- Reflect on what it means to be a professional staff member.
- Describe practices that are associated with professionalism.
- Describe the significance of professionalism when working with children and families.
"Learning is like rowing upstream; not to advance is to drop back." - Chinese Proverb
Take a moment to jot down a few words or phrases that come to mind when you hear the word "professionalism." Is it knowledge about a field or a set of skills? Is it personal characteristics, qualities, or character traits? What do you expect from a person who is called a professional? You may have responded with reference to some of the many roles you or others you know assume such as demonstrating knowledge and sharing information or about interacting with children, families, and colleagues. All of your descriptions offer a window into your sense of professionalism.
Consider the following definitions that different dictionaries provide about professionalism: the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary defines professionalism as "the high standard that you expect from a person who is well trained in a particular job," and "great skill and competence." The Merriam-Webster website defines professionalism as "the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well" and "the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person." How do these definitions compare to your own definitions of professionalism?
This course will help you better understand the concept of professionalism and how it relates to your own competence, confidence, commitment, and awareness as a professional. This course will also help you learn how you can develop a sense of professionalism and what that means to you as a direct-care staff member.
What is Professionalism in Child Care and School-Age Programs?
For many years much of the general public has viewed early care and education providers (including those providing care to school-age children) as babysitters. To counter that thinking, the field of early care and education, through several professional organizations, has developed professional standards that describe the competencies needed to be an early care and education professional. These competencies include professionalism. Interacting with children, families, and colleagues must always be done in a professional manner. Whether you are an infant and toddler, preschool, or school-age staff member, it is critical to be knowledgeable about and model professional behavior.
Families rely upon the program staff to be much more than "babysitters" for their children. In your daily work, you make conscious, intentional decisions about how to interact with children, parents, and colleagues. You may also be faced with difficult ethical situations. Following an ethical code can help with those decisions. You should look to your Service's written code of ethics to help you in decision-making. With the guidance of training and curriculum specialists, program directors, and other mentors, you should strive to set and maintain positive examples of professionalism in your daily interactions with fellow staff, children, and families.
Professional organizations that work on behalf of children, families, caregivers, teachers, and youth-development workers have created standards and competencies to guide child and youth professionals. Each professional organization includes standards that address professional behaviors. Professional organizations rely on research-based principles and bring together highly respected experts to draft and verify the standards and competencies for the field. For example, 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 programs to examine how well the program addresses the standards for high quality care in programs for young children. The Division of Early Childhood (DEC), a sub-division of the Council for Exceptional Children, the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving the success of individuals with disabilities and/or gifts and talents, has developed Recommended Practices that guide professionals and families who work with young children with developmental delays or disabilities. The National Afterschool Association (NAA) and the Council on Accreditation (COA) have also developed professional competencies for those working with children and youth.
When you review the various organizations' sets of standards and competencies you will find many similarities when it comes to professionalism. This indicates a common understanding that engaging in professional behavior is important for those working with young children, youth, and families.
For those working with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers:
One state's commitment to professionalism may be found in the Wisconsin Core Competencies for Professionals Working with Young Children & Their Families. The Professionalism section of this document (see p. 15) contains a number of professional competencies derived from a review of the standards and recommended practices of several national professional organizations. You can find these competencies in the Apply section of this lesson. For a complete explanation of the process for choosing the competencies see http://www.collaboratingpartners.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/CPlinkedDocs/WI_Core_Competencies_2014_16WITHlinks.pdf
For those working with school-age children and youth:
The National Afterschool Association's commitment to professionalism can be found in the Core Knowledge and Competencies for Afterschool and Youth Development Professionals (Adapted from Rhode Island Competencies for Afterschool & Youth Development Professionals, Washington State Core Competencies for Child and Youth Development Professionals, Ohio's Core Knowledge & Competencies for Afterschool Professionals Who Work with Children Ages 5-12, and Starr et al., 2009). The Professional Development and Leadership section of this document (see pp. 68-74) contains a multi-level description of professional competencies, again derived from a review of standards and recommended practices of several national professional organizations. You can find these competencies in the Apply section of this lesson. For a complete explanation of the process for choosing the competencies see http://naaweb.org/resources/core-competencies
What does it mean to be a Professional Staff Member?
Infant, toddler, preschool, and school-age providers play powerful roles in children's lives, and your encounters with children and their families leave lasting impressions. Children's growth takes place over time, and each experience affects development. Who children become has everything to do with the experiences they have early in their lives; the experiences they have while they are in your care. Outside of their families, you might be the person they spend the most time with during these critical years of development. Optimum development is strengthened when children engage in meaningful interactions with adults who adhere to high- quality professional standards.
As an individual working with children, youth, and families, you engage in numerous activities that require you to maintain high-quality professional standards. Think about some of the experiences you participate in your daily professional life like:
- Interacting with children and youth
- Engaging with family members
- Interacting with supervisors and managers
- Collaborating with fellow staff members
- Interacting with community partners
Establishing and maintaining high-quality professional standards are important to every task you accomplish every day. This process continues to evolve and develop as you encounter new situations.
The work you do with children, youth, and their families lays the foundation for healthy development, growth, and success in school and life. Recognition of the significance of the early years on children's development has strengthened desire to strive for excellence when interacting with children, youth, and families (Feeney, 2012). This course will help you understand how your professionalism contributes to the growth and development of children and families you serve.
As a direct-care staff member, you are likely to encounter children, families, and co-workers from a variety of backgrounds and life experiences. It is important for you to understand the significance of always striving for high-quality practices while acknowledging diversity and individual differences. A colleague or family member may not share the same values with you when it comes to topics such as sleeping, toilet training, or completing work independently. As a direct-care 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 in the classroom now and in the years ahead.
