Cruz E. Brugueras Cortés
Carmen Betzaida Berríos Báez
Ana María Delgado Albino
Lirio Martínez Miranda
Before beginning the discussion of this module, we invite you to consider the following questions:
- Which skills and competencies should an early childhood educator possess?
- Which appropriate strategies and practices should a professional in early childhood education use during the teaching-learning process?
- What should the role of the educator be in an educational, collaborative, prosocial, and constructive environment?
We invite you to read “The Early Childhood Teacher” module and complete the exercises presented. By reading and discussing this document with your colleagues, you will discover learning experiences that will help guide you in building and rebuilding skills that will enable you to prove your effectiveness and efficiency when using developmentally appropriate practices (DAP). We encourage you to study and enjoy the module contents.
In the previous modules, you had the opportunity to critically study and analyze how commitment and responsibility to early childhood education (0-6 years) should be one of the main goals in any initiative for social and educational change. The educational systems of modern societies must focus on ensuring optimal quality, which includes the training and qualification of early childhood educators. Teachers must fully meet the demands and expectations of young children, given that along with families, educational centers, and agencies, they play a leading role in the child’s holistic formation. Also they must have mastered the techniques, strategies, models, approaches, and paradigms that validate their performance and execution. In this way, they will be able to meet the demands of an authentic and genuine community of preschool learners, in which favorable conditions for the children’s social, physical, emotional, cognitive, and linguistic development prevail.
The task of educating entails an ability to handle both educational and formative/transformative functions. Both these functions require that the teacher possess professional and personal skills, as well as theoretical knowledge and practice related to education. These roles should also favor the creation and preservation of relationships and interactions among the teachers, parents, community, and children. As a facilitator, guide, and mediator of learning, the early childhood educator must know the suitable practices for children’s growth and development in accordance with their age and the changes that occur during the first six years of their lives. The following are the DAPs that every educator should take into consideration when working with young children:
- Educators respect, value, and accept children, treating them with dignity at all times.
- A priority for all educators is getting to know each child individually.
- Establish positive interpersonal relationships with children, reinforcing their development and staying informed on the children’s needs and strengths.
- Listen to children and adapt your responses in keeping with each child’s interests, styles, and abilities.
- Support the children’s need for movement, sensory stimulation, nutrition, and rest.
- Continuously observe children’s spontaneous play to assess their interests and developmental progress.
- Understand that children grow and develop in the context of their families and communities.
- Be alert to signs of traumatic or trying events so as to minimize the children’s stress levels and help them develop self-control.
- Teachers promote intellectual interaction through a challenging environment that encourages the child’s learning and development.
- Use their knowledge about children’s holistic development to recognize what they need to learn and develop in each content area.
- Offer children the opportunity to select meaningful choices by actively participating in the teaching/learning process.
- Organize the daily and weekly routine, providing reasonable time for children to build their knowledge.
- They plan and establish the goals of the entire curriculum, considering all disciplines and content areas.
- Incorporate a wide range of experiences, materials, equipment, and teaching techniques, in accordance with the child’s particular needs, level of maturity, and previous experiences.
- Incorporate the language and culture of each child’s home into school dynamics by recognizing and asserting the particular contributions of each individual in the group.
- Respect the gender, race, religion, family structure, and culture of children and their families.
- Identify the needs of each child, including those with special needs and developmental disabilities.
- Teachers support collaborative work and the interests of children when overseeing major projects.
- Use a variety of methods to accommodate the teaching-learning process.
- Educators create, refine, and use a varied repertoire of teaching-learning strategies that strengthen children’s learning and development.
- Motivate children to participate in the planning of activities.
- Expand the children’s levels of interest and particular focus by presenting novel and stimulating experiences, and exposing them to ideas, questions, comments, and suggestions.
- Challenge children’s learning through interactions in activities initiated by the teacher or the students.
- Select various strategies to support the individual and collaborative effort of each child in the proposed activities.
- Directly guide children in the acquisition of specific and necessary skills.
- Gauge how challenging or difficult an activity is in accordance with the child’s capacity and comprehension.
- Provide fundamental keys that enable the children to achieve or accomplish the proposed task.
