Progress on talking with Educators on their thinking about their own professional identity

The Centre based Educator meetings and discussions on professional identity continue.

Following on from the discussions in previous posts in this blog, I have been raising the idea of professional identity with some of the groups that I have been visiting over the last 3 months.

The visits have been either in person or online via Zoom. Each has been warm and in the style of a guided but free flowing meeting in a rewarded* discussion format.

At the start, it must be said that none of the groups have declared any issue with the idea of the need to consider and grow their professional identity – their issue is, as one Educator put it (and her team followed up with enthusiastic applause) was:

“I think we are going there, and I think we are coming close to finding out where ‘there’ is, the problem is no one will let us get there. It serves their purpose to keep us cheap”.

Educator, Diploma qualification, studying a degree in Education 2021 Perth

I was intrigued by her statement, and her focusing in on I think we are coming close to finding out where there is …’ In response I spent some time discussing what ‘professionalisation’ means, discussing that identity can be considered as separate to context, as it is a personal gathering of the elements of the identity, and that this gathering is not prevented by context although it is certainly impacted by context [and can be better supported by context].

At the beginning of this non-formal series, the definition of a profession (see earlier blog posts) was a commonly discussed question, now it is the context of the role of a professional Educator that is debated with a particular emphasis on real or perceived roadblocks. [The comment above comes from that part of the discussion].

Each time I encounter that question or similar, I am careful to remind the Educators present of the progress made since the implementation of the National Quality Framework – as was discussed in earlier blogs it is more useful to have Educators understand that they are on trajectory starting with the implementation of the learning frameworks and the National Quality Framework, because the alternative vision they hold is of being isolated/alone or having been abandoned. Those feelings are understandable, when you are at the centre of a cyclone it is difficult to see what is happening beyond the edge of the storm.

“I don’t know that anyone cares but us, and I find that knowledge exhausting. More than anything else, it is that feeling that makes me wonder if it is worth staying.”

Educator, part way through a Diploma, 2020 Perth

There is much happening in the evolution of the profession, the trajectory is real, but who is discussing that trajectory with Educators? Who is painting a picture with Educators and their managers? How much of this is getting into the conversations in rooms and services with Educators? Would conversations about the work underway go some way to alleviate the feelings of being abandoned that these Educators were describing? I put this to a manager after she expressed concern at what we were hearing at one Educator’s meeting.

Centre manager: I don’t know why they say they feel like this, I attend all of the sector meetings and keep up.

Me: How much of what you hear is discussed with the Educators who work in room?

Centre manager: Well, none. It’s a bit high level for them.

Me: If you discussed what you are hearing with your Educators, would it go some way toward supporting their understanding that their issues are being taken seriously? They may grow in their understanding of what work uis underway and be able to support you with feedback to take to your meetings.

Centre manager: But it is my role to do this, they should be focusing on the children.

Conversation with a Centre manager

Post a meeting with Educators, 2021 Perth

I have been re-reading Jen Jackson’s paper ‘Every Educator matters: Evidence for a new early childhood workforce strategy for Australia. [Mitchell Institute, Victoria University 2020]

This thinking paper [ noun: the process of considering or reasoning about something] Dr. Jackson notes ‘Educators’ wellbeing is undermined when they do not feel a sense of autonomy in their work’.

The paper goes on to consider what may give this professional autonomy a living presence in the very real, everyday lives of Educators. This thinking is framing my responses to Educators when they talk and ask about how they can get ‘there’ on their journey to professional identity.

The next step

The professional identity meetings will continue, both online and face to face over the next 3 months.

Our challenge is to develop the new language of communicating about profession identity with Educators who will leave the meeting and go back onto the floor and continue to reflect on and implement the steps needed on their own professional identity journey.

Why? Because I think Dr. Jackson is right about Educator autonomy – and I think the answer to that is to help them learn the new language of professional identity, including learning what ‘autonomy’ could truly mean, and because after all, it is their profession.

Update

More on this in April, May and June 2021.

References and reading

*’rewarded discussion’ is where active steps are taken to positively restate and deconstruct each idea so that the Educators hear their own or peer ideas heard being given serious consideration

**I should note here that the meeting structure/agenda looks something like this:

  • 2021 The Year of Early and Middle Childhood (summary)
  • The early childhood profession [includes a question – what is a profession]
  • You and your role in that profession
  • Understanding your job description
  • Professional and regulatory requirements
  • The Standards and Code of Ethics
  • The year of review – the EYLF, the Review of the NQF, Workforce planning

Jackson, J. (2020) Every Educator matters: Evidence for a new early childhood workforce strategy for Australia. Mitchell Institute, Victoria University https://www.vu.edu.au/mitchell-institute/early-childhood-education/every-early-childhood-educator-matters

#profession #professional identity #Educator professional identity #professional autonomy

Back after a short intermission

The Blog is back after a month and half’s work going into services, speaking to educators, listening to their concerns, zooming in during lockdown, and fostering the concept of professional identity. A new post will go up later today. Revisit the series on Educator Professional Identity to catch up before the next post!

The Educator Professional Identity project – the pilot

‘Being an Educator is more than a state of mind – it is a professional role that exists within a complex system of governance, practice standards and accountability’.

Educator studying Masters degree, working in 0-1 year old’s nursery

I was thinking about this remarkable Educator when I drove to their Centre to sit with the team, discuss the professionalisation of the sector, how that looks like in their Centre now, and how they want it to look in the future.

This nursery room Educator had considered why her professional knowledge, status and standing was not as recognised as someone with a comparable qualification in another setting, and had come to the understanding that the reasons were intrinsic to the current structure of her profession and extrinsic – held back by the external work required to move her profession along. It sounds complex. Maybe it is. She raised one other very valid point:

‘We have the National Quality Framework – why don’t people recognise that for the advance that it is? Doesn’t the progress we have made through that speak volumes on our capacity to develop even further?’

