The ethics of professionalism: The art of doing what is right

When I first became an educator the idea of being a professional was seldom discussed, much less the concept that when you work with children and their families and your colleagues there would be agreement about how we would be expected to behave.

Don’t get me wrong—there were subtle and implied statements about how we were to act and, looking back, an almost nostalgic view of what a ‘good teacher’ looked like. But for me it was not until 1991, in the form of the ECA Code of Ethics, that the expectations of our professionalism were made explicit. The statements included in that foundational document challenged me and others I am sure, to see ourselves as professionals who, should we choose, work to meet a demanding standard of behaviour and make concerted efforts to always do what is right in regard to our work with children and their families.

The success of the ECA Code of Ethics, and other efforts over the years, has helped us see ourselves as professionals who not only have an ethical responsibility to children and their families but also, importantly, to our profession. An ethic of professionalism means that we take time to consider what it means to be a professional and the ways in which we can uphold and support the profession in our daily actions. I have come to understand this professionalism as the intricate process of looking outwards to those we work with (children, families and the community more broadly) while keeping an inward eye on our own identity and the shape of our profession. The two processes are of course inter-related—when we act to uphold the best interests of children, for example, we in turn demonstrate that being an early childhood professional is about our endeavours to do what is right for those we support.

In ECA’s Code of Ethics the ethical expectations of professionalism have been strengthened. The ethical expectations are now to the profession and the way in which, as professionals, we make decisions that reflect positively on the work of educating and caring for children and their families. The commitments are ambitious and invite us to consider how our actions will look for the whole profession and the image of the childhood professional.


  • base my work on research, theories, content knowledge, practice evidence and my understanding of the children and families with whom I work
  • take responsibility for articulating my professional values, knowledge, and practice and for the positive contribution our profession makes to society
  • engage in critical reflection, ongoing professional learning and support research that builds my knowledge and that of the profession
  • work within the scope of my professional role and avoid misrepresentation of my professional competence and qualifications
  • encourage qualities and practices of ethical leadership within the profession
  • model quality practice and provide constructive feedback and assessment for students as aspiring professionals
  • mentor new graduates by supporting their induction into the profession
  • advocate for my profession and the provision of quality education and care.

Unlike in the past when we may have been unsure about what was expected of a practitioner in this field, we can be in no doubt that being a professional means that we have an ethical responsibility to keep one eye on those we serve and the other on doing what is right for our profession. It is an honourable pursuit that makes us proud to be an early childhood professional.

Catharine Hydon

Catharine Hydon is the Director and Principal Consultant at Hydon Consulting. Over the last 10 years Catharine worked with a range of organisations and governments to understand and articulate quality and inspire change. With a Masters in early childhood education, Catharine has extensive experience in the early childhood sector beginning as a teacher in a kindergarten program in the northern suburbs of Melbourne to lead roles in a range of services and projects.  Catharine draws on her experience and ongoing practice research to consider how theory connects and informs practice.  Specialising in early childhood practice and pedagogy, quality improvement, policy and governance, the delivery of integrated services to engage vulnerable children and their families.  Catharine’s involvement in the early childhood sector is an important part of her commitment to the outcomes for children.  She is a long-time member of Early Childhood Australia (ECA) and has just concluded her role as the Co-chair of the Reconciliation Advisory Group and is a regular contributor in ECA publications. Catharine has been a member of the ECA Code of Ethics working group for the last two reviews and is a co-author on the recently published Ethics in Action Implementation guide. Catharine is a dynamic speaker and collaborative facilitator and is skilled at engaging professionals in reflective dialogue and creative conversations.   

4 thoughts on “The ethics of professionalism: The art of doing what is right”

    Yarrow Andrew says:

    Catharine, I could not agree more that we should be aspiring to be more thoughtful about our ethical stance – to do what is right. My concern, always, about professionalism, is whether governments and employers are doing right by *us*, in supporting pay and conditions in early childhood services that would show respect for the work we do. It is clear that this is still not the case, despite twenty years of accreditation and quality assurance processes (see my article – I hope that ‘doing right by our profession’ still involves ECA being strong advocates for better pay equity in early childhood with comparable work elsewhere.

    Anne Kennedy says:

    It is so difficult to gain the pay and conditions equity recognition when doing so would make our services unaffordable for families without considerable ongoing government funding. There is a commitment by ECA and other peak bodies and by new business advocacy groups to support this workforce equity campaign. It also needs the support of the families we work with to be advocating for this investment with their local members. Political activism is not very evident at the local community or service level because there isn’t much time or appetite for it.

    Catharine Hydon says:

    Absolutely Yarrow – ECA is deeply committed to a better deal for those who work in the profession. There is much to be done in our space… ECA is in continuous advocacy mode! We join with many others who have called for a workforce strategy for Aust…. i think we know what needs to be done but Governments are reluctant to do what needs to be done! I note that it came up again in the recent report by he Australian Child Rights Taskforce

    we are singing from the same song sheet…..

    Rowena Muir says:

    Such timely and sage advice Catharine. The ECA Code of Ethics has helped me reflect on my practice and work through ethical dilemmas more than once in the last 20 odd years. Thank you to all involved in the past and recent edition of the ECA Code of Ethics.

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