I was having a conversation while working alongside an educator in a baby room recently. I was there to observe the practices of the educators to develop professional development plans for each person in the service. We were talking about how babies develop and the learning taking place in the room. This educator was studying towards her diploma and was really struggling with juggling work, the needs of her young family and study. A common story for many educators and one I've experienced myself.
As we talked about the infants and observed them engaging with the resources and educators, we talked about the importance of having the most highly trained people in the baby room. The educators were so insightful and able to talk about the infants and how to support them, for example one needing more tummy time to build strength in her back and neck. While these educators instinctively knew what to do, and could reflect on their practice, they weren't so aware of why their practice was so important and how to explain this in terms of learning and development.
So why do educators need to be qualified? Why in a baby room does a 'childcare worker' need to know anything? They're just babies after all. Sort of like the comment my then 18 year old son made when I was off to run a weekend workshop for my Diploma of Teaching (Level 7) students and feeling rather stressed as he helped me carry my piles of resources out to the car:
"How hard can it be to teach old ladies how to change nappies?"
His comment became part of a wider philosophical discussion, heated at times, about how we see ourselves as educators. About the role of the professional educator and how we communicate about our profession in the wider community. The language we use to describe who we are and what we do sets the scene for educating the broader community of the importance of early childhood education and care and the impact educators have on children's lives.
While I'm at services I often hear parents comment on the wonderful job educators do in caring for their children; how grateful they are to have such a welcoming place to take their children; a place where educators know their children well and where environments are set up for children to explore and socialise.
I hear educators explaining to parents about their child's day, sharing those important stories so parents feel part of their child's day. I see the delight when educators share a learning story with photos of their child interacting with other children and their environment.
While educators often do this instinctively, knowing why children do what they do, understanding theories of learning and development and being able to share this knowledge with parents takes an educator to a higher level. This in turn increases the reputation of educators as professionals, further increasing the communities view of the importance of early childhood education.
Changes in perceptions take time and educators drive this in the way they speak about themselves and their roles. Changes happen when we talk with pride about being an educator not a 'worker', when families know that they are leaving their children with trained professionals.
We've moved a long way from my son's comment and the ever increasing acknowledgement of the importance of quality early childhood education is reflected in research. It's up to all of us to increase the reputation of our sector by gaining and sharing the knowledge required to be a professional educator. This does take time, studying when working and managing family life is hard and oh so very worth it in the end.