Same person

I have been working with one Centre on looking at supporting Educators to relook at the role of a professional and what that might mean to them, their practice, their careers. We started with what it might feel like to own their own profession and be at the end point – where their community, other professions and their teams all felt acknowledged and heard. In guided discussions, they had talked about what is needed for Educators to do, and what is needed for others interacting with Educators to do.

The elements of the Educator Professional Identity discussions have been discussed in previous blogs. We discussed those, how they related to their work and thinking, and in a short discussion looked at the systemic change that needs to come to make this change a reality. What is exciting about this is we are looking at building a profession from the Educator perspective.

First though, it is important to share with you one question from the discussion that I think everyone needs to hear:

Do you call yourself a professional?

A: Sometimes, usually no.

Do you refer to your role here as being part of a profession? A: No.

May I ask why?:

A: Because no one will believe us.

A group of Early Childhood Educators

That was the starting point.

After some guided discussions on professionalisation and professional identity – discussions we were underway.

  • They decided that ‘owning your identity ‘ meant that Educators themselves must recognise:
Educators must recogniseEducators discussed thisOutcomes of note from the discussionsRelated systemic changes needed
That the Educator role is clearly differentiated in law and operate within a legal frameworkThe Educators had not considered that their own professional governance was remarkably similar to the governance of other professions.This shared concept became incredibly important to each of them.Sharing information on the professions that Educators interact with will advance a better understanding of professional structures and foster cross professional understanding between practitioners.  
That would-be Educators are prepared with an intellectual basis for their practice through higher educationThis group committed to look at the units of study they shared, they shared the question – ‘What units would you have preferred and needed?’They shared the idea that course designers had to think beyond current ‘stereotypical’ Educator images and reach deeper into the potential of the role – nursery staff felt this especially – they wanted more post graduate opportunitiesEnsure all courses are in alignment with the current Educator role, reflect the diversity of the roles, and that pre degree courses consistently align with and provide entry into degree courses
That Educators have a clearly developed code of ethics which protects our children and our communityThey were concerned that ongoing learning is largely voluntary postgraduate. Ethics is a good example of this.This group committed to annual professional learning targetsAnnual professional learning targets are essential for maintenance and growth of essential professional knowledge. Required targets such as those for teaching need to be well resourced.
That regulation is a part of Educators’ professional accountability agreement with our communityThey were concerned that they were heavily regulated but that those regulations are poorly understood.  They decided to petition the regulatory unit for more and ongoing learning on accountability.Learning on accountability must be embedded in undergraduate and post graduate required learning.
  • They decided that looking at possible and future professional roles, Educators would need:
Educators needEducators discussed thisOutcomes of note from the discussionsSystemic changes they consider are needed
Professional credentials that mandate the agreed range of knowledge and skills required to do the roleEducator roles may be closely linked to education but they are also linked to health and social work.The myriad of qualification providers and courses now accepted causes concern that any change in qualification will take a long time to transition into practice and that significant levelling for current qualification will be needed.New thinking is required for designing the qualifications needed in the sector and careful attention is needed to implement them. Qualification affordability is a significant issue for the Educators consulted.
A career structure that leads Educator to positions of professional autonomy in leadership, research and practiceIt is reasonable to expect a career structure to promote excellence in the role, support retention of learned and talented Educators, and to keep those most qualified in the role, actually doing the role.They are alarmed at the number of Educators who saw the only way to pursue career opportunity was to leave the role.The myriad of employers who now offer differing levels of organisational structures need aligning to allow for portability of roles and consistency of preparation for the roles.
Tables 1 and 2: Discussions on the professionalisation of the Educator role

So what happened here?

Educators were empowered and they felt empowered and were keen to explore issues further. They felt that in-person discussions allowed them to ask questions and explore the issues raised in a way that was very appropriate to them and their setting. We will certainly keep the discussions going.

If this pilot on Educator Identity has taught us anything, it is that Educators who have a series of guided discussions on professionalisation can work them through at a high level and can take the issues and with new curiosity, explore further.

Next: Lets get together – Taking discussions about Educator Identity to groups of services

The Professional Identity Project

Professional identity is a hot topic. It is also a much misunderstood topic. So let’s clear that up first – what is Educator ‘professional identity’? When I am talking with Educators, we talk about it like this:

“Educator professional identity is how a person identifies themselves as a qualified and knowledgeable practitioner in the field,

and while practicing,

how they, by virtue of their role, demonstrate knowledge, undertake quality actions and maintain an awareness of accountabilities, and

how they engage within the profession”.

What it isn’t – It is not about how others identify Educators, because if you haven’t studied the role, done the role, and been held accountable for the role in some way, how can you hold that role’s professional identity?

‘What is an Educator’ has been in the spotlight in 2020 in a way I have never seen before. I am reminded of this by a post-it note in my study – it’s over there near the ‘next to read’ pile of books that somehow keeps growing – showing a quote from a 2011 paper by Chong, Low and Goh [1]:

Research shows the development of … professional identity to be in a state of flux and that there is a strong correlation between a sense of teacher professional identity and their propensity to stay in teaching.

Sylvia Chong, Ee Ling Low, Kim Chuan Goh

This may be for teaching but for Educators it also makes a strongly held professional identity vitally important.

We know that defining a profession is at the root of understanding the profession and how it operates [2] . Understanding Educator professional identity is important to Educators themselves because it underpins developing a deeper engagement with their practice and performance, and we are told, wanting to stay in the role.