- Strengthen children’s sense of confidence and competence.
- Educators promote children’s language and literacy development.
- Establish an environment of respect, so that infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are heard and their verbal and nonverbal cues are responded to.
- Seek to understand the needs and desires of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers by acknowledging them and responding to them using simple, clear, and correct language.
- Help children understand spoken language by using images, familiar objects, body language, and physical cues.
- Help develop and preserve the language used at the child’s home whenever possible.
- Use varied vocabulary and engage children in conversations regarding their experiences.
- Organize the learning environment by labeling the areas, materials, and equipment, promoting the acquisition of vocabulary and literacy.
- Integrate activities involving music, art, the computer, storytelling, and dramatic play, through which children acquire literacy skills.
- Teachers facilitate the development of responsibility and self-regulation, or self-control, in children.
- Help children learn socially appropriate behaviors, providing guidance consistent with the developmental stage of each child.
Teachers as Professionals and their Personal Qualities
Early childhood education refers to a group of environments designed and intended to promote development in children from birth to eight years of age (Gordon & Browne, 2000). Teachers of young children are responsible for their first educational experiences outside the home. Therefore, it is necessary to identify the characteristics of the professionals who are in charge of this great responsibility.
Educators are familiar with some parents’ expressions regarding the vocation of the teacher or the gift of teaching. Many people say, “You have to be born a teacher.” The truth is that early childhood teachers must meet certain personal and professional criteria to provide an excellent service to this special population.
According to Wortham (2002), teachers are characterized by their attentiveness to all factors, whether positive or negative, that could affect young children. Thus, their roles focus on consistently helping children to continue developing to their full potential.
What used to be seen as somewhat futuristic is now a reality. Early childhood teachers have had to develop educational strategies in which the family and the community are involved, in order to facilitate children’s learning in an integrated way. To achieve this, teachers must play a complex role, so that they can promote children’s optimal development by paying attention to their cultural and individual needs and differences. Educators will also need to work in conjunction with parents and other professionals, with whom they can develop strategies to facilitate learning (Wortham, 2002).
Teachers are observers. This characteristic is necessary and crucial in curriculum development. If observation is carried out consistently, the educator will know each child’s strengths and the areas that need improvement. This will help, in turn, to determine which educational strategies and practices are most conducive to student progress.
Gordon and Browne (2000) also state that early childhood teachers must help parents as well as children. This implies that educators should consider parent-teacher partnerships as a necessary component of achieving the previously stated goals.
Nachmanovitch (2006) lists the characteristics that an educator should possess:
- Be tender and loving with children;
- Show interest in the development of children;
- Develop positive relationships with children and their families;
- Relate and interact with children individually, as well as in small groups;
- Create stimulating educational environments;
- Emphasize the importance of emotional and social development;
- Encourage children to express their feelings;
- Promote language development through oral expression, extending conversations, and asking questions, as well as encouraging children to do the same;
- Modulate their voice when interacting with children, parents, or colleagues;
- Work in collaboration with parents;
- Be intellectually competent.
On a more informal level, Gordon and Browne (2000) state that early childhood educators must also serve in part as crossing guards, storytellers, conflict mediators, psychologists, janitors, file clerks, plumbers, carpenters, poets, and musicians. Although it may seem funny, those who work daily with children know that, at some point, we perform these or similar tasks.
In Developmentally Appropriate Practices in Early Childhood Program (Bredekamp & Copple 1997), the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) presents guidelines designed to implement appropriate practices in educational environments with early-age children. Among these, we can mention that early childhood teachers are characterized by:
- Respecting, appreciating, and accepting children, as well as treating them in a dignified manner at all times;
- Establishing as a priority the importance of getting to know each child;
- Establishing positive personal relationships with children; listening to them and adapting to their needs, interests, styles, and abilities;
- Continuously observing children’s spontaneous play and their interactions with their physical environment and other children, so as to facilitate the development of appropriate strategies;
- Establishing positive relationships with the children’s families and learning more about the families’ perspectives and priorities;
- Being alert to signs of traumatic events in children’s lives to develop support strategies;
- Taking responsibility for the children under their supervision.
