By Stacie Goffin, Ed.D.
Stacie Goffin is Principal of the Goffin Strategy Group, which is dedicated to building early childhood education’s ability to provide effective programs and services for young children through leadership, capacity, and systems development. Stacie is also the author of several seminal publications, including the recently released Professionalizing Early Childhood Education as a Field of Practice: A Guide to the Next Era.
In his May 29, 2014 NIEER blog, Jim Squires asked, “Is early education and care a profession or not?” The answer to his straightforward question, he concluded, was “no.” Because of the nature of ECE’s work, few would question that ECE ought to be profession. Yet as John Goodlad reminded us, “A vocation (occupation) is not a profession just because those in it choose to call it one. It must be recognized as such.”
We use the terms “profession” and “professional” very loosely. People often are deemed professional, for example, when they perform their work at a high level or when they shift from amateur to paid status. Sometimes we mistakenly presume the presence of a degree confers professional status.
Professions differ from other occupations or jobs. Their unique occupational structure is designed to ensure practitioners are uniformly prepared and competent, regardless of funding stream, program sponsorship, or, in our instance, the children and families being served. To qualify as a recognized profession, ECE will have to include the attributes that define professions–criteria such as a prescribed scope of work as a field of practice and formal preparation as a prerequisite to being licensed to practice. To be accepted as a profession, therefore, ECE will need to move beyond its fragmented way of life and restructure as a cohesive, interlocking system of preparation, practice, and accountability bound together by a unifying purpose.
Fulfilling this aspiration will require system leaders who catalyze collective leadership. It also will require ECE to move beyond ad hoc and voluntary efforts to repair or incrementally improve what isn’t working. Instead, we will need to step forward to reform and re-form ECE as a field of practice. Doing so will help ensure each and every child regularly interacts with well-prepared teachers who have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to accomplish the results each of us wants for children’s learning and development.
Even though the desired state has been articulated, ECE’s configuration as a profession is as yet unknown, as are the full complement of steps for getting there. Because of the adaptive work involved and professions’ systemic nature, the work ahead, by definition, will be dynamic and emergent. This means it’s not possible to devise an all-inclusive action blueprint in advance of engaging in the work. Nor is it likely a viable approach will emerge in response to someone driving a predetermined change agenda.
There is a starting place, though, and I’d suggest it’s conversations with intent, conversations that engage us in the kind of personal and collective reflections that invite thinking together about how to create an alternative future for ECE as a field of practice. While eyes may roll at the thought of still more “talking” about ECE and next steps, conversations with intent, when skillfully and purposefully executed, offer the means for getting to sustained and transformative action.
Conversations with intent and the steps that follow must
- attend to multiple perspectives and interpretations of the field’s present status, both within and across sectors and stakeholders,
- face difficult truths about current realities, acknowledging, for example, that some of our interventions aren’t working or the extent to which ECE is becoming bureaucratized.
- revisit individual and collective thinking that we or our sectors defend as sacrosanct
- foster generative conversations that spawn new possibilities,
- rearrange ECE’s sub-systems into a coherent whole, and
- persevere to bring a co-imagined future to fruition.
Moving forward will require courage and imagination, but if we so choose, our aspirations for widespread public recognition of our contributions to children’s learning and development can be achieved. Tackling the deep structural issues that undergird ECE’s fragmented practice–for example, the field’s uneven expectations for teachers and their preparation–will necessarily involve frustration and conflict. Yet once united around a vision for ECE’s future, the shared image of what we’re creating will focus, channel, and energize our efforts. By assuming responsibility for our field’s competence, individually and collectively, we will fulfill ECE’s promise to children and their families.
As I’ve argued, professionalizing ECE requires defining, unifying, and taking responsibility for our profession–which Jacqueline Jones similarly underscored in her post last week that reviewed the Institute of Medicine’s report on the ECE workforce. With the increasing attention being placed on ECE, though, the stakes are mounting. Ultimately, we must move forward together to fulfill ECE’s promise because it is a matter of our integrity as a field of practice.
This post was updated with author edits August 14, 2015.