This year's experience at the conference was a different one for me. As my professional role is shifting from direct work with children to supporting teachers, I spent the conference exploring a few traits of my new professionalism. As a result, I went to less of the pedagogy and activity sessions and to more of the ethics and policy sessions. It was an enlightening experience and one that I know I will continue to reflect upon, but for now, here are some initial reflections.
This morning I went to a public policy forum regarding the very early stages of drafting a position statement on the role of play in early childhood. I went because I am interested in research and quite passionate about play and am quite surprised that NAEYC hasn't issued an official statement regarding play. Of course, play is mentioned in statements regarding development and developmentally appropriate practice, but there is not a position statement dedicated to play. As a leading organization for early childhood education, this should not be the case. The forum was eye opening. For one, I was the only participant under the age of 45. This was a bit discouraging as the younger generation of early childhood professionals needs to step up and create change, not be absent from policy discussions. Secondly, I observed that even in a room of professionals passionate about play, participants were unable to agree on a common language regarding what constitutes play and the role it plays on a child's development and cognition. Finally, from what I heard, the majority of the participants were reluctant to collaborate with kindergarten through third grade professionals and spoke of a divide between the birth to age five children and the kindergarten to third grade age children. This is not okay for many reasons, the pure fact that early childhood education is defined by birth through age eight for one, but mostly we must see a collaboration among the infant-toddler programs, the preschool programs, and the elementary programs if we are going to see sustainable change. As I mentioned, the organization is in the very early stages of developing a draft position statement. I am curious to see how the process develops and will continue to provide reflection and hopefully we will have the opportunity to share our thoughts and provide guidance and influence towards the creation of the draft.
During the second part of my morning, I was invited to attend a focus group regarding NAEYC publications. Much of the session was spent sharing what we liked and didn't like about the book offerings for members and brainstorming in regards to topics for further publications. What I found most interesting was the response of the focus group when I spoke of my desire to be able to purchase e-books directly from the NAEYC store or even from offsite sellers because currently books published by NAEYC are not often available to be downloaded. I expressed my thoughts on the convenience and commonality of e-books and how I personally didn't buy as many NAEYC books as other published professional books because I prefer to buy e-books. The good majority of the focus group disagreed and said that they didn't think there was a need for e-books in our field. To me, this is a huge indicator in the work we still have to do in educating our fellow professionals on the use of technology-or at least helping them to overcome the fear of technology.
After lunch, I went into the exhibit hall to browse the current research trends published in book and journal format and to snag some markers at the art supply booth, my one indulgence in the free sample arena. As I walked around I began to observe the interplay between the vendors and the participants. As always, I was disappointed to see such an overwhelming amount of commercial vendors-those companies selling borders, pre-printed bulletin boards, workbooks and canned curriculum, and oh so much cute (you know how I feel about that four letter word in the education word) craft projects, plastic toys, and character themed books. What's worse is that a majority of the participants were swooning over these vendors and walked out of the exhibit hall boggled down with bags of this junk. In general, these are the participants who are classroom teachers, many of whom are still working towards their degrees and certifications. These are the teachers who depend the most on the guidance of their professional organization in terms of developmentally appropriate practice and classroom environments which is why I suspect they walk out with so much junk from the exhibit hall. These teachers that need the most support are the ones most preyed upon by the vendors. In my opinion, this is a huge lack of responsibility on NAEYC's part. This is an organization who's mission is to guide the developmentally appropriate practice of educators. By inviting these vendors to the national conference they are endorsing them. And this endorsement is not appropriate. If NAEYC wants to endorse vendors, they need to take the responsibility to critically examine whether or not the vendors' products meet the guidelines of appropriate practice. They need to remember that their members look to them for guidance.
The biggest idea I took from today's interactions is the consideration of what are the roles and responsibilities of an educational organization. This is a consideration that I think we all need to examine and reflect on. And then we need to act. We need to engage and get involved and ensure that the organizations we let represent us are representing us in ways we believe in.