Tis the Season for Professional Development

This post was contributed by Kim Sewell.

I’m not sure if there is a ‘season’ for Professional Development since we teachers seem to do it constantly. Whether it’s reading articles we’ve found or have been shared, or we go to the weekly Wednesday PD, or our bi-yearly whole school PDs, reading books, listening to podcasts, or skimming Teacher pay Teacher and Pinterest, we are all constantly learning all the time. Teachers are always looking for knowledge on how to help those in their care find the JOY in learning.

I have just recently returned from a beautiful week at the NAEYC conference with 8 colleagues. Four of the 8 were presenting, which, if you have never attended one of these conferences is a REALLY BIG DEAL!! This conference is held every November somewhere around the country. This year’s conference was in Washington DC, had over 6,000 attendees and over 500 sessions.

As we arrived at the conference center the buzz and chatter were just under a loud roar. You could feel the excitement for people to share and listen to what makes their teaching special or disastrous. 

I listened to presenters talk about how to use storybooks to increase a child’s inferential learning by reading the same book intentionally several different times over serval weeks. 

I listened to the magic of how to transform a playground into a place of wonder, creation, and safety for children that desperately need it and can usually only find it at school since play at home no longer consists of that freedom of escape from reality. One of my favorite takeaways from outside play was the mantra “don’t let the catpoop win!”

One that I was surprisingly challenged by was the session on ‘The Power of Play.’ I always considered my teaching style and room layout to be very conducive to play while trying to incorporate academic connections. I came away realizing that I control way more than I thought and there is less ‘play’ in my room than I realized.  The more I control, the more choice is diminished, and the less opportunity a child has to develop their self-identity and their executive functioning skills.

Some questions that we were to ask ourselves… do you control the number of children in an area? the use of materials? where materials are used? how they are used? etc. You see, the power of play has been proven to build a child’s self-identity. Choice is the sculpture of self-identity. Play also develops executive functioning. Executive Functioning skills allow individuals to prioritize tasks and correctly sequence needed behaviors to complete them efficiently. When a child plays without control from an adult these skills are activated. We all know these skills are crucial to be a successful adult. Play also activates the limbic system which is the light switch of learning. As we face the tension that we hold as educators between child-led learning through play and structured learning led by us there is one quote the presenter left us with that gives hope to the most structured and tight of daily school schedules….

“When you don’t have time, at least honor the child’s heart…listen to what matters to them and incorporate that into their learning.” I am confident we can all do that.

I could go on and on about the sessions I went to. I was lucky enough to hit 9 sessions plus hitting the exhibit hall with every new toy, book, furniture, and curriculum you could imagine, plus some giveaways. (I found out Judy Menist is the luckiest person I know. She scored lots of swag plus $100!)

I was thankful that 2 of the sessions that I attended we all can be privy too! Sandra and Maggie led a difficult discussion on how we can engage families more in knowing what is happening with their child and yet not being tied down to documenting every move a child makes at the moment they make them. There was lots of sharing of what works, what makes it worse, and different platforms to try. The takeaway theme seemed to be TRUST. No matter what platform you use, how often you use it, and how information is disseminated it all comes down to leaning in with parents trusting teachers, teachers trusting parents, and both trusting the school system. If that can be fostered there seems to be a lot less frustration on all sides in dealing with communication.

There were also Lea and Taylor leading a discussion on Debunking the Myth of Traditional Calendar time to a packed room. Using the well-known truth that time is an abstract concept in which young children(under the age of six) can not grasp the same way we do as adults, Lea and Taylor challenged teachers to look at the traditional method of how we do calendar and turn it into a meaningful way in which children can relate to time. The method they shared allows the child to build the concept of time by using memories instead of abstract numbers or measurements. As they presented, you could see the curiosity and excitement as teachers began to see a rich and wonderful way of taking an activity as old as time itself and making it a wonderful deeply connecting piece of a child’s learning.

As we all headed home several things became very apparent; first, I am so blessed and grateful to have gotten to know my colleagues better than I would have ever had a chance to if I did not go, second, there is nothing like being around thousands of educators to rekindle one’s fire for teaching, and last, never underestimate just having fun for funs sake with people you work with. It should always be the season for that!

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