The Caring Ethic in Early Childhood Teacher Education

By Swick, Kevin J.; Brown, Mac H. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, June 1999 | Go to article overview

The Caring Ethic in Early Childhood Teacher Education


Swick, Kevin J., Brown, Mac H., Journal of Instructional Psychology


The "caring ethic" is central to the teaching-learning process. Early childhood teacher educators can promote a teacher as leader paradigm that supports the development of caring skills and perspectives in future teachers. Future teachers can benefit from learning about caring, developing competencies in caring, and continuing their education in the caring/nurturing processes.

The history of early childhood teacher education is in a sense a microcosm of the struggle to become humane, decent, and nurturing (Osborn, 1991). The "caring curriculum" Bronfenbrenner (1979) explicates is a contemporary elaboration of earlier struggles to advance civilization through nurturing and renewing modes of thinking and feeling. What is distinct in our historical context is the urgency for realizing an ethic of caring and the recognition that we have new knowledge and resources to develop a system that promises new possibilities for achieving it (Greene, 1995a).

Early childhood teacher education is ideally positioned to create the needed resources for promoting a caring ethic in our society. It has contact with many of the professionals who interact with children and families. Thus, a "Teacher as Leader" construct that is based on caring is achievable in early childhood education.

Leadership that is "lived" through caring relationships with young children and families is the needed factor in transforming our society from excessive materialism toward more humane and nurturing living. As Noddings (1994) notes:

   An ethic of care starts with a study of relation. It is fundamentally
   concerned with how human beings meet and treat one another. (p. 45)

Teachers of young children (and those who teach and learn with them) are the "leaders" in the community in terms of potentially creating the caring ethic.

In this context, the teacher leader is a growing person whose primary ethic is that of seeking relationship conditions to develop community harmony in ways that enhance the integrity of everyone. This construct advances the importance of educating early childhood teachers in ways that enable them to generate and renew beliefs, values, and attitudes that are consonant with having the "caring relationship" among themselves and the children and families they care for and nurture. This means bringing alive the voices of early childhood teacher education students in ways that validate their journey toward becoming caring persons.

Questions That Shape The Journey

Three questions help to shape the context for transforming early childhood education (and teacher education) into a journey that nurtures and sustains the caring ethic:

1. How do we develop a system that nurtures people in becoming caring human beings?

2. How can we create an environment that engages teachers, children, and families in experiences that nurture in them the ethic of caring?

3. What are the means of extending the caring ethic into all facets of community living?

Nurturing Teacher Leaders in Developing The Caring Ethic

What is needed to sustain our journey to become caring people? Since the journey involves opening up to new ways of relating, our first requirement is to be explorative and sensitive learners. As Bateson (1994) describes this process within the study of cultures so must we craft our vision of the caring relationship for early childhood teacher education:

   Arriving in a new place, you start from an acknowledgement of strangeness,
   a disciplined use of discomfort and surprise. Later, as observations
   accumulate, the awareness of contrast dwindles and must be replaced with a
   growing understanding of how observations fit together within a system
   unique to the other culture. (p. 27)

Helping teacher leaders see the value of learning about a new culture - a "culture of caring" is indeed a critical and integral part of our mission in early childhood teacher education.

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