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Guiding Principles for the New Early Childhood Professional: Building on Strength and Competence

reviewed by Su-Jeong Wee - November 08, 2018

coverTitle: Guiding Principles for the New Early Childhood Professional: Building on Strength and Competence
Author(s): Valora Washington & Brenda Gadson
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807758698, Pages: 144, Year: 2017
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Of the 18.5 million children under age five living in the United States, 11.6 million (63%) experience some type of regular early care and education (ECE) program. With a large number of children attending ECE programs, providing high-quality early childhood experience has become a focus of national policies. Numerous research studies have shown that qualified, professional, and well-compensated teachers and care providers are the foundation of high-quality ECE programs (e.g., Barnett, 2003; Demma, 2010; Torquati, Raikes, & Huddleston-Casas, 2007; Whitebook & Sakai, 2003). In spite of the critical need for high-quality early childhood professionals, insufficient attention seems to have been paid to those who provide early childhood education and care. Moreover, society generally perceives the work of early childhood educators as low-skilled labor that doesn’t require serious education or commensurate pay. In such an era of devaluing early childhood professionals and their work, Washington and Gadson, who have been closely working with early childhood professionals for over a decade in Massachusetts, delineate four essential guiding principles to support strategic change for early childhood professionals: respect, competence, strength, and equity.

One of the positive aspects that I found in this book is that the authors look into each of the four guiding principles with a consistent format, which helps us follow more easily. Along with definitions and explanations of conflicts and related issues, stories from early childhood professionals vividly transmit what’s really going on in the profession and enrich our understanding. The authors skillfully point out challenges and dilemmas in the field, and also include recommendations for resolving issues. At the end of each section, the authors list several reflection questions to help readers relate these principles to their own circumstances. By presenting definitions, facts, stories, and commentaries, the authors continuously urge early childhood educators to facilitate change by asking themselves: Are we doing the right thing? Going beyond explaining issues at the surface level, this book deals with real problems and provides useful strategies for advancement in the field of early childhood education.

Another positive feature is that Washington and Gadson emphasize the importance of listening to the voices of early childhood practitioners. By shedding light on how the early childhood profession and early childhood professionals are viewed, treated, and referred to inside and outside of the early childhood realm, they make issues that have been unnoticed and uncared for visible and heard.

Zooming in, I want to highlight the critical points of each guiding principle that the authors insightfully point out. First, in the section on respect, “the dilemma of disrespect is in itself a symbol of the field’s lack of clarity and insecurity about its professional status” (p. 15). The disrespect results not only in society’s undervaluing of early childhood professionals, but also in poor compensation, working conditions, and occupational status. As suggested by the authors, “professionalizing the field should focus on professional capital rather than individual worker shortcomings” (p. 11). Second, in the section on competence, the authors point out that having the adequate knowledge, skills, attitudes, and experiences to act effectively in a wide variety of situations is not necessarily guaranteed by degree attainment. “Competence is a process of continuous improvement ideally accompanied by reflective supervision and support” (p. 34). One of the aspects that should be emphasized in the section on competence is the lack of opportunities in teacher education and professional development programs to learn about working with bilingual children learning English as a second language, children with special needs, and infants and toddlers, despite the fact that expertise in these areas is in increasing demand.

The authors argue that strengths, defined as what is essential and what needs to be brought forward, are increased by softer skills. Although early childhood educators and programs have not fully realized the importance of softer skills, the authors believe that these will surely improve educators’ effectiveness. Last but not least, when it comes to the principle of equity, the authors point out that “the entire profession of early childhood education experiences inequity” (p. 70) in the form of unequal salaries and compensation. For example, because 97% of early childhood educators are women, people often confuse the work of early child educators with the work of mothers. It is astonishing that, “Right now a college degree in early childhood education – a degree earned predominantly by women – has the lowest projected earnings of all college degrees” (p. 71). Although the authors separate the four guiding principles, readers will see that these four concepts are all interconnected and influenced by one another.

The fields of teacher education and professional development typically overlook issues of race, class, and gender, and the authors question why issues of practitioners’ race and gender are not frequently and explicitly addressed despite the fact that these issues clearly impact the field’s capacity to achieve compensation equity. They also point out the field’s low involvement in advocacy efforts, which can play a crucial role in accessing public funds to support professional development, degree attainment, and increased access to high-quality early childhood programs with qualified professionals. The authors urge all early childhood educators to make their voices heard, and to claim power through effective public policies that strengthen their work. Emphasizing the notion of “nothing about us without us,” the authors urge that the diverse voices of practitioners must be heard, engaged, and reflected in any planning, decision making, or evaluations regarding early childhood education.  

Finally, the authors hope that their guiding principles for the new early childhood professionals will increase our sense of respect and dignity, deepen our awareness of the need for competencies, inspire appreciation for soft skills, and strengthen our willingness to strive for equity. By making clear the urgent issues that early childhood professionals face and suggesting effective strategies to confront them, this book can help our profession become stronger, more effective, and more authentically supported and appreciated.



Barnett, S. (2003). Low wages = low quality: Solving the real preschool teacher crisis. NIEER Preschool Policy Matters(3). New Brunswick, NJ: National Institute for Early Educational Research. Retrieved from http://nieer.org/resources/policybriefs/3.pdf.

Demma, R. (2010). Building an early childhood professional development system. Washington, DC: National Governors’ Association, Center for Best Practices.

Torquati, J. C., Raikes, H., & Huddleston-Casas, C. A. (2007). Teacher education, motivation, compensation, workplace support, and links to quality of center-based child care and teachers’ intention to stay in the early childhood professionEarly Childhood Research Quarterly, 22(2), 261–275.

Whitebook, M., & Sakai, L. (2003). Turnover begets turnover: An examination of job and occupational instability among child care staff. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 18(3), 273–293.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 08, 2018
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22561, Date Accessed: 12/8/2021 8:45:24 AM

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About the Author
  • Su-Jeong Wee
    Purdue University Northwest
    E-mail Author
    SU-JEONG WEE is an associate professor of early childhood development in the Human Development and Family Studies program in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Purdue University Northwest. Her primary research areas include diversity, multicultural education, analysis of children’s literature, and the arts in early childhood. Recently she has extensively explored diversity issues in young children’s perception and understanding, and as presented in children’s picture books. Her recent publications include "Unpacking Japanese Culture in Children’s Picture Books: Culturally Authentic Representation and Historical Events/Political Issues" (Wee, S., & Kim, J., & Kura, K., 2018, Reading Horizons, 57(2), 35-55) and "Governing Home-lessness: Children and Adults Experiencing Home-lessness in Children’s Picture Books from 1990 to 2012" (Kim, J., & Wee, S., 2018, Early Care and Development).
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