ICOE Early Learning Conference Focuses on Self-Care
By Marcie Landeros
Internationally recognized early-learning expert, Lety Valero, discussed the idea of “Conscious Discipline” and that a calm classroom starts with a calm teacher during her keynote address at the fourth annual Imperial County Office of Education Early Learning Conference.
Conscious Discipline is a comprehensive classroom management program and a social-emotional curriculum based on current brain development information and child development information, which helps teachers understand how to teach developing brains to cope with challenges and conflict within their lives.
Rather than focusing on how to force children to behave through threats of punishment, Valero explained during her keynote address on Saturday, May 21, that Conscious Discipline is specifically designed to make changes in the lives of adults first, which could be preventing them from connecting to their students.
Once a teacher can connect with the student, rather than getting angry and punishing the student for bad behavior, the teacher can talk the student through coping with their emotions and help them understand why the behavior was not acceptable.
“If we come from a place of calm, we can connect with our students, and help guide them to be able to be emotionally resilient and give them the tools they need to succeed in life,” Valero said.
Early-learning education begins from the time that students enter pre-school and lasts until around first grade, and focuses largely on helping students develop basic life skills ranging from color recognition to learning how to regulate emotions.
Given the wide range of expectations an early-learning teacher is expected to meet, regular training and skill development is essential for success of both teacher and students, but sadly with the exception of this conference, teachers are forced to leave the county to receive that training.
It was the lack of local access that led to the creation of the conference, said Michael Castillo, senior director for ICOE’s Early Care and Education Program, during an interview at the conference.
“We really wanted to create more accessibility for trainings in the Valley … Our teachers were forced to go to the bigger cities to get training, so we decided to start doing a conference locally since it was so expensive to go,” Castillo said.
The Early Learning Conference was an all-day affair, featuring eight different sessions for teachers to choose from, in both Spanish and English, with subject matter ranging from talking about the importance of STEM education in early learning to the importance of self-care during stressful moments.
The conference seemed well received by the dozens of early-learning teachers, administrators, and parents who attended the conference, as they actively took notes and sang along with Valero during her address.
“Even though I already knew a lot of the information, the conference helped it click in my head better and will help me do my job better,” Elisa Vera, an ICOE Brawley preschool site supervisor, said after the conference was over.
Two of the sessions particularly stuck with the theme of addressing teacher perceptions and behavior as a means of creating a much calmer and more manageable classroom: Angela Russ-Ayon of ABridgeClub.com’s session, “How to Ask Open-Ended Questions to Support Thinking, Learning, and Developing” and ICOE Early Learning Specialists Marcela Morlett and Raquel Keleman’s session on “Self-Care During Stressful Times.”
Russ-Ayon’s session focused primarily on the way teachers ask students questions, and how to explore students’ answers to those questions, even if the student is incorrect in their response. Her technique has teachers explore the reasons for the incorrect answers, to correct the misconception and to help students to learn to articulate their thoughts.
In between leading multiple sessions throughout the day on open-ended questions, Russ-Ayon also served as a vendor who sold children’s books for ABridgeClub.com during the day’s lunch break.
“This has been a really great conference … It is so nice to see so many coming together to participate in this after the pandemic,” Russ-Ayon said.
The secondary session from ICOE’s Morlett and Keleman focused largely on the idea that taking care of one’s own mental health is imperative to being an early-learning teacher and provided attendees tools to help maintain their own mental health.
These tools included an Adults Resilience Survey from Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health, an Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation sheet, mental health activates, a Things-To-Do list organizer, a Well-Being Log, and Self-Care Reflection Cards, all of which aimed to keep the attendees organized and able to keep a level head no matter the situation.
“I think the biggest thing I learned today, which was talked about in every session, is how important it is to take care of myself, so I can be better ready to take care of my kids,” Maria Gonzalez, an El Centro mother, said at the end of the conference.
By Marcie Landeros