Recently, I had the privilege of observing part of a site visit for an early childhood associate degree program seeking NAEYC’s Accreditation of Early Childhood Higher Education Programs. During the afternoon on campus, I observed a meeting between the peer reviewers and a group of students in the program. Peer reviewers wanted to hear from students about what they value in their program, how they understand NAEYC’s Professional Preparation Standards, and their experiences serving as students.
The students who participated represented the diversity of those who are in, or who are entering into the early childhood education profession – a member of the military, a nanny, students from Southeast Asia participating in a cultural exchange program at the institution, a recent transplant from a European country, and a stay-at-home mom. And, as is typical in early childhood programs, there were a wide range of ages represented, all of the students had family and/or work obligations outside of their studies, and they will take longer than two years to complete their associate’s degree.
The peer reviewers began the session with a deceptively simple question “What do you know about the Code of Ethics?” You see, Standard 6 of NAEYC’s Professional Preparation Standards is about ‘Becoming a Professional’. And part of that standard requires early childhood educators to know about and use NAEYC’s Code of Ethics. Soon students were sharing what they knew about the Code of Ethics and how they can use it in their practice to support their work with young children and their families as well as with their colleagues.
The peer reviewers went on to ask the students about their understanding of advocacy, which led to students providing different examples of how they have learned about and used advocacy – from advocating for a young child with suspicious bruises, to helping parents understand which kinds of curriculum in an early learning program could better support their goals for their children, etc.
At one point during the conversation a few students remarked on their frustration that they are viewed as childminders, babysitters by many. No, they said, children are complex, and it takes a lot of knowledge and skills work with them. We are educators, not babysitters!
At another point in the conversation, a student noted that her professor had invited the class to attend a local NAEYC affiliate meeting. She didn’t realize that there were organizations or others beyond the college that cared as deeply as she did about young children and those that work with them. Attending that affiliate meeting was a turning point for her, a recognition that she is part of a profession.
That simple invitation was one step toward ensuring that there is a next generation in our profession, that simple invitation added more voices and feet to our advocacy efforts for a well-compensated, well-respected, and well-qualified early childhood workforce, that simple invitation expanded students’ worldview, that simple invitation provided reassurance and encouragement to these students that what they are learning matters, that simple invitation assured them that there will be support for them when they graduate, that simple invitation validated their voice in the profession. That simple invitation moves us one step closer to fulfilling our vision for Power to the Profession.
Hats off to the faculty whose invitation to attend an affiliate meeting helped their students see that they are part of a larger profession. Hats off to the peer reviewers for organizing their questions in a way that reinforced to the students that they are part of a profession – a code of ethics guides our work, advocacy is integral, and sophisticated knowledge and practice are required. And, hats off to the students who bring such commitment to their studies, commitment to doing what’s best for young children and their families, and commitment to being part of the early childhood profession!
Mary Harrill is Senior Director of Higher Education at NAEYC and a food consumer and experimenter extraordinaire in her off-time.