It’s time to end this book study and for the BIG ANNOUNCEMENT…the next BOOK STUDY CHOICE! Stacie Goffin will be providing final thoughts to facilitate our conversations. Just joining the book study? Get all the book study details HERE.
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Rae’s book topic is an important one. Few early educators question the importance of child development knowledge as fundamental to meaningful and impactful interactions with young children. Being literal in the extreme, though, what if, in fact, everybody understood child development and its importance in furthering children’s early learning and development? If this were the case, what is now central to early childhood education’s (ECE) occupational expertise would be commonplace, minimizing the societal contribution of ECE’s specialized knowledge and undermining its stature as an occupation that makes a difference in children’s lives.
The sentences above are unlikely to materialize, but here’s why they still merit our consideration.
Without an arguably unique societal contribution, ECE cannot be formally identified as a professional field of practice. Without a defining purpose that distinguishes our knowledge and skills from commonly held information or from the contributions of other fields of practice, ECE cannot claim public recognition as a profession. When considered in this way, Rae’s book title offers the perfect segue to our next blog book study of Professionalizing Early Childhood Education As a Field of Practice: A Guide to the Next Era.
Let’s return to the question of ECE’s unique contribution to children’s early learning and development. How would you answer these questions: What do you think distinguishes ECE’s knowledge base and practice from other child-serving professions interacting with the same age children? What commonalities bind us together as a field of practice, regardless of a program’s sector, policy mandate, or financing? Then consider this: What is the identifying name for our field of practice: early childhood education? Early care and education? Early education and care? Early learning and development? I know from experience that this list is not inclusive. Why do we lack a shared identifier for our field? Why do we continue to invent new terminology to describe who we are and what we do?
The next blog book study asks these and many other questions to probe our thinking about our identity as a field of practice and the future we want for ECE. Be forewarned, these questions are not easy to answer. They push us to critically consider our fragmented state and the divergences that exist between our aspirations for ECE as a field of practice and the field’s current status. They push us to question ECE’s current trajectory as a field of practice and what we can do about it.
A Defining Moment in Time
This is a defining moment for ECE. Few of us familiar with ECE are unaware of its struggle to fulfill its ambitions as a field of practice. Even though the ECE field is receiving increased recognition of its importance and is experiencing significant growth in policy support and funding, it continues to be characterized by a fragmented delivery system, reliance on an underdeveloped workforce, and uneven public respect. Despite the best of intentions, we remain a divided field of practice and lack what it takes to ensure that each and every child with whom we interact as early educators experiences an optimum early learning experience.
Further, this reality is unlikely to change unless the ECE field comes to terms with its lack of organization as a unified field of practice with defined expectations and accountabilities for a competent and responsible workforce.
Advancing ECE as a Professional Field of Practice
A budding movement is emerging in response to this crisis of fragmentation—a drive to organize ECE as a professional field of practice united by a shared overarching purpose, defining body of knowledge and practice, common professional identity, and accountability to one another, as well as to children and families.
Because of the nature of ECE’s work, few would question that it ought to be a profession and be recognized as such. Yet to qualify as a recognized profession, ECE will have to have attributes that define professional occupations—criteria such as a prescribed scope of work as a field of practice and formal preparation as a prerequisite to being licensed to practice.
This will require us to move beyond ECE’s history of willingly accepting people into the “profession” with varying education levels, credentials, and competencies, and ensuring that early educators are prepared to facilitate children’s learning and development prior to interacting with them and their families in formal early learning settings.
These are not trivial shifts in thinking. Advancing ECE as a recognized professional field of practice requires us to move beyond changes targeting incremental program improvements and instead engaging in the demanding but energizing work of transforming ECE as a field of practice.
The time has come for envisioning ECE as a recognized profession and determining how this will be achieved. The time has come for us to step forward, take charge of change, and confront the choices that becoming a professional field of practice will demand of us.
Many other fields of practice have confronted similar turning points: medicine, physical and occupational therapy, nursing, and architecture, to name a few. We can learn from their journeys. We can unify ECE as a field of practice, increase our individual and collective competence, and promote greater consistency in what children learn and are capable of doing across early learning settings.
Although professions vary in how they’re organized, they share the commonalities that are the hallmark of professional fields of practice. The work ahead, by definition, will be dynamic and emergent. This means it won’t be possible to devise an all-inclusive action blueprint in advance of starting ECE’s journey. Nor will a viable approach likely emerge in response to someone driving a predetermined change agenda. Rather, the work has to be driven by our shared vision for the field’s future, the choices we make regarding ECE’s defining purpose and character, and an openness to learning while we’re in the midst of change.
There is a starting place for the work, though — conversations with intent. These are conversations that engage us in personal and collective reflections that invite thinking together about creating an alternative future for ECE as a field of practice. Catalyzing these conversations is the focus of Professionalizing Early Childhood Education As a Field of Practice: A Guide to the Next Era. As Robert Fritz underscores for us, “We have been trained to think of situations that are inadequate to our aspirations as problems. When we think of them as problems, you are taking action to have something go away: the problem. When you are creating, you are taking action to have something come into being: the creation.”
By focusing on the future we want to create for ECE as a professional field of practice, we have the shared opportunity to help ECE realize its potential. Fulfilling this aspiration depends on each of us — individually and collectively — to become engaged with redirecting ECE’s trajectory. Your engagement in the next book blog study will begin your personal journey in this direction.
Copyright: Goffin Strategy Group, LLC, 2015
 R. Fritz. (1989). Path of least resistance: Learning to become the creating force in your own life. New York: Fawcett Columbine, p. 11, italics in original.
This concludes the first blog book study. If you’re a MN participant seeking training hours, please visit this link to access to requirements.
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