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’.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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