This idea came under a great deal of discussion when we were developing the National Quality Framework. My thinking at the time was that early childhood Educators were taking new steps into being recognised as a profession – with entry qualification benchmarks, a practice framework, standards of practice and a regulated accountability matrix. The schedule of consultations held at the time were an acknowledgement that we couldn’t apply standards and regulations to a profession and to the professionals in it, unless we truly knew how they operate.

What struck me at the time and afterward was that Educators show such a strong connection to their role, so much so that they adopted the National Quality Framework without any sign of recompense – this held up even while the research was showing a high rate of intention to leave (up to 1 in 5).

Under the circumstances, it had to be asked not just how many are leaving, but – why did any of them stay?

Educators struggle with the idea that anyone from outside their role would ever recognise their role for what is actually is, and many feel that no-one from outside the role would ever recognise them as professionals in their own right. They are underpaid and work in a sector that is woefully insecure in its employment profile.

Yet they (4 out of 5) stay!

Could it be that this lack of understanding from ‘the outside’ has inadvertently caused the building of a sense of unity? If so, then we are not starting from nothing. Can we work with this? If we have the baseline for developing a shared professional identity, what do we need next?

I asked this of a group of Educators at a series of meetings over the last weeks. We discussed:

  • Developing a deeper understanding of Educator identity – one owned by Educators.
  • Sharing our understanding of current and possible future range of Educator roles – a career structure.
  • Sharing an understanding of the intersecting knowledge and roles of those who work across early childhood – to develop a shared knowledge and language.
  • Finding a fresh view of qualification (beyond the assumptions about current courses)
  • Finding a fresh view of accountability (beyond the current passive receptivity of top down regulation)
  • and of course, having a bloody great rethink of remuneration – we asked: What are you worth?!
  • and they came up with this:

The Educator’s Professional Identity Project

First – The endgame

What will success look like?

It is that all Educators will own their professional identify.

For some there, this came as a shock. One asked – Are we allowed to do that? Is it legal?

They decided that ‘owning your identity‘ meant that Educators recognised:

  1. that they are clearly differentiated in law and operate within a legal framework
  2. that we prepare would-be Educators with an intellectual basis for their practice through higher education
  3. that we have a clearly developed code of ethics which protects our children and our community
  4. that regulation is a part of our professional accountability agreement with our community

and that looking at possible and future roles, we would need:

  1. professional credentials that mandate the agreed range of knowledge and skills required to do what we do
  2. a career structure that leads us to positions of professional autonomy in:
    1. leadership
    2. research
    3. practice
  3. career outcomes that leads us to professional regulation and self regulation
  4. minimum and protected expectations for workload and remuneration [3]

and that we want those who interact with the profession to:

  1. acknowledge Educator knowledge and skills as much as they do theirs, and that every profession should share early childhood by learning to speak the same professional language
  2. acknowledge the complexity of the Educator role, by not thinking of Educators as a subset of teachers, but as a specialty in its own right
  3. acknowledge that current qualifications are not hitting the mark as they are based on a current thinking and are usually only amended rather than rethought
  4. acknowledge that Educators are as accountable as other early childhood relevant professions.

Finally, that they wanted others to work with Educators and for Educators, but not in a manner that takes the decisions and career directions from them.

To paraphrase Elizabeth Matters, [3] we are naturally aware of our own work and the work of many colleagues in developing Educator practice theories, early childhood research and also specialist knowledge in unique advanced practice areas. Each area demands a huge amount of Educator experience and theoretical knowledge in order to provide unique Educator based solutions.

But who else needs to be aware of this? Everyone!

Elizabeth Matters RCN

What’s next? It all begins with communication.

They are developing a plan to:

  • Reach out and explain – Answer the calls for Educators to communicate their stories through whatever means possible – and to keep this going, for example through:
    • Thrive by Five campaign
    • Early Childhood Australia – Facebook, online meetings, other media and blogs such as The Spoke
    • Big initiatives like the Big Steps – Early Educators United group
    • Targeted initiatives like #365realstoriesfromEC

And at the same time:

  • Look inward and discuss – Work with every Educator on what being ‘professional’ actually means. At every opportunity, early childhood leadership and organisations should build the language of ‘professional’ into role descriptions, professional learning, events, articles, posts, prize giving’s and speeches.
  • Work together – Increase sector networking to provide opportunities to discuss the professionalisation of the sector and what it might look like:
    • Arrange networking sessions in person and online
    • Remove barriers to attending networking outside service ownership types
    • Develop Educator skills in professional communication and enable those who need specific support
    • Encourage every team member to have some access to networking rather than admin only
    • Support professional relationship building across the sector through time adequate resourcing
  • Share information – Develop and share data and analysis. Work on submissions to workforce reviews and professional framework reviews. Review and endorse others positions to promote the image of unity and consistent messaging as it builds professional unity.
  • Reach out – Work with other professional and business organisations to explain who Educators are and what they do. Share articles, host events and post information that engages and involves.

Next week:

Stage 2 We ran a trial – Want to know how it went and what we learned?

References:

  1. Chong, Low and Gow in: Emerging Professional Teacher Identity of Pre-service Teachers https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ937005.pdf
  2. Mike Saks in: Defining a Profession: The Role of Knowledge and Expertise file:///C:/Users/Doreen%20Blyth/Downloads/Defining_a_Profession_The_Role_of_Knowledge_and_Ex%20(1).pdf
  3. Elizabeth Matters FACN in: https://www.acn.edu.au/publications/the-hive-2018/nursing-matters-our-professional-identity

Moving the Educator issue forward

A late, late night has helped me to rethink the role of Educators, and better understand what Educators want and need from those who research , teach, create policy, regulate and advocate for the role.

