- Reflect on what it means to continue to nurture your sense of professionalism.
- Learn about the importance of self-care.
- Explore resources for professional growth.
As a professional working with children, youth, and their families you are a role model. You make an impact on the lives of the people in your care, so it’s important to reflect a positive one. You will have young, impressionable minds watching, listening, and learning from you. Parents will be your partners throughout this process. You will work with colleagues to provide high-quality care for children and families in your care. Maintaining and enhancing your professionalism will strengthen your work and will positively affect the lives of children and families you interact with.
There is always new information and research on the significant role adults have in children’s development. You can truly make a difference. The more skilled, committed, and knowledgeable you become, the more effective, meaningful, and long-lasting your influence will be on children’s and families’ lives. As a direct-care staff member, you want your practice to be continuously improving, striving to be the best that it can be for children and families. You should reflect a positive attitude in creating positive, caring environments for children and families in your care. Be proactive in your professional development. Reach out to your trainers or coaches to continue to learn new opportunities for growth. Your high standards and expectations for professional behavior will positively affect the quality of care you provide, as well as the quality of relationships of those around you.
Always Keep On Learning
Throughout this course, you have read about the process and the path of becoming professional as well as the attributes, skills, and knowledge you need to pursue. No matter how experienced you are and how much you know, it is important to continue to pursue education and training to learn more about your field and to further grow as a professional. This is true for several reasons (Koralek, Dodge, & Pizzolongo, 2013):
You care about children and their families.
To be a successful staff member, you need to care about children and families you work with. This means that you want to improve your knowledge and skills, update what you know, and strive for practices that will positively impact development and outcomes for all children and families. Think about working with children and youth with special learning needs, for example. Because you care about what you do, you will approach working with children with diverse abilities as an opportunity to meaningfully engage them in experiences, and you may invite their families in your classroom or program to share their knowledge about how to best work with their children or youth. Ultimately, you want to provide best practices and your love for what you do drives you to be the best in doing that.
Continuous learning allows you to recognize, evaluate, and improve your existing practices.
Self-awareness enables you to acknowledge strengths, talents, skills, and accomplishments, and at the same time it helps you recognize and identify competencies or skills you need to improve. Knowing who you are as a person and as a professional is empowering, as it enables you to engage in self-improvement and growth. You can do this by talking with colleagues and arranging to observe each other to learn more and improve each other’s practice. Or you can review materials and resources that keep you updated with new ideas and research in your area of expertise. You should also participate in professional organizations and training events and opportunities.
You want to grow professionally.
Being committed to ongoing learning can improve your knowledge, skills, and performance. This learning will help you gain new skills and hone existing skills, and this may come with increased confidence, more responsibility, and even a promotion.
There is always new information to be learned!
The Indian mystic Ramakrishna said, “As long as I live, so long do I learn”, and the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates said “True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.". All professionals need to keep up with new information, knowledge, and research in their fields. As a responsible and committed professional, you have an obligation to keep up with new information and use that in your practice with children and families.
Setting Limits and Professional Boundaries
Learning how to say “no” is a good skill to cultivate, and it shows you know your limits and are able to put your needs first. Setting boundaries and limits are a part of your profession. Being able to set them in regards to your own needs demonstrates to colleagues and families that you are a confident and competent caretaker.
The relationship between families and caregivers is not of equal power. Families must share sensitive information in regards to their families medical, professional, financial situations. They are entering into your program and beginning a relationship in a position of less power. By establishing and honoring professional boundaries it ensures that caregivers use their power appropriately.
Families entrust you with their child during some of their most formative years of growth. Sometimes the professional lines can become blurred, especially in communities where you and the families of your program may live in the same neighborhood and participate in the same community events. The table below offers a visual awareness of the differences between professional relationships and personal relationships.
|Professional relationship||Social and personal relationships|
|Take place during "paid" time||Take place during "non-paid" time|
|Involve meeting designated job responsibilities||Not based on responsibilities|
|Service-oriented||Not intended to provide a service|
|Focused on serving the child and family||Focused on shared interests|
|Goal-directed||Not generally focused on a goal|
|Time limited - they exist for the length of time a service is provided||Time unlimited - they can go on for as much (or as little time) as the people involved choose|
Let’s take a look at some situations of boundary crossing (inadvertent, non-exploitative blur of professional lines) or boundary violations (exploitative, unfair and potentially harmful crossing of line) that could occur so you will be better prepared when establishing your professional and personal boundaries.
