A couple months ago I posted Joining Hands as Professionals about a new adventure in my learning journey
On September 19th five amazing people, Kimberley, Jerome, Annette, Amy, and Sally adventured here as "Team Maine" from England and I got to watch months of planning become real. My experience at the Play Iceland 2014 conference played a huge role in how I chose to plan and organize this next step of the journey. I knew the importance of visiting different settings, but also ensuring there was time to reflect and compare notes with others at the end of each day.
|When we work together, we can climb mountains.|
The knowledge and experiences I gained from this would make a list far too long to share. I think overall the highlights of the experience were meeting, sharing, and collaborating with new early childhood practitioners from both near and far! I was able to reach out to and visit new settings and have visitors in my setting who had different perspectives. Forming a unique bond with a small group of individuals who can now extend the knowledge we gained back into other early years opportunities. I strongly believe we all grew as professionals and advocates for childhood, but also as individuals.
The group that was formed was an international one, but this type of professional development could be easily planned with a local group of providers.
My planning process and suggestions:
I reached out to programs in a more populated area of my state. They were far enough away from my setting that there was not as much worry about being the competition. I think some of the appeal was having visitors from England visit their school, but there is no reason you can't form a small group of practitioners (or even just yourself) to visit other early childhood programs. It was easier for me to connect with these programs, because I was organizing for an outside group, but realized what a valuable experience this would be for anybody to do. These are beautiful programs right here at home, that I would never have experienced on my own and I had to ask myself "Why?"
I met several of the people in person ahead of time. It seems to be a growing trend that daycare providers and directors form small groups to meet with once a month to network and share ideas. I was able to sit in on one of these meetings in the area we would be visiting. I became familiar with many of the providers that we would be visiting.
I set up specific dates and times with the programs during a three day period. And made sure that I was clear what type of involvement they wanted us to have while we were visiting. Some of the programs allowed us to be involved with the children's activities, while others preferred we sit quietly and take notes. Some allowed photos with children and others asked us to take photos without. We visited in pairs, so that we wouldn't overwhelm the staff or children, but would still be able to reflect with somebody after the visit.
The team made time at the end of each day to discuss how our visits went and what we were going to take back to our own classrooms. It was so helpful to have a the small group of people to reflect with about the visits. I am happy that we mostly visited settings in pairs, so that we came to the "table" with more than one perspective on each setting.
One of the directors (The Children's Center) was so enthusiastic about our visits that she and I planned an evening mixer where we could meet with her staff and have a chance to talk. "Team Maine" shared a video presentation of their settings at Child First Day Nurseries. It was a magical evening filled with inspiration and like-minded individuals who all shared the same passion for working with children.
Another important part of the experience was having visitors observe and spend time with me at my preschool. They were able to share ideas, suggestions and feedback on our philosophies and daily routines. The relationships that were formed during our week together made it so easy to have them come into my classroom. I was so worried about the way the children would respond to so many new adult faces. Everybody was so comfortable with being there together. The children still ask about them and we have a picture hanging in our classroom. The impact that they left on us teachers and the children will never be forgotten.
The Grand Finale: Joining Hands
At the end of the week, I hosted a free event at my preschool and invited about 15 other practitioners to attend. The attendees were Team Maine, teachers from the some of the settings we had spent time in and also colleagues of mine from another state who were able to share photos and information about their settings.
I had a tie-dyeing activity available in the middle of the day to give people a chance to be creative and to continue their discussions during a break. Everybody brought food to contribute for lunch.
We had three different speakers and time in between to talk and share. I asked that people bring any paperwork they were willing to share including: handbooks, assessments, planning sheets, etc. We had time scheduled in for small group discussions and brainstorming, but unfortunately ran out of time. I think in the future two speakers would be sufficient at this type of workshop.
There is just something about a room full of people talking about their love for children that will stick in your heart for a long time. Everybody just seemed so relaxed and happy to be there together sharing conversations about why we do what we do!
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead
A special THANK YOU! to all the people who were involved in this amazing experience, including Tom Shea, Team Maine, all the settings that welcomed visitors into your programs, our wonderful speakers, and all of the teachers and providers who joined us in the evening and on a Saturday to share your passion!
Stay tuned for more information on Play Iceland 2016 (now Play International)! Iceland, UK, Australia and USA.