- Understand how professionalism affects program quality.
- Learn about the importance of engaging others (staff, families, community partners) to enhance program quality.
- Learn how goal-setting and evaluation contribute to continuous program improvements.
Throughout this course, you have learned about the importance of professionalism. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the largest professional organization in the field of early care and education, has developed The Code of Ethical Conduct to guide professional behavior. NAEYC has also developed an accreditation process that includes a self-study for early care and education programs to examine how well their program addresses the NAEYC standards for high-quality care and education in programs for young children. The National After School Association (NAA) provides a set of core knowledge and competencies for individuals who work in after school/school-age care environments. The NAA also promotes a Code of Ethics that those working in after school programs should be familiar with and follow in their work with youth and families.
As program leaders, you want your program to be continuously improving, striving to be the best that it can be for children and families. You want your staff to look forward to coming to work in a positive, caring environment where adults are learning and growing professionally. Your high standards and expectations for professional behavior will positively affect the quality of care you provide for children and youth attending your program.
Professionalism and Indicators of Program Quality
When you reflect upon indicators of professional behavior you can see their connection to program quality. As a leader your staff will look to you and treat you differently than each other. There may be days when you feel the staff don't like you, but at all times you need to conduct yourself in such a way that staff and families will always respect you. Your professional behavior will demonstrate your respect for others and in turn, others will respect you. You may have to give difficult information or share disappointing news. This is never easy, but it can be done respectfully with care and sensitivity.
Programs that are continuously changing, growing, and striving to provide the highest-quality programming have strong leaders guiding the way. Program managers and training & curriculum specialists (T&Cs) are responsible for guiding staff to continuously improve the quality of the program. These are a few professional behaviors adapted from the Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children (DEC) Recommended Practices that may contribute to this mission (your program may emphasize others):
- Commit to working within the regulations, practices, codes of ethics, and standards of the profession.
- Demonstrate knowledge of applicable state and agency regulations with respect to such issues as eligibility for services, confidentiality, reporting of child abuse, and others.
- Stay current on the latest research and technology.
- Become skilled at communication, conflict resolution, working with difficult people, ensuring personal safety, setting professional boundaries, and understanding limitations.
- Create a program environment that values openness and collaborative decision-making so staff members are invested in program quality.
T&Cs will be welcome when they engage in professional behaviors that open the door to collaboration:
- Build relationships with teachers (without a trusting relationship, teachers will not be open to feedback).
- Listen carefully to staff and program managers-check for understanding.
- Ask nonjudgmental, probing questions and make statements that extend conversations ("Tell me more about what you are thinking").
- Be comfortable with silence during conversations.
- Use objective, observational data to inform discussions during staff training ("I noticed you wanted me to observe you during story time. Your goal is to ask children more questions during story reading-I kept a tally and you asked three questions today").
Always remember that as a leader and evaluator, you set the tone-your attitude and professional behavior impacts how staff, children, and families feel when they walk into your program. Address issues as they arise, but always remain professional in your interactions.
Engaging Staff, Families, and Community Partners to Enhance Program Quality
As a professional in the field of early care, education, and youth development, you are integral to building partnerships that will enhance the program's quality. Your team extends to staff, families, and community partners. Program managers and training & curriculum specialists must be adept at working collaboratively with these stakeholders in order to build a strong program.
Staff: In your work, you and your staff face many obstacles that, if left unchecked, can bring about burnout. However, a staff member’s sense of mission and their professional work environment can help counteract burnout. Think about how you can partner with staff to increase well-being and avoid burnout by following these best practices:
Guidelines for Avoiding Burnout and Increasing Workplace Well-Being
- Make sure that your organizational structures and processes align with your program’s organizational and workforce values (respect, justice, compassion, diversity of views).
- Understand the job demands on your staff (for example staff shortages) and use job resources (for example professional relationships and social support) to improve staff well-being.
- Engage and commit leadership at all organizational levels to address staff burnout and improve professional well-being.
- Enhance the meaning and purpose of work and deliver high quality interactions with children.
- Provide adequate resources and environment (e.g., staffing, scheduling, workload, opportunities to learn, greater job control, usable technologies, adequate physical environment) to support caregivers and teacher’s work.
- Design work systems that encourage and facilitate teamwork, collaboration, communication, and professionalism.
- Build infrastructure for a well-being system that has adequate organizational resources, processes, and structures; continually learns and improves; and is accountable.
- Design reward systems that align with organizational and professional values to support professional well-being.
- Establish and sustain organizational culture that supports change management, psychological safety, vulnerability, and peer support.
