I'm fascinated by the term 'role model.' Its one of the things I hear most often when I tell people I work in Early Years.
"Oh fancy that, a man in the Early Years! Must be a great model for the boys." (Then I strike a pose!)
Perhaps people think that having a man working in the Early Years will ensure that there is 'something for the boys.' I believe there are benefits to having men around. Studies have shown children (boys in particular) struggle when they have no father at home and for some, having a male practitioner might be the only contact they receive. But I do believe that to say 'having a man will help the boys' is a massive oversimplification of the 'problem of boys.' Anyway, back to this..
So, what makes a good role model?
The definition of a role model is a pretty grey area to begin with. If you're talking about a general role model, do they need to be one which the child can aspire to and emulate? If we're talking about specific gendered role models, do they need to embody certain qualities to aid the child in defining mascul/femininity.
I recently read an article called 'Build me a role model,' by Simon Brownhill (2015 - article here behind T&F paywall). Within the article Brownhill spoke with a selection of male primary school teachers. The following qualities were ranked as the most important for male role models at an early stage of the research:
Reliable - Able to demonstrate positive attitudes towards learning - Trustworthy - Kind - Respectful - Good sense of humour.
These were the ranked 'qualities' at an early stage and whilst respondents were picking from a selection, some of the other qualities are these which I am often told are beneficial in my role:
The top 5 'ranked' qualities aren't specific to men or to masculinity. I'd say they're pretty important for all of those working in the Early Years. The others did not seem as important to the men in the study, yet I hear 'father figure' and 'athletic' being used as the most common benefits of having men in EY.
I have argued for a long time that women can be effective role models for boys within Early Years. I started to bang on about it when I had a colleague who was very interested in sports. So much so that the boys flocked to her when she was outside and were often heard having conversations about their favourite footballers and she in turn introduced them to new sports. The boys were engaged and learned from her. That is not to say that I didn't offer anything to these boys, but I know very little about sports.
On an emotional level
I do think that men should demonstrate to boys that it is ok to discuss their emotions. We have a distorted view in our society of what masculinity is and it often presents itself as a 'tough guy.' But a lot of studies have proven that men are just as emotional as women but men are often taught to suppress it. I'm interested in learning more about this if anyone has opinions on this as its not something I've spent much time researching. I wonder if this alone is enough to warrant more men in the Early Years or would it form part of a wide argument?
I believe having men in the Early Years does have benefits to children but only at the local/individual level and because certain interests tend to be linked to men/masculinity. By that I mean Mr Smith is interested in football just like Shane, Luke and Max therefore he can engage them in their play more and extend their learning. I believe this could be achieved by Ms/Mrs Brown if she was also into football. The sex of the practitioner should not have a sway over the children, but a practitioners ability to demonstrate interest and engagement does.
What do you think?
Do you want to know more?
'Boys, boys, boys: Creating a culture for boys to succeed' is a course I run in the real world in the West Yorkshire region.
Click here to see if it is running in your area OR
Click here to see a shorter online version.