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2.4: Other Standards Defining Professional Performance

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    • Brenda Boyd & Linda Felch

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    The work of the Power to the Profession Task Force is impressive and would dramatically change the face of ECE if the Unifying Framework is adopted across the country. This audacious vision would serve to address many, perhaps even all, of the defining issues that the field has grappled with, especially in recent years. However, the aspirational nature of the Framework should not lead you to believe that early childhood education as it we know it today has no established standards which could nudge it in the direction of professionalizing. In this section of the chapter, you will be introduced to systems of standards that define and regulate the work of early childhood educators in the US and specifically in Washington state.

    Washington Administrative Code

    Early Childhood Education is not made up only of licensed childcare. However, it does represent a large portion of early childhood education programs across the country and in Washington state. The term, “licensed childcare” should hint at the fact that these programs are regulated (licensed to operate) by a state agency. Each state has its own administrative agency that oversees childcare and in Washington state it is the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF). After laws are passed by the legislature, they become part of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), a compilation of all permanent laws now in force. But in the case of something as complicated as childcare, the laws cannot be specific enough to guide practice. Thus, an administrative agency, in this case DCYF, writes administrative code or regulations that specify what is allowed in the operation of a licensed childcare program. One chapter of the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) addresses the requirements for operation of licensed childcare programs--Title 110, Chapter 300--which was recently renumbered and retitled “Foundational Quality Standards for Early Learning Programs” (Washington State Legislature, n.d.). Note that these regulations reflect foundational (or base) quality (sometimes referred to as minimal quality) and that programs being licensed are called Early Learning Programs, not Early Childhood Education as NAEYC recommends. This chapter in WAC is made up of several sections including the following:

    Intent & Authority Child Outcomes Professional Development, Training and Requirements


    Space and Furnishings



    Food & Nutrition

    Health Practices

    Cleaning & Sanitation

    Sleep & Rest

    Infant & Toddler

    Interactions and Curriculum

    Learning Supports

    Emotional Support and Classroom Organization

    Program Structure & Organization

    Program Administration & Oversight

    Licensing Processes

    Records, Policies Reporting & Posting

    Note that 3 of the sections have multiple subsections, making for a total of over 100 subsections of regulations, many which are broken down even further into numerous smaller subsections. This is a complicated document!

    All sections provide guidance for the practice of childcare according to the state of Washington and as such could be considered professional standards. We could conversely argue that a profession is viewed as an autonomous body that self-governs and provides internal control of quality and thus does not need this level of detailed regulation by an entity external to the profession.

    Given the focus of this chapter on Professionalism in ECE, of special note is the section on Professional Development, Training and Requirements. This section of the Chapter addresses the qualifications of staff in licensed childcare programs, both center based and family home programs. In 2019 the General Staff Requirements for center lead teachers were revised and are listed below:

    • Be at least 18 years of age
    • Have a high school diploma or the equivalent
    • Preservice requirements
      • DCYF Portable Background Check
      • Negative TB test
    • ECE Initial Certificate within 5 years of hire or promotion (or from time of this section becoming effective)
    • ECE Short Certificate within 2 years of receiving ECE Initial Certificate
    • Document completion of annual professional development

    The ECE certificates referenced here are part of the Washington State Stackable Certificates. These are certificates offered by many community and technical colleges in Washington and provide a cumulative pathway with courses building on one another. These stackable certificates are meant to provide a manageable set of steps in moving to the goal of a degree, initially at the associate level, and if a student continues in their education, at the bachelor’s level. The three stackable certificates are described below:

    Table 3 Washington Stackable Certificates

    Initial ECE Certificate

    12 quarter credits

    Short ECE Certificate of Specialization

    8 Credits

    ECE State Certificate

    27-32 credits



    3 courses:

    • Intro to ECE
    • Health, safety & Nutrition Practicum

    Choose one specialization:

    • ECE-General
    • Infant/Toddler Care
    • School-age Care
    • Family Child to Care Administration
    • 10 Credits of General Ed (Math and English)
    • 17-22 Credits of ECE
    • Builds foundation for Associate Degree

    Washington State Core Competencies for Early Care and Education Professionals

    Image 2.4 Cover of Core Competences for Early Care and Education Professionals

    In 2009 the former Department of Early Learning, at the direction of the state legislature, published the Core Competencies for Early Care and Education Professionals (DEL, 2009), developed out of a multi-year process that engaged a broad consortium of professionals from across the state. The competencies are meant to provide a framework of knowledge and skills necessary to provide quality care for children.

    The competencies are viewed as a tool that can be used in a variety of ways including,

    • By individual practitioners to assess their own knowledge and skill and to plan for professional development (PD)
    • By directors to develop PD plans, or build job descriptions
    • By trainers to plan and organize PD
    • By higher education faculty and administration, to guide course and program development

    The competencies are divided into 8 content areas:

    1. Child Growth and Development
    2. Curriculum and Learning Environment
    3. Ongoing Measurement of Child Progress
    4. Families and Community Partnerships
    5. Health, Safety, and Nutrition
    6. Interactions
    7. Program Planning and Development
    8. Professional Development and Leadership

    Each content area contains statements that present a skill or knowledge. The statements are organized by levels. The levels represent a continuum of skill/knowledge from entry level to an advanced level of preparation. All but the first level is associated with a level of professional development or college certificate or degree.

    • Level 1
      • Basic knowledge and skills expected at entry level
      • No specialized training or education required
    • Level 2
      • Level 1 + knowledge and skills comparable to a CDA
    • Level 3
      • Level 1+ Level 2 + knowledge and skills commensurate with an associate degree in ECE/child development
    • Level 4
      • Level 1 + Level 2 + Level 3 + knowledge and skills commensurate with a bachelor’s degree in ECE/child development
    • Level 5
      • Level 1 + Level 2 + Level 3 + Level 4 + knowledge and skills commensurate with an advanced degree in ECE/child development

    Each of the 8 content areas have between 2 and 17 skill/knowledge statements representing an individual competency. The total number of competencies identified in this system is over 650, making for a very complicated system of standards.

    NAEYC Professional Standards and Competencies

    As described in the previous section of this chapter on the Unifying Framework, a new set of professional standards (Professional Standards and Competencies for Early Childhood Educators; NAEYC, 2020) have been adopted by NAEYC and are proposed as the unifying standards of practice in the profession of childhood education. This newly adopted position statement represents the core body of knowledge, skills, dispositions, and values that early childhood educators must demonstrate to be effective teachers of young children. The previous professional standards set by NAEYC were written as expectations for higher education programs—what they must teach to successfully prepare early childhood educators. The revised Professional Standards and Competencies are written as expectations for the individual professional—what he/she/they must know and be able to do as an effective educator.

    The standards are organized into 6 core standards:

    1. Child Development and Learning in Context
    2. Family-Teacher Partnerships and Community Connections
    3. Child Observation, Documentation and Assessment
    4. Developmentally, Culturally, and Linguistically Appropriate Teaching Practices
    5. Knowledge, Application, and Integration of Academic Content in the Early Childhood Curriculum
    6. Professionalism

    Each standard contains 3 to 5 key competencies that clarify the core with a total of 22 key competencies.

    Each of the standards has also been “leveled” to correspond with the three ECE designations described in the Unifying Frame (ECE I, II & III). The leveling documentation is presented as a first attempt to identify the differences in the breadth and depth of content in the programs that prepare professionals with differing scopes of practice. A sampling of the leveling descriptions for one of the key competencies (1a—Understand the developmental period of early childhood from birth through age eight across physical, cognitive, social/emotional, and linguistic domains including bilingual/multilingual development) is presented in Table 4.

