Cultivating Professional Identity in Early Childhood Education: Top Tips!

By: Diane Kashin, Ed. D, RECE. Professional identity is the concept which describes how we perceive ourselves within our occupational context and how we communicate this to others. I have been fascinated by this concept for many years, as in days gone by, I often struggled with my identity as an early childhood educator as I internalized a negative view that others have of our sector. In this past post, Reframing and Renaming What We Do and Who We Are: Early Childhood Education in the 21st Century I share reflections on what it means to be a professional early childhood educator. Recently, I read a wonderful article from Australia that sparked more reflection about professional identity that has inspired this post and lead to some searching and thinking. I found this PowerPoint from the United Kingdom that positions professional identity as a key component of professionalism that I illustrated in this graphic below.

Professionalism as distinct from professionalization is considered the ability to plan knowledgeably and competently to make a sustained difference. It is about being a professional and behaving professionally. It is about the decisions that early childhood educators make every day. This we do with professional autonomy which means having the authority to make decisions and the freedom to act in accordance with one’s professional knowledge base. The distinct characteristics of a profession include ethical performance, a high level of expertise and skill, a body of knowledge and skills not possessed by lay people, considerable autonomy in practice and entry to the profession, commensurate compensation, and the existence of a professional organization (Kashin, 2009). The issue of worthy wages has waged on in our sector for as long as I can remember. I believe if we cultivated our professional identity, we will be making the case for fair compensation. I loved the article Leading by Example: Developing a Professional Identity and the five best tips suggested that include:

  1. Upskill, upskill, upskill – attending training, finding a mentor, taking courses and tuning into webinars.
  2. Get nerdy – read at least one sector piece a month – keeping up to date on new research, expert advice and sector news. Share your nerdiness …. passion is infectious!
  3. Network – get to know peers – go to conferences, join a Facebook group!
  4. Be open to new ideas… even if you’ve tried them before – being a professional is about having the courage to question the status quo.
  5. Know the language and use it – language matters we are “educators” not “workers” or “carers”.

The article is written from the Australian perspective but very applicable I believe, to many contexts including my own. The list of top tips resonates profoundly with me. As an early childhood educator who went on to complete a Doctor of Education degree, I am always in the upskill mode and continue to access training. My next training experience is the Rhythm of Learning in Nature – August 19th to August 23rd and I am so looking forward to the experience. There are still spaces available! The week of learning also includes a bonus Land as Our First Teacher workshop and community pop-up event on August 24th. Am I a nerd for being so excited about this conference?

In the presentations and workshops that I facilitate I often call myself an ECE nerd! I do that because I love the history and philosophy of early learning. I love reading professional literature. I often share blogs, articles and professional learning opportunities on Twitter and Facebook. I am passionate about early learning. I hope it is contagious! Networking is important to me. I am in so many Facebook groups! I have worked for years to customize my newsfeed so it has become a source of continuous professional learning. I pride myself on being open to new learning. I see myself as a status quo disrupter but have learned that not everyone is as open to new ideas. I have learned to disrupt with kindness! I have written many posts about the importance of language and how to use it to support professionalism. I hope that we all rethink the words we use. The list from the Sector article would be my top five as well. If I added another it would be to invest in yourself and your professional identity. I recognize that we still struggle with low wages. Still, joining a professional organization or association, going to a conference or workshop even if it comes from our own pocket, is worth it. See it as way to cultivate your professional identity. Do you have any tips to add to the list? Please post them in the comment section! Be a spark that ignites a flame in others. Let’s keep the fire going!


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