This is one of the questions researchers asked early childhood educators and parents in an effort to determine whether the two groups have different attitudes to specific pedagogical questions.
Cooperation between parents and kindergarten teachers can sometimes be problematic.
Now Danish researchers have made a study of the values and attitudes of parents and early childhood educators to certain pedagogical questions. The results surprised them. The study shows, in fact, that there is little conflict of values between parents and early childhood educators.
‘Based on profession-specific organisation theory and sociology, we expected a different result. Based on the stories we had heard from parents and educators, as well as through the media, this is a bit surprising, yes’, comments researcher Morten Ejrnæs. A lecturer at Aalborg University, he carried out this study in collaboration with his colleague Merete Monrad.
DO KINDERGARTENS HAVE THEIR OWN VALUE SYSTEM?
Agreement between educators and the parents of young children may be a crucial element for cooperation with the parents, parental satisfaction and the educators’ jobs.
‘No previous studies have been undertaken to determine how similar or different the attitudes of parents and early childhood educators are on specific pedagogical issues. Earlier research concluded that different professions and organisations have characteristic value systems, which differ from values among the general public. We were interested in determining whether this also applies to kindergartens’, Ejrnæs explains.
SHOULD NIKOLAJ BE ALLOWED TO WEAR A DRESS?
The researchers put together two fictitious cases (vignettes), representing two entirely different kindergarten situations. The first vignette involved Nikolaj, age six. Ever since he was a little tyke, he has enjoyed dressing up in finery, including bows, hats and dresses. He often wears dresses and is not overly fond of trousers. At this point, Nikolaj is getting to be a big boy, and he will be starting school soon. The parents of the other children feel provoked by his proclivities. They think the early childhood educators should put a stop to it. The parents’ concern is that it might make Nikolaj the brunt of bullying when he starts school. However, the other children have no problem at all with Nikolaj wearing dresses; they are used to it.
The researchers canvassed parents and early childhood educators for their opinions on this matter. Should Nikolaj routinely be allowed to wear dresses at kindergarten? They also asked a number of other questions about how the kindergarten should deal with Nikolaj’s situation.
SHOULD KARL EMIL HAVE TO WAIT FOR THE OTHERS?
The second vignette the researchers came up with was about Kari Emil, age two years and six months. He is a restless child, and finds it hard to sit still. The boy’s mother insists that it is difficult for him to sit still and wait for the other children to finish eating, and she finds it unreasonable that staff would ask him to do so. In this unit, the rule is that all the children are to start and finish meals together. The teachers are getting tired of discussing this issue with Kari Emil’s mother.
HOW SIMILAR OR DIFFERENT ARE THEY?
The researchers thought there would be significant differences in what parents and early childhood educators responded to these two questions.
Ejrnæs explains ‘Given what we’ve learned from reviewing the research literature, one would expect that people with certain attitudes and values would be the ones who choose to be early childhood educators. It was also expected that staff members would be influenced by each other, resulting in the development of a special organisational culture, that is, their values would be more similar. One might posit that there is something about this profession and way of working that appeals to people who have more or less the same opinions about early childhood and care. Besides, it seems likely that given their education and employment, this group would be socialised into a culture that propounds the same attitudes and values.’
Parents with young children at kindergarten are an extremely heterogeneous group. They come from all social strata and all walks of life. Accordingly, there is reason to expect a certain lack of consensus among the parents when it comes to general values and attitudes. On the other hand, they are all parents of small children. That puts them in the same situation in the sense that they are parents who have turned over responsibility for their children to a kindergarten.
‘In the light of this, we expected to find significant disagreement between early childhood educators and parents when we presented these vignettes’, continues Ejrnæs.
CONSIDERABLE DISSENSION WITHIN THE GROUPS
To the researchers’ surprise, the investigation showed the opposite. Parents and teachers generally agreed. However, there was a clear lack of consensus found within each group.
The researchers concluded that teachers’ attitudes to important pedagogical issues are rarely at odds with those of the parents. This means the study does not support the theory that there are conflicts of values between the staff members and the parents as users.
‘The fact that researchers have a tendency to exaggerate small differences between sample groups is a methodological problem with research.’
DIFFERENCES OFTEN EXAGGERATED
Ejrnæs is of the opinion that although it may often seem as though there are differences in attitude between staff members and parents, it is not because they belong to different groups. It is rather a question of the large differences in attitudes to specific issues among the members of the general public. When the two roles meet and turn out to be at loggerheads, it is tempting to interpret this as conflicting values at the group level, rather than differences between individuals. However, that is not so in this case.
‘The fact that researchers have a tendency to exaggerate small differences between sample groups is a methodological problem with research’, Ejrnæs contends.
‘One often starts with a hypothesis, then looks for differences. Regrettably, this method often gives rise to the creation of myths. Accordingly, it is very important that we, as researchers, avoid asking abstract questions and are careful to ask the most specific questions possible about particular cases.’
DISAGREEMENT CAN BE A GOOD THING
Ejrnæs claims that it is common to put all early childhood educators in the same category, and to assume that they think and act alike. The image of this ideal also includes consensus on core values in kindergartens. Any disagreement among the employees is often considered a weakness.
‘I prefer to see it as a strength. The fact that teachers have different attitudes to important pedagogical questions, just as parents do, means that parents are more likely to find kindergarten staff who are sympathetic to their points of view.’