It was around 2am and initially woken by neighbors who clearly have a more engaging social life than I do, for some reason I was kept awake thinking about the implications of this quote from an article from The Conversation:

Of the 1200 early childhood educators and degree qualified teachers working in long day care centres and preschools across Australia who were surveyed, around one in five said they planned to leave their job within a year because of low pay, feeling undervalued and increasing time spent on paperwork’. [1].

While I am deeply concerned at the impending resignation of 1 in 5 from my profession, I was more concerned that night with how the article portrayed them as ‘early childhood educators and degree qualified teachers’ as if one group excluded the other. At that time I was working with a team of Educators who have Masters degrees, 3 and 4 year degrees, 2nd degrees and some who were Diploma qualified – 3 were registered teachers – but all were working in the role of Educator. It struck me that ‘Educator’ needs deeper understanding and description.

I can see a flashing blue light outside so sleep isn’t coming anytime soon – what the hell, it is finally cool here after a hot day. Thinking time in the cool night air seems easier.

The starting point?

  • How others see Educators.
  • How Educators see themselves.

Molla and Nolan, in their 2020 paper, Identifying professional functionings of early childhood educators, tell us that ‘recognition is a critical condition for the professionalization of any occupational group. In our study, at the policy level, recognition is considered essential for professionalizing the ECEC workforce. However, we noted a misalignment between policy expectations and educator experiences in relation to recognition. It is evident in the interviews with educators that the wider community sees their work as just a ‘baby-sitting’. Lack of respect from the community means that educators are not able to convert the professionalization agenda into a valued achievement.’ [2].

If Molla and Nolan identified a misalignment between policy expectations and Educator experience in relation to the recognition – I think it is useful to reverse that and look at Educator expectation and policy experience as well.

What do Educators expect in the professionalisation process? Looking for Educator voices on this, I thought a useful gauge might be looking at how much they are engaged in the discussions on professionalisation. Initially struggling to find a focused source, I went looking at who was talking about Educators right now. I took a snapshot from one night on social media – a strong meeting place and market place for Educator voices:

Social media snapshot Nov 2020 – Twitter – Who is talking about the EC workforce today?

I was intrigued by the lack of Educator input into professionalisation related debates. Mindful of a recent retort from a young Educator I have been working with on an Early Childhood (EC) + Outside School Hours Care (OSHC) development project on a school site [Twitter???] OK, you had to be there – it was all in the tone!, I jumped across a range of social media platforms and messaging groups and combed through more than a dozen Educator groups to look into what they were saying.

I found, in order of incidence:

  1. Study support – requests
  2. Task or case related professional practice support – requests
  3. Recommendation and referral – requests
  4. Assistance with conflict resolution – requests
  5. … and last, Professionalisation related – mention or discussions

I showed the results at a subsequent EC Educator meeting and at an Educational Leader meeting online and asked: Do you get the sense that these figures are indicative of what you are seeing? The answer: Yes!

The next question for them was: If that is the case, why aren’t Educators more active in participating in the current discussions over the future of early childhood?

Their conclusions were both disturbing and exciting. First the disturbing … :

  1. ‘What discussions?’
  2. ‘I heard about that, I signed up to a group on that’
  3. ‘Who is talking about us?’
  4. ‘I have heard of some discussions in the media but didn’t think it was referring to us’.
  5. ‘I have heard of some discussions – it is nice to hear people saying nice things but … ‘.
  6. ‘They all talk about child development as though we don’t already know. They should just ask us’
  7. ‘People talk, they say they want to help, and when they get no progress, they disappear’.
  8. ‘I am afraid to recommend that [those discussions] to anyone on our team so they don’t get disappointed when it comes to nothing.’

Grim, and burdened with a history of not being heard, and the flow on negative behaviours that can come from being and feeling invisible. So why did I say ‘exciting’? Well I am not sure that is the right word but the responses did add to understanding (and that IS exciting). Again from Molla and Nolan, ‘The ECEC workforce is diverse in terms of qualifications, experiences and positions within the organizational structures it is not clear how the professionalization agenda appeals to all members of the workforce in a range of educational and care contexts, including long day care (LDC), preschools, family day care, outside school hours care and occasional care services’.[2]

Again, in the early hours – Another party, but this time the neighbors were talking in more subdued tones and mercifully the country and western bagpipes had stopped – at least while they explain themselves to the police – I considered the incredible sense of shared purpose during the nursing professionalisation period in the late 80’s and early 90’s. A review of publications at the time show that during that time of change, Nurses across the diaspora that makes up that profession were informed and wore that information as a badge of honor and were adept at using it as currency. Information was shared, traded, dissected and understood. Nurses were supported to understand what professionalisation – the process and the structure – actually meant. This groundwork meant they had everyone updating the scaffolded knowledge built with and for them.

This is it. This is how we move the professionalisation agenda forward when so many efforts in the past have come to nothing.

While discussions on early childhood’s future and its possible structure and processes are underway, we need to break down the professionalisation concept and process into scaffolded parts for Educators, and then clearly work that through with Educators.

To answer Molla and Nolan – How can the ‘professionalisation agenda’ mean anything to Educators, if we haven’t sat down and explained what it might mean?

So, to ‘move the professionalisation agenda’ forward, we need to codify the end point and all of the elements that will take.

We need a new language for this, the language of the Educator profession, as is understood and communicated by Educators. We need a unified vision of the end point, and to get there we need to:

  • Develop a deeper understanding of Educator identity – one owned by Educators.
  • Share our understanding the current and possible future range of Educator roles – a career structure.
  • Urgently share an understanding of the intersecting knowledge and roles of those who work across early childhood – to develop a shared knowledge and language.
  • Find a fresh view of qualification (beyond the assumptions about current courses)
  • Find a fresh view of accountability (beyond the current passive receptivity of top down regulation)
  • and of course, have a bloody great rethink of remuneration.

