Building Joyful Classrooms

Wow! What a day!

Our first annual conference came together beautifully on Saturday, October 20th at the Cantalician Center, when 150 early childhood educators and 20 dedicated volunteers (also ECE professionals!) shared in the “beautiful mess” of building joyful classrooms.

Joe Cozzo, CEO of Buffalo Hearing & Speech Center, set the tone for the day with his powerful reminder to remain hopeful, to connect, and to be an instrument of inspiration. It was the perfect message to carry with us throughout the day — and always. (If you’re looking for a copy of the PowerPoint, you can find it in the Helpful Handouts tab.)

The entire agenda echoed the focus on attachment and interactions, reminding us that all learning happens within the context of relationships. Whether you were learning more about child development with Mary & Bridget, discussing routines and expectations with Kristin & Kim, or adding teaching strategies to your toolbox with Denise & Gerald, the recurring themes were warm, positive interactions, meaningful relationships, and the benefits of choosing joy.

And that culminating session? It was the frosting on the cake! Every option was a powerful opportunity to assure that you could apply what you had learned:

  • The make & take made it possible for teachers to bring content directly to children (you can’t go wrong with a sock baby!). A million thanks to Silvia Steele for organizing!
  • The Leadership Debrief focused on how managers can support program-wide implementation. Huge thanks to Marilyn Ballard for facilitating on behalf of DAL.
  • Vito and Sarah‘s “de-stress at your desk” yoga session was the perfect self-care component. As they said, a joyful classroom requires a joyful you!

Thank you to everyone who shared this day with us, including the tireless committee members and volunteers, and to our generous sponsors. It’s a truly a pleasure to be “hope builders” with all of you.

  • Looking for event photos? You’ll find them on Facebook.
  • Want to follow up with one of the presenters? Send us a Facebook message and we will connect you.
  • Did you complete our feedback survey yet? It’s only 5 questions and takes 2 minutes, but is super helpful!

Recommended Reading

It’s always a pleasure to share words of inspiration, tips & tricks, and other “tools of the trade” that others have so graciously crafted for us. As Bill Nye said, “everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”


(See also: I sat down to write a blog post and realized that a simple list might be all that my end-of-the-school-year brain can pull together today.)

With that in mind, enjoy this curated list of five recent faves:

  1. It’s more than just a spoon. Jennifer Horner, Director of Education Development for Doodle Bugs! Children’s Learning Academy, shared this beautiful reminder to approach everyday interactions with intention.
  2. Meaningful relationships promote positive behaviors. If you have not yet checked out the “10 Simple Strategies” series curated by the WNY Behavior Collaboration, you don’t know what you’re missing! You can access the full series here.
  3. New ideas are a lot like dessert — better when they are bite-sized! I hope you’ll enjoy this perspective on bite-size advocacy; after all, when you choose early childhood education as a career, your first role is advocate for children
  4. Whether you’re a techie or decidedly tech-free, you’ll love Teacher Tom’s take on the best preschool app. Go ahead, download it today!
  5. …and if you happen to prefer podcasts over articles, we’ve got a recommendation for you, too. You’re going to love the Little Kids, Big Questions series from Zero to Three! Get started with Developing Self-Esteem in the Early Years.

Trauma-Informed Care

Three things happened today to give me a very clear message that it’s time to talk about trauma.

  1. I had the pleasure of hearing Holly Elissa Bruno speak at an early childhood conference today and she mentioned her most recent article, Transforming Trauma into Wisdom.
  2. Earlier the same day, a colleague shared a report on Oprah Winfrey’s recent focus on developmental trauma; she reminded me to approach interactions with a “what happened to this child” mentality versus “what’s wrong with this child?”
  3. The local Child Care Resource Network announced details about a screening of Resilience, the Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope.

Truth, just as trauma,

is everywhere;

so is healing.

Trauma-informed care is arguably an essential training topic for every early childhood educator. The core principles of a trauma-informed approach include safety, trust, and collaboration; not surprisingly, those same principles drive early childhood best practices overall. We are in the business of nurturing little hearts and minds, so we have an obligation to nurture them with love and kindness.

Not sure where to start? Knowledge is power – and knowledge guides practice.

Access the PDF here:

Click to access Broken-into-Wholeness.pdf

Access the report here:

Learn more about a film screening and panel discussion here:

Choose Joy

“Choose joy.”

