Dyer, Mary A. (2016) Professional identity and the early years practitioner. In: BERA 2016, 13th - 15th September 2016, Leeds, UK. (Unpublished)

The early years sector has seen considerable change over the last 15 years, and increased attention from government has led to the reframing of regulatory frameworks, an agenda for professionalising the workforce, and new employment and qualification opportunities for those wishing to work with young children, although little of this change has been driven by the workforce itself. This study explores what today’s practitioners consider to be their role and their professional identity through semi-structured interviews with 23 early years practitioners with Level 5 and 6 qualifications, sharing narratives about their own experience. A narrative approach offers the opportunity to make private experience public(Chase, 2008). It is this personal, private construction of self I wish to uncover - what practitioners consider to be the important, salient points about their roles, and their identity (Lieblich et al, 1998).
Recent research into practitioners' experiences has focussed the impact of introducing a status for lead practitioners (Brock, 2012; Chalke,
2013), or has identified practitioner-articulated constructions of good practice and professional identity as unsophisticated and demonstrating
limited agency in their perceptions of themselves as constructors of knowledge (Brownlee et al, 2000; Berthelsen et al, 2007). However, my own
research focus is to identify, in a field where change has been driven by funders and policy makers, and there is much rhetoric about raising
practitioners’ qualifications in order to claim a professional status, what practitioners consider their role to be, with what agency this is
expressed, and if they are in fact articulating a definition of professionalism. Initial data analysis concurs with Oberhuemer’s (2005) concept of ‘democratic professionalism’. However, the language to articulate this is commonplace and although the role described includes much of Moss’ (2006a) ‘discourse of pedagogy’, it is still expressed in terms of care, a feminised and instinctive personal disposition, rather than high level academic knowledge, undermining their social and cultural capital. Early years researchers including Moss (2006b), Osgood (2010), argue that professionalism is evidenced by this workforce taking responsibility for
constructing its own knowledge base, and questions its practice in order to improve. Whilst my own data support this perception, they also raise the issue of if, in the teaching of reflective practice to practitioners, we need to revise concepts of professionalism to recognise the skills and knowledge practitioners apply in the workplace, and support them in learning a new vocabulary to apply to their work.

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