I am meeting with another group of Educators this week to explore this further.

Next week: the Educator Identity Project.

References and related notes:

  1. Irine, S., et al., 2016. One in five early childhood educators plan to leave the profession. The Conversation. Available from: https://theconversation.com/one-in-five-early-childhood-educators-plan-to-leave-the-profession-61279 [Accessed 20 June 2917]. [Google Scholar]
  2. Tebeje Molla & Andrea Nolan (2019) Identifying professional functionings of early childhood educators, Professional Development in Education, 45:4, 551-566, DOI: 10.1080/19415257.2018.1449006
  3. Articles and newsletters – various – [Royal] Australian Nursing Federation 1985 – 1990; National Wage Claim and case; Move to a degree qualification; Specialisation roles; Networking and meetings; Campaign notes

Building a career structure for Educators : The element that must be considered first

You and I need to talk – which is good because talking to people interested in Educators is one of my favourite things. Educators and their future needs to be discussed, with Educators. Educators are learning how to articulate what it is they want. New ideas are coming through now. Now is the time to listen closely – if we actually want to keep any of them that is.

I was talking to a group of Educators recently. They came from a group of differently owned services, covered a span of ages and cultural groupings, and had a range of different qualifications. In this sense, they were typical of the 130 000+ Australian Educators (estimated from ROGS 2020 [1]).

The question placed before them was “What is the most important thing that the people who are working on ideas for the future of early childhood, need to know”. Meeting, Educators, October 2020

Educator 1: I want a career. My career. I want my career to grow. I am expert in what I do. You may not pay me enough. You may not respect my work. You may not respect my qualifications. You may not respect my choice of workplace. None of those things changes the fact that I am expert in what I do – and you need me. [Masters in Education]

Educator 2: If you are working on the future of my profession, and you haven’t ever done my work, let me ask you this – would you treat doctors or teachers this way? Would you assume that you are expert in their role? No? Then why do you think you know enough about my role? I am a professional, you want me to be professional, and in return I want a career. [Bachelor of Science. Masters in Early Childhood (pending)]

Educator 3: I want to go on to do a degree. I am held back by a low salary. Right now I can’t afford a degree. If I want a career here in early childhood it has to pay better. [Diploma in early childhood]

Educator 4: Please come and spend a day here. Then when we go home you can carry my work to my car for me – the work I do at home each night. I am a professional whether you like that or not. I follow the rules of my profession. Every time you change the rules, you just land it on me and then go. Then you talk about my [our] failings in the news like it is all our fault. You ask, yet you don’t support me to achieve. [Certificate III in Early Childhood. Degree in Chemistry.]

Educator 5: Tell them that when I come in to my room in the morning I:

  1. assess each child (using my early childhood development knowledge),
  2. talk to parents (using my parenting studies, social work type skills, often using my health knowledge),
  3. review and amend plans for the day (understanding the principles of practice, project management),
  4. arrange for play experiences and daily life experiences at the level needed for each child, that is led by their growing interests and understandings (using my child development knowledge, Reggio knowledge, Early Years Learning Framework knowledge),
  5. allocate and support staff ( HR knowledge, coaching and mentoring skills, how to solve issues),
  6. monitor and support learning (pedagogical understanding and practice knowledge),
  7. support behaviours (early childhood development knowledge, resilience training, self-regulation systems knowledge, trauma knowledge)
  8. support child and parent health, safety, child protection, nutrition, movement, psychology (knowledge in all of these areas),
  9. analyse learning that happened during the day (pedagogical theory, Learning Frameworks knowledge, National Quality Standards knowledge, policy implementation knowledge, professional teams processes),
  10. and sometimes, I get lunch.

So, what is the one element that must be considered above all others – by those working on a solution for the future of early childhood? According to Educators… a deep knowledge of what they do, why they do it, and what they want in return for it. Otherwise any work in this area will not provide the right solutions, and we will be right back at the beginning again.

Why is this so important?

Educators need a career structure. A recognised career structure will attract Educators, hold up Educators, protect their identity as Educators, and grow Educators to be great Educators. Otherwise – why should we stay? Why would we stay?

‘E’ Educator 1 year.

What is in a Career Structure?

Each Educator’s day with your child, and with other’s children, will be framed and supported by the elements of their career structure.

Can we afford it?

Concern that any increase in Educator employment costs flowing on directly to parents has applied an active brake on any action in this policy area. This brake is applied at government level as well as through the sector owners, as well as in Centres with Educators who have been afraid to ask for more, lest it negatively impact on ‘their’ parents – yet one of the largest parent organisations in the country is an active campaigner for an professionalisation of the sector and increasing Educator remuneration:

“The women and men who teach young children in early childhood education are some of this country’s most dedicated professionals. But right now, educators are paid as little as $22 an hour.

We should pay early childhood educators a professional wage, one that reflects their skills, dedication and the role they play in nurturing and teaching our youngest minds”.[2]

Educators deserve a pay rise (theparenthood.org.au)

Indeed it is often cited that professional recognition and pay increases for Educators will be immediately and irrevocably be passed on to parents. There is a direct line of sight from this thinking to media stories on the impact of Australia’s high education and care fees. Australian childcare costs outstrip increase in government subsidy | Childcare Australia | The Guardian [3] This thinking assumes that there is only one way that education and care can ever and will ever be funded. We know that this is not true – we know what is possible – look at Education.

