Replacing the ‘Role Model’!

In this blog, Dr. Simon Brownhill, one of the co-directors of the BMiEY Network, talks about his recent

writing and prompts us to reflect on interesting research findings linked to the labelling of educators in

early years settings and primary schools.

Over the last few months I have been busy completing academic papers, contributing to professional

articles, and editing research reports – I have gotten to know my keyboard very well! I thought I would

share with you some interesting findings from a piece of collaborative research I have jointly led which calls for a re-imaging of the term ‘role model’.

The idea of men as ‘role models’ for young children in early years settings and primary schools serves as a ‘common sense’ assertion in public, professional and political discourse. I have long questioned this, adding doctoral research and academic debate to the ambiguities that surround definitions of the term – are role models necessarily ‘good’?! I was fortunate to work with colleagues at the University of Cambridge on a small piece of funded research which set out to explore the perceptions of male primary school educators (n11) in England – both teaching (n6) and training (n5) – in relation to the term ‘role model’. Through two in-depth focus group interviews, we were able to identify a number of similarities and differences in professional thinking. One key finding presents the idea that what educators model is not necessarily what children should or want to copy:

“We’re the teacher, we don’t actually want them [children] to behave like us, because we’re the

teacher, we do things different.” ‘Harry’ (Teacher)

Instead, participants in our research argued that educators should see their role as a facilitator, helping to identify potential role models for children to choose from given that they [children] are active agents of learning (Gipps et al., 1999) – examples include those who are close to them in different ways, e.g. ‘age, ethnicity, gender, interests, past or present experiences, and also in proximity and in frequency of social contact’ (Murphey and Arao, 2001, p.1). As such, we argue that educators in early years settings and primary schools should be encouraged to critically question current policy making and public/professional discourse in their respective contexts which advocates them being seen as being role models for children, especially male practitioners/teachers for boys.

Take a moment to reflect!

 Do you see yourself as a ‘role model’? Why/why not?

 Who do you see yourself as being a ‘role model’ for?

 Do you think the term ‘role model’ should be used to describe professionals who work in early

years settings and primary schools? Why/why not?

 Should we employ more men in early years settings/primary schools based on their ability to

serve as ‘role models’ for the children they work with? Why/why not?


On another note, I thought you would like to know that David Wright and I were delighted to be

awarded a silver Nursery World Equipment and Resources Award late last year for our co-authored

academic/professional book ‘Men in Early Years Settings: Building a Mixed Gender Workforce’ which

members of the BMiEY Network contributed their voices to a few years ago – thank you so much!

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