The Competent Educator

Recently during a professional development session I asked a group of educators what are the rights of educators? Were they the holder of rights, and if so, what were they? I thought about providing them with some context or giving them an example, but decided against this because as much as I wanted to know what those rights might be I was more interested in what they thought I meant by educator rights.

All of the responses from the twenty educators involved in this session had an industrial themed response. They told me that they have the right to be paid properly and on time, the right to annual leave, the right to sick leave, the right to breaks, the right to be treated fairly, the right to be provided with training opportunities, the right to work within the appropriate regulatory frameworks, the right to work in a safe space. It is not surprising that these were cited as being important. These rights are important, and they have been hard fought for.

Lately however, I have been considering educator rights in another way. Why? Because I have recently been to a city on the other side of the world, where educators consider this question in a quite different way. I have been to Reggio Emilia – an educating city – where the rights of early childhood educators are the right to:

  • Participate
  • Collaborate
  • Contribute.

reggio 1

To enact these rights educators are required to have a willingness to engage on a professional level and they have to be competent educators. In the way that the Reggio Emilia approach asks us to consider the competent child it also asks us to consider the competent educator.

The Pre-school and Infant Toddler centres of Reggio Emilia have high expectations of their educators and there is an evident deep respect for their skills, their intelligence and their potentials. This deep respect is inextricably linked to educator competence and intelligence. These are smart educators who love what they do and are valued for how they do it.

The role of the educator in Reggio Emilia is to offer context and to do this the educator must be engaged in the world and curious about contemporary conditions. The educator’s role is one of protagonist, which could loosely be defined as “lead character”. To be a protagonist, educators have to be culturally, academically and socially competent!

Reggio Emilia has such educators. This view of educators is based on an infrastructure of deeply held assumptions of shared, collective responsibility at all levels. Carla Rinaldi reminds us that:  “The competent and creative child exists if there is a competent and creative adult” (Rinaldi, 2005, p 94)

The connection between the intelligent adult and the role they play in creating knowledge in children is explained in the following quote from a child from the Diana Municipal Pre-School in Reggio Emilia:

“If a person is intelligent and knows lots of things, he teaches them to the child so that the child grows up, becomes an adult, and if he has a child, he teaches him too, and it goes on like that (Reggio Children, 1993, p33)

This is a model of early childhood education that expects that educators will contribute to a network of interactive interconnected processes. Ongoing research, inquiry and dialogue between children and adults are a program and practice priority. This requires sophisticated skills.

So what does this idea cause us to consider when reflecting on the competence and intelligence of early childhood educators in Australia? If, as Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the Reggio Emilia approach suggests, respect for educators is related to intelligence and competence what are we to say about our situation? Do we have intelligent and competent early childhood educators?

A lot of children in Australia are receiving high quality early childhood education from academically, culturally and socially competent staff. Everyday across Australia excellent educators are charged with the responsibility of educating and caring for our youngest citizens, but we could do better.

If the premise is that respect for the profession is linked to competence what do we need to do better in order to improve our context?

We could do better in the provision of training and education that requires a high standard of skills and competencies for pre-service educators. We could position ourselves better as advocates for how the wider community views early childhood educators. We could start expecting from ourselves that we need to be educators that are curious about contemporary conditions, because if you are not interested in what goes on in the world how can you be a competent educator?


They talk a lot about rights and competencies in that city in the north of Italy and they also talk a lot about thinking. It is ultimately what makes you smarter. As this child from the Diana Municipal Pre-school in Reggio Emilia says:

“Everybody imagines that they don’t know how to think. Me, too! I told my mommy that I didn’t know how to think but it wasn’t true. Really everybody knows how to think. Thoughts can be told and they can change” (Reggio Children, 1993, p48)

In Australia we have the right to think things can change!


Rinaldi, C. (2005). In dialogue with Reggio Emilia: Listening, researching and learning. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Reggio Children, 1993. A journey into the rights of children.

Karen Hope

Karen Hope Consulting was established in 2014 and provides a disruptive approach to professional development workshops and teaching that aims to challenge dominant discourses and taken for granted practices. Karen is an early childhood consultant, associate lecturer and freelance writer who has extensive experience in a broad range of services within the early childhood care and education context. Karen’s consultancy practice and writing is strongly influenced by the Reggio Emilia project and this is reflected in her work and writing as a point of reference, resource, inspiration and difference. Karen writes and delivers work that is specific to each individual service developed in consultation with you. The delivery of sustainable professional development that results in real change is a key feature of her work. She can be contacted by email or via her website at:

2 thoughts on “The Competent Educator”

    Justeen says:

    Many things sprang to mind whilst reading this blog & indeed continued to come to mind afterwards. No doubt that was the author’s intent- to provoke thinking.
    I am curious about why the ECEs quoted at the beginning of the piece automatically went to their personal/professional rights…. Agreed that these rights have been hard fought for & should never be discounted but should this be the key point to spring to mind when asked? The author stated other rights which I believe are sorely misrepresented in current practice: participation, collaboration & contribution underpin the NQF, VEYLDF and EYLF so why did they not present themselves when a rights centered conversation begins?
    The notion of intelligence should also sit firmly on the horizon for not only ECEs but society on a whole. Society considers academic intelligence a priority, emotional intelligence is also a front runner however cultural intelligence I think is a concept that slips across the majority like a mist on a cold winter’s day.
    As a sector we need to focus on this broad concept of intelligence & demonstrate that we are indeed intelligent beyond the point of documentation. We need our teaching cohort to actually teach holistically and think beyond the point of self-benefit.

    It’s time to not only say the c-word but enact it: I’m referring to CONTEMPORARY.

    Anne Kennedy says:

    Thanks Karen for this thoughtful blog on the competent educator. I have the privilege of working with many competent and wise educators but many of them don’t recognise how good they are and what a remarkable, positive difference they make in the lives of children and families. Exploring professional identity by asking that old question–‘who am I in the lives of children and families?’ can support greater understanding of my identity and worth

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