8 Mar

Beyond The Pages ECE Book Study: Chapter 3 (Week 6)


By Tracy McElhattan 

Tracy MThe room is tense. You can feel the air being sucked out of the room. No one is listening, the conversation is going nowhere and everyone is staring at a phone or watch, wishing that time would stop standing still. We’ve all been in a situation like that and it doesn’t feel good, nor is it usually very productive. In order to create something new in ECE, we don’t have time to have unproductive conversations. Time is of the essence.  Think we have plenty of time? I believe the time is now because while I’m energized that ECE is in the news frequently (just in the past week, I’ve read this, this, this, and this, plus others), I’m disheartened because commentary and loud opinions often come from sources outside our field- instead of within. It’s time for us to initiate our own conversations, to “foster conceptualization of ECE as a whole, and prompt collective inquiry and creativity” (p. 33). Effective conversations will take place when we implement the foundational practices described in this chapter:

  1. Listening
  2. Respecting
  3. Suspending

Admittedly, these are tough things to do when we’re talking about our passion and life’s work. In Jill’s blog post, she told us of negative reactions to tough questions about professionalizing ECE from a conference session she attended just recently. We will do well to remember, as Stacie said, to separate our role from who we are as persons (pg. 37). Using the principles and “keep in minds” Stacie shared with us in Chapter 3, we won’t walk away from difficult conversations and we will learn to facilitate conversations together.

Why Do We Need to Think Together?

The past several weeks we’ve been able to think deeper on an individual level, and a bit on a collective level, given the nature of doing a book study. Hopefully you’ve thought through your own presumptions, and you’ve seen what your online colleagues are thinking about on an individual level. Now we’re ready to apply our knowledge and skills to answering questions that directly address structuring ECE as a profession. Let’s remember to “keep the main thing the main thing”:

Our purpose is to deepen understanding of ECE as a field of practice and explore options for its evolution to a professional field of practice; professionalizing ECE so that systemic capacity exists to consistently promote children’s optimum learning and development (p. 40).

This is the purpose of having “conversations with intent.” These conversations will push us to move beyond the ECE silos, which impede the flow of collaboration and innovation. We need to focus on “creating a compelling future for ECE as a field of practice and designing a system that brings the field’s desired behaviors to fruition” (p. 32).

What Do We Need to Think About?

A few years ago, I worked closely with Stacie as she facilitated conversations with intent with a specific group whose goal was a greater unification of their state’s early childhood programs. I learned a lot from helping her prepare for meetings, watching her work, and debriefing afterwards. Stacie has created this book to help ECE practitioners and constituents like us function in a similar way as if we were sitting in a room together. Following are two questions that I think we can explore online together this week that will steer our inquiry and creativity toward professionalizing ECE. Leave your comments and I will check in throughout the week. Remember that this is the beginning and we cannot know all the answers at the beginning. This is a journey we’ve chosen together.

  1. What should be ECE’s primary purpose as a professional field of practice?
  2. What do we think is the best starting point for structuring ECE as a professional field of practice?

Tracy E. McElhattan, Ph.D.

*New here? You can find all the book study details HERE. Happy reading!

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This book study is sponsored by Redleaf Press


30 thoughts on “Beyond The Pages ECE Book Study: Chapter 3 (Week 6)

  1. Thanks for getting this week’s conversation goIng! I think a very important place to start in ECE is to develop a deeper understanding of child develop and how that relates to best practices in the early childhood classroom. Uniform, intentional practice that is defined as high quality should be the standard of care and education that all young children receive regardless of where they live across our country.

    1. I wonder if we need to first come to consensus that there is a great deal of disparity in ECE practice before we can begin to take the steps you describe?

      1. Hi Betsy, I think your question makes me realize that I operate with the assumption that we’ve already come to that conclusion as a field of practice. I think the colleagues I am generally around would agree, and those engaging in public policy conversations acknowledge a disparity as well. However, I realize that’s also not the case everywhere and there are definitely those that wouldn’t be able to articulate understanding of a disparity in practice. To me, the disparity is a crisis that motivates me to work towards change. Perhaps not everyone sees the crisis facing ECE, and therefore doesn’t understand the necessity of change. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Betsy, I guess I was speaking on the assumption that there is a consensus in regard to disparity in ECE practice. Play-based verses “academic” programs have been at odds for a long time. I have read some blogs recently that remind us there should not be a dichotomy, but rather play-based AND academic- meaning they are learning, but in a developmentally appropriate way. I guess I got ahead of myself in my eagerness to see things move forward. If children truly learn through experience and interactions then we need to teach through engaging experiences and quality interactions rather than drill and worksheets. I have seen even in one program a huge disparity from one classroom to the next depending on the individual teachers. One class had hands-on centers while the other had dittos and both were for children getting ready to enter kindergarten. What disparity have you seen?

