Reframing and Renaming What We Do and Who We Are: Early Childhood Education in the 21st Century

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. Four years ago, I entered the realm of social media for the purposes of professional learning. It has been an amazing experience as I have expanded my knowledge, my network and I am in a constant state of cognitive dissonance which I embrace! Recently, a Facebook friend posted on the Reggio Emilia Approach Facebook page to provoke discussion about the term day care. The discussion that followed was illuminating and it really made me stop and think. Do we say, day care, child care, early learning centre, nursery school, preschool, early childhood development centre or dare I say, early childhood academy? How we refer to the programs in which we teach and work, whether they be home-based, centre-based or within a school matters to many. It matters to me. I am an early childhood educator (ECE). Indeed, I am a registered early childhood educator (RECE). In Ontario, the province that I work, it matters. Early childhood educator is a protected title. I am only entitled to use if I am registered with the College of Early Childhood Educators. I have not worked with children for many years. I am not required to register as an early childhood educator to do the work that I do – it is outside my scope of practice. However, I dutifully pay my registration fees every year and I renew my membership to the Association of Early Childhood Educators of Ontario (AECEO) every year, because it matters. I love early childhood education. I admire the work of early childhood educators. I want to support the professionalization of the sector so that those who work with our youngest learners are respected and compensated accordingly.

Professional Pay for Professional WorkIn addition to there being so many terms used to describe the programs in which early childhood educators work, there are many interchangeable terms to describe who we are. Aside from early childhood educators, I have heard child care providers, child care practitioners and child care worker. Replace the “child” with “day” and you have day care provider, day care practitioners and day care worker. In Ontario, we have full day kindergarten in the school system. In each class there is a certified teacher and a registered early childhood educator working as partners. I have visited many of these classes. I sometimes hear the children refer to the teacher as Miss or Mrs and the ECE by her first name. Aren’t they both teachers? Why is there a difference? Sometimes I hear the “teacher” refer to her partner as “my ECE”. I know that the intention is not hurtful but it implies a sense of ownership. My dear friend Suzanne Axelsson who writes the amazing blog Interaction Imagination from Sweden (one of the perks of social media was connecting, meeting and visiting Suzanne and the program that she works in) calls herself a preschool teacher and where she works is called a preschool. I have heard others question this term as it denotes that this is before school begins and it undervalues the education that happens in the early years. I have visited and spent time with Suzanne and the children. The learning experiences were amazing, especially the children’s exploration of philosophical thinking was very different from the traditional view of school. It was playful, inquiry-based, emergent, thoughtful learning. It was not academic learning. It certainly was not babysitting.

I am an early childhood professional

I would suggest that every early childhood educator has probably encountered the term babysitter at some point in their career. I know some of my students have voiced that relatives refer to their chosen path as “glorified babysitting”. I have personally heard it. Not as often as I once did, but when I do, my blood boils. Years ago, I read a book that had a profound impact on my understanding of early childhood education; The good preschool teacher: Six teachers reflect on their lives by William Ayers. Ayers (1989) claims that the voices of preschool teachers are even less heeded than those of teachers generally. “Preschool teachers appear to be seen either as glorified babysitters whose working lives are unrelated to the lives of other teachers or as a subset of teachers generally, without exceptional and important characteristics of their own” (Ayers, 1989, p. 3). Our voices need to be heard and when we speak we need to be conscious of the language that we use. Another wonderful outcome of writing this blog and using social media platforms like Facebook for professional learning was connecting with Lisa Burman from Australia. I found her article on the language of learning to be inspiring and thought-provoking.

The Language of Learning - Lisa Burman

Lisa has written about the language we use as teachers in our work with children. We also can consider our language in our work beyond the classroom. Language matters. Choose your words carefully and with critical thought and reflection. I am inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach and the image of the teacher as researcher and theory builder. To express a voice that articulates theory would be to project an elevated image far beyond that of glorified babysitter. We need to embed theory into practice. I have struggled in the past with an aversion to theory but now I embrace it as a defining aspect of my practice. I am drawn to the social constructivism of Vygotsky as the theory that lights the path of the road I take.

vyogotsky quote

Vygotsky reminds us not to be silent but when we speak that our words be thoughtful. Loris Malaguzzi was also profoundly influenced by the work of Lev Vygotsky. The theory of social constructivism provides a theoretical base for the Reggio Emilia Approach but Malaguzzi and the educators of Reggio are also theory builders, creating principles of practice that focus on images – the image of the child, the image of the family and the image of educators. According to Malaguzzi , we must go beyond seeing education as a service offered to young children, it subjugates the child within a message that their voice need not be heard. Reframing the images of the three subjects of education – the child, the teacher and the family will transform and elevate the status of the early childhood educator by positively impacting self-image. Letting go of the image of babysitter to accept the elevated status of teacher as theory-builder could be transformational. This empowering image can positively influence every teacher’s very personal self-image and can transcend to impact the sector as a whole. As we emerge from undervalued obscurity and evolve towards professionalization, the underlying supposition is that the catalyst for this change can be the inspirational philosophy and practice of the pre-primary schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy.