    Table 4 Leveling of Key Concept 1a (Understand the developmental period of early childhood from birth through age eight across physical, cognitive, social, and emotional, and linguistic domains including bilingual/multilingual development) by 3 levels of ECE Scope of Practice

    Identify critical aspects of brain development including executive function, learning motivation, and life skills Describe brain development in young children including executive function, learning motivation, and life skills Describe brain development in young children including executive function, learning motivation, and life skills
      Describe ways to learn about children (e.g. through observation, play, etc.) Evaluate, make decisions about, and communicate effective ways to learn about children (e.g. through observation, play, etc.)

    NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct

    Image 2.5 Code of Ethics Statement of Commitment NAEYC

    A common characteristic of professions is that they have a document spelling out the moral responsibilities to society and guiding principles for professional behavior. Because a profession is viewed as the group that can uniquely perform an important social need, and because often the service is provided to a vulnerable population, it is critical that there is a clear statement about how ethical behavior is defined. Without that, the power that resides with the professional role has the potential for exploitation of the population being served.

    Although the field of early childhood education is still striving to be viewed as a profession, it has had a code of ethics since 1989, but began the work to develop a code at least 10 years prior to that (Feeney & Freeman, 2018). Beginning in the mid-70’s, NAEYC leadership was advancing efforts to develop a code, with a code of ethical conduct adopted in 1989. The code was updated in 2005 and most recently reaffirmed and updated in 2011. The code exists as one of several position statements that NAEYC has adopted as guides to assist early childhood educators in making informed decisions on issues facing the field/profession and promote dialogue on the issues using a common language provided by the statement. All NAEYC position statements, including the Code of Ethical Conduct in its entirety, are available on the association’s website, The code is focused on early childhood educators—those working directly with children and families. Supplements have been written to apply the code to the work of Early Childhood Program Administrators and Early Childhood Adult Educators as well. Multiple articles in NAEYC’s publication Young Children have addressed the use of the code, providing professionals with numerous opportunities to practice applying the code to real situations faced in the work of early childhood education.

    Structure of the Code of Ethical Conduct

    • The NAEYC Code is organized by several components:
      • Core Values
      • Appreciate childhood as a unique and valuable state of the human life cycle
      • Base our work on knowledge of how children develop and learn
      • Appreciate and support the bond between the child and family
      • Recognize that children are best understood and supported in the context of family, culture, community, and society
      • Respect the dignity, worth and uniqueness of each individual (child, family member, and colleague)
      • Respect diversity in children, families, and colleagues
      • Recognize that children and adults achieve their full potential in the context of relationships that are based on trust and respect
    • Conceptual Framework
      • The framework is an organizing structure for the code. It is divided into four sections that address an area of professional relationships: with children, with families, among colleagues, and with the community and society. Each section includes an introduction to the primary responsibilities of the professional in that setting. Each section also lists a set of ideals and principles.
      • Ideals are aspirational. They represent what we strive for as we do our work with children and families; they are our goals. Principles are more concrete—they could be considered the objectives that allow us to achieve our goals or aspirations (ideals). The principles guide conduct and help professionals resolve ethical dilemmas. Ethical dilemmas are “moral conflicts that involves determining how to act when an individual faces conflicting professional values and responsibilities” (Feeney & Freeman, 2018, p. 19).
    • The four professional relationship areas
      • Ethical Responsibilities to Children
        • The first section focuses on the profession’s beliefs about the unique and valuable nature of childhood and the vulnerability of this stage of development. Consequently, early childhood educators have responsibility to ensure the safety, health, and emotional well-being of children. Moreover, this section of the code addresses the profession’s commitment to respecting individual differences, to helping children learn to cooperate with peers and to the promotion of children’s self-awareness, competence, self-worth resiliency and physical well-being.
        • The first section contains 12 ideals and 11 principles (note there is not a 1 to 1 correspondence of ideals to principles). The first principle is identified as taking precedence over all the others in the Code:
        • “Above all, we shall not harm children. We shall not participate in practices that are emotionally damaging, physically harmful, disrespectful, degrading, dangerous, exploitive, or intimidating to children” (NAEYC, 2011).
      • Ethical Responsibilities to Families
        • The second section addresses the responsibility to the families served by early childhood educators. Given the belief that the family is of primary importance, and that the family and the teacher have a common interest in the child’s well-being, educators have a responsibility to communicate, cooperate and collaborate with the child’s family. The second section contains 9 ideals and 15 principles.
      • Ethical Responsibilities to Colleagues
        • The third section of the code addresses responsibilities to colleagues. This section is divided into two subsections, one focused on responsibilities to co-workers and one related to responsibilities to employers. The responsibility to colleagues is to establish and maintain relationships that support productive work and professional needs. The focus here is on trust, confidentiality, collaboration, and respect for the dignity of each human. It also includes responsibility for holding co-workers and employers accountable for their own professional ethical conduct. The first subsection contains 3 ideas and 4 principles and the second contains 2 ideals and 5 principles.
      • Ethical responsibility to Community and Society
        • The final section of the code recognizes the responsibility of the educator to provide programs that meet the diverse needs of families, to assist families in getting access to needed services, to work together with other agencies and professionals and to help with developing programs needed, but not available. This section contains 7 ideals and 11 principles.