Considering that the teacher is the person who implements the educational program, he or she must exhibit attitudes that reflect:
- Appropriate communication skills
- Projecting a confident image
- Ability to actively engage children in educational experiences
Eliason and Jenkins (1994) suggest that early childhood teachers must maintain a balance between theory and practice. In professional terms, they repeat the ideas of Piaget, who believed that teachers of young children must be highly qualified academically and that effective preparation significantly contributes to children development and learning. Educators should recognize that they are also learners and should continuously study DAPs and effective strategies for teaching to evolve along with new research and studies.
Academic requirements for training teachers have evolved over the years. The academic requirements for education professionals have become even more rigorous under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of January 8, 2002. The NCLB Act attempts to achieve uniformity in the quality of education in all sectors and aims to provide all schools with highly qualified teachers. One of its premises states that in order to offer excellent educational services it is necessary to have excellent teachers. The law requires that educators meet the following criteria before performing their role as teachers:
- Complete a bachelor’s degree;
- Possess state certification for the educational level in which they work;
- Demonstrate knowledge and mastery of subjects taught.
Professionals in the field of education agree that there are certain variables that characterize effective preschool teachers, which include:
- Obtaining professional training or specialized degrees (depending on the level);
- Having expertise in early childhood education (nursery, preschool or elementary levels);
- Staying alert to children’s actions;
- Organizing the environment and planning experiences to have a balance between children and adults;
- Subdividing groups into smaller learning centers or stations.
Developmentally Appropriate Practice
The Educator’s View on How Children Learn
Young children learn by doing. Educators and ideologists, such as Piaget, Montessori, Elkind, and others, have demonstrated that the process of learning is complex and a result of the interaction between the child’s thoughts and his/her experiences with the outside world (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997). Early childhood teachers have to be specialists in human development. They must also recognize that, in early childhood education, care and education are not mutually exclusive; they are, in fact, part of the same process. Finally, educators have to base their practice on the principles of development. Therefore, they have the special responsibility of providing continuous experience—under a wide range of conditions—for children.
The basis of an early childhood teacher’s practice is to take care of children, enjoy their company, respect them as individuals, and treat them fairly (Hendricks, 1998). The educator is obligated to acknowledge childhood as a unique and valuable stage of the life cycle; appreciate and support the ties between children and their families; recognize that children are better understood in the context of their families, cultures, and societies; respect, the dignity, value, and uniqueness of each individual; help children reach their potential within the context of relationships based on trust, respect and positive consideration; and establish positive interpersonal relationships with children to help them strengthen their growth and development.
The educator is a continuous observer of children’s spontaneous play and interactions with materials, peers, and adults in their environment (this is done in order to stay informed of the needs, prospects, interests, and progress in the children’s development). Observation allows the educator to be receptive to the language and culture of each child’s home so as to incorporate him or her in the dynamics of the classroom and, thus, give value to each of their contributions. It also enables the teacher to recognize each child’s special needs and support the individual and collaborative work they perform. In brief, observation will allow the teacher to organize the environment, use various teaching formats, and plan the curriculum and appropriate strategies, while taking into account the flexibility and creation of an environment alongside a sense of community.
Early childhood professionals put their faith and trust in children as key actors in the educational process. An important concept in quality programs is that children are not passive recipients of information; on the contrary, they play an active role in the construction of knowledge within a cultural context. Therefore, knowledge is not given to children as if they were empty vessels to be filled. Each society needs to consider what is valuable to teach their children, the skills they need to develop, and the abilities they should possess. Natural curiosity and the desire to make sense of things in their world motivate children to observe, interact with other people as well as objects, and find solutions to problems to develop their concept of self, others, and the world around them.
Early childhood educators have the responsibility of directly supporting the development of children, being guides and facilitators who provide opportunities to build knowledge and develop skills. This is accomplished by offering teaching/learning moments, various educational experiences, projects, solutions to problems, and ideas to explore and research that are interesting and satisfy the children’s needs. A child’s strengths must be supported through active participation in an optimal, stimulating, and challenging environment that reinforces DAPs. All of this is based on the educator’s knowledge of the child’s development profile and learning, while considering the differences among the children under his/her care, which include experiences, interests, and strengths.