If nature has commanded that of all the animals, infancy shall last longest in human beings—it is because nature knows how many rivers there are to cross and paths to retrace. Nature provides time for mistakes to be corrected (by both children and adults), for prejudices to be overcome, and for children to catch their breath and restore their image of themselves, peers, parents, teachers, and the world.

(Malaguzzi, 1998, p. 80)

Loris Malaguzzi suggested that children have a right to a new restored image that elevates their position to one of collaborator, communicator, and co-constructer with the adults in their lives. For early childhood educators, the same parallel exists vis-à-vis their relationship to other educators. Early childhood educators are also in extreme need of a restored image that elevates their position to one of collaborator, communicator, and co-constructer with educators from all other levels. In Ontario, for the over forty years that the field of early childhood education has been recognized as a distinct sector of education, those connected to it have been suffering from an image that impedes growth and development. If the image held of early childhood educators is of glorified babysitters, the rights of children are compromised. A new image for both children and their teachers should ascend in tandem. As the rivers are crossed and paths retraced, it is time to reconceptualize how we view the youngest learners and the teachers charged with their care and education. The mistakes of the past can be overcome according to Malaguzzi. We are in a new century. It is time for a change.

14 thoughts on “Reframing and Renaming What We Do and Who We Are: Early Childhood Education in the 21st Century

  1. Well said, Diane. It is a discussion well worth having….for every individual in the field on their own, as well as with our colleagues.

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  2. I too enjoyed the dialogue on this topic within the Reggio Emilia Approach Facebook group that inspired this post. I agree with your comments 100% and tried to convey a similar message in the Facebook conversation. I work as a consultant supporting the professionalization of early childhood education in my province and we have a long way to go. I think that the name change is just one of the many ways that we can support the overall mind shift required to finally move away from the “glorified babysitter” perspective.

    Oh and teachers referring to registered ECEs as their ECEs is absolutely appalling and MUST be stopped. I fear, however, that the full-day kindergarten system in Ontario is set up to promote this kind of disrespect between areas of specialization. Because, isn’t that all that separates the work of these teachers – a specialization in specific ages of children?

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    • Hello,

      This is a great topic! I am writting my thesis on quality in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) as it is known here in Ireland and it includes the professionalisation of our sector. I would love your thoughts, as a consultant, on some of the strategies you implore in supporting the professional identity of ECCE. Any resources would be greatly appreciated, I am fascinated by the topic and believes it deserves debate.

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  8. Dianne, we have this discuscussion a lot. It’s a parent perspective. We continue to educate and share our passion. This is one of our motives to make learning visible. The bottom line for me is respect. What we do everyday as a professional does matter in the life of a child!

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  9. When I first started teaching (preschool) in Australia, we worked with ‘assistants’. I always felt uncomfortable referring to them as ‘my assistant’. So, I would usually refer to them as ‘the other teacher’. However, this still felt wrong; respectful, but wrong- I was the teacher!
    Many years later, and with the introduction here of a range of ‘diploma’ and ‘certificate’ courses as alternatives to teaching qualifications in Early Childhood Education, everyone is an ‘Educator’.This feels wrong as well. This is obviously to raise the status of the very valuable work that all ‘educators’ do, in the ever expanding field of Early Childhood Education, particularly within Long Daycare Centres. But in doing so, I can’t help but feel we are devaluing our University educated Early Childhood Teachers.
    I guess it comes down to being very confident in what you are doing as teacher and room leader, and communicating this with the families we work with. But still…
    Would love to hear others thoughts on this.
    Lisa

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    • What a thoughtful comment Lisa! I am fascinated by the early childhood field in Australia – there are so many similarities and differences. I am so looking forward to visiting South Australia in May/June of this year. We don’t use the term “Long Daycare Centres” in Canada … I am guessing that the term means centres that are open from early morning until the end of the work day? I appreciate your thoughts about valuing advanced degrees. In Ontario, we have full day kindergarten in our public schools. Each class has a registered early childhood educator and a certified kindergarten teacher who are supposed to work in partnership. On the surface it would seem that because to get your ECE in Ontario you need a 2 year diploma and to become a certified teacher you need a four year degree plus teacher’s college, that there is a difference between the two. However, in reality there are many who are working as early childhood educators who are both registered ECEs and certified teachers. There are also some that have Masters degrees. I think you are right – it comes down to confidence and leadership 🙂

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