Professionalism in times of uncertainty—a conversation worth having, writes CATHARINE HYDON, who, among many contributions to the sector in Australia, is a leading advocate on ethics for early childhood education and care.
In all of my conversations with colleagues about the ECA Code of Ethics and what it means to be an ethical professional, one thing stands out. It’s the stories of the way we treat each other. Time and time again, people make a point of raising issues with me about the way a colleague has treated them or behaviours that they have witnessed at their service. These stories follow a familiar trajectory. An issue arises within a team, and despite a public commitment to work together in the best interests of children, mostly articulated in philosophy statements and the like, individuals choose to behave in disrespectful ways and the team disintegrates. The source of the issues scarcely matters—approaches to Christmas celebrations, whether paper portfolios are the way to go or who should look after the chickens—the result is a tear in the ethical fabric of the team. It takes a concerted effort to repair the damage.
My intention here is not to suggest that we are somehow unable to build ethical relationships with our colleagues but rather to suggest that this might be our Achilles heel. We clearly can and do create respectful connections with fellow educators that result in exceptional practice. Hangout on social media for a moment or two, and we see plenty of examples of how we pull together and take care of each other. But the opposite is also true, we each have examples of times when we have failed to live up to the expectations that we ask of children—honest and open communication and respectful approaches to resolving conflict.
Might it be the uncomfortable truth to admit to an existing fault line in our ethical practice, one that, if we are not careful, at this time more than at any other time, may be our undoing as a sector?
We are living and working in extremely uncertain times—unprecedented is a word I hear everywhere. It is timely then to remind ourselves that having each other’s back is not only a matter of survival, but it is part of our ethical responsibility to each other as professionals. Taking care not to let the stress and ambiguity lead to disrespectful ways of working together, but rather drawing on our collective capacity to remain open to each other’s perspectives.
The ECA Code of Ethics provides childhood professionals with a way to maintain and even strengthen our team’s ethical fabric.
- Let’s take time to encourage each other to adopt and act in accordance with the Code, and credit each other with ethical practice when we see it.
- Likewise, let’s be courageous and kindly but firmly call out unethical behaviours, so they don’t become a feature of what we remember about this time.
- Use the times that we have together (online or in-person) to build a spirit of collegiality and professionalism by being open, respectful and honest.
- Find a way to frequently acknowledge the diverse strengths and experiences of our colleagues and celebrate small achievements and the fact that we are doing a great job in difficult times!
- And use constructive, caring and respectful processes to address differences of opinion— especially when the stakes are high.
This blog will be part of a series that hopes to support childhood educators (those who work with children aged from birth to 8 years and who value and are committed to the ECA Code of Ethics) to navigate these extraordinary times in ethical ways. Stay tuned.