Is it really possible to make this change in what is an incredibly complex system? From policy and governance perspectives, concern about the potential impact of any increase in employment costs of Educators also comes from the view that the system of funding education and care is so complex that it cannot be changed. We know that this is not true. 2020 provided us with the evidence that substantial change can happen. Coronavirus response-Free child care – Parliament of Australia (aph.gov.au) [4]

Summary

  • We know we need to change our thinking.
  • We know that Educators need a career structure and we know what that career structure might look like (see last week’s blog).
  • We know that this will be good for Educators and for children.
  • We know a lot. It’s time to start doing.

Where do we start?

Next week: How we will finally move forward.

References:

1 3 Early childhood education and care – Report on Government Services Productivity Commission (pc.gov.au)

2 The Parenthood The Parenthood is a movement of 68,000 parents, carers and supporters working together to make Australia the best place in the world to be a parent.

3. Media article 2020: The Guardian Newspaper. Australian childcare costs

4. Parliamentary Library Paper: Australian Parliament 2020: Arrangements for free child care.

A professional career structure – we need to start the discussions to get it built.

Imagine for a moment, we wake up tomorrow morning and Australia has no Educators. Imagine every education and care (child care) service is closed.

Imagine they all got a job as, well, lets look at that – if they left for more money, what might they choose? One example:

1st year Educator

Children’s services employee level 1.1 on entry $771.00$20.29
Source: Pay guides – Minimum wages – Fair Work Ombudsman

Call Centre employee (a role with less responsibility)

Customer contact trainee$805.10$21.19
Source: Pay guides – Minimum wages – Fair Work Ombudsman

Suddenly, the prospect of Educators choosing other work doesn’t seem so improbable, does it?

Why do Educators choose their current role?

I asked 5 Educators:

  • ‘I wanted to work with children’ (Educator 22yr old)
  • ‘I wanted to do something like this – I may go on to teach’ (Educator 20 yr old)
  • ‘It was available’ (Educator 54 yr old)
  • ‘My school sent me here for work experience’ (Educator 18 yr old)
  • ‘I really love it – I thought I might, it’s working out’. (Educator 23 yr old)

All of these Educators agreed on one thing – if money elsewhere gets much better, they would definitely leave early childhood. ( Meeting: Educators, various employers November 2019)

The question then is …

What would make it worth staying?

Is it just the money?

No, but the money is critical. I am sick of people saying we get a reward from loving the job. No-one asks Nurses to accept loving the job as payment! I have responsibility for a room of 20 children. Their early learning here is in my hands. If I don’t do this right, each child suffers. If I do it wrong, I get prosecuted under our law. Teachers and nurses have a great rate, and a great career. I want that, but right now, I have to leave to get it.” (Educator 23 yr old)

The structure of a career in early childhood

A career must have a pathway, that pathway is a structure. The structure guides the careers of everyone in that profession, and it has an impact on everyone who interacts with that profession – and so their perspectives must be considered:

What needs to be considered in the development of a career structure?

For the Educator

  • Qualifications – Requirements for entry level and advanced practice; Supported by an ongoing pathway of ongoing professional learning that is research based, specialty specific, quality assured, credited and cumulative.
  • Career structure – Entry level, Specialization (Practicing), and Advanced practice; Supported by staged qualification requirements; Stage specific salary levels to draw practitioners forward
  • Remuneration – Developed around expert level with beginning practitioner below that and advanced practitioner above that; Portability across the profession to like positions; Parity with comparable level positions

For the community

  • Reassurance of quality – Research base; Regulatory Framework; Standards of Practice; Guidelines; Positions statements; Practice support; Related agency consideration
  • Protection – Regulation; High shared expectations; Quality monitoring and assurance
  • Accountability – Linked research, qualifications, and professional learning with practice, requirements and accountability all well understood; Clear Educator identity and shared understanding of purpose; accountability mechanisms well versed in the profession.

For children and families

  • Focus on the child – Research based; Democratic; Rights framed; ‘That the rights and best interests of the child are paramount’1
  • Seamless care and education pathway – 0 to 18 focus; Research based; Linked communication between agencies (with parent or child as the vector); Respected and supported transitions.
  • Supported parenting pathway – Pre-birth to 18; Research based; Linked communication between agencies (with parent or child as the vector); Respected and supported transitions.

What does a career structure actually look like?

A broad career structure

Next week:

The one element that must be considered before all others.

References:

  1. National Quality Framework: Education and Care Services National Law Act 2012
  2. Career structure | Queensland Health
  3. Career Structure — Teaching Service: Overview | education.vic.gov.au
  4. CHAPTER 5 – Parliament of Australia (aph.gov.au)

Professional Recognition – beyond recognition – it needs structure – and we need to discuss this sooner rather than later

To date in this blog series, we have discussed the definition of a profession (see earlier posts), the conclusion – the Early Childhood Educator role has all of the characteristics as a profession – but it has none of the structure.

Famously fractionate, early childhood in Australia is spilt by the characteristics of ownership type, service type, location, federal and state funding policy and a range of funding models. Children (and their families) in the 0-8 years age group that are subject to these services, face what can only be described as a complex system access profile that does not support parents to ask the question “What is best for my child?”, instead parents can only ask “What can we afford?”

“Over the years the early learning system has become complex and outdated… ”

Jay Weatherill CEO Thrive by Five

An Educator seeking to work in this system chooses from ownership type, service type, salary level and role – with wild variations in role, salary and accountability. Why would this be the case? If the role of Educator fits the agreed definition of professional, why is there no complementary salary and recognition profile that meets that definition?

There are many inputs into this situation, most are historical, but all act as a brake on systemic and individual role development and all hold back the individuals in that role.

