Language matters. Accountability matters.
Episode #86: Educators, childcare providers, teachers. Language matters. Accountability matters. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) recognizes the important role that early childhood educators play in the development of young children. Power to the Profession is about educators standing together, united in a voice to reclaim the power of the role. Marica Cox Mitchell clarifies the misconceptions about early childhood education and how NAEYC is advocating for the careers of educators today.
Resources in this episode:
– NAEYC’s Power to the Profession
HiMama Preschool Podcast, Episode #86 – Marica Cox Mitchell Proofread and revised by Andrew Hall – March 16, 2018 – – –
So I think that there are a lot of the current complexities of the profession that can be solved by definitely having increased public funding, but also having a very coherent identity.
Hi, I’m Ron Spreeuwenberg, co-founder and CEO of HiMama. Welcome to our podcast about all things “early-childhood education”.
Marica, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!
Thanks for having me. It’s always exciting to be here.
So Marica, you are working at NAEYC [National Association for the Education of Young Children] as the Deputy Executive Director of Early Learning Systems. And as part of your role at NAEYC you’re also involved with Power To The Profession. Can you tell our audience what Power To The Profession is all about?
Sure. I’ll say first and foremost, Power To The Profession is about ensuring that all young children have equal access to high-quality learning experiences. And we know that cannot happen if we do not have a competent, effective, compensated and diverse early-childhood education workforce. And so this initiative is all about organizing and mobilizing the early-childhood education profession so that it can best serve young children.
So with so many areas that NAEYC could focus on, why did you decide on the workforce with Power To The Profession?
I think the science made us focus on the profession, that the experiences and relationship between early-childhood educators and the young children and families we serve is the most important ingredient of quality. And so as we ensure that young children have high-quality experiences the idea of thinking about the workforce last did not make sense. The research forces us to put the workforce and the needs of the workforce front and center of conversations around early-childhood experiences and high-quality experiences. And so for us it was a no-brainer. It’s always about the early-childhood education profession, recognizing the important role early-childhood educators play in working with young children, birth through age 8.
And what’s the ultimate objective of Power To The Profession? If you were to say this was a very successful campaign, what does the end result look like?
Sure. It will first be at the end of this campaign to have all early-childhood educators standing united and being very clear about what the profession is, being very clear about our demands for what we want to be supported and effective, and making sure that we’re all pushing this collective agenda, and that’s how we define the profession on our own turf is defining the profession in a way that makes sense to us. And so I’ll say in the end if we have this united front, this united voice, early-childhood educators sort of reclaiming our power and being very clear that this is the work that we do and this is how we want to support young children based on the science of early learning. And this is how we want to be supportive and compensated.
Interesting. So this piece, a key part of it almost sounds like having a clear and consistent message, and you use the words “united front” or a collective agenda. So a lot of it is around consistency and having a very clear voice. Is that correct?
Absolutely. At this stage it’s all about consistency and having that clear voice, because we know it’s not. We see that while likely voters in some areas are interested in supporting the profession and supporting early-childhood education there seems to be misconceptions about what we do and how we do our work. And so we need to take ownership of that part of it and say, “Okay, if the public is willing to support us and needs a sort of clarity we need to provide that clarity.” And so it’s about again being very clear, very united, very coherent about how we make the case for additional investments in the profession.
And for some it may sound as, “Oh my gosh, we’re clear, we’re coherent.” And when we start sort of peeling the onions a little bit and asking questions about, “What do we call ourselves?”, something as basic as that, we see that in some contexts we’re childcare workers, and in others we’re called educators. And in others were called providers. And all those labels carry varying connotations, and what qualifications make you an early-childhood educator. We see that it varies significantly within states, across states.
And so we can’t coherently make demands about investments unless we’re very clear about where those investments are going and being very clear. Really it’s in the terminology and accountability that we’re willing to sort of be held accountable for. And so I think that’s just really key and we should lead that conversation.
Yeah, and we certainly see and experience a lot of that inconsistency. So that makes sense. In terms of where the campaign is at the moment, has there been any progress on any of these points?
Sure. So there are lots of questions we have to ask ourselves – obviously behind closed doors – as a field. We’ve divided those questions into what we’re calling “eight decision cycles”. We’ve made two decisions already [which] have been vetted with the field and approved by the national task force that’s leading this work. We currently have a draft of three additional decisions for field review and input. So we are making strides. We’re certainly spreading the word through multiple platforms like this one and seeking multiple opportunities for us to ensure that the decisions that are being made as a collective through Power To The Profession reflect the diverse expertise and perspective that [are] in the field.
