With so much to see and do, attending the NAEYC Annual Conference & Expo can be both exciting and daunting! To make the most of your experience, it’s important to have a game plan. Here are some tips* for what to do before, during, and after the conference. We want to hear from you, too, so share your tips below.
Before the Conference
Decide what you want to get from the conference and what your goals are.
Use the Itinerary Planner to prepare your schedule. Think about: the topics most relevant to your work, the sessions that address your professional development needs, and which special events you want to attend. Include time to explore the Exhibit Hall, network with others, and explore Washington DC.
Need to document your conference attendance to meet program or state requirements? Find out in advance what is required so you can get credit for participating.
Plan to attend the Newcomer’s Orientation session, on Thursday morning, if this will be your first time at the conference.
Decide how you will organize the information and handouts you’ll collect at the conference.
Pack business cards or address labels with your contact information to share with all the new colleagues you’re going to meet.
Pack comfortable clothes and shoes. Leave enough room in your suitcase to carry your materials and purchases home, or plan to mail them back.
During the Conference
Dress in layers so you can stay comfortable.
Get as much out of the sessions as possible.
Ask questions, respond to presenters, and get clarification if there’s something you don’t understand.
Take part in small group activities and discussions.
Talk to other attendees and share your contact information to stay in touch after the conference.
Give yourself plenty of time to explore the Exhibit Hall. Carry water and snacks with you. Know that some men’s restrooms will be converted to women’s restrooms in the convention center to accommodate the large number of female participants. Male attendees should find out early where the “nonconverted men’s rooms” are.
If you have a problem and don’t know how to solve it, go to the NAEYC Conference Headquarters (Room 102B, Washington Convention Center) for assistance.
Pace yourself so that you have almost as much energy by the end of the conference as you had at the beginning.
After the Conference
Take time to unwind and decompress!
Catch up on your responsibilities at work and at home before planning how you’ll share what you’ve learned.
Organize your handouts, business cards, and notes.
Make copies of handouts to share with colleagues.
*Includes ideas from an article that appeared in the September 2005 issue of Young Children on pages 68-71, by Margaret A. McGuire.
How do you prepare for the NAEYC Annual Conference? What tips do you have for maximizing your conference participation? How do you share information with colleagues when you return home?
Superhero Play has been in the news recently. We're very excited about the upcoming book, Beyond Remote-Controlled Childhood: Teaching Young Children in the Media Age, by Diane Levin being published by NAEYC.
The book addresses many topics related to children and media consumption. In one chapter the author offers guidance for teachers on how to address issues that might arise when children engage in superhero play in the classroom. Here's an excerpt:
Share With Families How You Address Media and Technology and Why
If you have a regular newsletter or blog for your classroom, or your school sends out newsletters or other regular communication to families, create a feature about media and technology issues. For instance, you can include the following:
- What media and technology you use in the classroom and how and why you use it
- How you help children process specific content issues from the media that they bring into the classroom—for example, through art, play, or discussion
- Media issues that come up in your setting that are cause for concern
Tell parents about media-related topics and concerns that come up in the classroom with their own children as well as with the class as a whole. Describing your concern and how and why you are addressing it models strategies families might use at home. For example, if you describe specific rules and routines—such as deciding with the children that they can play superheroes outside but not inside - families may be inspired to try similar strategies at home.
Have you addressed superhero play in the classroom? Have you shared information about your approach with families? Share your experiences below.
Two elementary school principals who work in diverse communities share their experiences engaging families. As Peter Moran of Glenallan Elementary School, in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Katie Charner-Laird of Cambridgeport School, in Cambridge, Massachusetts talk about family engagement, particular themes emerge: the importance of commitment, teamwork, and deep respect for children and their families.
Interview conducted by Amy Shillady.
Can you share some strategies your schools use to engage families?
Peter: At Glenallan a bilingual parent–community coordinator organizes parent involvement meetings, helps plan family events, establishes links with community services and resources to help meet families’ needs. Teachers encourage families to visit the school throughout the year and work together to host family events usually at the beginning and at the end of the school year. For example, first grade teachers invited children’s families with Salvadoran roots to share their tradition of preparing pupusas with other first graders and their families. This was a fun event and children and teachers learned more about the families’ culture.
