The role of advocate, both for the clientele professionals serve, and for the profession itself, was not included in the list of commonly accepted criteria of a profession presented at the beginning of this chapter. Nonetheless, advocacy is identified as an important obligation for many professions, including early childhood education. Note that both the NAEYC Professional Standards and Competencies and the Washington State Core Competencies for Early Care and Education Professionals include professionalism as a core standard area, and both include advocacy as a competency area.
Advocacy is generally defined as any action that supports or defends a specific cause or issue. The goal of advocacy is to cause change and can be accomplished through a variety of activities. Often those of us in the early childhood education field feel uncomfortable with the idea of advocacy. It may feel too political, too aggressive, or require one to be able to speak eloquently about an issue. None of those characterizations need be true about advocacy. There are many ways for an early childhood educator to become engaged in advocacy without experiencing any of this discomfort.
Part of the advocacy obligation for early childhood educators is standing up for the rights of those we serve—young children and their families. As members of a profession, we have access to evidence-based information and have acquired first-hand knowledge about what children and their families need to successfully grow and develop. It is our professional responsibility to speak out against initiatives that are counter to this knowledge and are not good for children or families.
Speaking out on behalf of the workforce that does the work of early childhood education is another form of advocacy that early childhood educators are called to. Advocating for recognition, for compensation that is comparable to similar professions, for regulation that is not in opposition to what we know to be good for children and families are all ways of advocating for the profession. When advocating for the profession, it is important to recognize the difference between one’s personal interest and the best interest of the entire profession. Sometimes what is important for the profession may result in imposition of requirements that may create a hardship for the individual professional. For example, advocating that inclusion in the early childhood education profession should require a certain level of educational preparation may mean that one will need to pursue additional education. As a part of the profession, one is called to advocate for what is best for the profession, rather than what one wants to do as an individual.
One way of organizing the myriad methods of advocating is to divide it into personal and public advocacy (Feeney, 2012).
Personal advocacy happens during your workday and includes speaking up about what you know to be best practice for young children. When you share information with parents, co-workers, or agencies you cooperate with, you are advocating for children’s rights. When you refer your families to reliable agencies within your community or provide them with written resources, you are advocating. Too often early childhood educators feel reluctant to respond to calls for advocacy. Advocacy does not have to involve a public event; it can occur through the relationships you have already built as an educator.
Public advocacy takes place when you speak out to address issues of concern in the larger community. It might surprise you how compelling it can be to hear the story of those working directly in the field. Policy makers need data and statistics, but even more, they need to hear how real people are affected by the policies they set. They want to hear from the front-line workers about the reality of their days spent caring for and educating young children.
However, even public advocacy does not require a public display; it can include voting with early childhood education in mind or writing to your congressional representatives at the state or federal level. Public advocacy can, however, involve engagement that is more visible to others:
As early childhood practitioners, we can feel isolated and consequently limited in our ability to influence policy makers or the public at large. Luckily, at both the state and national level, advocacy groups exist to provide support individuals in their advocacy efforts. A list of such groups is listed below. Many of these agencies maintain email lists for individual professionals to stay informed of current issues.
Advocating on behalf of the profession and the children and families it serves is part of the role of the professional early childhood educator. There are numerous ways to become involved in advocacy efforts and opportunities abound for both the new professional and those with more experience. It is important to explore these opportunities and consider how you can begin or expand your advocacy engagement.
Think about the way in which advocacy is described here. Were you surprised to discover that you have been engaged in advocacy without really calling it that? What were those advocacy efforts? Do you feel encouraged to investigate new ways you can engage in advocacy? What might more engagement look like for you?
The current field of early childhood education has a long history of striving for recognition as a profession. Your involvement in that ongoing effort requires you understand what is necessary to meet the definition of a profession and what that label means for your practice. Recognize that recent efforts involve some of the most assertive and comprehensive steps ever taken to claim the title of profession for the field of ECE. You can be a part of this effort, that when realized, will provide a bright future for the profession of early childhood education. This future offers new and exciting opportunities to change how the world understands the importance of early childhood and those that support the development and learning of all young children. We sincerely hope you want to be a part of that future.