Northwest Indian College Early Childhood Education Initiatives are for
and by the Lummi community’s children and families

2017 FOCUS on Children Conference: Nurturing Connections through Our Senses

Staff members at the NWIC Early Learning Center recently attended the 33rd annual FOCUS on Children Conference at Bellingham Technical College, sponsored by The Northwest Washington Association for the Education of Young Children (NW AEYC), Bellingham Technical College, The Opportunity Council and Whatcom Educational Credit Union. The theme of this year’s conference was Nurturing Connections Through Our Senses, and a the day-long conference provided numerous workshop sessions related to this concept as well as practical tools for classroom management and leadership.

The Keynote speaker, Ray Soriano, spoke of his work supporting resiliency in young children who face adverse circumstances, and offered insights into his approach to supporting the protective factors in individual children’s lives. The speaker noted five specific ways early childhood educators can reflect on and enhance their support of children in their care; supporting physical and emotional safety, awareness of our own triggers, identifying and supporting the unique strengths of each family, helping boys connect, and sharing our own interests with children. He noted that the goal of early childhood educators should be to engage with children in a way that helps them thrive, and supports their lifelong resiliency to face and overcome adverse experiences. Preschool Teacher Anna Somerville noted that her role is, “to create an environment (both physical and emotional) that fosters children who can flourish despite adversity”. This focus on fostering whole-child health and wellness is a cornerstone of the work we do at the NWIC Early Learning Center, in the Associate of Applied Science-Transfer degree program, and throughout the Restorative Teachings Early Childhood Education Initiative.

The ELC staff also attended several workshop sessions throughout the day, and came away with many useful tools they plan to incorporate into their professional “toolbox”. Teachers attended morning workshops on using screening and assessment tools to support young children’s development, and addressing challenging behavior in the classroom through positive guidance and curriculum. The ELC Director attended the morning session led by Restorative Teachings Principal Investigator Nahrin Aziz-Parsons. This session, attended by staff from various local child care programs as well as early childhood professionals from local tribal organizations, provided an overview of the NWIC Restorative Teachings project to date, and the importance of involving families and tribal communities in order to create place-based learning opportunities for Native children.

Afternoon workshops included sessions on understanding and building attachment with young children, and preventing expulsion from early childhood programs through planning and positive guidance. Additionally, Management staff attended sessions on Leadership and the CLASS reflective supervision framework, as well as creating and sustaining a positive workplace through reflection and collaboration. Infant Teacher Christine Edwards noted that she, “walked away with more understanding” after attending the workshop on building attachment. Additionally, several staff commented that the workshops helped them expand on the knowledge they bring to the classroom in a way that will enhance their teaching and relationships with children and families. All staff who attended received six hours of certified STARS training, a total of 10 annual STARS training hours are required by the Washington State Department of Early Learning for all teaching staff. The staff of the NWIC ELC would like to thank the American Indian College Fund and the Restorative Teachings grant for the opportunity to expand our understanding of the important role we play in the lives of the children we serve, and the ways we can continue to build our skills through reflection and collaboration.

-Alicia Allard, ELC Director