- Attending a birthday party of a family in your program
- Agreeing to or offering to babysit for a family in your care
- Breaching confidentiality (sharing personal information about a child or family with another family in your care)
- Oversharing personal information
- Sharing your personal views on politics, religion, or other sensitive topics verbally, digitally, or in your professional dress (i.e. Political candidate t-shirt)
- Asking for a favor or help (professional advice)
- Demonstrating favoritism of a child or family. Treating them differently than other families in your care.
- Approaching families to participate in a side profession that you may have and could seek financial gain from (ex. inviting a family to a direct sales party for a clothing company)
To establish your boundaries and limits use the following chart called “The Zone of Helpfulness” (Kemp, 2014).Set up a meeting to discuss with your mentor or coach for clarity, if you are feeling challenged where to place a boundary within the continuum. Remember as the caretaker you are the one with more power in this relationship and it is your responsibility to set the boundary.
Zone of Under-Involvement
Disinterested/uncaring - not in the best interest of child/family
Zone of Helpfulness
Caring/helpful - in the best interests of the child/family
Zone of Over-Involvement
Inappropriate engagement with family - not in the best interest of child/family
Experiences and Resources for Professional Growth
There are many excellent resources on professionalism. Educator Fran Simon (2015) provides a list of suggestions:
- Be open to what is possible, not held back by what you think is impossible.
- Join professional associations, attend conferences, volunteer.
- Be curious and ask questions.
- Value and work to establish and maintain relationships in your daily practice.
- Make time to learn, connect, and network.
- Be authentic and open with the people you meet along the way, even if you do not share their viewpoints.
- Participate in live and virtual professional learning networks.
- Share your ideas with colleagues, trainers, and managers.
- Engage in formal professional, career, and leadership development.
- Find a mentor! Everybody needs inspirational people in their lives.
- Build a library on leadership and related topics.
- Subscribe to email and print newsletters and professional journals from a variety of sources.
Considering your Own Wellness
Self-awareness is very important for your own professional growth and learning. Educators Donna Wittmer and Sandy Petersen highlight that, “Knowing ourselves involves exploring our strengths and vulnerabilities. We need to wonder about, and try to understand the meaning of, our reactions, our frustrations, and the parts of our job that bring us joy. This exploration can sometimes be difficult or uncomfortable” (2013, p. 409). Another way to think about this is the “care” that is behind the “caregiving”.
All of us can find ourselves struggling to make sense of situations and relationships involving children, youth, and families. As you likely learned in other courses, observation is one of our best strategies. Observation can help you get to know and understand a child or youth in your program better, which in turn can change your feelings.
Another strategy you can use is visualization. As a staff member, you are likely to encounter children, families, and fellow staff members from a variety of backgrounds. It is important for you to understand the complexity of culture’s influence on identity and equally important to understand individual differences. For example, a family member who has had a lifetime of encouragement, praise, and support, may have a very different parenting style or needs from a family member who has experienced extensive criticism, doubt, and isolation. See yourself interacting positively with a child or family in your program. If the child is displaying behaviors that seem to disrupt your teaching approach, try seeing this child without those behaviors and respond in a caring way. If the family has views that are different from your own views (e.g., when it comes to eating independently or providing assistance with tasks), try to understand the family’s point of view and respond in a respectful and caring way. As a staff member, you will need to be able to provide children, youth, and their families with culturally and developmentally sensitive care and help them be successful.
