For one, we give so much importance to the environment. Beyond the right of having a school is the right to have a school that is beautiful and taken care of with an attitude of care so that parents, children, and teachers want to come to school every day. We have in some ways confused luxury with care.
Wow, great dialogue started on our Facebook page about professional attire and the ECE. Thank you to all the people who emailed me as well after my post on wardrobes.
Do you know I have been thinking about that post for over a year? I wrote it six months ago and it took me until two weeks ago to muster up the courage to post it. I knew it would spark some intense feelings. I worried about the message and how it would be taken. I sent the post to many trusted colleagues for feedback. I agonized over every word. I almost didn’t post it.
I am glad I did though. I have been pleasantly surprised and excited by the dialogue it has inspired. Even the people who disagreed with me and left comments, I was glad to hear their perspectives. It’s not so much that we agree with each other but that we have the willingness to discuss these issues together. To think together about what our values are and how our programs can reflect those values back to our communities.
The catalyst for this post was my experience subbing last year. Seeing educators who felt like they had been beaten down and looked it too, noticing where the wages were low the professionalism was also low. It didn’t reflect the educator’s passion though. If I asked the right questions I could see that twinkle in their eyes about why they entered the field.
While on holidays I talked to anyone who would listen to my stream of thoughts. In conversation with others I remembered something I heard long ago when I was entering the work force. “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” Now I have the job I want so what if we shifted that statement to “Dress for the respect/wage you want, not the respect/wage you receive.” To me that’s what it’s about.
I am one of the lucky ones who receive a living wage, have benefits and I feel respected in my workplace. What I want though is for my field to be respected in our society. For it not to be an issue of luck, I want children and families to be first in line for funding and honestly I want Christy Clark/Adrian Dix/Stephen Harper/Justin Trudeau/Thomas Mulcair to say they respect us…… and I want to believe them when they say it.
Somehow a few people believed I was suggesting ece’s needed to be more stylish. Goodness knows the style fairy chooses to skip my house most mornings. There are days where I wish Stacey London and Clinton Kelly would surprise me at a presentation to say they are going to take me shopping in New York city. I find myself wishing for a personal stylist when I am going on the road with Kim (she is the most stylish ECE I know). Style and professionalism are two separate things that can intertwine. I think we all deserve to feel stylish and confident but what I was suggesting was professional and confident.
Professional is different things to different people. To a former student of mine she feels professional when she wears suits, blazers and blouses that don’t show her shoulders, to my mother she feels professional when she looks stylish, a co-worker feels professional when she has the right clothing for the right season (i.e. rain slickers and gumboots for rain) and I feel professional when I dress in clothing that makes me feel like a professional.
I would like to know what professional looks like to you. So I would invite you to send me a photo and a few lines about what looking professional means to you. If you have a blog send me a link to a post about what professional looks like to you. Next month I will do a post sharing your pictures, stories, posts and together we can discuss what professional looks like in Early Childhood Education. Send pictures, links and stories to email@example.com
I was raised by a bank executive and a tradesman. Both my parents had two wardrobes, one wardrobe for work and one not for work. My father’s work wardrobe consisted of steel toed boots and coveralls. When he was home he wore jeans, t-shirts and comfortable shoes. My mother’s work wardrobe consisted of suits, skirts, blouses, dress shoes and simple jewellery. When at home she wore pressed pants, casual blouses and pretty shoes.
When I went to work at my first childcare job I followed suit and part of my closet was dedicated to work clothes and the other part of my closet was designated non work clothes. My work wardrobe consists of pressed pants, blouses, skirts, blazers, cardigans and simple jewellery. My other wardrobe consists of jeans, leggings, vintage tees, flip flops and party dresses. I quickly realized this wasn’t how early childhood care and learning professionals worked. Most had one wardrobe clothes that were comfortable, affordable and practical.
I heard many reasons why this was the case. Our wages weren’t high enough to warrant a separate professional wardrobe. We work with paint, bleach and mud why dress up. It’s just easier to come to work in comfortable clothing. All of these reasons sound perfectly legit to me.
Here is where I am conflicted though. I think that what is inside matters most. In the area of caring and educating our youngest members of society, a person’s character and ability to connect with children and families in meaningful ways is more important….. but….. yes there is a but, we are underpaid and we are not given a lot of respect in our communities. Could our lack of a professional image be contributing to that lack of respect?
