Professional love, also known in the academic literature as teacherly love or pedagogical love, is a wonderful addition to any early childhood education and care profession, particularly where infants and toddlers are present. Defined by Page (2018) as “a term to comprehend the reciprocal pedagogic relationship which develops in positive interactions between primary caregiver, child and parents” (p 125) professional love is formed through close attachments and reciprocity of relationship, and its presence can be a powerful influence on children’s wellbeing and achievements. At its core, it requires early childhood professionals to prioritise the needs and interests of children above their own, and to ensure that all children’s emotional needs are met.
A few years ago, The Spoke published some debate about the relevance of professional love in the early childhood sector.
The purpose of this article is not to debate, or even to speak to the relevance of professional love in early learning and care spaces today, but rather it seeks to dispel five common myths relating to this rather academic concept.
MYTH #1 Attachment and professional love are the same thing.
The term professional love is complex and can often come with a wide range of meanings or varying understandings. What it is not, however, is ‘attachment’. Attachment tends to refer to the ‘bond’ between the child and their caregiver. Professional love builds on this and includes the behaviours of reciprocity and authenticity.
MYTH #2 There is no theory to support professional love.
Professional love is underpinned by the theories of ‘attachment’ and an ‘ethic of care’. An ethic of care describes how we as early childhood professionals are in fact compelled to care for the children who attend our programs. In this way we decentralise ourselves from our work, forcing the child and our relationship with them to be at the centre of all decision-making and action-taking. When we work in this way, we provide the child with a secure base from which to play, learn, and develop optimally.
MYTH #3 Professional love overshadows parental love.
Professional love is not in competition with parental love, rather it is complimentary. Leading researchers on the topic ask us to think about a professional love triangle between educator, parent, and child as a way of connecting with the family. This triangle helps to mediate the boundaries of professional love and build true and reciprocal partnerships.
MYTH #4 Professional love makes no difference to children’s learning outcomes.
Australian research has shown that children who experience professional love in early childhood classrooms in the form of positive connections do in fact demonstrate greater engagement with learning (O’Connor, Robinson, Cranley, Johnson and Robinson, 2020). This then leads to positive academic and social outcomes, as well as increases in wellbeing and overall improvements to the children’s holistic development. Professional love also positively impacts the emotional wellbeing of infants and toddlers, and helps to deepen relationships.
MYTH #5 Professional love makes us fall back into the trap of being nice ladies who love children.
At the heart of early childhood education and care lies deep, sustained, respectful and reciprocal relationships between educators, children and their families. Professional love is an intellectual component of care, surrounding it with a professional discourse, rather than one of ‘nice ladies’.
- Where is the evidence within your program of critical reflection to understand the love experiences of infants and toddlers?
- Would professional love be more palatable if it were called pedagogical love? Does the language of professional love make a difference?
- How is the language of love and care used in your interactions with families and the community? If it is not, how might this be considered
- Aslanian, T. K. (2015). Getting behind discourses of love, care and maternalism in early childhood education. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 16(2),153-165.
- Aslanian, T. K. (2018). Embracing uncertainty: A diffractive approach to love in the context of early childhood education and care. International Journal of Early Years Education, 26(2), 173-185.
- O’Connor, D., Robinson, C., Cranley, L., Johnson, G., & Robinson, A. (2020). Love in education: West Australian early childhood pre-service teachers’ perspectives n children’s right to be loved and its actualisation within their future practice. Early Childhood Development and Care, 190(15),2402-2413.
- Page, J. (2010). Do mothers want professional carers to love their babies? Journal of Early Childhood Research, 9(3), 310-323.
- Page, J. (2014). Developing professional love in early childhood settings. In L. Harrison & J. Sumsion (Eds.), Lived spaces of infant-toddler education and care (pp. 119-130).
- Page, J. (2017). Reframing infant-toddler pedagogy through a lens of professional love: Exploring narratives of professional practice in early childhood settings in England. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 18(4), 387-399.
- Page, J. (2018). Characterising the principles of professional love in early childhood education and care. International Journal of Early Years Education, 26(2), 125-141.
- Recchia, S. L., Shin, M., & Snaider, C. (2018). Where is the love? Developing loving relationships as an essential component of professional infant care. International Journal of Early Years Education, 26(2), 142-158.