We also host themed events, such as family math and STEM nights. We provide materials for families to take with them to extend their children’s learning at home.
We’ve also restructured our PTA meetings which begin with a dinner. The PTA president and I speak briefly at the beginning, and then families take the lead. Children are welcome so that families don’t need to arrange child care. We also hold monthly parent involvement meetings in the mornings.
When we show children that we value their families, we build their trust in their teachers and the school. Children feel empowered. They are proud to introduce their parents to their teachers and friends. Families feel accepted and valued and better understand and support their children’s learning.
Katie: Cambridgeport has a family liaison whose is accessible to all families to support children’s academic achievement and help to foster communication and a welcoming school climate. This support takes many forms, and can vary from one relationship to the next within the school community.
One successful schoolwide strategy has been to deliberately link family and community events to student learning. We typically have a theme tied to events. For example, we host Spaghetti Dinner and Literacy Night. These events have two main goals: bringing our community together and cultivating a love of reading. Families and children attend, we eat together, and then we provide fun activities that promote children’s literacy skills.
At staff meetings, teachers talk about effective ways they partner with families. For example, recently one teacher shared how she sends out a short email to families every Friday that highlights what children learned that week. She explained that many families really value this communication. The other teachers liked the idea, and it caught on.
Our school has a strong philosophy about honoring and celebrating all the ways families are involved. Some families want to be involved in the life of the school—attending school events, volunteering for different roles, or running for the school council. Others are engaged in their child’s learning. This means transporting their children to and from school, helping them with homework, and getting them to bed on time. We value all the different ways there are to be a part of children’s education.
I try to draw on the power of teamwork. Teachers share good ideas and work together to plan engaging events. For example, if I hear one kindergarten teacher is planning an event, I may encourage the other kindergarten teachers to get involved. And after encouraging teamwork, I find it now happens naturally among teachers.
What is the school’s overall approach to respecting diversity? What are some specific ways the school promotes children and families’ different cultures, languages, and experiences?
Peter: We value children and families’ different cultures and experiences. We focus on culturally responsive instruction. Teachers learn about children and families through surveys they give them at the beginning of the school year. Families can share about their cultures, home languages, and how their children learn best. This helps families feel invested in their children’s education from the start. And this helps teachers learn about children and families’ unique strengths and needs, which shapes how they approach children’s instruction.
We honor families’ cultures by hosting events such as international nights. Children and families bring in traditional dishes to share, and they wear traditional clothing. Everyone eats together, and families talk about their cultures.
Throughout the year, teachers invite families to visit the classroom and share their cultures and experiences.
Katie: One of the challenges we have faced in terms of family engagement has been creating events where all families from different walks of life feel comfortable and welcome. We really try to get to know families to meet their specific needs. One simple way has been to offer events at different times of day to accommodate families’ different schedules.
For those who do not speak English, we provide translators at certain events, such as family nights and parent conferences.
What are some challenges you’ve experienced and how have you addressed them?
Peter: There are real barriers that prevent some families from getting involved. Families have different work schedules, so it’s really important to offer a range of times when they can participate. Many families also need transportation and child care, so arranging to have these covered during events is crucial.
Just putting out a flyer inviting families to come isn’t enough; we never met attendance goals with this method. We realized how important it is to personally reach out to families. Making connections and building relationships is how you get families in the door.
Communicating with a population that speaks so many languages can be challenging. Fortunately our parent–community coordinator provides Spanish interpretation and translation as needed. We also provide both English and Spanish translations of all written communication sent home to families.
I can think of many successes, but I get particularly excited when I think about the field trips the fourth and fifth grade students have taken to nearby universities. For the past three years, we’ve organized these trips so that children can visit college classrooms and the dorms, and speak to staff about college life. We see how excited they get, and it feels good to plant the seed that higher education is a long-term goal for them. Many children will be the first in their family to attend college.
