By: Dara Madigan
As a Counseling Specialist for the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® IOWA scholarship program, I work collaboratively with the higher education system in our state as well as our statewide early childhood professional development system.
When my supervisor suggested I apply for a Building a Lasting Legacy Scholarship to attend the National Institute for Early Childhood Professional Development, I wondered if I would be a good candidate. I had previously attended the NAEYC Annual Conference once several years ago, and assumed that the Institute would be a similar event. But as I researched a little more about it, I came to realize that Institute was a good fit for me and aligned greatly with the work that I do.
As I poured over the Institute sessions online, reading every session description, I was pleased to see the variety of sessions offered and how closely they mirrored the work I had been doing on our statewide committees. It turned out that the Institute is a place to learn about examples of specific statewide work as well as a wonderful resource to learn about national best practices.
States Learning From Each Other
Some of the state-specific sessions I attended highlighted examples from and information about California’s Competencies Integration Project, Wisconsin’s credential programs offered through The Registry, and Wisconsin’s credit for prior learning options. Much of this information was very timely for me, especially as I had been working with our Early Learning Professional Development Team here in Iowa to develop resources related to our newly developed competencies and explored options for credentialing.
Best Practices at the National Level
I also attended sessions highlighting best practices at the national level. On the first day of the institute I attended a session called “Why the Field of Early Childhood Education Must Transform Professional Development,” which was presented by some very influential leaders in our field like Sue Bredekamp and Valora Washington. All of us in attendance were certainly revved up for the rest of the Institute. As a graduate student at the time I also got a little giddy about attending several sessions with big name researchers such as Marcy Whitebook, Ellen Peisner-Feinberg, and Virginia Buysse, who have been a part of some major early childhood studies. All in all this emphasized for me the high-level of knowledge being shared at this Institute. In fact I imagine that some of the new ideas shared at Institute will very well turn out to be the research and themes the early childhood field focuses on well into the future. Having received the Diane Trister Dodge Scholarship Award to attend the Institute (all expenses paid) I was ecstatic for the opportunity to attend this wonderful professional event.
Some Thoughts on Logistics
I found it was important to pace myself and take breaks throughout this multi-day event. My advice for first-time attendees would be to plan ahead and do your research on the sessions you plan to attend. Some sessions may turn out to be something different than you expected, but a quick online search ahead of time about the presenters or the topic can often provide some insight and details. It’s also important to have a back-up session or two in case of overcrowding. Taking lots of notes was very important to me as well, because after a day or two my brain was on overload from all the new information. Being able to go back and review my notes after the Institute and look at some other related resources and websites was very helpful. I’d also recommend asking presenters for their contact information if they don’t share it during the presentation. This is helpful in getting more resources and information later on.
Institute is a Unique Conference
Overall, I am very thankful for this opportunity and the Institute was a great experience that helped reaffirm for me that I am in the right line of work. I am glad that I took full advantage of the Institute and attended sessions that were meaningful to my everyday work. For me, the best part of the experience was learning about what is going on nationally and making connections with those from other states in similar positions. I also appreciated the opportunity I was given to spend some one-on-one time with Diane Trister Dodge, and enjoyed that she was able to have a lunch out with myself and some of my colleagues from Iowa.
I highly recommend that those who serve the early childhood workforce in some type of professional development role attend this event if they have not in the past. It is a very different experience than the Annual Conference.
Dara Madigan is a Counseling Specialist for the T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood® IOWA and Child Care WAGE$® IOWA programs at Iowa AEYC. She was the 2013 recipient of the Diane Trister Dodge Scholarship Award.