The experiences provided to children define their future perceptions of educational experiences (Jalongo & Isenberg, 2000). Early experiences affect those that children will have later in life. Thus, early ones must take into account the child’s accumulated knowledge, in such a manner that these can be integrated into significant activities.
Neurocerebral research has shown that early childhood education is a critical moment to lay the knowledge base for learning. During these years, the brain forms a network of neural connections that will shape the child’s brain circuitry. The experiences from these first years have an impact on brain development; they must promote creative and strategic thinking; they should encourage learning through social interactions and enable children to make sense of their learning by applying it to other situations. They must also consider the different ways in which children learn and demonstrate their knowledge.
Learning is individual; therefore, not all children learn in the same way, at the same rate, or possess the same interests. Howard Gardner (1993) suggests that human beings construct knowledge through eight different forms of intelligence, which provides multiple types of learning skills, concepts, and strategies. Photos 1-4 depict children working in several activities, supporting what has already been discussed.
The Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral (1948/2004) beautifully explains why experiences should be enriching:
“Many of the things that we need can wait. The child cannot. Now is the time when his bones are being formed, his mind developed. For him we cannot say tomorrow, his time is today.”
As shown by the photographs, a preschool teacher must use numerous instructional strategies to optimize learning approaches and opportunities for children. These must be open and closed, directed by adults, or guided by the child.
When a teacher considers all these differences when choosing and implementing educational approaches, it helps children succeed in their learning. The appropriate teaching methods, techniques, and strategies used by the educator should enable the child to explore through materials, peers, and adults. A teacher who uses DAPs carefully thinks about the context of learning and the most convenient format for children to meet the objectives.
There are four main learning formats: large group, small group, daily routine, and play areas or centers. Everyone has a role and value (see Box 1, “Learning Formats,” which presents different learning formats used by early childhood educators and are in accordance with DAPs).
Learning Formats According to Bredekamp
Large groups – Known by many names in early childhood education, such as assembly, line, and circle, among others. This type of group is ideal for discussing a topic, making plans, and providing information and experiences that the teacher would like everyone to share. This meeting is also suitable for children to learn and practice skills, including talking in a group setting about their experiences, listening to others, and working together, as well as offering and processing new information.
Small group – Working with children in small groups allows teachers to expand on their opportunity to observe and involve them in the activity. It is used to introduce a new skill or lead the children to work on a new problem or previously presented concept. It can be done during the time of the day dedicated to learning centers. Small groups vary in size: from three to five children. In this format, the teacher can give more focused attention, provide support, and challenge children, according to their individual needs and stages.
Play and engagement in learning centers – A classroom for early childhood education is divided by interest centers, which offer children with a variety of options to engage in free play. Common interest centers are: blocks, dramatic play, art, manipulatives, music, reading/writing, library, and discovery. Playing at these centers promotes holistic development and learning in children. For each of these centers, the teacher has selected materials and activities that support the educational goals. In addition, the educator must observe what goes on at each center in order to use this information as a guide for further planning.
Daily routine – Through arrival and departure routines, as well as cleaning the room, washing hands, snack time, mealtime, and transitions, learning takes place in many forms. For example, after finishing with a large group, the teacher can sing a song to strengthen fine motor skills that the children will need later to properly grasp the brush or pencil they will use to paint or write their names with, respectively. The skills practiced during daily routine are useful, functional, and, therefore, very significant for children. They also present a good opportunity to talk with each other and their teachers, encouraging them to engage in longer conversations.
An important principle when using these formats is to recognize children’s signals, interests, and profiles. Play and learning in the early childhood education classroom happens individually, in groups, informally, or at interest centers. Thus, diversifying the formats enables the educator to ask questions, provide signals, and observe what each child is capable of doing or what his/her needs and difficulties might be. Said formats give the teacher the opportunity the frequently interact with children, engage them in conversation, and serve as a role model using new methods. Additionally, these formats allow children to choose between several activities.
|Play and engagement learning centers|
The early childhood educator, in her role as facilitator—moving from one interest center to another, from one child to another, supporting them in the discovery and use of materials—must use different strategies when communicating and conversing with children. In this way, she will be able to help them during the teaching-learning process to become active students and construct their own knowledge. (Box 2, “Strategies,” presents appropriate examples that an early childhood teacher can use when working with children.)
