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2019 A+ Educator: Sabriaya Shipley

Tree House Books

Her Nominators Say:

“Sabriaya’s dedication to creating exciting, educational programming and working directly with young scholars is truly inspiring. She possesses a downright magical ability to help children navigate social-emotional challenges and to guide them into becoming good citizens, community members, and friends. Her work in planning and executing the daily activities of the current Tree House Summer Camp is truly life-giving.”

–Philly Family Community Member


Get To Know Sabriaya

What made you want to be a teacher/educator? When did you decide that was your path?
I’ve been teaching since I was twelve years old from being a lead camp counselor to helping run inner-city youth programs in my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland alongside my mother. I’ve always been a leader, but a leader who just liked to be in the room in order to collaborate and make art or culture; so upon my recent graduation from Temple University, I knew that I had a major “back up plan” that would bring me joy alongside my pursuits with my degree in Theatre (Acting Concentration) and Poetic Ethnography. That backup plan was being a teaching artist. I truly believed that when you acknowledge your gifts and talents, the opportunities and jobs will open for that. It’s a belief I teach to my students. Right out of college, I began working with Philadelphia Young Playwrights as a teaching artist with their special projects, Performing Identities- a program for young black and brown women in collaboration with The Colored Girls Museum. I found leadership working with Yes And Collaborative Arts – a long-running youth program for theatre arts. I still teach with Philadelphia Young Playwrights as the Special Projects Fellow and a Resident Playwright. I serve as the program director with Tree House Books – a local North Philly giving library and literary center. Though most of my day is spent teaching a number of subjects from literacy to performing arts on top of designing curriculum; I find myself still being able to practice and create my art. Teaching has always found me and in turn, I have given into its continuous hints of this is what I am supposed to be doing; a part of my purpose. Surprisingly though it is demanding it has never stopped me from creating and doing art– if anything it has enhanced that path and gives me a full young audience to make proud.
What is your teaching philosophy?
My teaching philosophy is that I don’t teach, I learn. I believe you can design as much curriculum as possible, decorate your classroom as much as possible, read all the teaching books, print out all the handouts, but you can not be too prepared for all the learning that takes place during teaching. Teaching isn’t a one-way street, it works both ways. I give something to my students and in turn, they give something right back to me, whether that is a new insight on where the world is going through the future in their eyes or an insight as to how I’m developing as a person. I give them loads of prompts and activities that help them explore within themselves to answer questions about the world they are actively living in this even mean things  I have questions about. Questions like, “How would I change the world?”, “How do I feel about the world?”, “and “What are the colors of my world?” In the realm of learning, we answer these questions together and or share with each other.
What would you love for the parents of your kids to know?
I would like for them to know I’m on their team every day, every minute, and for a lifetime. I’m not going to say I love their kids as much as they do but I do have a very distinct love for their children and want their child to exceed my farthest dreams, just like they do. The more we work together, the more we check-in together, the more you let me know what’s going on at home or even school-wise allows me the opportunity to help and be a teammate.  You are the coach, but I’m the teammate, at any time they need support from me I can give it to them. Allow me to be on your team.
How do you encourage reluctant learners?
I don’t necessarily encourage,  I lean in. I found what’s making them reluctant. Often times when a student is reluctant it’s based on either a trauma, frustration or a lack of knowledge and when you identify which one it is it helps you determined the method to tapping into them.  It’s also learning to let it be, reluctant students don’t always remain reluctant as long as you as the teacher doesn’t give up and say I’m not going to add on reluctance to your reluctance, I’m here when you decide you no longer want to be reluctant, when you no longer not want to pout, I’m here.  Kids respond to that, and we all want that. That feeling of no matter how much I’m frustrated and shut down that you will be there when I’m done. It’s building trust with them, that I’m not going anywhere and I see your frustration. Simply, I hear you, I see you.
How do you resolve problems in the classroom, if a student is disruptive, for example, or if two students aren’t getting along?
I tend to allow myself to give room for someone to step out of a situation. Not only am I the captain of the ship, but I am the protector of it. And when someone is being disruptive to the environment and the flow that’s happening, that person may need to be readjusted– and not saying they have to come in with the ultra-positive attitude I want them to have, but I want them to see how their energy is affecting the space. Allowing a student to recognize they are not only hurting themselves but they are hurting us as a group and where we as a community are going. Sometimes it’s simply pulling a student aside and saying “What’s up? And why are you bringing this energy to this space?” We acknowledge the energy in order to adjust it.
How can you tell when your material is connecting with your students? How do you measure progress?
Agency– when I as a teacher have less to do, I know that I am in fact on my gig. When my students are able to keep track of their homework, maintain their emotional and physical well being by themselves with random check-ins, I know I’m doing my work. When my students are able to communicate freely about their space and to take ownership of their space and which we exist, I know that I’ve done my work.
Has teaching changed since you started?
I would say teaching has become more of a draining act than a motivational one just simply because there are a lot of teachers who are burning out quickly and easily because the support for the teacher is not as strong and prevalent. Especially for afterschool and different programs, the necessity for Philadelphia to have all of these programs are high, but the enrollment is low for these programs. The support of the community around these programs doesn’t show up as much as it did when I was growing up. I was not just my mother’s child, I was my neighbors’, my teachers’, and above all the community’s child. Programs are single-handedly one to four people holding organizations together and often times that leads to burn out, but that doesn’t mean the teaching stops.
How do you prepare for the first day of school/class?
In line with holding space for myself and the energy of my classroom, I tend to write down my intentions for the year, meditate and light incense in my space. I take time to breathe in that space before the chaos and then breathe into the chaos as  I prepare myself for my downfalls for my uplifts. I allow myself the room to change whatever I plan, and I leave myself loose and free remembering it’s a new day. Each session I  get a new start and so do my kids.
What has been the most rewarding thing about teaching?
Knowing that I am teaching futures I may never see and knowing that there are kids who receive so much love from not only me but from this program. Teaching allows you to express yourself in a way where you know what you know, you love it, and you share it. It’s the smiles kids give you when they’ve got it right, It’s the “Hey Ms. Sabriaya look what I did!”, it’s the hugs, the dancing, and it’s the games all rolled into one. Some days I feel far less than an A+ Educator but I know that every day I’m bringing my best, I’m enough, and that will be enough to sustain my teaching. It’s the love really that keeps you going when you’re frustrated, when you want to quit; it’s the love that pumps in you when you look at a kid’s face and you know that they’ve learned something new or in turn have taught you something. It’s just the love.


Contributing Writer