    1. Hi Robin,

      The disparity that bothers me the most is that not all children have access to what is considered “high quality” preschool or early education. I’ve taught preschool in a state that offered free universal pre-k, and then I’ve taught in two states that offered targeted pre-k. In one of those places I was an itinerant ECSE teacher, so I visited all kinds of early childhood centers-in home daycares, faith-based, for-profit, and both public and private schools. In all the places I just mentioned, no two types of EC providers had the same standards for teachers or the educational environment. Further, not all parents can afford to send their kids to preschools that know and utilize best practices. I know not every child is going to go to preschool, and I’m not advocating for that in the least bit, but even as a parent of two preschoolers, it is frustrating to me to know that I am limited in the education my children receive because of what is available to choose from. That’s the disparity that bothers me the most! Good conversation question–thank you!

      1. ECE isn’t the only time a child’s education is limited, it is throughout their whole education. Some parents can afford all of the best programs and private school and others are barely able to make ends meet. And on that line the affluent children often are fed better choices which also influences their educational abilities. I think ECE

  3. Tracy, the primary purpose of early childhood educators may be to fix themselves. If that is accepted, it would also be the best starting place for structuring ECE as a professional field of practice. Are not the troubles we are experiencing related to our own limitations related to the early childhood education we received? We may be seeing limitations in our emotional regulation, social skill development, and especially in the development of empathy. Perhaps we need to hold up our best goals for early childhood education as a way of developing ourselves. Important to such a goal would be to remember that, due to our genes and environment, we are not responsible for who we are, only for who we become. Let’s work on becoming an effective group of professional early childhood educators.

    1. Hi Jack, thank you for your comment. I agree that we have to start within ourselves in order to structure ECE as a professional field of practice. Other commenters were discussing disparity, so to continue that theme and also speak to your comment–I think there is a disparity in who would consider themselves in need of “fixing.” We can’t even agree on what to call ourselves. I personally think that early childhood educators is an appropriate term. But I KNOW there are many that provide a similar service but consider themselves more “care providers” and not educators, with no desire to be an “educator.” But I think that is essentially a semantic issue really, and could be fixed by restructuring our certification system. You’re right, we need to work on becoming an effective group of professional early childhood educators. My hope is that we can all come together and work in tandem-both “care providers” and “educators” and provide a quality environment and education for young children and their families.

      1. Tracy, I didn’t realize that some think that being a care provider is enough. Providing care is the basis of what early childhood educators do, and it provides the relationship that is so crucial to education, but it is clearly not enough. Such an attitude may be why so many adults don’t appear to understand that living a healthy life requires that we work at it: educate ourselves. When we don’t continue to educate ourselves as life swirls around us, we end up feeling frightened and helpless. That leads to rigidity and even aggression, if not to depression.

        1. I believe this is where the difficult decisions and loss can come in. As we move forward to be a professional field of practice individuals will have a choice about what path to take to be recognized as an educator with a specialized knowledge base or a lay person caring for children.

  4. If ECE is to be a professional field of practice I would expect that people would want to be recognized as educators with specialized knowledge. I would also except that many who are providing care now already do.

  5. Here are my answers to the questions posed this week:

    1. I think the primary purpose of ECE as a professional field of practice is to equip those in the field and desiring to be in the field of ECE to provide a high-quality environment and education to young children. If it were an ideal world, I would encompass children through age 7 or 8 in Early Childhood, especially given what I’ve seen as I’ve been touring elementary schools in preparation for my son’s entry to Kindergarten.

    2. I think a good starting place would be to center conversations around how to best equip all people who serve young children-from in-home daycare providers, to center-based preschool, to public early childhood and early intervention programs.

    I’m open to other definitions and starting places, but this is where I tend to gravitate when I think of creating a professional field of practice. I like to research other professions, such as engineering or the medicine, or public recreation and leisure services, to think of how we can apply what is already being done in those fields, to our own field of practice.

  6. Tracy, I’m asking myself what we equip anyone with in terms of early childhood education. Psychology used to be mostly expert opinion; that derived from individual experiences. ECE professionals may be having a similar difficulty. Psychologists now have an empirically supported base determined and challenged by experimental psychologists. That doesn’t mean we don’t have individuals that are out of date on their information, or even confused, but psychologists are generally performing more effectively with improved information. ECE professionals may be having the troubles Stacy points to due to a conflict between expert opinion and empirically supported information.