After reading the information in Box 2, analyze the following examples and in the space provided indicate what type of strategy it is. Also, determine whether the strategy is appropriate or not.
- That was fun. Are you happy that you tried?
- You have behaved very well today. You deserve this sticker.
- Dinosaurs lived millions of years ago. The Apatosaurus was known for having a long neck that allowed it to eat the leaves of the trees.
The following strategies can be used by an educator when teaching to promote children’s development and learning in accordance with DAP. These strategies were adapted from Basics of Developmentally Appropriate Practice (previously cited).
- Recognition. Give positive attention, let the child know you noticed what he said or did: “John, you wrote your name on the drawing,” “Thanks for your help.”
- Encourage. Provide feedback and nonverbal actions that promote persistence and effort in children: “Alana, your story about the dog gives me a clear idea about what she looks like,” instead of saying, “Good job, Alana.”
- Effective feedback. Provide specific comments about the child’s performance: “Ashley, this letter is a‘d’; it’s similar to a ‘b,’ but we write it with the belly facing the other way.”
- Be a role model. Show children proper skills or behaviors. Whisper when you want children to lower their voices; show cooperation when solving problems, for example: “Since you both want to use the shovel, let’s find together another toy that can also be used to move sand.”
- Demonstrate. Teach the correct way of performing a particular activity. Example: how to hammer blocks or how to wash your hands.
- Create or add a challenge. Create a problem or increase a task’s level of difficulty to push the children a little further from what they have already mastered. For example, if the child masters throwing a ball through a big opening designed to look like a clown’s mouth, make holes where the clown’s eyes are supposed to be, so that the child can throw it through the smaller openings.
- Make codes, signals, or other helpful signs. Help children work to the limit of their abilities. For instance, label the cubicles with photos and names. After the child learns to recognize her name, remove the picture.
- Provide information. Give clear and direct information to children: “Penguins are birds that live in the North Pole.” Mention verbal names, “This is a circle.”
- Offer instructions. Give specific instructions regarding the child’s actions and behaviors: “Pour the beans from this container into that one. Be careful, so they won’t spill.”
The most effective learning experiences are constructed using what children already know and can do, but we must also encourage them to practice abilities that they are in the process of acquiring. Children need to feel they successfully master a skill and not feel rushed to move on to the next challenge. Once they master a skill or concept, they are ready for the next one.
When a child starts a new challenge, he/she requires support from his/her teacher to handle it. Be careful: do not offer too much help; the goal is to provide the necessary support to carry out a task that the child still cannot accomplish alone. For instance, if the goal is for the child to write the first letter of his name, the teacher must be at his side to encourage him, but not take his hand to help him trace it. Depending on how the child handles the new skill or acquires new knowledge, the teacher offers less assistance. This framework is used to help children progress in all learning and development areas throughout the day (Philips, 2002; Rice, 1998). Likewise, it is based on the strategies mentioned above in Box 2 and can occur in several ways:
- Ask questions or give clues to alert children to a particular aspect of the task: “You can place the red and blue squares together or in separate groups”;
- Add suggestions or clues in some way—like images or pictures—to the text, so that the child will be able to tell a story;
- Pair up children with complementary strengths; thus, they can carry out activities together that they would not have been able to accomplish by themselves.
Teachers must understand that children develop within the context of family and community. For this reason, we have to establish interpersonal relationships with their families in order to learn more about the child’s life at home and, thus, identify other perspectives or important priorities in each of their lives.
There is no correct set of cultural values; the educator must recognize the existence of multiple points of view. For example, it is important to know the family’s child-rearing methods and expectations in order for the teacher to integrate them, in some way, into the teaching-learning process, while respecting the families’ rules and values. Kostelnik, Soderman, and Whiren (2004) state that a teacher’s expectation for the child should be consistent and in line with those of the family, thereby being more productive for the child.