Katie: It has sometimes been challenging to meet the different needs of families—given the wide range of their life experiences.
However, we recently started a summer reading program to help struggling readers. Although not a large number of children and families are invited to the program, there is a high rate of involvement, even from those families who don’t come to other school events. For this reason I consider the program a big achievement. One contributing factor to its success is that families receive a personalized invitation. And despite their differences, all families want to see their children succeed.
Do you have any recommendations and words of wisdom for other schools working to strengthen partnerships with families?
Peter: The first step is to be a learner. Really listen to what families are telling you. This is how you will understand families’ real needs. Once you hear about these needs, it’s important to do your best to follow through and meet them.
Also, focus on relationships. Capitalize on opportunities to build relationships. Celebrate parents. Highlight the great things their children are doing. Families love to hear positive feedback about their children, and this will increase their desire to become involved.
Katie: It’s really important to celebrate the various ways families are involved—both big and small. We need to stop focusing on parents’ deficits, on how families don’t participate or get involved when we ask them to.
Peter O. Moran, MEd, is the principal of Glenallan Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland. Peter focuses on teaming with teachers, parents, and students to develop a community school that strengthens relationships by learning about children’s cultures, interests, and backgrounds; increasing educational opportunities in science and engineering; and linking character development with academic excellence.
Katie Charner-Laird, MEd, is the principal of the Cambridgeport School (preschool–grade 5) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Katie works extensively in partnership with families, as the school was founded by parents and they are integral to its success. Cambridge- port was recently identified as the number two Dream School by the Boston Globe.
Amy Shillady was the previous editor of NAEYC’s peer reviewed journal, Young Children.
Adapted from September 2014 issue of Young Children, pg. 46 – 49.
|Isauro Michael Escamilla, M.A., an Early Childhood Education Teacher Researcher from the San Francisco Unified School District, spoke at the closing session of NAEYC’s Institute for Professional Development in San Francisco last year. We are pleased to be able to share a particularly moving excerpt below.|
I Dream of the Day
by Isauro Michael Escamilla, M.A.
I dream of the day when all the schools are designed keeping in mind that these spaces are for active, inventive, creative children, full of life.
I dream of the day when all the schools include a school yard garden and when all the children are served fresh, organic, healthy foods, three times a day.
I dream of the day when parents are given enough time to bond with their newborn children without the fear of losing their jobs or a paycheck.
I dream of the day when all teachers and home care providers get the training they need, the financial compensation they should have and the respect they deserve.
I dream of the day when bilingual children are given credit for preserving their home language and culture, instead of being placed in special education classes under the assumption that they suffer from a language delay.
I dream of the day when young children are given the opportunity to express their knowledge and understanding not only through the spoken language, but also through the language of painting, drawing, music, movement, poetry, sculpture, photography and many other languages.
I dream of the day when education in the early years is a memorable, enjoyable, exciting experience for children and their families.
I dream of the day when schools are the place where children, families, and educators see themselves as both teachers and learners with the power to both acquire and generate new knowledge.
I dream of the day when schools for young children are considered cocoons, where creativity finds its wings, and where no child is bullied for being different.
I know that if we work together, today is the day when we can start making some of these dreams come true.
What are your dreams?
We hope you'll share your dreams by posting a comment below.
This post is from authors Amy Laura Dombro, Judy Jablon, and Charlotte Stetson.
We’ve been very excited about readers’ responses to our book, Powerful Interactions: How to Connect with Children to Extend Their Learning, published in 2011. Shortly after the book came out, we received emails through our website from early childhood program directors, teachers, and others wanting to use Powerful Interactions in book groups. They asked us to post study group questions on our website. We organized the questions around the three steps of Powerful Interactions: Be Present, Connect, and Extend Learning. Members of study groups have told us that they read sections of the book at each group meeting and then use the questions to guide discussion and sharing.
A Strengths-Based Approach
In our book we talk about the value of “instant replay.” Although this process is not actually “instant,” the purpose of this term is to convey that using photos and video lets you focus on your actions and words to reflect on your interactions in greater detail. We encourage study groups to come prepared to try this practice during their meetings. It is so much easier to notice the little details of what you say and do when you can actually look at them carefully with colleagues.