It is important to think about your own sense of professionalism. Watch this video to hear staff members share what being professional means to them.
In the field of early childhood education, professionalism encompasses many specific behaviors and skills that address how individuals present themselves to other adults. Take time to review the following traits identified by Gigi Schweikert (2012) as they contribute to professionalism in the field of early care and education:
- How you present yourself to others through your appearance and communication
- Knowledge of the field of early care and education
- The quality of your work
- Relationships with others
- Your work ethic
- Your determination and dedication
- Most important, your attitude
By including professional behavior as part of your evaluation, trainers and managers can actively work with you to support your professional growth. By including a focus on professional behaviors (appearance, communication, attitude, interpersonal relationships, etc.) you will enhance the quality of the program for children and families.
Completing this Course
For more information on what to expect in this course, the Professionalism Competency Reflection, and a list of the accompanying Learn, Explore and Apply resources and activities offered throughout the lessons, visit the School-Age Professionalism Course Guide.
Please note the References & Resources section at the end of each lesson outlines reference sources and resources to find additional information on the topics covered. As you complete lessons, you are not expected to review all the online references available. However, you are welcome to explore the resources further if you have interest, or at the request of your trainer, coach, or administrator.
Professionals working in early care and youth program settings should be held to high standards and expectations for professional behavior in those programs should be explicit. Your service branch may prescribe the professional dress, attitudes, and behaviors that you and your colleagues must follow.
Use the professionalism self-assessment below, designed by Schweikert (2012), to reflect on your own professional behavior.
How might a trusted colleague or supervisor rate you on this assessment? Are there areas of professionalism you that you want to improve upon? What goals do you set for improving your professionalism? What professional atmosphere do you want to set for yourself, children and youth, and families?
Take a few minutes to read and respond to the questions in the Self-Assessment activity. Then, share and discuss your responses with a trainer, coach, or administrator.
In their Early Childhood Educator Competencies: A Literature Review of Current Best Practices, and a Public Input Process on Next Steps in California, the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment note that while no unified early childhood educator competencies have been adopted across all states in the U.S., competencies are gaining visibility because they are seen as tools to ensure that the early childhood education workforce is both professional and stable. The following table replicates some of the professional competencies on page 60 of this resource (available at https://cscce.berkeley.edu/early-childhood-educator-competencies-a-literature-review-of-current-best-practices-and-a-public-input-process-on-next-steps-for-california/).
Study the table below to identify competencies you feel competent in, as well as professional competencies that you want to further develop.
Adheres to a professional code of ethics
Recognizes and prevents burnout
Demonstrates commitment to personal growth and reflection
Advocates to improve the quality of programs and services, and enhances professional status and working conditions
Integrates reflective practice into daily program operations
Works cooperatively with colleagues, the community, and families
Relationship to professional organizations; awareness of other disciplines; knowledge of professional and community resources
Expresses philosophy of early education reflecting knowledge of theories of developmentally appropriate learning and principles of inclusion
Able to explain professional practices
Articulates and practices personal philosophy that values human diversity
Understands legal and regulatory requirements for programs
Ability to build authentic relationships
Breadth of Knowledge
Demonstrates competencies in a variety of field settings
Adapted from: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment. (2008). UC Berkeley. https://cscce.berkeley.edu/early-childhood-educator-competencies-a-literature-review-of-current-best-practices-and-a-public-input-process-on-next-steps-for-california/
Write yourself a note about an idea you have to further develop one of your professional competencies, and share it with a colleague, coach, or administrator.
Allred, K.W., & Hancock, C.L. (2015). Reconciling Leadership and Partnership: Strategies to empower professionals and families. Young Children, 70(2), 46-53.
Bloom, P.J., Hentschel, A., & Bella, J. (2013). Inspiring peak performance: Competence, commitment, and collaboration. The Director's Toolbox Management Series. Lake Forest, IL: New Horizons.
Center for the Study of Child Care Employment (2008). Early childhood educator competencies: A literature review of current best practices, and a public input process on next steps for California. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, University of California at Berkeley. https://cscce.berkeley.edu/early-childhood-educator-competencies-a-literature-review-of-current-best-practices-and-a-public-input-process-on-next-steps-for-california/
Division for Early Childhood. (2014). DEC recommended practices in early intervention/early childhood special education 2014. http://www.dec-sped.org/recommendedpractices
Feeney, S. (2012). Professionalism in Early Childhood Education: Doing our best for young children. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
Kouzes, J.M., & Posner, B.Z. (2012). The Leadership Challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organizations (5th ed). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
National After School Association Core Knowledge and Competencies. (2021). http://naaweb.org/resources/core-competencies
National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2009). NAEYC Standards for Early Childhood Professional Preparation: A position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. https://www.naeyc.org/sites/default/files/globally-shared/downloads/PDFs/resources/position-statements/2009%20Professional%20Prep%20stdsRevised%204_12.pdf
Schweikert, G. (2012). Winning ways for early childhood professionals: Being a professional. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
Simon, F. (2015). Look Up and Out to Lead: 20/20 vision for effective leadership. Young Children, 70(2), 18-24.
Sullivan, D.R. (2010). Learning to lead: Effective leadership skills for teachers of young children (2nd ed.). St. Paul MN: Redleaf Press.
Wisconsin Early Childhood Collaborating Partners. (2014). Wisconsin Core Competencies For Professionals Working with Young Children & Their Families. http://www.collaboratingpartners.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/CPlinkedDocs/WI_Core_Competencies_2014_16WITHlinks.pdf