The Teacher: Promoter of an Educational, Collaborative, Prosocial, and Constructive Environment
Young children must participate in experiences conducive to optimal holistic development. This should serve as a guide to all education professionals dedicated to this population. First, early childhood teachers have to take care of the aspirations, socialization, self-esteem, motivation, and confidence of preschool children. In this way, the educator will prepare them for their medium- and long-term progress and development. In other words, if early childhood educators do not attend to validating their knowledge of human development and recognize that, as cause and effect, the first six years of life are crucial, they will not be able to create the right atmosphere and environment for conducting activities suitable for the children’s level.
It is vital that early childhood teachers learn to deal with children’s realities, which can be done by understanding that each of them will be different, depending on his/her origin, experiences, level of socialization, learning styles, habits, and customs. Therefore, it is imperative that educators understand and be willing and prepared to use several methods that agree with the above-mentioned characteristics. As a result, the more diversity, the more varied will be the educational strategies and techniques in accordance with the materials to be used.
The cultural aspect is also of paramount importance when working with information that should guide and promote activities and games adapted to the child’s reality. It is the responsibility of the early education teacher to reevaluate materials, approaches, and methods that respond, in an authentic and genuine way, to said reality. It is necessary to emphasize that children learn by doing. The experience must be significant, challenging, and creative to prevent the child from getting bored and less interested in developing and using abilities related to his physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and linguistic development.
The Butterfly’s Lesson
One day a small opening appeared on a cocoon. A man sat next to it and watched for hours how the butterfly struggled to exit through that small hole. After all that effort, it seemed that the butterfly would not make any more progress by itself. Trying as it might, it could not make the hole bigger. So, the man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors and cut the rest of the cocoon.
Suddenly, the butterfly was free, but its body was atrophied: it was small and had flat wings. The man continued to observe it, waiting for the moment when its wings would unfold, flutter, and be able to support its body, which in turn would strengthen.
But none of this happened. The truth is that the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a deformed body and atrophied wings. It was never able to fly. What that man failed to understand, despite his kindness and willingness to help, was that the restricting cocoon he was watching that day, and the effort the butterfly had to undergo to exit through the small opening were nature’s way of making the butterfly’s wings get the necessary fluids to be able to fly once it was free of the cocoon.
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The educator has the responsibility of supporting children’s learning by providing them with a suitable and stimulating environment, valuing and respecting their level of previous knowledge, creating favorable conditions to bring out their motivation for experimenting and exploring. One of the myths of working with children is the presumption that the adult is always right, and the child’s role is to obey. Teaching self-control involves helping children learn to take responsibility for their actions. They must learn to judge what is right or wrong by themselves.
By promoting self-control, educators must establish clear boundaries that are reasonable and consistent with the expectations of children’s behavior, allowing them to realize what is and is not acceptable. The teacher will assess the child’s behavior and use support strategies that reinforce positive attitudes. Based on the children’s abilities, they should be encouraged to establish themselves the rules or standards of behavior expected of the group members. The teacher should be capable of noticing patterns in children’s challenging behaviors to provide well thought-out, consistent, and individualized responses.
Educators direct children toward acceptable behavior and use their mistakes as learning opportunities that serve to remind them of behavioral rules and expectations. By helping children to develop self-regulation and self-control, the teacher listens and understands their feelings and frustrations, answers respectfully, and guides them to solve their conflicts, displaying problem-solving skills. Children need to understand that it is acceptable to have all kinds of feelings, but they have to express them in an appropriate manner.
Michael, Peter, and Mary are playing in the manipulatives/game area. The rules state that each child must wait his/her turn. The winner will be the first one to reach the finish line. After several rounds, Michael notices that he is falling behind. All of a sudden, he picks up the game and throws it to the floor saying, “This is a stupid game!” Peter and Mary become confused and upset.
The teachers responses…
_____1. The teacher tells Michael that he is not using the materials correctly and that he is responsible for playtime being over. He also tells him that his behavior is incorrect, that he has to clean up the mess, and apologize to his classmates.