    Using the Code of Ethical Conduct

    The Code of Ethical Conduct provides a tool to use in a variety of ways to ensure ethical conduct and to resolve ethical dilemmas that arise as a part of the complexity of early childhood education. While the code of ethics is a guide, it is not a recipe for specific behaviors to be enacted in any particular situation. However, the Code does identify a number of specific responsibilities. These ethical responsibilities are either things we should not do, or things that we are required to do. Some of the responsibilities are presented as ideals, (I) some as principles (P) and include the following:

    I 1.1 To be familiar with the knowledge base of early childhood care and education and to keep current through continuing education an in-service training.

    P 2.9 [To]…maintain confidentiality and…[to] respect the family’s right to privacy…

    I 3 A.1 To establish and maintain relationships of respect, trust, and cooperation with co-workers

    I 4.1 To provide the community with high-quality (age and individually appropriate, and culturally and socially sensitive) education/care programs

    P 4.7 [To]… be familiar with laws and regulations that serve to protect the children in our programs.

    P 1.1 [To] not harm children. [To]…not participate in practices that are disrespectful, degrading, dangerous, exploitative, intimidating, emotionally damaging, or physically harmful to children.

    P 2.1 [To]…not deny family members access to their child’s classroom or program setting.

    P 3C.8 In hiring, promotion, and provision of training…[to] not participate in any form of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, national origin, culture, disability, age, or sexual preference….

    These ethical responsibilities are clear cut. They communicate what must and must not be done. So, one way the code serves your work is to provide clear cut guidelines for how to behave. In addition, the code is meant to help in navigating ethical dilemmas. In this case, the professional is faced with two equally justifiable actions but often includes a conflict between the interests of two involved parties. For example, it may require placing the needs of the child above that of the parents or of a group over an individual. The code can help sort out the best course of action in a situation, but the process requires thoughtful consideration of the various interests, needs, and priorities of one person or group over the interests, needs and priorities of another.


    Consider this ethical dilemma (from Feeney & Freeman, 2018, pg. 52). Think about how you might resolve this ethical dilemma, considering your professional obligations and conflicting needs.

    Kali, the mother of 4-year-old Chase, has asked his teacher, Sondra to keep him from napping in the afternoon. She tells Sondra, “Whenever Chase naps during the day, he stays up until past 10:00 at night. I have to get up at 5:00 in the morning to go to work, and I am not getting enough sleep.” Along with all the other children, Chase takes a one-hour nap almost every day. Sondra feels that he needs it to engage in activities and stay in good spirits through the afternoon.

