Liberation starts with education

The day concluded with a keynote speaker, Dr. Christopher Emdin, a professor from Columbia University, published author and influential speaker on education issues. (Photo courtesy of Christopher Emdin's Twitter @chrisemdin)

The University of Connecticut hosted its second annual Leadership in Education Conference this past weekend. LID is a student led organization created in 2014 by two Neag School of Education students. It’s a group that aims to provide members with the tools, connections and information they will need to become successful and culturally responsive educators.

The conference was primarily about celebrating and incorporating diversity in education. A short welcome address was followed by a packed schedule of four different session times, with attendees being able to pick between 5 or 6 different presentations at those given times. The sessions were approximately 40 minutes each and the day concluded with a keynote speaker, Dr. Christopher Emdin, a professor from Columbia University, published author and influential speaker on education issues.

One of the first sessions of the morning was titled “Student Voice Student Choice,” presented by Ryan Parker, Justis Lopez and Matt Delaney, who have sparked what they call an “Open-Mic Movement” in the local Manchester school communities as a way to foster student self-expression. The group hosts regularly scheduled open-mic nights or events during class where students have the freedom to come forward with their unique talents and abilities, be it rapping, dancing, story-writing, etc. Students are empowered to share their individual voices with their peers. The group spreads a very positive attitude, encouraging students to encourage each other. The opportunity to engage in artistic expression is a way for educators and students to cultivate a sense of leadership, community, empowerment and positivity. Students participate not only through performance, but also in the coordinating and planning of events, as well as learning public-speaking and behind-the-scenes skills. The presentation was very interactive, with Parker, Lopez and Delaney rapping original pieces, sharing videos of students in past open-mic nights and even allowing for conference participants to come up and share their own talents.

In the second session rotation, one of the most popular presentations was “Culturally Competent Family Engagement,” presented by Rhonda Philbert, the current Equity Coordinator for Manchester Public Schools. Philbert shared information on practicing culturally responsive classroom management in order to both validate student voices and create more inclusive classroom spaces. She stressed the importance of better parent-teacher communication by implementing Academic Parent Teacher Teams and engaging the family through day-to-day attitudes, beliefs and practices in order to involve the entire school community. Philbert references the book “Beyond the Bake Sale” in her discussion of family involvement and the partnership between the school and home. Also included in the presentation were ways to overcome barriers in cultural competence, the School-to-Prison Pipeline and how to eradicate cultural imperialism in our school systems.

Also included in the presentation were ways to overcome barriers in cultural competence, the School-to-Prison Pipeline and how to eradicate cultural imperialism in our school systems.(Photo courtesy of Christopher Emdin's Twitter @chrisemdin)

Another notable presentation was given by UConn student Kaitlin Kamalei-Jenkins entitled “Colorful Pages: Empowerment and Empathy in Multicultural Literature.” Kamalei-Jenkins shared her research on the implementation of diverse literature in classrooms and the spectrum of multicultural books. She stressed that literature is a key factor in building empathy in today’s society. This presentation was also very interactive, as she asked audience members to try to identify and place a variety of multicultural books on the spectrum and think of effective ways to present them to students.

“Promising Practices in Gifted Education for Underserved Populations” was presented by Dr. Del Siegle and Dr. Betsy McCoach, both Neag professors at UConn. They shared their research on how minority students are often overlooked when it comes to identifying gifted and talented students and placing them in beneficial programs. The duo stressed the importance of universal screening for these programs in order to close that identification gap. Siegle and McCoach put a heavy emphasis on students learning English as a second language as one of the most overlooked communities. “We need to redefine ‘gifted’ to what kids can do instead of what they can’t,” Siegle concluded.

Other presentations offered throughout the day included a range of pertinent information regarding scholarship options for minority students, supporting girls of color in STEM, more diverse curriculum options in history and math classes, instructional flexibility and social justice issues, among others.

“The LID Conference gave me more insight towards developing a classroom that is completely welcoming to diverse students. I know that in my future I will be working with students who come from many different backgrounds, so I loved investing my time in learning more about how I can better serve all of my students. Whether it’s through lesson plans, open-mic sessions or eliminating single-stories, my future classroom will be all inclusive,” said conference attendee, Neag student and UConn Future Educators secretary, Sara Luiz.

The conference wrapped up with a keynote address from the hilariously engaging Dr. Christopher Emdin. A well-celebrated speaker with several TED Talks online, Emdin shared some of his pedagogical theories with the full crowd. He spoke about how currently, education is too much about replication and memorization instead of our teachers developing their own models and theories that will be effective in their individual classrooms. Emdin also highlighted the importance of getting in touch with urban communities to better serve urban students. He said our educators need to shake off their hubris in their degrees and focus more on students’ needs. Emdin also stressed questioning the structure of our education systems and institutions instead of accepting them as the norm. He spoke about an education process that focuses on the soul and a “pentecostal pedagogy.” Emdin considers education a mutual exchange between teacher and student, which requires teachers to be enthusiastic and supportive. Teachers need this mindset just as much as the material resources. He also defines agnosia in education to the audience as an inability to process the brilliance of cultural expression in young people.

“Every time you’re about to find something precious, it’s going to be hard to get to,” Emdin says about more difficult teaching situations. Emdin concluded his presentation with an original rap, as well as the distribution of his most recently published book, “For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education.”


Julia Mancini is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at Julia.mancini@uconn.edu.