Definition: Before we get started, there is a difference between a routine and a ritual. Routines are repeated predictable events, often repeated without review or thought, and are often imposed. Rituals are personal, they are actions that help us navigate time and transitions, and are often held close and are held to be ‘personal’ or ‘owned’.
Our challenge for today: Take one ‘room routine’ chart and … shred it.
Routines are often used as anchor points during the day. Breakfast, morning tea, lunch, and nap times, they provide an ordered and predictable day that is comforting to many and meets the needs of almost all.
Routines take time, and the use of time requires regular close and active scrutiny.
A recent exercise in a large early childhood Centre focused on a room routine. A new staff member was expected to start in the following week. In a conversation with the room leader, we examined knowledge priorities for the new staff member.
‘She will have to know our routine’.
‘Is it documented?’
‘Yes’. [Offered a copy]
We worked through the routine but came unstuck at the morning tea time.
‘The prep for morning tea takes one team member 30 minutes?’
‘The chef delivers it to the area. The children should wash their hands and grab their drink and snack and find a place to sit.’
‘No. We have to stop playing, clean the area, put away what is on the tables, wipe the tables, and … ‘
We didn’t get any further.
‘Why are we stopping play?’
‘If we don’t, the area is a mess and there is nowhere to sit to eat. And if the playthings are out, the children are distracted and won’t sit and eat. And if it isn’t tidy, the staff have to catch up and then are late for their morning tea.’
It took some time, but we agreed that the staff voice was important so we videoed the morning tea routine twice over the next few days and then sat with the room team to watch. At the first, no one commented, they accepted what was happening on screen. In the second, the viewers were instructed to watch the children’s faces and body language when the call for morning tea time went up. We replayed the images several times until we had a list of each child’s names and reactions.
They went like this [……] Sad, distracted, tried to hang onto the toy, slow to eat …
We then listed all of the ‘tasks’ from morning tea prep and removed them by putting the morning tea and drink bottles on a side table. One Educator sat near and supervised hand washing as the children approached in their own time. She also noted who wasn’t eating or drinking and followed them up 1 hour later. Food was taken back to play to eat during the games.
The new system was videoed and played back to staff the following week. Further analysis showed that children ate more and drank more and the play didn’t stop. The play was observed to be more in-depth and the body language showed deep engagement. No staff was late to their own morning tea.
Total time taken from the ‘routine’ and returned to the children – 45 minutes.
In those new 45 minutes, the play ‘got deeper’ requiring added resources and support from Educators. This was taken as a positive and staff documented later that they saw signs of concentration, and shared and sustained imaginative play, that they hadn’t noted before.
The Educator’s voice: “We steal time from children unknowingly. We inherit the ways that we work from current staff and through our room orientations. We want to please our team members with who we spent 8 hours a day in the room with, and so we find it hard to question and even harder to challenge. Looking at this as stealing time from children has given me some new ideas and new courage.”
Time is one of the themes of this, my sabbatical year. This is the year for thinking and discussing and moving conversations forward – and into the places where those conversations need to be had.
This co-theme of time is a prominent player in the field of curriculum and learning in early childhood education and care. In an era of the much-documented staffing crisis (‘Google it mate’) ‘I don’t have time’ is one of the most common things heard from Educators struggling to keep up with professional requirements. Struggling, often falling behind, and then falling under the burden of unfulfilled work needs.
A starting point
The fundamental tenant of our profession is the Australian Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). It begins by telling us that Childhood is a time to be, to seek and make meaning of the world. The EYLF then exhorts us to support engagement by allowing time for meaningful interactions.
Staff, looking at working in a Centre will ask about strategies the Centre uses to support the staff to child ratio, and if there are ancillary supports for Educators such as professional cleaners (instead of Educators doing it while the children are there)
Parents who are touring a potential centre for their child, will ask in a voice filled with hope, using a hundred different ways of asking – ‘Do you have time to be with my child when my child needs you?’
Time to actually be with the children – time to support engagement by allowing time for meaningful interactions.
The use of the EYLF is regulated, and so reflecting on the thousands of pages of regulatory and curriculum requirements and guidance that form the framework of the Educator profession, I looked for an example of how time was being done in real life, in the real world setting of an early childhood education and care centre.
I walked into a staff room in an outer metropolitan early childhood education and care centre and struck up a conversation with an Educator on how she did this. How she supported engagement by allowing time for meaningful interactions. Her answer was wrapped in a look of disbelief.
“Take that question apart Doreen. You are asking us about how we:
Understand the true meaning of support
Have the skills and understanding and resourcing and environment to engage
If we are in a workplace power dynamic to allow anything
If we have any control over the understanding of and use of time
That we have each child so well known to us that we truly understand their context and well enough to understand what is meaningful for them
That we know the dynamics of what a quality interaction with a child is [and not what she later described as a ‘drive-by soothing’ in the rush to get to the next task]”.