    The authors of the Code suggest a process for applying the code to ethical issues and dilemmas (Feeney & Freeman, 2018). As you consider the steps, think about the situation described in the reflection above. The steps they suggest are described here:

    1. Determine if your issue/problem even involves ethics. Does it involve concerns about right and wrong, rights and responsibilities, human welfare, or an individual’s best interests? If so, it is an ethical issue.
    2. Determine if your issue involves legal responsibility. If so, you must follow the law. Issues involving child abuse are examples involving legal responsibilities.
    3. Next determine if the issue involves an ethical responsibility. Recall that ethical responsibilities are clear cut expectations about how a professional early childhood educator behaves. There is no question about what must be done (or not done).
    4. Determine if your issue is a true ethical dilemma requiring hard choices between conflicting moral obligations. Consider the needs of all involved and your professional obligations to each. Are there conflicting obligations requiring you to prioritize one over another? Are core values in conflict? If so, you have an ethical dilemma to resolve. Here are some steps to decision making about an ethical dilemma:
      1. Identify the conflicting responsibilities. Consider the people involved and determine their needs and your obligations to them. Then turn to the Code for guidance. Review the Core Values and Ideals in the related section of the Code. You may need to get more information if you decide you do not have the full picture. It may also be helpful to refer to program policies or community laws.
      2. Brainstorm possible resolutions. Now that you fully understand the issue and the conflicting values, needs and obligations you can think about how to solve the problem. Do not yet reject any ideas but generate as many ideas as possible. Then go back and consider the equity and feasibility of your ideas.
      3. Consider ethical finesse. In some situations, it may be possible to solve the problem without having to choose between two options. This approach is known as ethical finesse and is characterized by the ability to amicably resolve the situation, delicately maneuvering without anyone feeling like they did not have their needs addressed. For example, in the scenario in the reflection box above, is it possible to resolve the dilemma in a way that both the needs of the child and the parent could be addressed? Could the teacher work with the parent to develop more effective bedtime routines, or could they experiment with having the child go down for nap a little later, sleeping less time in the afternoon to see if this made a difference? Ethical finesse should be used sparingly (Kipnis, 1987). If we rely too often on ethical finesse, it is possible we are avoiding ethical responsibility and not meeting our obligations.
      4. Look for guidance in the NAEYC Code. If ethical finesse does not result in a satisfactory resolution, utilize the Code to determine the action you can defend morally and prepare to act. Look to the Core values for guidance. Then review the Ideals and Principles to clarify your responsibilities. Make sure you feel you have all the necessary information. It may also be helpful to review your program’s policies or discuss the issue with a trusted colleague.
      5. Decide on a justifiable course of action. The next step is to make the choice between the alternatives, basing your decision on the ethics presented in the Code. In the previous nap-time example, if the attempts to help the parent with bedtime routines and/or a shorter nap did not solve the problem (i.e. the child became sleepy at nap time and was grumpy in the afternoon without a full nap) then the decision to reinstitute the nap procedure for this child is necessary. The responsibility to meet the physical needs of the child outweighs the need of the parent to get more sleep. It can be difficult to take such a stand, but having the Code, and your knowledge of child development on your side of the decision can be reassuring and affirming.
      6. Implement your resolution and reflect. After making the decision and putting it into play, it is important to reflect on the process to determine what you have learned. Did you learn something about how you communicate with families? Did you learn something about how program policies are set and shared with parents? Or did you mostly learn about your own comfort level with these kinds of decisions?

    Clearly, the process of applying the NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct is not an easy one. Nonetheless, this important marker of a profession is critical in the work of early childhood education. Given the vulnerability of our “clients” and the inherent power we wield in that relationship, it is incumbent upon us to be aware of our ethical obligations and become proficient in the use of tools to assist with carrying out our ethical responsibility. Numerous resources for practicing the use of the Code are available from NAEYC.

    This page titled 2.4: Other Standards Defining Professional Performance is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Brenda Boyd & Linda Felch.