As we gather in Canberra, the seat of government, it is timely to reflect on how far we, as early childhood professionals, have come—from the visionary and passionate women of the 1920s to the competent and qualified educators of the 2020s—and where we hope to go next. Now is the time to design and plan our future. Let’s consider how we can move beyond just being viewed as ‘essential workers’ and position ourselves as thought leaders and powerbrokers.
In keeping with the broader theme of reflecting on the past to design the future of the profession, the insights and knowledge shared by keynote speakers from past ECA conferences will serve as inspiration for the 2022 presentations.
Conference presentations will be aligned to one or more of the following areas of inquiry:
The Australian Council of Professions defines a profession as ‘a disciplined group of individuals who adhere to ethical standards’ and possess ‘special knowledge and skills in a widely recognised body of learning derived from research, education and training at a high level’. Let’s hear from researchers, practitioners and advocates who want to design a future profession that will position early childhood as a desirable and successful career option. What will it take? What alliances are needed? What needs to change?
Let’s also explore teacher efficacy and training and development needs. What do we need to do to make it a lucrative profession? Maria Aarts, in Darwin (2016), said that ‘teachers with the good face should get paid more’, implying that the teachers who attend and respond to children, giving and receiving attention, are more effective. By rewarding good teachers, we can build a profession that is desirable. So, how do we empower teachers and educators to be the best they can be?
At the conference in Hobart (2019), Professor Peter Moss posed the question, ‘Do you choose to work with quality or go beyond quality?’ He challenged us to look beyond managerial and objective approaches to quality and instead view education as political, dynamic and sociocultural. He also prompted us to consider questions such as, ‘What are the ethics and values that frame the way we work—what is your image of the child? What is the purpose of education? What ethics for education? What values? What do we want for our children?’
In 2022, let’s explore what lies beyond our current definitions of quality and share promising examples of research and practice that could take us to new heights of professional aspiration and better outcomes for children.
‘There is no such thing as a bad kid,’ said Dr Stuart Shanker in Sydney (2018) as he outlined his approach to helping children and adults manage stress and address behavioural, emotional and social problems to improve learning outcomes. As the importance of self-regulation becomes more widely understood, should there be a stronger emphasis on psychology and behavioural therapies to prepare educators and teachers?
In this stream, let’s engage in a discussion surrounding promising and innovative approaches to child and adult wellbeing in early childhood settings. From participating in Be You, to learning about self-regulation, using an app for mindfulness or engaging a consultant for emotional coaching—let’s uncover what really works.
Who decides how children play? Are we enabling children to have power in early childhood settings? And, as Dr Claire Warden asked during the 2016 conference in Hobart, have we ‘got space for children to make it whatever they want?’ We can answer these questions by considering what Ann Pelo said at the Melbourne conference in 2014 about taking ‘the children’s points of view’ to foster inquiry and curiosity.
In this stream, let’s explore how programming and learning environments can affect the empowerment of children, and examine how decisions can be made about the use of technology. Let’s also share learnings from contemporary debates on children’s rights in relation to access to technology.
At the 2018 conference in Sydney, Stan Grant spoke about Australia’s need to reconcile with the past, stating, ‘As uncomfortable as it is, we need to reckon with our history.’ For the early childhood profession to take its place in the future, we must face the reality of our shared national history, including the enduring impact of colonisation, racism and intergenerational trauma.
What can we learn from our past? How do we share this knowledge with children? Perhaps we can take a lead from Canadian activist Cindy Blackstock—also a keynote in 2018—who said, ‘Children are experts in love and fairness and they know how to do reconciliation.’ So, let’s explore how adults and children can learn from the past to inform the future, and how early childhood professionals can engage in truth-telling and reconciliation.
Two famous quotes from student activist Greta Thunberg urge us to take significant action in response to climate change:
The rise of activism by young people, particularly in relation to climate change, is heartening. But in reality, it’s the responsibility of adult decision-makers to act, and act now. How are early childhood services contributing to climate action and helping to create a more sustainable future? How might we support children’s activism in this space without creating tension with parents or regulators? Let’s hear from thought leaders on ways that we can work in children’s best interests to protect our planet and their future.