And now you. As a professional, what personal responsibilities do you take on? What is your role in the profession and what does the future hold for you?
Too long we've thought of early childhood educators as "just preschool teachers." Now is the time to recognize the important role we play in the lives of children and the impact our work has on society. In this unit, we'll look ahead.
As you get ready to launch your career in early childhood, we old-timers welcome you as a colleague and look forward to seeing the great things you'll do.
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What "Ethical Practice" Means
A “profession” by the dictionary’s definition is an occupation requiring considerable training and specialized study. A "professional" is a skilled practitioner who conforms to the standards of her profession. “Professionalism” refers to status, methods, character, or standards that distinguish the professional person from those who might hold the same job but not really be professionals.
If you are lucky, everyone you work with is a professional, who demonstrates professionalism. If you're unlucky or have taken on the task of turning around a troubled center, you may be the only true professional in the place, even though others work there.
Being professional shows your commitment, your seriousness, and your integrity. We all grow in our level of professionalism as we deepen our dedication to our work. I wish this for you: that you become increasingly professional in your ongoing work with children and families.
What Professionalism Looks Like
The professional educator demonstrates some specific actions. Here is a list, in more-or-less order of increasing professionalism.
- Shows up on time, comes fully prepared, is engaged throughout the day, and stays as late as is necessary to finish the day well;
- Is curious about children's development and what works best in guiding their learning;
- Works well with others, sharing information, avoiding gossip and rivalry, and helping out when needed;
- Takes responsibility for his or her own actions, is honest, admits mistakes and is happy to learn;
- Is interested in learning more and shows this interest by reading, talking with experts, and making connections within the field;
- Is concerned about big-picture issues of state and national legislation, standards, assessment, and curriculum.
Most of all, being a professional shows your commitment. You know you will always be "an early childhood person," even if your work life moves on to other areas. Being a professional never ends.
Young children deserve to be surrounded by those who are committed to excellence every day. Children, families, schools and communities thrive when they are supported by inspiring, dedicated professionals.
Your Code of Ethics
Without even knowing it, you have your own personal code of ethics. If you wrote this down it might include things like, "Take care of the family first," or "Stay healthy by eating right and exercising," or "Always be polite." We each of us have guiding principles that shape our everyday interactions. These guiding principles are so much a part of us that we might not even realize they're there.
A code of ethics guides members of the early childhood profession, too. As a member of that profession, you are bound by the ethical code established by your colleagues. Just as others who are members of a team, religious community, or neighborhood, your membership in our profession comes with expectations for ethical practice.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), which is the largest and most influential early childhood organization in the United States, has created an ethical statement that outlines core values that guide our interactions with children, families, our colleagues and the wider community. Take a look at NAEYC's code of ethics from the Unit Ten files on the Library page.
Here is a summary of that code of ethics. It's a statement of commitment to uphold the ethical guidelines set by NAEYC. I hope you agree that this statement is something we can be committed to upholding.
Welcome to the Team
We "old-timers" are delighted to welcome you to the early childhood team! Just like being part of a sports team, the early childhood team requires continual training to stay sharp and keep on top of your game.
As a member of the early childhood profession, you understand the need to
- Have a strong knowledge of child development and to keep up with new knowledge in the field.
- Work effectively with individual children and families, with respect for diversity
- Know how to translate educational goals into developmentally appropriate classroom practice
- How to think critically about new ideas and solve problems effectively.
We other members of your new professional community are here to help you along the way. By working together for the betterment of all children, we can make positive changes.
Your New Professional Community
Being an early childhood professional is hard work! But we're all in this together. Each member of your new professional community has experienced the challenges you feel as you work with children and families. We are there for each other, to cheer each other up, to provide fresh ideas and advice, and to rally round when someone needs help.
How do you connect to all these new friends?
Read the same things your new friends read. They are reading Young Children from NAEYC and books about child-rearing and child development that they find at the local library. Do this too and keep up with what's going on.
Link up to professional organizations on Facebook or Twitter. If you use social media, this is a great, free way to find out what's going on in different organizations, what issues they're worried about, and how new developments in the profession affect you. Find organizations on the web and click their Facebook button to "Like" a page. Once you're following a few organizations, you'll find others as well.
Attend professional conferences in your area. These often have a registration fee, so they're not free. But many of these offer STARS credit you can apply towards your annual professional development requirement (more on that in a bit). Attending conferences gives you a chance to actually talk to other people who are doing the same work you do and who have ideas to share.