_____2. The teacher goes to the children and asks them what happened, while touching each child’s shoulders and bringing them to form a small circle. Each child expresses what he or she thinks happened and how he or she felt. The adult summarizes the comments and established the problem. Then, the educator says, “You were playing and then the pieces were on the floor. It seems that Michael did not want to play and did not know what to do…” The teacher asks the children how the problem can be solved.
Write two examples of phrases you use to promote self-control and act them out in front of the group.
Phase 1: ______________________________________________
Phase 2: ______________________________________________
Professional Ethics and the Early Childhood Educator
Being professionally ethical is one the fundamental qualities of an early childhood educator. Professional ethics is defined as the moral commitment of a profession and covers, or implies, reflecting on a person’s ethical behavior in and outside of work.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) approved and adopted a code of ethical conduct and statement of commitment in 1989. This code, which is revised every five years, offers guidelines regarding the kind of commitment that is expected of early childhood educators. NAEYC recognizes that those who work with young children need to make moral and ethical decisions every day.
The Code of Ethical Conduct of NAEYC presents guidelines and standards for maintaining responsible and acceptable conduct in the face of the main ethical predicaments found in early childhood education. Likewise, it sets forth a common basis for solving ethical dilemmas that arise in early childhood care and education. These standards are based on core values that derive from the history of early childhood education:
- appreciate childhood as a unique and valuable stage of the human life cycle;
- base our work on knowledge of how children develop and learn;
- appreciate and support the bond between the child and family;
- recognize that children are best understood and supported in the familiar and sociocultural context:
- respect the dignity, worth, and uniqueness of each individual (child, family, and colleague);
- helps children and adults achieve their highest potential in context of relationships which are based on respect, trust, and justice.
The primary focus of the Code is on daily practice with children and their families in programs for children from birth through eight years old. These provisions also apply to specialists who do not work directly with children, such as program administrators, parent educators, professors of preschool teachers and officials responsible of program monitoring and licensing. Said code is divided in four sections addressing areas of professional responsibilities, namely: (1) with children, (2) with family members, (3) among colleagues, and (4) with the community and society (www.naeyc.org).
Personal principles and values are the basis for professional values. These guide the decisions we make in the workplace.
Values are defined as qualities or principles that individuals consider to be desirable or worthwhile and that they prize for themselves, for other people and for the world in which they live. Core values are commitments kept by a profession that are consciously and intentionally embraced by its practitioners, because they contribute to the good of society. Morality, meanwhile, includes the views of people about what is good, right, and proper; their beliefs regarding their obligations, and their ideas about how they should behave (Devine, 2001; Bromfield, 2000; Klass, 1999).
Box 3, “Values of the Early Childhood Educator,” describes what are the values that should be related to children, family members, and colleagues. Ethical responsibilities to young children lead to recognizing that this is a unique and valuable stage of the human life cycle. The educator’s main responsibility is to provide a secure, healthy, enriching, and significant environment for children. We are firmly committed to supporting children development on the basis of their individual differences, helping them learn to live and work together, and encouraging their self-esteem.
- Recognize that each child is a unique individual with his/her own strengths and characteristics.
- Help children in their holistic development, considering, in a balanced way, their levels of physical-motor, social, emotional, cognitive, linguistic, and creative development.
- Promote the appropriate means for children to build knowledge and effectively learn from significant educational activities.
- Appreciate childhood as a unique and valuable stage of the human life cycle.
- Base educational practices on knowledge about the development and proper education of preschool children.
- Recognize and respect each individual as a unique human being.
- Encourage colleagues to achieve their goals and use their full potential as educators in a curricular program with a curricular approach.
- Motivate colleagues to promote overall well-being of children in a secure and healthy environment.
- Promote the continuous professional development of colleagues by belonging to teacher organizations and attending various activities that strengthen their professionalism as preschool educators.
- Advocates children’s rights alongside other colleagues.
Fathers, mothers, and guardians:
- Establish and maintains a positive relationship based on mutual respect.
- Support parents and guardians in the raising stages of rearing their children.
- Use ethical ways of communicating with family members.
Families are the foundation of children development. The term “family” may include other members—besides parents—who are responsible for the child. Assuming that both the family and the early childhood educator have the child’s well-being as a common interest, they are given the responsibility of working together in order to strengthen development.