    1. Jack, I completely agree that there is a large disconnect between what we know from our own empirical knowledge base and what is implemented in various types of classrooms. I have many personal examples that I’ve seen, even in high quality preschool classrooms. There are also a lot of really great things happening, and teachers who know how to find and implement evidence-based practices, but the lack of implementation is something that needs to be addressed for sure. Thanks for pointing this out.

  7. Our goals in helping ECE become a professional field of practice should include challenging, inspiring, motivating, and educating children in a high quality environment by professional staff. These goals can only be accomplished when we move forward together creating a future for early educators. How can we through our “conversations with intent” encourage professionalism in our field?

  8. As I stated earlier, I am a in-home provider. I don’t have the money or the time to get a college degree in early childhood development, but I do take many hours of training to guide me through what I provide for the children in my care. I think one of the first steps is to have anyone that teaches other care-givers must have some kind of certificate that shows they are current on what they teach. A couple of years ago I took 2 classes in the same week, both stated they were ECE educators, but the skills they were teaching were very different. One was teaching skills that the other teacher talked about as out dated. Unfortunately some in the field don’t keep up with the new findings and continue on the same path as always. The result is some providers and teachers are using out dated skills and practices but they think they are current because of where they took their training. Also unfortunately a large number only take the minimum hours of training, I think I hear it at all most of the classes I take someone talking about they only have so many more hours and they are done for another year. If we care about our field we should always be advancing our own education for the better ways of helping our children on the right path. Here in Minnesota we are only required to have 16 hours a year of training but I will have taken 24 hours by the end of this month and I have more picked out that I want to take. I feel it is important to keep up in all areas that involve the children.
    Also Tracy, thank you for the links to the articles, I found them very eye opening and informative. This would also be great if we as care-givers or what ever we decide to call ourselves, if we had a place to go to find current articles like this to help us guide our steps.

  9. Cindy, I hope that you are not as exceptional as I fear you are. You are truly child-centered like we all need to be. I have now joined NAEYC. It has left me more confused about the conversations we are having here. It is a huge organization with ethics, scholars, and lots of literature. It is as big as the American Psychological Association. I will be surprised if they don’t have a regular presence in Washington D.C. I don’t know what else is needed for the professionalization of early childhood educators. Perhaps your lack of formal education is part of the problem. Would your certificates of continuing education be enough for you if professionals had a distinction like having a license? Psychology licenses don’t assure that a professional psychologist is up to date in that fast changing field, but it makes it more likely as they need continuing education to maintain their license, and it is well policed with careful signing in at each break at a conference.

  10. I never said I did not attend college, in fact I finished college 41 years ago. I would never dream of going out to teach a class on a subject after being out of college that long ago but unfortunately there are people who do and they have not kept up with the times.. my point I was trying to make in our conversation with intent is that we need to have people teaching classes who have kept up with the new training. We’re trying to come to a conversation with ideas to help bring ECE to a field of practice. We need to be open and listen to everyone’s ideas suggestions and observations of what they have seen to make our ECE field of practice better and more professional.

  11. Cindy, sorry, I should have known by your grammar and expression skills that you had gone to college. Your issue of certification intrigues me. We have certification from NAEYC and from the McCormick Center that I know of, and perhaps others. What we may need is for certification of qualification to be renewed every three or five years. Information in early childhood education becomes out of date that quickly.

  12. I see a main problem as lack of coordination. Yes, NAEYC is a fantastic organization that does accreditation of childcare , disseminates research, is a force in public policy, and many other roles. However, NAEYC is not a gatekeeper for who enters the field or who is able to provide training. So we have many avenues for the provision of training, and many avenues for who enters early childhood care and education. Thank you, Cindy for your commitment to furthering your own knowledge and investing in the future by keeping up to date with best practices for young children!

  13. Jack, in psychology are there multiple organizations that provide training and accountability for CEUs? Or just the APA?

  14. Tracy, both organizations and individuals can apply to APA for approval of their presentations being accepted CEU credits. I don’t know about organizations, but I’ve looked into the requirements for individuals. I would need to pay $400 or so, send three evaluations from audiences that I have presented to, and who they were. They also say something vague like it would help if I published a book.

  15. When I think of ECE’s primary purpose is to ensure that children get the most out of the time that they spend with us. I am a home childcare provider and when my kiddos are here with me, I want to make sure that they have fun when they are here and they go home at the end of the day with something new to tell their parents. I offer a daily curriculum so we are learning new things everyday whether it is something related to animals or spelling a new word – I want them to get the most out of time spent with me and I want it to be positive!
    Our starting point is that these kids are the future, literally! We need to ensure that they their education is taking seriously from the time they enter kindergarten. Once a child falls behind, it could potentially take them awhile to get back up to speed and at the same pace as their peers. I am personally experiencing this with my daughter. Being a younger mom, I didn’t think anything of the preschool program at her daycare; I just thought “perfect, she can be at daycare and preschool at the same time”. Well she was falling behind even before she started kindergarten and the teachers there (which were great!) just didn’t realize that she wasn’t up to speed so upon entering kindergarten she fell behind immediately.

