New Possibilities in Thinking, Speaking and Doing: Early Childhood Teachers' Professional Identity Constructions and Ethics

Article excerpt


Certain components of early childhood education literature position early childhood teachers as members of a professional group (Ebbeck & Waniganayake, 2003; Feeney, Christensen & Moravcik, 2010; Newman & Pollnitz, 2005; Osgood, 2006). This identification as professional draws on various key elements of what it means to identify as professional. These include: qualifications, relationships, autonomy (although this is at times replaced with accountability) and adherence to a code of ethics. Adoption of expected behaviours equating to these elements within the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector over recent decades has contributed to the professionalisation of this sector (Aitken & Kennedy, 2007; Newman & Pollnitz, 2005). My interest in this paper is examining how professional relationships contribute to the construction of professional identities of early childhood educators, and how particular constructions of identity might be seen to influence representations of ethics. The relationships examined in this paper are between teachers and parents, and between teachers and colleagues.

A poststructural review of early childhood education literature can identify what it is to be professional, and what it means to engage in professional relationships. To present other possibilities through which professional identity can be constructed requires a critical analysis of this literature. The aim is to unsettle taken-for-granted truths presented within early childhood literature which depict a universal notion of what it is to identify as an early childhood professional. The intent is to open up opportunities for new ways of thinking, speaking and constructing professional identities.

In professional relationships there is an expectation of expertise and certainty associated with what it means to identify as an early childhood professional. Certainty that is sought through reliance on expertise can create particular assumptions about relationships. There is an associated impact on how ethics is represented as a component of these relationships. The expectation of expertise and certainty can be presented as an example of what Tobin (1995) refers to as 'an unquestionable assumption' (p. 224). I take a position within this paper that suggests a reluctance to question assumptions implicit within expertise and certainty results in a taken-for-grantedness of these expectations. I argue that reliance on expertise and certainty in the construction of what it means to be professional, through expectations of fixed and universal constructions of professional relationships, can and should be challenged. In doing this I consider spaces that can be created for complexities of relationships and uncertainties in early childhood professional identities and ethical engagement.

I review current discursive practices at work in early childhood literature and review the ways these practices are reflective of, and contribute to, early childhood teachers' constructions of professional identity. I begin with an overview of a theoretical framework, which will provide the lens for this inquiry.

Theoretical framework used to read the literature

Privileging particular expectations of professionalism in early childhood education literature presents an early childhood professional identity governed by regimes of truth (Foucault, 1980). A regime of truth (Foucault, 1980) is a socially constructed 'set of rules for thinking and talking about oneself and others' (Weems, 2004, p. 230). In this work such a regime is positioned as a set of rules in the form of expectations or limitations of what is allowable and possible for an early childhood educator in being professional. Identity construction is considered as a process that involves positioning self in relationship with other, and ethics is presented as an authentic engagement in this process (Butler, 2005).

Poststructural perspectives are used to examine possibilities for resistance to taken-for-granted representations of early childhood teachers' professional identities. …