The ethical commitment with colleagues involves a cooperative, tender, and dignified work environment, where professional satisfaction is promoted and positive relationships are shaped. The main responsibility is to establish and maintain optimal relationships and environment that support productive work and facilitate compliance of professional relationships. The preschool program operates within the context of the families’ immediate communities and of other institutions related to the well-being of children. Our responsibilities with the community include providing programs that address children’s needs and collaborate with agencies and professionals in charge of children.
Every society has the responsibility of ensuring children’s well-being and protection, just as we as specialists in children development must recognize our obligation to serve as children’s advocates at all times and in all places (Feeney & Freeman, 1999; NAEYC, 2005).
The following diagram shows how the early childhood educators, by using personal values and professional ethical principles, can help guide the ethical actions they take that concern children, parents, colleagues, and the general community.
William Ayers (1995) explains that having an ethical dimension is critical for becoming successful educators. Ayers points out that teaching is an intellectual and ethical job, which requires that its professionals question, analyze, criticize, and exercise care, if they want to perform their duties well. Although there is always more to learn as educators, the heart of teaching is filled with a strong love for the students. Teaching requires struggling to view each child in a dynamic way, creating environments that protect and challenge a wide range of students, and building bridges with each child regarding the knowledge they possess.
An ethical dilemma is a moral conflict that involves the determination of appropriate conduct when an individual faces contradictory professional values and responsibilities. The following are a few examples of dilemmas that the early childhood educator may encounter.
- A child in the group is strong and aggressive toward others and hits them; the children are afraid, and their parents have complained about the situation.
- A mother asks the teacher not to let her child sleep during the day, given that both she and the child need to go to bed early.
- A child in the group, whose parents are friendly and collaborative, comes to school bearing marks of physical abuse.
- The school program’s director and other teachers expect you to work with children three to four years old, using worksheets (skills) instead of active and concrete activities appropriate to their holistic development.
It is important, as an early childhood educator, to demonstrate your ethical dimension by respecting yourself and others, possessing good communication skills, and showing genuine commitment to the profession and to the program in which you work. When dealing with ethical situations, it is necessary to mediate during and after the process. In your work group, outline a Statement of Ethical Commitment of the Program.
- Identify six personal values that have led you to select a profession or position related to working with young preschool children.
- Highlight actions and tasks conducted with children and their family members, which reflect the values you mentioned.
- Think about a teacher who has had a positive influence on your life. What personal values did he or she demonstrate?
- Decorate a box creatively, in a way that demonstrates professional principles and values with which you agree to comply and provide for the active educational community of the program.
We hope that, in light of what has been discussed in this module, you have been able to reflect on your role as an active educator. We also expect that it will contribute to your professional development through the acquisition of skills and strategies that will help you comply with DAPs.
- Educators respect, value, and accept children, treating them in a dignified manner at all times. (Introduction).
- Early childhood educators are professionals who demonstrate enthusiasm, creativity, interest, empathy, tolerance, understanding, and love in their work with children, family members, and the community. (The teacher as a professional).
- Early childhood educators have the responsibility of directly supporting the development of children, being guides and facilitators who provide opportunities to build knowledge and develop skills. (The Educator’s View on How Children Learn).
- Early childhood educators must establish clear boundaries that are reasonable and consistent with the expectations of children’s behavior so as to promote self-control. (Promoter of a collaborative, pro-social, and constructive environment).
- Early childhood educators, as creators of a pro-social environment, have to exercise special care, as a priority, in the socialization, self-esteem, motivation, and confidence of preschool children so as to promote their optimal development.
- Early childhood educators have an ethical responsibility toward children, families, and their colleagues.
After reading and discussing this module “The Early Childhood Educator,” we encourage you, in light of the acquired knowledge, to reflect, once again, on your analysis in the pre-test, using the following questions:
- What are the skills and abilities that an early childhood educator should possess?
- Which appropriate strategies and practices should an early education professional use during the teaching/learning process?
- What should the role of the educator be in an educational, collaborative, pro-social, and constructive environment?
- Have your answers changed after reading this module? Explain why.
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