    1. Brittany, your daughter’s experience illustrates that children need more than a loving situation at their childcare. A loving patient attitude in childcare providers is the core need, but then their is the need for adequate understanding of children’s development, especially neurological stages, and assessment of progress. Childcare can be quite frustrating if we don’t see their attitudes and behaviors as a learning process dependent upon their stage of growth. We lose patience, and tend to punish, when we don’t understand this process. NAEYC has several books that are inexpensive that can assist providers with the information that is so important for the loving of children.

  16. Thanks for all the great comments and insights! I agree with Cindy that a very important part of professionalizing ECE is to make sure the teachers in the field are routinely being educated and informed about current practices. Every other job field does this, medical, legal, environmental, etc. Understanding DAP is an ongoing education that introduces new concepts and ideas as more and more research is conducted and revealed. Like Cindy, I too was not formally educated in ECE, and because of that I am required by law to get 40 hours of training a year. (Less is required for those with more formal education.) As I stated in a previous blog comment, it would be nice that in the future, all teachers in ECE have formal education so that at least there is a minimum standard of knowledge that exists. It’ll take awhile, but I know that by employing Stacie’s techniques to have meaningful conversation, we will get there!

  17. What should be ECE’s primary purpose as a professional field of practice?
    Our purpose should be providing affordable, high quality care and education in recognized developmentally appropriate ways to all young children.

    Now I say that as a goal, a “mission statement”. Something we are working to become. It’s huge when I think about all that would be involved in making this goal a reality. All the different types of programs, different government services, different levels of education in teachers, economic challenges, even all the constantly changing ideas about what ~is~ developmentally appropriate!

    What do we think is the best starting point for structuring ECE as a professional field of practice?

    The starting point needs to be creating or defining what a “professional” in ECE looks like, establishing standards, and using current accreditation and parent rating systems to determine the minimum standards in order to be considered a professional.

    I see a future that includes professional early childhood educators as well as people and programs who consider themselves “care givers”. But unless you are willing to meet the personal educational, programming and wage standards set forth, you cannot call yourself or your program “professional” with the benefits, possible subsidies and credit to which they would be due.

  18. 1. What should be ECE’s primary purpose as a professional field of practice?

    ECE’s primary purpose as a field of practice should be shaping society through improving the lives of children and parents. As a profession, ECE has an obligation to children that is more than just improving education. Focusing on this as a common interest will help unite in-home providers, ECE teachers, and other ECE stakeholders rather than emphasize our differences.

    2. What do we think is the best starting point for structuring ECE as a professional field of practice?

    I think the starting point for structuring ECE as a professional field of practice is less relevant than the starting point for structuring ECE to meet ECE’s primary purpose. The best starting point for structuring ECE to meet the purpose I have identified is through engagement with parents to identify their needs. Parents have a much broader political base than ECE professionals. This must be done before a strategy can be developed.

    Parents will not care about professionalizing the field unless they understand how professionalizing the field will benefit their children. Perhaps many of the parents that have an interest in improvements have never seen a great preschool classroom in progress. Exposing parents to a great classroom is one step in engaging them. We must use emotion and feelings to engage parents.

    We need to be real about the obstacles facing us. Parents are overworked. Many of them are struggling just to provide food and shelter for themselves and their children. Many of them are not politically involved, even where they have a self-interest in such involvement. We must also include parents in the development of ECE’s vision.

  19. I’d like to say that the primary purpose of professionalizing ECE should be to make sure all kids are learning the same material as others in a different program but I don’t see how this is possible. As Robin touched on the play based verses academic based learing the differences are extreme yet equally important. How do we measure this other than just being sure the educators are all receiving the same education? Somehow we need to set standards. Make ECE aware of the qualifications needed for kindergarten and give the the tools/knowledge needed to prepare the kids.

  20. The primary purpose of ECE should be providing high quality, affordable care and education using intentional practice (rooted in our professional knowledge of child development) to all children regardless of where they live.
    The starting point should be determining what the standards of ECE are going to be and creating the foundation for professionalization out of that. You cannot begin to build something without first knowing the basic building blocks.

  21. I truly believe in school readiness but there has to be a limit. Kids need to be kids I personally think everyone needs to be held to the same expectations, All kindergarten teachers should start teaching how to read, PreK teachers to start writing.. Ect. but when and where is that going to stop, because I also believe 3 year old’s need to play, stack blocks and kick a ball, count cars and say the colors that they are. Need to play to learn basis in this life.

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