She went on “Doreen, today, like yesterday, I got no morning tea, I will cut my lunchtime in half, I am driven mad by having to direct not one, but two agency (relief) staff all day, and I have a sick certificate in my bag that I didn’t hand in today because I knew what would happen here if I did stay at home. And I was just saying that today is a good day”
If that conversation doesn’t linger with you, it should.
A paper from Tamara Cumming [et al] haunts me.
Investigating multi-tasking and task rotation as aspects of complexity of early childhood educators’ work Tamara Cumminga*, S. Richardsona, M. Gibsonb, K. Crispb, L. Harrisona, F. Pressd and S. Wonga.
The team behind the paper digs into the under researched area of how the actual work is going on inside early childhood education and care centres. They found multi tasking, and environments with multiple task changes every hour, all with the children at the centre and Educators working flat out to do it all. I could read of overlapping priorites, complex decisions made on the run and of the high risk of stress.
The time-intensive, task, priority, and intentionality juggling, ‘gear changing’ work that is early childhood education and care in a team environment requires a wraparound support of seamless leadership, teamwork, well resourced environments, and well resourced practices.
Responsive and real-world resourcing is critical to the flow of the Educator and child day – and the flow of the day is critical to the sustained stress levels of Educators and as they all admit – their stress levels build and that impacts on the children.
If we don’t have all of the pieces in place to adequately resource early childhood education and care well, then we must identify the deficits and repair the damage, because let us not kid ourselves, if we fail to fix this, we are stealing time from children.
The Educator voice
The Educator in the staffroom talked and listened and asked questions, and then, as she was getting up to wash her cup and go back to her room she said “And when we get it all set up well, and when we get it running as it should be, and when we don’t compromise, the children get a world that is extraordinary, and that is why I am here.”
I watched her going out the staffroom door and thought – ‘and how can we do that and safeguard it’?
Those words from a young Educator have sparked a journey into considering how we learn and lead, and into the power of conversation. This is the most critical form of professional communication but seemingly we are too busy in the workplace to spend time over it, and we compound that loss by lowering the priority of conversation and prioritising external or internally arranged professional learning sessions.
When Educators are afforded the opportunity to talk and exchange professional ideas without restriction, they share new ideas, they practice and reinforce the professional language that closely explains what they do, and they build understanding. In the current environment of short staffing – we have to ask what happens to our standards when we don’t get time to have those critical conversations?
Let’s open a dialogue about the value of conversation. Let’s remove the agenda from sections of, or whole meetings and just share ideas. Let’s slow down learning engagement to give ourselves time to think. Let’s learn in the oldest way, and on the way, value and resource this time together as Educators.
I think we missed a step when we were developing our profession.
While we were developing the Learning Frameworks, and implementing them, then developing the National Quality Framework including with the Law and Regs and implementing those, followed by revisiting the qualifications, restructuring worksite ways of working, implementing new ways of quality improvement, gaining higher qualifications, meeting new compliance levels and the incredible host of other innovations we are seeing in-center, there was something we forgot to do.
We forgot to embed the construct of professional identity.
If you read back through this blog you will read how professional identity is defined and constructed.
This is such a critical step to the quality outcomes of an Educator’s professional practice that ACECQA, the national oversight authority, actively encourages the development of professional identity in its book, The Educational Leader Resource (1)
“Acting as a professional, and articulating why these behaviours are important, helps others understand the scope of ethical responsibilities that shape this sector’s work with children, families, colleagues and the community. In this way, educational leaders challenge the prevailing image of educators as mere technicians, and remould their identity as educators engaged in the complex task of enhancing children’s learning and wellbeing. … Professionalism is also about advocating for the place of effective educational programs and practice in the delivery of children’s education and care. From time to time, it might mean taking courageous action and having the capacity to speak up for children’s right to quality education.”
ACECQA in THE EDUCATIONAL LEADER RESOURCE 1
In short, the whole system of quality education and care has been built around Educator professional identity. What we have asked them to do has been enormous, the scope of the list of changes above shows that.
And as Educators and Educational Leaders, we are underway on this journey, but recent events, including inaccurate media commentary, some confusing employer actions (See the UWU report (2) ), terrifying levels of Educator turnover, and a host of negative comments online have shown us that we need to give Educators permission to identify what they do as being a professional, speak of themselves as professionals, and critically, speak up for their profession.
‘Why would anyone listen to me?” Educator 13 years
‘I worry that what they ignore in us reflects what they think about children. How can we let that happen, but who will listen?’ Educator 3 years
‘I’m leaving, no one is listening, and I don’t want to be the only one who stands up’ Educator 15 months.