We spent lots of time at today’s Behavior Collaboration meeting discussing behavior management strategies, sharing ideas about “what works” — we’re planning a full day conference for October 2018 and it’s going to be pure awesome, BTW! — and every layer of conversation, every tip and trick, and every success story had one thing in common:

“Choose joy.”

  • Choosing joy means celebrating the messy play and noisy voices and running feet, assuming positive intent and providing positive guidance.
  • Choosing joy means embracing the tearful separations and the not-sharing and the not-so-nice hands, understanding that young children need time to practice these social skills.
  • Choosing joy means prioritizing play and having fun.
  • Choosing joy means remembering that nurturing hearts is just as important as shaping minds.

Give yourself permission to choose joy, even in the most challenging moments. The children in your care deserve it — and so do you.

Butterfly Wishes

There's a small path in Burchfield Park, where children write wishes on paper butterflies and hang them from the trees.
As you might expect, there are wishes for candy, for toys, and for other treats. Scattered among those, you'll find quite few wishes that are less practical, but more magical — wishes for unicorns, or for wings, or my personal favorite, "for 1000 dogs." You're guaranteed to smile, likely with appreciation for the simple pleasures of childhood.

Your heart will break a little though, if you look a little closer. Tangled within the leaves, there are a few wishes that will take your breath away — "that my mom, my dad and me could live a great life all together" or "for my dad not to do drugs."

I walked away with tears in my eyes and intended to share these pictures on my personal Facebook page, simply as a reminder to be kind because you never know someone else's struggle. When I thought more about it, I wanted to share it here, too, because the professional implications can't be overlooked.

The children in our early childhood classrooms may not necessarily be able write these wishes, or even to articulate them — but they may be living them nonetheless. Their hearts may be heavy, their minds might be anxious, and their futures may be uncertain.

I sincerely hope that your students' wishes are filled with unicorns and candy. I also hope you'll remember the wishes that might be unspoken — to feel safe, to feel welcome, and to know that you are loved. Not-so-surprisingly, those wishes often look like "challenging behaviors."

You may not be able to change the realities of a child's home life, but you DO have the capacity to wrap them in empathy and kindness, in every moment that you spend together.

"Behavior management" can (and should) look a lot like love.

ICYMI: 5 Tools for Managing Challenging Behaviors

All Caught Up

We know you’re busy (and that time flies — can you believe it’s officially, finally, Spring??) so we gathered up five recent favorites for you. Enjoy!

  1. Professional Development – upcoming events in WNY
  2. “Tell me what to do instead” – practical tips for using positive language
  3. Meaningful Relationships – 10 Simple Ways to Decrease Challenging Behaviors
  4. Biting Hurts – strategies and suggestions you can use today
  5. Don’t Stop Believing!

PS – don’t forget to find us on Facebook, too!

10 Simple Ways to Decrease Challenging Behaviors 

Much to teachers’ collective dismay, there’s no magic wand for behavior management (although if there was, it would likely look remarkably similar to the Elder Wand featured in Harry Potter, don’t you think?).

Fortunately, experts do agree that the most effective way to decrease challenging behaviors is to increase social competetence — which begins with developing (and maintaining) positive relationships with children.

At the most recent meetings of the WNY Behavior Collaboration, early childhood professionals worked together to create a simple tool that teachers can use to reflect on best practices and make small (but meaningful!) immediate changes to their classrooms.

To learn more about the 10 simple things you can do to decrease challenging behaviors, click here:

Develop Meaningful Relationships with Children in Your Classroom

More easy-to-use tools are in the works and will be posted here as they are finalized. Until then, maybe we’ll keep working on that wand idea, too 🙂

New Year, New Opportunities

Happy New Year! Goal setting, resolutions, and promises to “do better” seem to go hand-in -hand with the beginning of a new year.

If you’re looking to add new tools to your behavior management skill set in 2017, be sure to check out our local Events page.  An opportunity to connect with like-minded professionals might be exactly what you need to ignite (or refresh!) your passion, your patience, and your limitless potential!



Don’t Stop Believin’

More than just a cheesy (albeit catchy!) 80’s song, “don’t stop believing” should be every teacher’s mantra.

  • Believe that children have unlimited potential.
  • Believe that challenging behavior is an unmet need,  not an act of defiance.
  • Believe that meaningful change takes time and consistent effort.
  • Believe that every interaction is a choice to either make a moment, or break a spirit.
  • Believe in yourself — and in every child who’s relying on you to be his role model.

New Tools to Help You Address (and Prevent!) Challenging Behaviors

Video Conferences, Local Events, and Facebook Fun – oh my!