Professionalizing Early Childhood Education: How Do We Get From Here to There? | Policy [M]atters, Episode 7

by Stacie Goffin and Teri Talan

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.

Welcome to Policy Matters episode 7.

Episode 7 is a continuation of episode 6, where Stacie and Teri solidified the distinction between ‘occupation’ and ‘profession’. In episode 7, Stacie and Teri use the parallels they drew from other fields to address the question of how do we get from here to there?

Stacie offers a pathway for the field’s journey toward becoming recognized as a profession, saying it begins with first making a commitment to change, defining the age span encompassed by the profession, and identifying the roles included. She then touches on the critical role of higher education in ensuring the profession’s competencies are universally acquired, while highlighting the state’s role in overseeing the individual licensure process.

Teri highlights what can be learned from other fields of practice that have sought to professionalize, including acceptance of a profession-wide understanding of the core early childhood knowledge and skills and the important connection to state regulation. The conversation dives a bit deeper when Teri and Stacie discuss the potential for specializations. Both Teri and Stacie mention NAEYC’s Power to the Profession as an initiative worthy of our attention.

What other aspects need to be considered on the road from here to there? What questions or comments do you have for Teri and Stacie? 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 Scale, Business Administration Scale for Family Child Care, Escala 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.




VOICEOVER: Welcome to Policy [M]atters episode 7. Policy [M]atters is a video chat series
and a guest author in early childhood policy. For the next four episodes is author Stacie Goffin between Teri Talan of the McCormick Center.

The chats take place and are distributed on a quarterly basis. Our guest author for the next four
episodes is author’s Stacie Goffin.

Episode 7 is a continuation of episode 6 where Stacie and Teri solidified the distinction between occupation and profession. In episode 7 Stacie and Teri use the parallels they drew from other fields and Finland to address the question of how do we get from here to there.

TERI: So I don’t want to ignore the  second question that we had and that was about what would it look like to be able to get us to a place where we had a well-prepared, well-qualified workforce of early childhood professionals who were ready to enter the classroom, and don’t want to say that need of continuing education, because I truly believe we all need continuing education, as a professional, and that is part of all professions. But where we’re not compensating and building the knowledge base while people are doing the job. So you know the proverbial, building the base while people are doing the job. So you know the proverbial, building the forward now? Now that we know and we’ve come together to define competencies. How do we move that forward without major changes in policy?

STACIE: I think we have to first agree that we want to do this as a field of practice because we really do need to decide whether or not we are ready to take a stance. That there is preparation that is required, prior to the ability to enter into an early learning setting, to actually practice with children. So that’s a really big conversation that we have to engage in and there are lots of multiple efforts now underway.

Probably among the most prominent being NAEYC’s new initiative around Power to the Profession, that I think is as I understand it, is hoping to initiate these opportunities for these kinds of conversations. I think another element that’s going to be very important is going to be then what is the chronological scope? Defining who’s in the profession, and who’s in the field.

So I would define myself right now as being in the field of early childhood education. I would not see myself as being in a future profession of early childhood education, because I am not directly engaged in practice. And that’s a really important distinction. So I still get to claim if you will, my pride if you will, and commitment to the work that we do in early childhood education.

But I would not be considered part of  the profession because the profession is about a field of practice, and not necessarily all the other ways in which those of us are engaged or about ensuring that that practice can be the highest caliber possible and that the circumstances are available so that those practices can, in fact, be executed, and are supported as necessary by policy.

And so higher-ed is going to be absolutely crucial. And moving forward, because one of the things that comes about, also in a profession, is once those competencies are defined, professions don’t necessarily accredit early childhood education programs, for example, because they’re focused on the individual. So their accreditations are really centered on the preparation program, because that’s where the consistency, and knowledge, and skills comes from.

So I could go to law school, I’m not sure where you went, but I could go to a different law school, and I could be counted on to get the same knowledge that it’s gonna be required to sit for a bar. When I sit for the bar, it’s gonna vary not because of the competencies that transcend the state’s legal parameters. When I study for the bar as much as anything, I’m studying about how does the state implement a particular law or rule differently than another state, because of its own context.

But what it takes to be an attorney is it doesn’t matter which law school I go to, and the same for medical school. And then yes it will be about amazing politics that are going to be involved, to be recognized state by state by state.