Okay, cool. And you mentioned a couple steps of the process in terms of making decisions. Can you explain a bit further? So you write a draft, and as a collective with the different associations and organizations that are involved, and then it gets vetted by the field. How does that work?
Exactly. So I the good news is that we’re not starting with a blank slate. And so we look at implementation across states as it exists today. We look at research. We have some key informant interviews with the taskforce. The taskforce drafts these decisions, presents that to the field. A few through multiple instruments respond. Some respond through surveys; others respond through focus groups held in their local communities; others respond casually, just through an e-mail we’ve identified project. And so we took all of those responses, feed it back to the task force, and the task force modifies the drafts and presents it back to the field for additional review as needed. And so it’s a very iterative process where the taskforce force of these national organizations are creating drafts and ensuring that a few will have an opportunity to respond to those drafts.
Got it. Okay, cool. And I just wanted to circle back on a word that you said that resonated with me, which is “accountability”. And when you say “accountability”, who do you mean? And accountable for what?
I think that’s when we look at other professions and sort of their evolution we see that the professions are pretty much clear about the unique role they play in society and therefore develop accountability standards to govern their practice. And so as we think about organizing ourselves as a more sort of unifying, formal profession we also are going to have to ask ourselves questions about, “What are we accountable for? What do high-quality practices in the early-childhood setting look like? What happens when individuals implement those practices the right way, the wrong way? What are consequences for poor implementation or harming young children?”
And so it is definitely about making the case for compensation. But in that process we also have to be able to show that we can be accountable for practices, and we have to define what that accountability looks like. Because if we don’t, someone else is going to define that for us. And I think we all have had experiences where that doesn’t work so well. And so it is making the case for compensation and being very clear about what the young children and the public that’s going to be paying for this, essentially, are going to get back in return.
Right, that’s interesting. So with the increased quality and compensation that we want to see in the profession also comes with it responsibility and accountability. And I think that makes sense when I think of the other professions. Myself I studied engineering, so we take an oath, and of course doctors take an oath about their responsibility and duties as doctors. So it certainly makes sense. And that’s I guess just part of being a profession, right?
Now [are] there other case studies of other professions or sectors that have been successful in this quite grandiose movement, which this really is?
Yeah, and again, as major as this may seem it’s reassuring to know other professions have been in this exact same phase, that they identified this space as being very important for where they are now, that if they did not organize themselves in this manner and unify and mobilize it would not be where they are today. And so we’re looking at multiple professions. And pretty much I guess a good thing about being relatively last is we can cut and paste and pick and choose what works for us based on our culture and our ethics and our ethos.
And so we draw parallels. There are things we like about the nursing profession. They were able to make a case for increased respect, recognition and compensation at a time where there were also predominately women. So there were some parallels there for us. They also are in a profession in which care is an important component of their practice, and that’s true for us as well. We look at the architects and sort of their structure and who gets to call themselves an architect and how they’re very protective about their professional labels. We look at others in the legal profession, and doctors. Again, not at all saying that we are going to be an exact replica off all those other professions. But we do see that they have some commonalities.
And as we tried to have the public better understand the work that we do and help us in making the case for increased compensation and support, it helps if we align ourselves and our language and our structure in a way in which other professions or are designed.
[Are] there any other key lessons learned from some of these other professions going through this transition?
I think it’s… we were a very intentional about calling the phase of the initiative “Power To The Profession” because we do believe that the profession has to be front and center of this movement. And I will say that having early-childhood educators – particularly those who are practicing in the classroom – feel like they have a voice and that they do have power and that if we organize ourselves we can influence the policies that impact our practice is perhaps the most important, frankly stated to have a lot of time to have that resonate.
I think in many ways whether early-childhood educators are in classroom settings, school settings, even hired faculty, we have been used to not being in the front and center of making decisions about our work, that using this initiative to say, “Absolutely not. We’re going to reverse that thinking.” And actually we have early-childhood educators lead and to be very clear about what they want to see the policy contracts has been interesting. And it’s a shift that we need to make.
So if I’m an early-childhood educator listen to this podcast, and I’m thinking, “Wow, it would be amazing if our profession got a more consistent view of what agenda we are bringing to the table and continue to professionalize what we’re doing,” what can I do myself as an individual to help this movement forward?
