As an early childhood education professor, Pam Ertel knows how to make work feel like play and puts on the College of Education’s annual professional development Play Symposium event to help other educators do just that.
“The idea is to promote play as a vehicle for learning, and so this year’s focus was really on how we use play to promote the social and emotional well-being of children,” Ertel said. “We do this to support early childhood educators in the area as well as our early childhood and elementary education students.”
Ertel and Connie Casha, director of early childhood programs who co-organizes the event, welcomed both MTSU students and the larger education community to campus recently to participate in the full day of breakout lecture sessions, collaboration with colleagues, food and drink and keynote presentation from Zac Brown Band guitarist and early education advocate Coy Bowles.
“We love having not only our MTSU students but also practicing or aspiring teachers as well as administrators come to campus and be part of learning with us,” Ertel said. “It’s such a joy to be able to host these types of events where we can all learn together.”
Bowles took center stage in the afternoon of the Oct. 1 event, after a morning spent meeting and taking photos with attendees, to inspire the audience of educators to remember their education origin story and reconnect with their calling to teach.
“My idea is to (also) … remind them of how important they are to kids, families and our society and that their story is unique and beautiful, and they should share that with other teachers and other people in their lives,” Bowles said.
Bowles shared his own origin story about a teacher inspiring him to pursue his dreams and how fatherhood and success as a musician solidified his passion for early childhood education and giving back to the community.
Originally from Thomaston, Georgia, Bowles has done extensive outreach with his home state’s department of education — promoting reading with his series of children’s books, visiting multiple classrooms and more — and wants to continue it in other states such as Tennessee.
“It’s important to come to events like this specifically because I’m trying to form relationships with people like Connie (Casha) and her programs,” he said. “I really think in order to form those connections and have those relationships for furthering education, specifically early childhood education, that you have to show up and be available and share your energy and be a part of things.
“That’s why I’m here on a Saturday, and I’m happy to be here, too. I really love the connection; I really love the idea of making a positive impact on early education. It’s our future.”
Bowles capped off his speech with a reading of his book “Behind the Little Red Door: Can You Touch a Color?” and performing his children’s song “Coming Home” while attendees danced along in a conga line led by Ertel.
Shauntia Cook, school counselor at Murfreesboro’s Oakland Middle School and job-embedded student concurrently completing her master’s in the school counseling program, attended to support her education professor and program coordinator Tiffany Wilson and to deepen her knowledge on student social and emotional well-being.
“I’m building on (an understanding of) the importance of connections and also how trauma can be a deterrent for that,” Cook said. “Something I’m taking away from this experience is (to) always prioritize my students and let them know that they always matter … doing that I can continue to sharpen my iron and be the focus for them that they need when I’m there around them.”
Cook, who does not work in early childhood education, still recommended the training to all education stakeholders and said anyone working directly with students would benefit from it.
— Stephanie Wagner (Stephanie.Wagner@mtsu.edu)