So physical therapy has now changed its injury requirements. It used to be a Master’s it’s now a Doctorate for entry into the field. Nursing, you actually have two, there are actually three pathways. But the two that are still most viable, are the two-year in the four-year, to be able to sit for the RN licensure. They have after many years of debate in conversation, have now decided that entry to sit for the licensure has to have a minimum of bachelors, the BSN. They’re now going state-by-state to change what’s going on at the state level in terms of having that profession driven recommendation accepted by the state and recognized as such.

TERI: So it sounds to me like you’ve laid out a pathway for how to get from there to where we want to be. Because we could build on the knowledge that we have from these other professions that have done exactly what we are talking about doing with early childhood education. In terms of, it sounds like some of the components, is this national, or a profession-wide understanding of the core knowledge that all professionals would be held to.

Perhaps a state-based licensure model that would take into context the local situation but build on these broad competencies that are in place, regardless of where you’re located. So thinking about the recommendations Lynn Kagan had at the end of her book.

But I think that you’ve laid out a number of steps of looking at what other professions have done
and figuring out which really works in terms of our context. And I think this Power to the Profession initiative that’s going on at NAEYC the National Association for Education of Young Children, is a powerful part of that process. And I think it’s just beginning I don’t think there’s a whole lot of knowledge about this initiative as of yet. But I’m assuming that we’ll be hearing much more from NAEYC about it in the future.

STACIE: So I would building from that… to be a recognized professional, in fact state licensure is required. Because one of the things that happens and now licensure being that the state and there’s actually their bodies, should say, groups, entities, within each state that are given, or assigned responsibilities and the obligations that go with them around licensure boards.

So it’s not tied to a particular agency like a Department of Ed or a Department of Health and Human Services, there’s actually a regulatory entity, and it includes members of the profession as well as other appointees that include members of the profession as well as other appointees that are about yes, based upon what is demanded by your profession we can feel assured that you meet the basic or minimal requirements to do no harm in your role and therefore, you have been licensed to to practice in their state.

And I just say again it’s really important to distinguish this type of licensure from what we think about as licensed teachers who are licensed by State Board of Education organization,s to function in the public school settings.

STACIE: Correct, yes.

TERI: Yeah I think that’s just something that I don’t think a lot of people have thought about. Where would such a licensure body exist? Who would make up that body? What’s the structure, the governance, the funding?

STACIE: Well the profession, the state, the various professions have model legislation and look to. So back to your comment about the opportunity to learn from other professions. Because one of the things I’ve had the chance to learn and I’ve now studied, maybe I should have a count at some point… but a number of other and varied recognized professional fields of practice.

And they’re the things that are their commonalities which are the ones I was naming, around what defines or characterizes a profession. But there’s also, which I think is important for us as we move forward… there’s variability in how some of those points or elements are actualized that have to do with the history of the field, the nature of their practice, you know in the context of the time when their interests emerged, and then the length of time that it may have taken for them.

And for all of them it’s a journey, it doesn’t happen overnight, that it takes for them ultimately to become a recognized profession. So it’s not just because architects decide to call themselves professionals, they have to be recognized as such, and it’s the state licensure that recognizes you, and then recognizes you as a professional field of practice. And typically, I mean, there is imperfection in all of this, but typically relies heavily upon the profession’s determination of the competencies in the accreditation of its preparation programs as requirements for sitting for licensure. That’s why we’re learning from other professions that their variations. The context of their work, that leads to some individuality in how the profession is structured.

TERI:  I mean, yes, and I think that there’s specialized knowledge and skills.

So working with infants or toddlers or preschool or school-age, our specific skills, and knowledge base that could be recognized in addition to the basic knowledge of child development and basic pedagogy for working with young children birth through age eight.

So the idea is that that there’s additional competencies essentially, when you’re focusing in a particular area.

STACIE: And so then that raises two other points. So one that comes down to, it’s not only especially against the scope of practice. So then you can have like early childhood intervention, early childhood special ed, as other examples, and you could also say is it by primarily the age of the child?
The opportunity that we have is to really be creative and to think about we do tend to say infants sometimes separating out toddler, sometimes not. You know preschool, pre-k, most people still want to hold on to kindergarten. I’m not sure you know if we still have that opportunity or not, but again I think there are a couple of different ways of thinking about what those specialties would be.

Kind of what I think matters in this conversation and you’ve really spoken to this a couple of times is that there really is a knowledge base to understand, to help inform their movement going forward.

VOICEOVER: Thanks to Stacie for joining us and thanks to you for watching. What do you want to hear about in the next episode? Tell us in the comments section below.

Until next time!