Policy [M]atters, Episode 6 | What’s the difference between ‘occupation’ and ‘profession’? Why does it matter?

by McCormick Center Staff

December 19, 2016

Policy Matters is a quarterly video chat series between Teri Talan of the McCormick Center and a guest author in early childhood policy. Our guest author for Episodes 5-8 is Stacie Goffin. Want to catch up or revisit the series? Explore previous chats and topics here.

The topic of Episode 6 was inspired by a comment posted on Episode 5, in which Kate Tarrant wrote, “I hear you talking about a real paradigm shift in which the complex and important work of nurturing young children’s whole selves is valued and aspiring educators enter into our field with high expectations and capacity to support children and families. So much of our systems are set up to compensate for not getting this right from the start. What thoughts do you have related to getting us from here to there?”

In Episode 6, Stacie Goffin and Teri Talan lay the foundation for addressing this question by solidifying the distinction between occupation and profession. Stacie’s ideas are largely based on drawing parallels to other fields—medicine, architecture, and law, to name a few—that transformed from occupations to professions. Teri expands on these ideas by sharing findings from Finnish Lessons, a book by Pasi Sahlberg, which details the remarkable results obtained when Finland implemented educational reforms, including strengthening the teaching profession.

The second half of the chat, which will be published as Episode 7 in January, used these parallels from other fields and Finland to address Kate’s specific question of how do we get from here to there? Stay tuned!

What’s your perspective on ‘occupation’ vs. ‘profession’? What questions or comments do you have for Teri and Stacie? What feedback do you have on the Policy [M]atters series? Share them in the comments section below.

Dr. Teri Talan is the Michael W. Louis Chair at the McCormick Center and Professor of Early Childhood Education at National Louis University. She is co-author of the Program Administration ScaleBusiness Administration Scale for Family Child CareEscala de Evaluación de la Administración de Negocios, and Who’s Caring for the Kids? The Status of the Early Childhood Workforce in Illinois.

A recognized leader and author in early childhood education, Stacie Goffin has led change initiatives spanning higher education, local, state, and national organizations; organizational development; and advocacy, resulting in change for systems, policy, and practice. Stacie is a member of the McCormick Center’s Advisory Board and is a frequent presenter at the McCormick Center’s Leadership Connections national conference.
Stacie has authored several books, including: Professionalizing Early Childhood Education As a Field of Practice: A Guide to the Next Era, Early Childhood Education for a New Era: Leading for Our Profession,and Ready or Not: Leadership Choices in Early Care and Education, which was co-authored Valora Washington.



5 Responses to “Policy [M]atters, Episode 6 | What’s the difference between ‘occupation’ and ‘profession’? Why does it matter?”

  1. Jack Wright says:

    Great series. Very informative. Both Teri and Stacie have done a great deal of thinking for those of us interested in the professionalization of early childhood educators.

  2. Laura Newman says:


    The link above details a memo from the Brookings Institution “Building a cohesive high quality early childhood system” aligns to your overarching goals. Among other key points and as identified, “The lack of a cohesive system of high-quality, affordable ECE therefore represents a missed opportunity to provide a strong foundation for later learning.” The need for public investment in ECE, challenges, etc., number two on the list of three recommendations lightly address your latest Policy Chat. That is, (Improve program quality by) supporting efforts to professionalize the early childhood workforce. Additionally, number three – Encourage novel approaches to systems building, also speaks to previous dialogue.

    In my role at the Southeastern headquarters of a three region Resource and Referral agency, I support owners and directors by delivering a series of monthly cohort meetings which are state approved for ADM hours. With broad resources, carefully selected topics of unique challenges to our industry leaders, I encourage networking, self-confidence and professional development of a different kind. Sometimes it truly takes a village…

    Thank you for all you do to lift our profession and those who lead the staff who care for the children.

    Laura Newman
    Director, GA Alliance for Quality Child Care
    Quality Care for Children

  3. Larisa Moe says:

    I found the shift from occupation to profession very interesting.

    However I think before this will truly happen there needs to be a strong shift in public opinion of early childhood education. Even though families, and businesses rely heavily on our services, we often are still viewed as just a temporary place until children can enter public/private school and begin their “formal education”. Our contributions are not viewed as critical or substantial in the overall picture of a child’s development, but yet without us there would be a dramatic impact to families and the economy of our nation.

  4. Stacie Goffin says:

    Jack, Laura, and Larisa, thanks so much for taking the time to respond to Teri’s and my policy chat. Your thoughtful comments contribute to and expand upon the conversation – just as we were hoping would happen.

    With that aim still in mind, I’d like to add still another thought: I value these chats because they focus on deepening our field’s understanding of professions and their unique contributions. They also help highlight the choices we will be required to deliberate as a field of practice if we want to re-form ECE as a recognized professional field of practice.

    This will necessitate our mobilizing internal will as a field and defining ECE as a field of practice, including the roles and scopes of practice that reside within the profession – which would likely represent a “slice” of the ECE field overall .

    While clearly on the cusp of a long term journey it’s also an energizing one. This is because we’ll be shifting our focus from problem-solving issues undermining our efficacy to envisioning a different future and developmental trajectory for ECE and working together to bring it to fruition. It offers us the chance to not only become more effective in helping children fulfill their potential but to do the same for ECE as a field of practice – how cool is that?!

  5. […] 7 is a continuation of episode 6, where Stacie and Teri solidified the distinction between ‘occupation’ and ‘profession’. In […]