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

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