Families: You serve as a model for the staff in how you treat families who have children enrolled in the program. You are the best source for new staff to learn how to interact with families. Addressing professional behavior with families should be part of the written mission, values, and policies of the center. Child-care educator Gigi Schweikert describes partnering with parents as "a mutually respectful relationship in which parties take accountability for their responsibilities and work together to define and change the organization based on a common goal." Welcoming parents and other family members during drop off and pick up time is essential. Professionals seek out parents' input in order to improve program services. You must be present and ask questions. As a program leader, you can elicit parent input by providing them with meaningful ways to be involved (e.g. volunteer on the program advisory board, plan events for parents, invite them to complete feedback surveys that will help shape program goals). Support staff to become family-centered in their practice. Staff members may have experience teaching or caring for children and youth but may not have much experience forming meaningful partnerships with parents.
Community partners: As a program leader, it is important to build professional relationships with community members, who can be wonderful allies for your program. Joining a professional group (for example, a child care directors group, an NAEYC local affiliate, or an interagency council) can open partnerships and shared resources. Professional behavior includes being collaborative with others in the community who also seek to provide high-quality services for children. Forming partnerships to advocate for children and youth in your own community and in the country is an important professional activity. You need to be able to speak about your program to others and to work to access resources for your staff, children, and families.
Evaluating and Setting Goals for Continuous Program Improvements
The program manager is attuned to the strengths and needs of the program. The work of program improvement is continuous. Just as you set goals for children to make continuous progress, so too the overall program goals should focus on continuous improvement. Working collaboratively with staff, families, and community partners provides a broad network of stakeholders who can assist you in evaluating the program and strengthening it. Celebrate the positive feedback you receive and share it with the staff and your supervisor. Along with the positive feedback you will also receive information about aspects of the program that need improvements. Taking negative feedback and using it to set program goals with your staff and families indicates that you have a professional attitude about evaluation and will directly use feedback from staff, families, and other stakeholders to improve program services.
Receiving negative information and complaints. As a professional in a management position, you must be able to listen and remain calm when hearing from someone who is dissatisfied about the program or a decision you have made. Regardless of how others react, you must remain calm. You understand that becoming defensive will not help the situation. Dealing directly with difficult information (complaints) is hard, and you may need to process particular situations with your supervisor or another trusted colleague from outside your program. As a leader, you understand that hearing negative information or complaints and following through to address them is a way to improve program quality.
Professionalism is an important aspect of the day-to-day work that you do. Your positive tone, respectful communication, openness to feedback (both positive and negative) and a commitment to continuously work toward offering a high quality program to children and families is the most important work you can do. As a leader, you will build personal connections with those in your immediate workplace and with community partners. It can be difficult to always maintain a professional attitude, but your leadership in this area determines whether the quality of your program is "just good" or an exceptional center for children and youth.
What are the standards for a high-quality early care and youth program? What measures are used to determine program quality? Your program may have created an evaluation format that is used to measure your program’s quality. How is professionalism addressed in your program evaluation? What resources are available to you as you work with staff to address professionalism?
Think about one measure of professionalism such as your positive communication with others. To learn more about how your professional interactions can influence your colleagues, watch the following TED talk by Christine Porath about professional behaviors that encourage creativity, productivity, helpfulness, happiness, and good health: https://www.ted.com/talks/christine_porath_why_being_nice_to_your_coworkers_is_good_for_business.
A professional is always learning and growing in her or his knowledge and skills. Think about what professional behaviors are important to emphasize in the context of using social media in personal and professional communication. What policies or guidelines should your program adopt regarding professional behavior and use of social media? First reflect on the questions in the Apply section attachment. In collaboration with staff and families (or family advisory board), develop a guideline to address professionalism and use of social media with regards to the program.
Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children (DEC) Recommended Practices Topic Area: Leadership retrieved from http://www.dec-sped.org/recommendedpractices
NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct and Statement of Commitment https://www.naeyc.org/files/naeyc/image/public_policy/Ethics%20Position%20Statement2011_09202013update.pdf
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019.) Taking action against clinician burnout: A systems approach to professional well-being. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.17226/25521
National AfterSchool Association Code of Ethics retrieved from http://naaweb.org/images/Code_of_Ethics.pdf
National AfterSchool Association Core Knowledge and Competencies retrieved from http://naaweb.org/resources/core-competenciesPorath, C. (2018). Why being respectful to your coworkers is good for business. TEDx University of Nevada. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/christine_porath_why_being_nice_to_your_coworkers_is_good_for_business
Schweikert, G. (2012). Winning Ways for Early Childhood Professionals: Partnering with parents. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
Schweikert, G. (2014). Winning Ways for Early Childhood Professionals: Being a supervisor. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
The 10 NAEYC Program Standards retrieved from http://families.naeyc.org/accredited-article/10-naeyc-program-standard