As professionals responsible for taking care of others needs it is also vital to take care of our own needs. Being proactive with self-care is not selfish. It is an active and powerful way to gain or maintain an optimal level of overall health. This includes not just the physical, but the psychological, emotional, social, and spiritual components of an individual’s well-being. In your role as a direct-care staff member, you can create an environment that supports children’s development. Your own self care practices can be a starting place to model the importance of self-care. Learning to use self-care practices is an indication of developing a strong self-concept, and staff members who are aware of self-care practices can act as positive role models for children, families, as well as fellow staff members.
It is also important that you learn how to manage stress. Here are a few tips:
- Consider keeping a journal. It can be therapeutic to write the day’s events and your perspectives on paper. You might also consider keeping a gratitude journal to help you be mindful about the positive aspects of your life.
- Make connections. Reach out to friends, family, and acquaintances. Go out for lunch or for a cup of coffee with a friend. Speak to the person in front of you in line at the grocery store. These small moments can help you feel connected and supported.
- Even a little regular exercise can help you feel better, sleep better, and cope better with life’s daily stressors. Healthful eating can make a difference, too.
- Remember to breathe. As we get stressed out, we tend to breath shallower. By taking a moment to take a few deep breaths, we are taking time for ourselves and lowering our stress levels.
According to child-care expert Jeff Johnson (2010), your attitude can help you make changes in your life and your program. Johnson has six suggestions:
- Positive outlook: Thinking positively about situations and people can help you bring about beneficial outcomes. Your personal outlook on life plays a critical role in your level of self-care.
- Self-awareness: Knowing who you are includes being aware of your feelings, your emotions, your thoughts, and your relationships. Start by taking an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. Examine your life, past and present. Notice how far you’ve come and the skills you possess that got you to this point.
- Healthy selfishness: It’s important to recognize your own needs as valid and do what is necessary to meet them.
- Relinquish control: Allowing yourself to relax and see things as gray instead of black and white can allow you to see more options and opportunities.
- Playful attitude: Changing your mindset requires playfulness, curiosity, and excitement. Try exploring life through the eyes of a child and see how different things seem.
- Thoughtful choices: As life gets busy, slow down and make sure you are making thoughtful choices. Reconcile with yourself that you may never master a task perfectly and sometimes it is going to have to be good enough.
How do you plan to work towards your ongoing professional development? Read the article, What do Early Childhood Professionals Do?
Think about your own professional growth and respond to the questions in the Professionalism: Ongoing Professional Growth activity. Share and discuss your responses with a trainer, coach, or administrator.
Using electronic communication and online resources is a great way to build and support professional knowledge and skills, but the benefits of online interactions come with responsibility. As an early childhood professional, you want to make informed decisions in all practices. Read the attached article, E- Professionalism for Early Care and Education Providers. In the activity, E: Professionalism, describe how you currently ensure professionalism with electronic communication and online resources that you are using and sharing with families.
E-Professionalism for Early Care and Education Providers
Bruno, H.E., & Copeland, T. (2012). Managing legal risks in early childhood programs. Teachers College Press.
Feeney, S. (2010). Ethics today in early care and education: Review, reflection, and the future. Young Children, 65(2), 72-77.
Feeney, S., Freeman, N.K., & Pizzolongo, P. (2012). Ethics and the early childhood educator: Using the NAEYC code (2nd ed.). National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Johnson, J. (2010). Keeping your smile: Caring for children with joy, love, and intention. Redleaf Press.
Koralek, D. G., Dodge, D. T., & Pizzolongo, P. J. (2004). Caring for preschool children (3rd ed.). Teaching Strategies, Inc.
National After School Association (2009). National After School Association Code of Ethics.
National Association of the Education of Young Children (December 2020) Focus on ethics:Professional boundaries in early childhood education.
National Association for the Education of Young Children (2011). Code of ethical conduct and statement of commitment.
Porath, C. (2018). Why being respectful to your coworkers is good for business. TEDx University of Nevada. [Video]
Simon, F. (2015). Look up and out to lead: 20/20 vision for effective leadership. Young Children, 70(2), 18-24.
Wittmer, D. S., & Petersen, S. H. (2013). Infant and toddler development and responsive program planning—A relationship-based approach (2nd ed.). Merrill Prentice-Hall.