Follow what's going on in DEL. The Department of Early Learning in Washington State advocates for the profession at the state and federal level. New initiatives from DEL may provide new opportunities for you.
How to Be a Good Teammate
By building positive relationships with colleagues, you create a caring and supportive environment for children - and for yourself! Each of us has our own individual likes and dislikes, but it's vital that we collaborate with each other in our work. Here are some tips for making that happen:
- Be open to others' ideas. Listen and acknowledge what other say, even if you don't agree.
- Accept feedback graciously. It's hard to avoid being defensive but if you can listen to advice with an open mind, you'll do better.
- Treat others the way you want to be treated.
- Be helpful. Volunteer to do stuff.
- Be generous with your own ideas. Avoid being competitive with your colleagues or undermine their work by keeping your good ideas to yourself. You will do better, because your center will do better, if everyone at your center is at least as good as you.
If you and a coworker disagree, be nice about it. Don't gossip about your coworker. Don't yell or sabotage her work. Stay professional and patient. Remember that development takes time. You cannot change someone overnight. And it might be that you and your coworker just have equally good ways of doing things. Your ideas might not be better, just different.
Be the colleague you want others to be. Set a good example.
This is the beginning. What does the future hold for you?
Where Do You Go From Here?
Imagine where you want to be in five years. The possibilities are endless. Your career could take you to:
- A long-time teaching role, including master teacher status
- A position as Director, Education Director, or similar work
- Ownership of your own center or school
- Professor or Instructor at a community college or university
- Independent trainer and consultant
- Author of a book for parents, for teachers, or for children
- Public speaker and expert
- Founder of a non-profit organization
Many notable people got their start as early childhood teachers, including former First Lady Laura Bush, motivational speaker Barbara Sher, Washington's former governor Christine Gregoire, and, of course, members of The Wiggles entertainment group.
So what's ahead for you? Who do you want to become?
Becoming All You Can Be
This course and all the prior experience with children that you bring to your practice are just the beginning. According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours of learning to become an expert in any field, so don't stop learning now.
In addition to reading, joining professional associations, and attending conferences (which we've already considered), to become more expert you need more learning.
Earn a College Degree. The more schooling you get, the more you know. The more you know, the more tools you'll have to apply to your practice and further your career. So earn your CDA, an Associate's degree, or a Bachelor's. Imagine continuing on, to earn a Master's degree or even a Doctorate. Why not? With the growth of online programs, anyone anywhere can earn a degree from home in the time available. No excuses!
Engage in Professional Development. To maintain your license, you are required to engage in 10 hours of approved professional development every year (this is the requirement in Washington State; your state requirements may differ). The STARS/MERIT program in Washington State hosts a clearinghouse of training opportunities from approved trainers. You may also apply to have other training accepted as part of your training hours.
Eight Core Competency areas have been designated by the Department of Early Learning to help guide your professional development plan. The eight core competencies match the sections included in this Child Care Basics course:
- Child Growth and Development
- Curriculum and Learning Environment
- Ongoing Measurement of Child Progress
- Family and Community Partnerships
- Health, Safety and Nutrition
- Interactions and child guidance
- Program Planning and Development
- Professional Development and Leadership
*Two additional competencies are part of the competencies for professionals would work in before- and after-school programs with school-age children. These two extra competencies are “Cultural Competency and Responsiveness” and “Youth Empowerment.”
Professional development created to earn STARS credit is designated along a continuum from Beginner practitioner (Level 1) to Expert practitioner (Level 5). When you search the STARS/MERIT website for training opportunities, look for courses offered at the level that's appropriate to you and your experience.
What are you doing right now and what do you plan to do in the coming months?
How to Avoid Burn-Out
Work in early childhood is stressful. There's a lot of responsibility, a lot of pressure, long hours, heavy lifting, and little respect in the community. Ours is not a well-paid profession. It's dirty and exhausting. It requires eyes in the back of your head.
So burn-out is a problem. I worry about you.
But your work with children is the most important job on the planet. No matter what other people say or what sorts of fancy job titles other people have, your job title and your work are essential to society's success. You build the future. You teach.
So it's important that you take some time for you. Eat well, get the sleep you need, get lots of exercise. Connect with others who know what it's like to do what you do.
Thanks for all your hard work! You're ready to celebrate!