Last year when I decided to return to the floor after an almost two year break, I put my name out there for subbing. I was immediately hired to work a permanent position at the community centre I am at presently. I was also hired to be a sub in another community centre in the city. At my place of employment you are more likely to see people dressed in professional and practical attire.; skirts, trousers, blouses and cardigans are common place. I am paid a living wage, I have excellent benefits but most importantly it is the most respectful place I have ever worked. I love going to work. After a preschool session one day I headed to the other community centre for my orientation for subbing. During my orientation the childcare coordinator for the centre informed me I was too dressed up for working in child care. I was taken aback by this as I was wearing a simple pair of black trousers and a black cotton button down shirt with ballet flats. I listened though and when I went for my first shift I pulled out my most casual outfit. I wore a pair of denim jeans with the cuffs folded up, a cowl neck sweater and a pair of ballet flats. When I showed up in the daycare I was informed by the manager I was too dressed up. The manager, who told me this was wearing layered tank tops with her bra straps showing, rolled up jogging pants and sneakers with the laces undone. I didn’t last long at subbing. I removed my name off the list. I was paid poorly, there were no benefits and I didn’t feel anyone felt respected there. I have been thinking about my two wardrobes ever since.
“It’s an act of respect for the people you are working with the get dressed up for them.”
Richard Van Camp
I put my best self forward every day for the families, children and colleagues I work with. Part of doing that is making sure I look professional. We are educated women and men who care deeply for children and families. As a field we have a specialized knowledge that needs to be shared with our community. We must advocate for the practices that we believe in. We must articulate why we do what we do.
Now imagine sharing that specialized knowledge and articulating those practices to a parent, a colleague, a community member, a politician, the media or a board member dressed in layered tank tops, an exposed bra, rolled up jogging pants and undone sneakers.
Last night while watching What Not to Wear(Kim and I love this show, it’s what we watch when we are sharing hotel rooms), the host Clinton Kelly said something about appearances. What he said paralleled conversations Kim and I have had about values of our programs. It went something like this “Your clothes don’t define you, but they say something about you and are they saying what you want them to say?” When I go to work it is my goal that my wardrobe says I take pride in what I do, I care about myself and your family and I am a professional.
My professional wardrobe is always practical; fabrics are usually stretchy, washable and durable. Shoes are comfortable and more often than not flat. I do wear jeans to work but they are usually a more professional cut and they always always have Lycra in them. My wardrobe is purchased with a budget in mind, I never buy something I would be sad to see a finger paint stain on. Therefor sales racks are my best friend. I do invest in key pieces, a good pair of boots, comfortable shoes and a good warm jacket. I do have a personal style and I try to incorporate that as well.
I am not suggesting that we go to work with suits on. I don’t want to see our profession in a uniform either. What I am suggesting is that we honour the children, the families and the work we do when we put our best selves forward.
Here is another thing I remember about my parents two wardrobes. When they came home they changed. They got comfortable. To me it always seemed like a symbolic way of saying goodbye to one part of your day and getting comfortable with the next. In a profession that is grounded in nurturing and compassion sometimes we need a little symbolic divide between our professional and personal lives.
To all of you who work with young children I challenge you to pick a rule and get rid of it. Give it up. Just stop enforcing it. And see what happens.
Maybe it’s the ‘no guns’ rule, maybe it’s the ‘no toys from home’ rule, maybe it’s the ‘keep the playdough on the table’ rule….doesn’t matter, just give up on a rule.
I understand there are reasons to keep those rules, co-workers will be upset, what will parents think? and licensing!?! Be brave and do it anyway. I bet there is a rule that you know in your heart doesn’t belong.
Give some time to not having the rule. Let everyone live with it, settle into it for a bit. Yes it might feel a bit scary, letting go of control always does. Embrace the uncertainty.
Here’s a story to think about: my colleague Rhoda recently read my post Running and decided to try it…she would stop saying “no running’ and just see what happened. And what happened? Nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, but nothing that she expected. No one crashed, no one got hurt, chaos did not erupt. And the biggest thing that did not happen? She did not nag. Rhoda didn’t have to continually say ‘walking feet’ ‘ no running’ ‘Remember… NO RUNNING!’ She was so delighted not to nag, and so delighted with how the children managed to keep themselves safe without the nagging. Rhoda said she was able to spend more time engaging with what children were doing, a direct result of taking away one rule.
Three boys are playing soccer. There are rules, but I can’t quite follow them. Three hoops on the grass serve as goals, and so does the fence. It seems one must run to the fence, and then to the hoops…..but I might have it all wrong. Teams are nebulous, fluid, as is the score.
Eventually two of the boys are wrestling in the grass. One is on top of the other and shouts to the third “I’ve got him! Score now!”
But quickly there are tears, one of the wrestlers is hurt. Whether it is hurt pride, hurt feelings, or physical hurt isn’t clear. A teacher responds, asking one of the wrestlers what can be done to make the hurt wrestler feel better. The wrestler thinks for a bit and says “I could tell him a joke?!”
Which he does. The hurt wrester immediately feels better, and the soccer game continues.
Kid solutions are sometimes so much better than adult solutions.