I’ll say sign on, whether you’re an NAEYC member or not you can sign on to receive updates and to engage in this conversation. You can e-mail P2P@NAEYC.org. You can also visit our website to get more information about this initiative. And so multiple ways in which we want the profession to engage us. For some of you who live in areas with local NAEYC affiliates, certainly using our affiliates to gain more information about Power To The Profession is also helpful. And so just making sure again that the profession understands that they have power and that we can’t keep thinking we don’t have power, and when we do that we give up our power.
Cool. And what timing are we looking at for some of these changes in the approvals of some of these decisions that are still not yet vetted and approved?
So we started making these decisions with, again, the task force in the lead in 2017. And the goal is, by December 2018 we will roll out the first iteration of a more unifying framework and definition of the early-childhood profession. Again, another lesson learned from other professions is that we’re all going to be changing this framework, that we’re going to roll up roll out this first iteration and start implementing it across states and sectors and systems and commit to always, like a continuous quality improvement cycle, going back and making revisions in areas where we feel like it is not working, or we need to respond to either new research or practice. And so it’s going to be a very iterative process. But by December 18th, first iteration of those unifying profession will be released, having been informed by the field.
Wow! Very exciting. What excites you most about Power To The Profession and what you’re doing with that campaign?
I think what excites me most is the opportunity for clarity and coherence and what that brings. I think clarity and coherence, in addition to making us have a stronger case for public investments, it addresses a lot of the complexities that currently have right now, like articulating from an associate’s degree to bachelor’s degree, or gaining credentials that are only relevant in one state and where he have to go from one state to the other we see that those credentials are no longer valuable. The opportunity of being very clear about how you enter and advance in this profession so that we can better attract and retain educators, particularly diverse early-childhood educators. So I think that there are a lot of the current complexities of the profession that can be solved by definitely having increased public funding, but also having a very coherent identity.
Cool. And in terms of, you know, next steps and communications I would see that maybe as being important as well. So once you release that draft – because, as you said, it’s going to be a working, iterative process – how are we going to ensure that everybody’s using that same language in that consistent front when we put our messaging out to the world?
Absolutely. So these two years – 2017, 2018 – it’s very insular. It’s about us, frankly, coming into this unifying decision. And then once we’re all clear that this is how we want our profession to bind and support it, we can then start a very robust policy financing agenda, as well as an image campaign. And so we are going to go state-by-state, looking across states at some federal regulations and making sure that all the policies that impact our practice include this unifying definition.
Wow, very cool.
Yeah, it is. It’s not just putting out guidelines and hoping and praying that some state or some local community adopts. It’s actually putting out these guidelines and then ensuring that it is embedded in all the policies that impact our practice.
That’s so exciting. And we’re talking about a pretty fast timeline, really, too, because we’re putting this out at the end of 2018, and then we’re moving these next steps forward presumably 2019, 2020. In sort of a couple of years we could really be making some significant movements in Power To The Profession and professionalizing early-childhood education, by the sounds of it.
Yeah, absolutely. And again, this is not a new conversation. I think that we’ve had a conversation for decades. We hear this often from some of the mentors in this profession who are, like, “Whoa, we’ve had this exact same conversation in the [1950’s] and the 60’s and the 70’s. And certainly if you go back in the NAEYC’s history and of some of our older documents, policy documents, you see that in there.
And so this is fast, to have two years to draft the first iteration of this profession. But it also draws on some existing work that’s happening in states and countries, as well as work we’ve done in the past. And so it is exciting to be at a place where we can galvanize the field to make these complex decisions about how we wanted to be presented and supported.
Yeah, and I think from my end it’s also great to see structure around the process and goals and deadlines of when we want to have decisions approved and make forward progress. And also having all the different associations and organizations at the table that are involved in addition to NAEYC to have that cohesive messaging I think is really exciting because this one this time around, as you said, it’s been looked at a couple of times before. But it sounds like we’re really making a concerted effort to make this one stick and really make a strong, forward progress on this.
Absolutely. And again, as a united front this is not just NAEYC. Many organizations are involved – over 60 organizations. And their local affiliates are involved in this process again to ensure that we are collectively defining a profession on our own terms.
Very cool. I’m very excited to see what comes by the end of this year, already. I’m sure you’ve got a full plate of work, along with many others.
Absolutely. It’s exciting work. It’s necessary for supporting young children, and certainly advancing as a diverse and effective profession. So, necessary conversations.
Totally. Awesome. Well, thanks, Marica, for all your work on Power To The Profession and all the other people that are involved in this very important movement and campaign to professionalize early-childhood education. Been awesome having you on the show, Marica, thanks for coming on.
Absolutely. Thank you so much for this opportunity.