2021 EC MENz Summit

Message from Russell Ballantyne, EC-MENz President

We had 44 men attend our EC-MENz summit – which was held at Karaka Learning Centre in May of this year. This is an annual event and the only time where males outnumber the females in any early childhood event.

Every time I come away from this event, I am even more convinced that our sector is losing something very valuable by not having more male teachers. I have seen so many talented, fun loving individuals sharing their teaching stories of endeavour and adventure. I have heard so many stories of the differing pathways taken and the life skills accumulated which cloak these men in the way they express and deliver the learning experiences they bring into our centres.

The men who come to our summits revel in the company of others. They enjoy the male connection and that is why we structure games and down time to ensure participants have an opportunity to talk and share stories. We do this because the men working in ece are isolated. We know from research that men tend to stay in the sector if they are supported by other men. That means that men are in undergraduate classes, male trainees are posted with male associates and there are men in the same centre. With this they feel less isolated and are more likely to discuss issues and occurrences with those that are less likely to judge them. Most men, feel they have to justify why they want to work in ece in an effort to get approval from the gatekeepers – our women. This is something that most women don’t have to worry about but is a barrier to participation for our men. Our men need the approval of our women as historically it’s their turf and they own it.

This is the reality of a sector in which gender exclusion has been so dominant that it has become the norm and to think differently to this takes a much greater level of understanding that has yet to happen. I have been told by some in positions of influence that “we are over gender issues now – that was so much the ‘90s”(in reference to the girls can do anything campaign). But in reality we are not – because things in ece are no different now than they were in the 90’s (still 2% male teachers). Let’s be honest, whilst women have made some gains there are still large disparities between male/female wages and participation rates in many industries. We can talk about Company Directors and many glass ceilings yet to be broken by females. Gender issues are still there and we need to do more to change this. But we need to look in our garden too.

Jan Peeters(2007) supports the construct that early childhood education historically is seen as womens work and that as such the workforce constantly “reproduces its own patterns in recruitment and training(pg 17”). So in short the status quo perpetuates the status quo and unless something drastic happens to challenge this, it will remain so. I have really engaged with Camerons(2006) call for more critical reflection in early childhood services on men’s roles and experiences. This will help define the issues and really focus in depth on what are the processes and messages that are preventing more men from considering early childhood as a legitimate career. In 1999 Cameron, Moss and Owen pointed out that the solution to seeing working with young children as women’s work was ensuring the visibility of men and women, both as categories and in their infinite variety. There is the fear that as long as we have so few men there will be the expectations that they will be expected to do “mens” roles – which will be very stereotypical and limited. To guard against this it is important to get more men in their infinite variety so that our children will see that men can fulfil a wide range of tasks and skills – something each of our annual summits illustrate beautifully. So if we can achieve a greater participation rate for male teachers in our sector it’s clearly a win/win for gender constraints – women are not bound to the nursery and men can move away from the tool bench…..magic!!!!

Cameron , C , Moss, P, &Owen, C (1999), Men In the Nursery: gender and Caring work, London, Paul Chapman
Cameron, C (2006 ) “Men in the Nursery Revisited: Issues of male workers and professionalism” in Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, Vol 7, Number 1
Peters, J ( 2007) “Including Men In Early Childhood Education: Insights from the European Experience” in New Zealand
Research in Early Childhood Education Vol 10

About the author
Russell Ballantyne is President of EC MENz and has been teaching in ECE since 1983. He’s worked in a variety of roles, kindergarten teacher, head teacher, Senior teacher, General Manager and Visiting lecturer and is now a Centre Owner/Teacher at Early Childhood on Stafford in Dunedin. Russell has a strong passion about children experiencing gender diversity daily.

