Goffin Strategy GroupEarly Childhood Education’s Future as a Profession: The Ball’s In Our Court

by Stacie G. Goffin

As readers may be aware, I’m an advocate for redirecting early childhood education’s (ECE) developmental trajectory toward recognition as a professional field of practice. Interest in redirecting the field’s future is mounting. The launch in 2017 of Power to the Profession, a collaborative effort focused on ECE’s advancement as a profession, has the potential to unleash  a monumental shift in ECE’s organizational structure as a field of practice.

Marica Cox Mitchell, Deputy Executive Director, Early Learning Systems, at NAETC, who oversees the Power to the Profession (P2P) initiative, recently presented a webinar titled Clarity and Accountability As Necessities for ECE hosted by Early Childhood Investigations. As part of her overview of P2P, Marica made the case for gaining clarity regarding ECE’s purpose, roles, preparation requirements, and scopes of practice. Her presentation also underscored why we need to attend to issues of preparation and education, compensation and status, and diversity and inclusivity if ECE is to realize its developmental potential as a field of practice. Prior to concluding the webinar, she informed us that P2P Task Force recommendations were forthcoming—recommendations that call for careful review and consideration.

The P2P Task Force’s final recommendations will culminate in ECE’s first iteration as a profession. I’ve learned from studying professions’ evolution that it’s unlikely to be the last. This makes ECE’s first iteration as a recognized profession particularly important: It will set ECE’s developmental trajectory and establish its platform for continuing development. Consequently, individually and collectively, we need to carefully contemplate our aspirations for ECE as a profession and recognize potential unintended consequences of the Task Force’s recommendations. We also must be attentive to embedded impediments to ECE’s continuing development, and ensure sufficient internal will exists to propel ECE forward on its new trajectory.

My efforts on behalf of ECE becoming a recognized profession are long-term and ongoing. During this time, I’ve gained insight into what will be needed if ECE, as a field of practice, is to mobilize behind what will be a lengthy journey. This evolution will be filled with twists and turns that necessitate a long-term view. It will require patience, endurance, commitment, and belief in what’s possible. Crucially, those of us committed to igniting a new future for ECE need to be unified in understanding what this transformation will entail.

Near the end of 2016 and then again in spring 2017, Early Childhood Investigations gave me the opportunity to share my thinking on this topic. The first, Professionalizing Early Childhood Education—Your Role in the Next Era, made the case for re-forming ECE and outlined the criteria that define recognized professions. The second, Professionalizing Early Childhood Education—Distinguishing and Engaging the Field in Its Next Era, sought to deepen understanding of professions as a unifying, systemic structure focused on enabling consistently competent practices regardless of program setting and to persuade listeners to continue the conversation with colleagues. Each of us needs to be part of shaping ECE’s future—beginning with focused conversations about what it means to be a profession and engaging with the choices and decisions that will be required of us.

I’m linking these three webinars together because P2P’s success depends on early childhood educators understanding the differences between professional behaviors and the structure of recognized professions and between reforming and re-forming ECE as a field of practice. Importantly, these differences involve more than academic or theoretical distinctions. They underscore what’s involved in seizing the opportunity—and assuming the responsibility—for defining what it means to be an early childhood educator and transitioning from an unevenly regulated workforce to a self-governing field of practice. Without this understanding, ECE’s ability to secure its intentions and fulfill its potential will be seriously curtailed.

Redirecting ECE’s developmental trajectory also demands we collectively recognize the essential components of a profession’s infrastructure. Without understanding professions’ distinctive systemic character and grasping what’s entailed, I fear we are setting ourselves up for misunderstandings, frustration, and disappointment.

As Marica emphasized, P2P’s success depends on our involvement. Our support is essential to achieving the initiative’s aims. But our engagement must be well informed, and it must be actively expressed through our participation. Otherwise, counter to the P2P’s intentions, the effort will become still another top-down change process.

Redirecting our field’s trajectory is ultimately about helping children realize their developmental potential. But this time-honored aspiration won’t be achieved without addressing our collective potential, including our obligations to children and their families.

So much possibility awaits us. The ball is in our court.

©Goffin Strategy Group, LLC, 2018