in Philadelphia.  Our presentation was the only one featuring preschoolers as most presenters were working with middle and high school students. I remember the superintendent of Philadelphia schools mentioning us during his keynote address saying our project was an “exciting and innovative use of technology with very young children.” I have since implemented similar projects, but as technology is constantly changing, I have to adjust and shift along with it.  I don’t think QR codes are even really used much anymore!

What have you learned from being a teacher of young children? I have learned that patience is a choice. When I first started teaching, I would get frustrated all the time if things didn’t go as planned. Eventually, I learned to look at situations through the children’s eyes and ask myself why something wasn’t working and what I could do to change it. Being flexible really helps you keep your cool in tough situations.

Is there something you love to do outside of work? It’s no secret, I love a theme party.

Random question. What’s the most interesting place you have ever visited? Johnny Appleseed’s grave in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I’m a big history buff.

Thank you, Brenna!