If we look at it from a structural perspective (it is after all structural solutions that we need), professional recognition is usually systemic and reaches across a profession – see nursing for one example – but within this there is individual recognition – which comes on the back of a professional structure including a qualifications framework, individual ongoing professional requirements, and individual accountability.

Early childhood has a relatively new qualification framework1 that has its own structural issues, it has limited ongoing professional requirements, and it has a differentiated individual accountability (see the difference between those placed on registered Teachers as opposed to those placed on unregistered Educators) all filtered through a heavy organisational accountability framework.

Nurses, who work across a range of employment types and roles have professional recognition across the community, are regulated as professionals, and are paid as such. The expectations on each individual Nurse, to meet practice standards, are high.

The structure of nursing warrants consideration. I use the example of nursing as a predominantly female, care labeled profession that has, in relatively recent times, won a career structure. It is also useful to step back from the Teacher – Educator scenario and look to other professions for a hint of what is possible:

“There are two levels of regulated nurses in Australia – Registered Nurses (RNs) and Enrolled Nurses (ENs). Enrolled Nurses have completed a Certificate IV or a Diploma in Nursing from a registered Vocational Education and Training Provider (VET). EN’s are then registered with the Nursing & Midwifery Board (NMBA) to practice.

An EN usually works with a RN to provide patients with basic nursing care but do less complex procedures than RNs.

Registered Nurses are nurses who have completed a minimum three-year bachelor degree in nursing and have passed a national licensing exam to obtain a nursing license and is registered with the Nursing & Midwifery Board (NMBA).

RNs work independently and in inter-dependent teams. RNs are accountable and responsible for their own actions and the delegation of care to ENs and other healthcare workers.

To maintain registration, both RNs and ENs are subject to a ‘practice’ standard and continued professional development standards, as set by the NMBA.

Advanced Practice Nurses or Nurse Practitioners – Nurse practitioners are the most senior clinical nurses involved in diagnosing and treating patient illnesses. Registered nurse educated to a master’s degree level or post graduate qualifications. Both are able to work autonomously and collaboratively in an advanced and extended clinical role.

You will find them working independently, while alongside other doctors and health care professionals, to assess, diagnose, treat and manage patient illnesses.”2

The role of Nurses and the professional claims of Nurses did not progress until the career structure was put in place in 1986-67.

Educators need a professional structure independent of the diaspora of ownership type. We need a career structure.

More on a potential professional career structure, and what is needed to build it, next week.

References:

  1. The National Quality Framework. https://www.acecqa.gov.au/sites/default/files/2018-03/Guide-to-the-NQF_0.pdf (ACECQA)
  2. https://www.health.qld.gov.au/employment/work-for-us/clinical/nursing-midwifery/career-structure (QLD Government)

We are not alone

In her report, Re-imagining Childhood: The inspiration of Reggio Emilia education principles in South Australia , Prof Carla Rinaldi challenged:

“What is our image of a child?

What is the relationship between childhood and society?

What is the role of school in society?

What does it mean to be an educating community?

Why do we separate education and care?

Is it possible for early childhood services to be places where the educational quality and the rights of children are given priority rather than the needs of parents to work?

These are big questions that challenge our common perceptions of children and invite us to open dialogue about the culture of childhood.”  

The South Australian Collaborative Childhood Project

When I read this for the first time I cheered! [Note: This is behaviour is not warmly received on a QANTAS flight.]

On the second and subsequent reads I began to wonder if the discussion of ‘education’, while valuable, hasn’t limited our thinking and kept us away from having a deeper understanding of the other professions that have a close impact on a child’s life?

I wondered if Prof Rinaldi’s question (echoed by others) ‘Why do we separate education and care?’ could be the key to starting some thinking about what a new early childhood approach might look like, and if it is in the phrase ‘education and care’ that we might start?

What, I ask you, would be the change in your thinking if I told you that we were changing the phrase ‘education and care’ as Professor Rinaldi is referring to it, to for example, ‘guidance and wellbeing’? Would something like this place the emphasis back on the child and de-emphasize the structural impact of divided ‘education and care’ systems? If we did that, would we be able to more closely integrate the health and education professions into our work, and create an expectation that we would all work together for the child?

What skills and knowledge would we need to act as a professional guide for the child in such a system? Hold that thought!

At conferences, round tables, webinars and Zoom meetings, the gatherings of other professions talking about early childhood rarely have a practicing early childhood Educator as the headline speaker.

At a gathering earlier this year, I remarked to an organiser that it was wonderful to be at a meeting with so many other professions and to hear from their multiple perspectives. I was, at the time consulting to an early childhood service who were taking their first steps toward an equal partnership with occupational therapy, physiotherapy, child and family psychology and speech pathology. The meeting topic was case communication and management and how can we all talk together. I had stretched the budget to almost breaking point to travel to the event and was keen to learn. I asked when the Early Childhood Educator would be speaking. The organiser smiled at the remark and said ‘What would they have to say to us?’

I would have responded but could not. How could I respond in a busy meeting hall that the division between early childhood education and care and the school system was a structural problem that broke the idea of early childhood into pieces without regard for the individual child who should flow seamlessly through the system – but that while this division was capturing attention, it could not be said to be resolved until all of the professions working for the child communicated and planned together – for the benefit of that child.

Weeks later I wrote to the organiser and responded ‘I don’t know, I don’t even know if they would understand the early childhood experience in a Centre, but we have to try and we have to be given opportunities to discuss what we do and can do’. I finished by saying that one of the units of study in the Diploma for Early Childhood Education and Care required the student develop their professional knowledge to work in partnership with families, communities, and other services and agencies.

