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Mega Conference reaches 30 years

Thirty years ago, Bemidji State University professor Dan Gartrell saw 27 people gather for BSU's first Early Childhood Mega Conference.

On campus Thursday, looking out at the faces of 325 early childhood professionals who work throughout Minnesota, he delivered the opening keynote presentation for the 30th annual conference.

"It's special," said Gartrell, a professional education professor who is also the 35-year director of BSU's Child Development Training Program. "This is really the first (keynote presentation) I've done in years here."

The two-day Mega Conference, which continues through today, offers a variety of educational workshops on topics ranging from guidance to mental health to supervision.

The conference is sponsored by BSU's Child Development Training Program and the Northern Minnesota Head Start Advisory Council.

Gartrell said the conference provides an enriching and meaningful professional development experience for early childhood teachers.

"You are important teachers and you make a difference," he told the participants Thursday.

In his keynote presentation, "Believing In Kids," he spoke of the "miracle of childhood." He said 20-25 percent of brain development happens in the first five years of life. He added that children go from no spoken vocabulary at birth to having a spoken vocabulary of 3,000 to 5,000 words by the time they enter kindergarten.

Gartrell said every child is unique. He noted that respecting and appreciating children's unique interests will help them develop in many ways.

In his talk, he offered several techniques, including the compliment sandwich, contact talk and acknowledgement and encouragement.

A compliment sandwich is one way teachers could respond when seeing a behavior a child needs to work on, he said. In this technique, he explained that teachers first acknowledge the child's progress or effort, then talks with the child about the behavior and what the child can do differently next time, and finally conveys their belief that the child can do what they asked of the child.

In contact talk, Gartrell said teachers acknowledge what children want to talk about and encourage them to talk about it. He said this affirms children's sense of worth and helps them build their language arts skills.

Meanwhile, he said teachers can acknowledge and encourage children by recognizing details in what they have done and complimenting those details. He said this shows children that their teachers care about what they are doing -- and that they care about them.

Among the conference's many presenters, Robin Bakken, lead preschool teacher at BSU's Child Care Center, will lead two workshops today: "Classroom Case Study: Comprehensive Guidance" and "Classroom Case Study: Creative, Engaging Mini-Themes."

This is Bakken's third year attending the conference. She said the conference is a good opportunity to be refreshed in the newest techniques in early childhood education.

Jackie Defoe, a teacher at Red Lake Head Start, has attended the conference for about 20 years. She said she is looking forward to the different sessions being offered.

"They offer something new every year," she said.