We emphasize using a strengths-based approach when talking about photos and videos. Focusing on strengths allows teachers to become more consciously competent about what they do well. In addition, when group members work together, they notice strategies that others do well that they haven’t ever tried before. Sometimes people ask: “What about talking about what you didn’t do well?” The fact is that we perform many actions without knowing that we’re doing them. Focusing on strengths is more motivating than looking at deficits. Moreover, it models what we believe about working with children. Focus on strengths and build upon them! Here’s how “I notice” statements work:
• “I notice that the teacher is smiling. Her warm and friendly expression helps the child feel safe and secure.”
• “I notice that the teacher is at the same eye level as the child. This promotes respect.”
• “I notice that the teacher and the child are both laughing. Shared or ‘mirrored’ affect or emotion strengthens the relationship between them.”
Mirror Talk and Using Rich Vocabulary Instead of Quizzing
We’ve also encouraged study groups to practice two Extend Learning strategies—Mirror Talk and Use Rich Vocabulary—by talking about photographs in the book Powerful Interactions or about photographs they have taken in their own classrooms.
Study group members look at photos that depict children and teachers together in the classroom and discuss how the teachers in the photos could use mirror talk (commenting on what the child is doing) in a way that incorporates rich vocabulary.
Example 1: Study group members look at a photo of a teacher sitting beside a child who is painting. They discuss Mirror Talk a teacher in a similar situation could try such as: “I see you are using your paintbrush to make long, wavy strokes.” (The first part of the sentence is the mirror talk. ‘The words, “Long wavy strokes” are the rich vocabulary).
Example 2: Study group members look at another photo in which a teacher sits beside a child building with magnetic tiles. They discuss Mirror Talk a teacher in a similar situation could try such as: "You have put together four triangles of different colors to create a square.” (Here “You have put together” is the mirror talk, and the word “create” “triangles” and “square” are the rich vocabulary.)
Many teachers say that they are quick to jump to quiz questions (questions that have one short answer, such as “What color is this?” or “How many bears do you have?”) when talking with children instead of using Mirror Talk. Some say that “Mirror Talk” is a hard habit to form. Others joke that asking quiz questions is a hard habit to break!
Reflecting on Videos
One study group decided to use videos as a major part of their work. During an initial session together, they watched video clips of children playing alone. They discussed what they might have to think, say, and do to be present and connect with each of these children if they were to join them.
- If they paused to observe for a moment before joining the child, what might they be thinking and feeling based on what they saw the child doing?
- What were some different ways they might join a child and connect?
o Smiling and saying hi
o Greeting the child by name
After a few sessions, they began experimenting with being videotaped and videotaping each other. Using a strengths-based approach, they analyzed the videos, looking for the three steps of Powerful Interactions. They also considered other strategies that could have been used. At the close of the study group, each member wrote a personal commitment statement about the strategy they would work on during the next month.
Study Groups in Action
The Professional Development Institute at City University of New York (CUNY) organized a four-session study group series for directors and providers from sites around New York City. We created a guide for them to use that includes four key ideas from the book. Each section of the guide has discussion questions, a small group activity for reflection, and then a suggestion to bring back to their setting for practice.
The staff at The Children’s Museum in Indianapolis read the book together as the basis of discussion about how to facilitate responsive and extraordinary interactions among the families who visit.
Another colleague, Marilyn Brink at NatureStart Program in Chicago (a program of the Chicago Zoological Society) has incorporated Powerful Interactions in her organization’s work. She recently shared with us that she will be teaching a week-long course at the zoo and using Powerful Interactions as the “perfect resource for supporting their ‘Talking With Young Children’ component.”
The leader of one Connecticut study group asked another teacher in the group why Powerful Interactions are important to her. She replied, “Powerful Interactions are a catalyst for creating a great learning environment.”
We’d love to hear from you about how you’ve used the book. Have you formed a study group to discuss Powerful Interactions? How did it go? How are Powerful Interactions important for you?