I am always a bit unsure what to think whenever I hear early childhood educators discussing the topic of professionalism and whether they are, or are not professionals. Since I first started teaching over two decades ago I always just assumed I was a professional. Who says I’m not? Why do educators even question this? And what has led it to even be a matter up for debate in society?
So…as always, lets start at the beginning, what does it mean to be a professional? To find this out I asked my very best friend… Google, and received over a million hits in response. In it’s simplest form:
There are three generally accepted ideas about what constitutes a professional in the educational literature (Timperley & Alton- Lee, 2008). First, a professional must possess a large degree of talent and skill. Second, professionals must use a body of knowledge that supports their work. Third, professionals must have the autonomy to make decisions that marry skills with knowledge to solve complex problems.
Ok, so that sounds like all early years educators I know! So why is it up for debate? Because we have allowed it to be so. We often compromise our own professionalism without knowing it. We allow parents to tell us what should happen within our educational settings; we often verbalise our careers as ‘just playing with kids”; and worst of all, we don’t always have the confidence and conviction in our actions which support our professionalism, our technical knowledge and our acquired wisdom.
So here, briefly, are my top 5 tips for increasing your professionalism and those you work with:
- If you are going to walk the walk, you need to talk the talk. No more dumbing down our conversations and language when talking to parents and visitors to our settings. We have strong pedagogies and theories that underpin everything we do, so be proud of them and flaunt them at every opportunity.
- Read, read, read… we work in a very dynamic and fluid profession that is constantly re-evaluating practices and beliefs, as well as future directions. Attending a professional development program or conference once a year is simply not enough to keep up with these changes. Subscribe to key publications in the education sector (and dare I suggest beyond); go online and see what’s being said not only locally, but globally; read and discuss new publications related to early years pedagogy.
- Dress and present yourself as a professional. I know it can get messy from time to time in our daily interactions within our setting, but that doesn’t mean we should be constantly in our ‘comfy clothes’. Trying to define what is ‘appropriate’ is never an easy discussion to be had. However, we should not shy away from a rigorous debate about how we present ourselves and if in fact there is a relationship between clothing and professionalism. Discuss with your co-educators what kind of image you all want to put forward as a team, and then make sure everyone sticks to it. When representing your organisation outside of the workplace also keep in mind the need to be professionally presented.
- Be an advocate for the education sector. If we aren’t the advocates for our own profession, then who will be? Inform yourself about industrial matters and changes to laws and regulations relevant to our sector. If you able to, add your voice or presence to rally’s, campaigns and discussions associated to raising the value of early childhood education.
- Accountability and teamwork. All to often we here at Semann & Slattery are asked to provide professional development programs with a focus on teamwork and working positively towards shared goals. Being a professional means acting like a professional. And acting like a professional means NOT acting like a spoilt child when we don’t get our way. If you and your team are facing challenges achieving joint goals and creating shared visions then this becomes a priority for you to work on. Don’t ignore the issue, or your co-educators, hoping the situation will magically sort itself out. Being a professional and working as part of an effective team is a fantastic place to be at, but it does take hard work and commitment from all parties.
So, with these points in mind there is only one thing to remember…it’s all up to you. There is not going to be a night in shining armor come into your setting one day and magically fix all your issues for you. There is no one single book or conference you can attend that will solve all your problems. It will depend upon you getting out there and being the change agent for your future.
Timperley, H., & Alton-Lee, A., (2008). Reframing Teacher Professional Learning: An Alternative Policy Approach to Strengthening Valued Outcomes for Diverse Learners. Review of Research in Education. Vol.32, pp328-369