Educators need a safe and protected and clear professional identity as their starting point for their advocacy for children, families, and themselves.
As a community of policy and practice and yes, governance, we need to fix this. Work is needed to draw the whole of the early and middle childhood sector’s attention, and the broader community’s ear, to this.
Educators need actions that they can take that feel safe, are empowering, and that offer each individual some advocacy experiences that build confidence and skills.
So this is what I posted on the Educational Leaders Association Facebook page on Sunday 12/12/2021 and it seems that thousands and thousands of Educators have seen it:
There is a statement that we should all have repeated.
We should have made signs for our front doors, footers for our emails, tag lines for our posts, and hashtags for our posts and conversations:
Early childhood education and care and OSHC are specialties in their own right.
Today we draw a line in the sand.
Do you want to call us child care workers? I will send your email back with a one-sentence reply:
The title is ‘Educator’.
Do you want to doubt the importance of what we do every day? I will send you back a one-sentence reply:
More than 90% of a child’sbrain development happens in the years they are with me.
Do you want to treat us as though we are a lesser part of a child’s learning life than school?
I will send you back a one-sentence reply:
A full-time enrolled child is likely to spend more time with us in a year than they do in a classroom.
So, when we tell you something, for the sake of this child and every child, we expect you to listen with respect, and work with us acknowledging our expertise. If you don’t want to do that, we have a one-sentence reply for you:
The Law changed in 2012 – Stop holding us back.
And their response?
‘Shout it loud so that those at the back can hear’ Educational Leader 7 years.
‘Never has this been more important’ ECT 3 years
‘I saw this, my workplace shared it in our app.’ Educational Leader 1 year.
‘I am an Educator! Thank you’
‘What do you mean by professional? Don’t I need high pay for that?’ Educator 5 years
So, we have work to do – but what we can do now is stop and listen, and respectfully, get their name right – it is one small step, but it is a critically unifying one.
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
after 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 year.
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.
More on this in December 2021 and then all through 2022.
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
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!
‘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?’
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:
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 recognise
Educators discussed this
Outcomes of note from the discussions
Related systemic changes needed
That the Educator role is clearly differentiated in law and operate within a legal framework
The 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 education
This 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 opportunities
Ensure 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 community
They were concerned that ongoing learning is largely voluntary postgraduate. Ethics is a good example of this.
This group committed to annual professional learning targets
Annual 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 community
They 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 discussed this
Outcomes of note from the discussions
Systemic changes they consider are needed
Professional credentials that mandate the agreed range of knowledge and skills required to do the role
Educator 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 practice
It 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
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 somehowkeeps growing – showing a quote from a 2011 paper by Chong, Low and Goh :
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  . 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 init, 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:
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:
that they are clearly differentiated in law and operate within a legal framework
that we prepare would-be Educators with an intellectual basis for their practice through higher education
that we have a clearly developed code of ethics which protects our children and our community
that regulation is a part of our professional accountability agreement with our community
and that looking at possible and future roles, we would need:
professional credentials that mandate the agreed range of knowledge and skills required to do what we do
a career structure that leads us to positions of professional autonomy in:
career outcomes that leads us to professional regulation and self regulation
minimum and protected expectations for workload and remuneration 
and that we want those who interact with the profession to:
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
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
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
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,  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 basedsolutions.
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.
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’. .
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.’ .
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:
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:
Study support – requests
Task or case related professional practice support – requests
Recommendation and referral – requests
Assistance with conflict resolution – requests
… 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 … :
‘I heard about that, I signed up to a group on that’
‘Who is talking about us?’
‘I have heard of some discussions in the media but didn’t think it was referring to us’.
‘I have heard of some discussions – it is nice to hear people saying nice things but … ‘.
‘They all talk about child development as though we don’t already know. They should just ask us’
‘People talk, they say they want to help, and when they get no progress, they disappear’.
‘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’.
Again, in the early hours – Another party, but this timethe 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.
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.
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
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
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 themthat 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 ).
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:
assess each child (using my early childhood development knowledge),
talk to parents (using my parenting studies, social work type skills, often using my health knowledge),
review and amend plans for the day (understanding the principles of practice, project management),
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),
allocate and support staff ( HR knowledge, coaching and mentoring skills, how to solve issues),
monitor and support learning (pedagogical understanding and practice knowledge),
support behaviours (early childhood development knowledge, resilience training, self-regulation systems knowledge, trauma knowledge)
support child and parent health, safety, child protection, nutrition, movement, psychology (knowledge in all of these areas),
analyse learning that happened during the day (pedagogical theory, Learning Frameworks knowledge, National Quality Standards knowledge, policy implementation knowledge, professional teams processes),
and sometimes, I get lunch.
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?
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”.
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  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) 
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.