The annual conference of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) was held in Washington, D.C. this year, with over 9,000 early learning professionals present. Senior Associate Julie Ryan and Marketing Coordinator Tiffany Young Yannelli were in attendance. Julie and Tiffany spoke with many motivated educators, leaders, and students who expressed interest in pursuing a career teaching overseas. Over the course of the few days, there were hundreds of diverse sessions that focused on a variety of topics that affect early childhood education worldwide. The week was full of activities and opportunities that helped engage networking, learning, and cross-collaboration. Of special note were the keynote and presentations surrounding the legendary Fred Rogers.
The keynote presentation was led by Bill Isler, prior president of the Fred Rogers company. “Won’t You Please… Would You Be My Neighbor?” was themed around legacy and children’s television star Fred Rogers. A featured panel included his widow and clips from the current film, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Yo Yo Ma first suggested making the film with his son Nicholas as the film maker. The neighborhood was all about relationships, so it was important for the film to reflect this. For many kids, it was one of the first coherent works of art they got to see.
High quality early childhood education includes a focus on diversity and inclusion. Of the 900 episodes of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” one featured a physically disabled boy in an electric wheelchair. Fred always talked about everyone having both abilities and disabilities. He always thought that children had so much to teach adults.
The work of child development is about human development. Mr. Rogers was the show where children learned how to be with people and talk to them. The show also dealt with current events in a way that children could understand and know they were safe. He wanted to give children the space and time to play out their feelings. Fred’s advice was to think about “turn it off” – as much as adults are glued to the TV during and after a tragedy, we have to learn to turn it off.
What can managers learn from Fred? He had a really good gut instinct. Today, leaders at schools and early childhood centers see themselves as coaches. He never took people on in public. If he disagreed, it was private. He never used “I” when he could use “we.” When someone complimented him, stating “I love your program,” he would reply, “I’m glad you like our work.”
Mr. Rogers is still teaching life lessons today centered around learning, giving, and inclusion. We can all continue to learn and improve our own lives and the future for our children, through his legacy.