The problem is, we can’t grow those skills and that knowledge, until we have opportunities to do so…

” I worked with these other professions in regards to children in my class on a limited capacity. I believe we should have more visits, time for consultation with Educators and more correspondence between the two services. … I would say Educators need to stand their ground and request those professionals if needed, they’re often keen to do so. It’s sadly our Centres that wont give the time or support needed to work with other professions”

Educator 2020

Re-read the quote above again.

Did you see it?

She said ‘these other professions’, in other words she sees herself as a professional and requires the structural resources to support this area of her professional practice. In the discussions on professionalisation of the sector, there is an argument to be made that Educators are there – that it is external parties that need to catch up.

Going back to the question posed earlier – ‘What skills and knowledge would we need to act as a professional guide for the child in such a system?’ She already has the skills and knowledge – but is being artificially held back by a limited view of Educator professional practice, and by limited support, and so doesn’t get the chance to grow and be recognised in this area.

I have recommended that the next event consider the stream – ‘Working together – The collaborative requirements of professionals working with children’.

Next week in discussing the professionalisation of the Education and Care sector: Mapping one role across 3 professions – The professional role of the Educational Leader in Early Childhood settings – what we learn when we view the role in comparison with other profession’s leaders.

Don’t be afraid of complexity

I am crazy about my hairdresser. As the lifelong possessor of unruly hair, I treasure the hope giving skills of that woman – although the family tale that I moved suburbs because she did, is untrue (I am happy to travel) .

At the end of each cut she stands back, looks at her handiwork and says ‘that looks professional’. Each time I respond ‘It takes a bit more than that’.

Want to build a profession? First understand what a profession is.

AN Educator, Diploma qualified, 7 years Experience

I have been working with some Educators on professional identity and what it takes to build a profession. Why? It is their profession and if it is built around them and not with them, it wont be theirs and they wont be motivated to build it and protect it.

In 1952 Ernest Greenwood published what was to become the seminal definition of a profession. It has gone on to be refined and redefined by a multitude of perspectives, but in essence his principles remain to provide a valuable framework for us as we consider how we may finally, and after a great deal of growth and doubt, build the early childhood profession that we need.

Let’s play with that:

  1. A profession has systematic theory. This can be seen in the way that the profession’s knowledge is organised. Look over your shoulder and you can see behind you, supporting your work, a body of knowledge that is organised and translated in a way to make it possible (for the most part) for the theory to become your practice guidance. One of my favourite examples of this is the work developed by the incredible folks at Evidence for Learning, but the principle is built on and kept alive by every Certificate III Educator when they open the Early Years Learning Framework and then walk out of the staff room into the children’s area. We have some work to do here – including rethinking how the knowledge scaffold is build and how it is organised, recognised and transmitted.
  2. A profession has authority. Greenwood says here that ‘professional authority’ stems from the contrast between the extensive education required for the professional and the comparative lack of knowledge held by a lay person. Now before you imagine this is a slight, understand that doubting the knowledge level required to do the role is a reflection on the commentator who fails to instruct themselves on the professional expertise of the Educator, not on the professional Educator. Our job – we need to think about the purpose and content of courses, the accessibility and quality of delivery, and the need for knowledge maintenance over the life of the career. We also need to think more about how that ‘authority’ is to be protected.
  3. A profession has community sanction. A chance conversation with a policy advisor some years ago resonates here. The early childhood profession has a framework called the National Quality Framework (NQF) [for early childhood education and care]. The policy advisor was dismissive of early childhood as a profession citing services who had been found to be below standard. I countered that a prosecution is evidence that the framework and the community sponsored sanctions available within the NQF were working – that is what happens in a profession. Our task here that we need to work on – licensure for practitioners is only partially covered across early childhood and for the safety and wellbeing of our children we need it to be well thought out, comprehensive, supported and respected.
  4. A profession should have ethical codes. I am a big fan of the Early Childhood Australia Code of Ethics (which I see as ahead of its time and not acknowledged enough for its power, impact and leadership) and the implementation materials they have developed. The work here – the Code has never been operationally aligned with the Codes for other professions, so an Educator will struggle to get a picture on how their role compares with and intersects with, other professions. There is also a gap between the requirements of the Code and the operational base of the service provider. Shouldn’t they be responsible for facilitating the Code? The requirements of the Code should be a line item in the budget.
  5. Culture is the last point he raised in his initial list. Here he says, that a profession has ‘social value’ . The service that the profession provides to the society is such that regulation is required to prevent unqualified persons performing them. This culture includes the rules on how practice is conducted, that is how people behave as they practice. In this we must go back to needing a clear understanding of what we do and how we do it. As a registered nurse I was once told that I was overpriced, and that most of what I did could be done by anyone. A lengthy description of what I was doing at that time changed the journalist’s mind, and they began to see the value of an enclosed profession, but that journo’s argument is more pervasive through society when it comes to early childhood – too many confuse parenting/caring with the role of Educator [BTW – Do you have 20 x 2 year old’s at home?] The messages of the Thrive by Five campaign and its partners must come to the fore here.

I was once told as a registered nurse that most of what I did could be done by anyone … that journo’s argument is more pervasive through society when it comes to early childhood

Doreen Blyth educator, [Former] registered nurse

The steps above to professional recognition are each large pieces of work that intersect and interconnect. Each exists in its own historical context as well as in the contexts of other professions and legislative frameworks. We know that. The thing is, finishing building this profession isn’t hard, it is just a big piece of work. [How do I know that? Now that IS simple – Other professions have achieved it!].

We know what we need to do – we just need to do it.

Next time – We are not alone – How all of the early childhood professions need to work better together as we go forward

References:

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0145482X6005400504

https://evidenceforlearning.org.au/

http://www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au/our-publications/eca-code-ethics/