Summit report details compiled by Cyrus Taraporvala, EC-MENz Committee Member

The summit this year was held at Karaka Learning Centre in the Auckland region. The next one, will be in Queenstown in March 2018. Russell Ballantyne, the President of EC-MENz, opened the summit with a short address and presented the Adam Buckingham Award to Sarah Alexander of ChildForum as a recognition of her continuing support towards the need for more men in early childhood education. It was also brought to our attention that Sarah had highlighted the fact that around 2% of teaching staff were men and that she wanted the Government to introduce policy to attract more men into the profession. The response from the Ministry was that, "It has been confirmed by the Human Rights Commission that we cannot discriminate through affirmative action or by providing scholarships on the basis of gender, because men are not a disadvantaged group" (Source: Laura Dooney 2016, Stuff Education article). Apparently, it was discovered later that the Ministry had not confirmed this matter with the Human Rights Commission at all!

A forum was held to discuss strategies at the work place to help tamariki settle down, tidy up, and manage behaviour. Participants offered a number of suggestions that included singing, negotiation, modelling appropriate behaviour and offering a sense of responsibility. Other suggestions included the importance of predictable routine, yoga sessions, storytelling, and, especially for children on the autistic spectrum, puppets as a prop. The conclusion was that most importantly there must be an element of humour and playfulness.

Before the next session Robin Christie of Childspace enlightened us on how to make a tree with six sheets of newspaper. This was an interesting session as all of us attempted to create these paper trees. I’m sure it will be great making these alongside children in the work place. Robin’s energy and laughter made this short workshop fun, which highlighted the conclusion of the previous forum to suggest that there must be humour and playfulness in activities with tamariki.

The next session was held by two international speakers who were visiting Auckland to attend the World Forum. Ron Blatz from Winnipeg, Canada, and Jerry Parr from Houston, Texas. Ron presented Russell with a woven pendant made by a native American Indian. This pendant had a bear claw, which symbolised courage, strength, and leadership. He opened the address by stating that gender balance was good for children in early childhood settings. His observation was that male staff are involved in playfulness and like to have fun, whereas female staff are more involved with relationships with children. Ron also said that at his early learning centre in Winnipeg he employed young and older staff, both male and female, to offer that balance for children. Based on his observations over the years, Ron suggested that male role models for boys are very important.

Ron also discussed the content of a book titled ‘Essential Touch’ by Francis Carlson. She stated that children who experienced touch in their early years were less aggressive when they got older than those who had not experienced touch. Apparently Francis stated that in her studies she noticed that when males were present there was a higher level of touch through rough and tumble play, play fighting, and so on. Ron mentioned that at his centre they had a written policy that mentions the benefits of men touching children and that some children respond to men and some to women. There must be that diversity offered to children during this developmental stage.

Jerry Parr complimented EC-MENz on their effort to promote and support men in early childhood in New Zealand. Jerry spoke about his experience with children during their early years at Harvard and his work with Head Start, a program of the US government that provides early childhood education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families. He mentioned that the programme is funded and received tremendous assistance during the Obama presidency, as he was an advocate for early childhood education.

A discussion was held around strategies to get more men into the workforce and Ron suggested targeted advertising that worked, something on the lines of, “Looking for a few good men to work in childcare. Research shows us that gender balance is important in ECE”. There was also evidence to suggest that two men in the workplace offered support to each other and he suggested that women should be invited to discussions as they are the gatekeepers for employment in the sector.

David Wright, from Karaka Learning Centre, was the next speaker and talked about how presentation and delivery to children was so important. He also emphasised the fun aspect and suggested that children will be attentive if you can make them laugh. He thought that teaching through story, puppets, sounds, and action was important in the context of delivery towards children’s learning.

The day ended with a final discussion forum on how to promote ECE in schools, how to encourage younger men into the profession, and mentor programmes. In conclusion, I really enjoyed this summit as it was quite laid back and relaxed. The sessions weren’t too hurried and intense, as they were filled with laughter and fun. From a personal perspective, the day offered me support as I met other male teachers in similar working environments. I didn’t feel alone and isolated, a feeling that can creep in sometimes when working alongside all female staff in the workplace. Gender balance is so important to role model for children and the question remains, how do we get more male teachers in ECE?