Where is Me? Reflecting on Self-Identity in Early Childhood Education

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE

As we begin a new year, my heart goes out to fellow early childhood educators who are continuing to struggle with caring for children and themselves during trying times. I am not surprised with the strength and resilience shown by educators and children. I have never underestimated the capacity of either. I used to bristle when I heard ECEs called “front-line workers” as I was uncomfortable with the war metaphor. Now I see it as an apt way to describe this essential role! I am filled with gratitude for the work ECEs do every day. I spent the last week with my granddaughter. Next week she goes back to child care to be with her friends in the toddler room and the teachers that she loves so much. I have always admired toddler teachers! Toddlers are challenging and wonderful at the same time! This is due in part, to both their developing sense of self and the sense of belonging derived from being with friends. Now there are additional challenges heaped upon those working with children of all ages. In Ontario, once again, child care has been left behind. Working with the unmasked and unvaccinated, early childhood educators are without access to appropriate PPE and testing. I hope 2022 brings a recognition of the importance of early childhood education and that there is provision of what is necessary for all to be safe are healthy. I wish a happy and healthy new year and extend a heartfelt thank you to all those who work with children.

While I am not big on resolutions, I do have professional goals for 2022. I am very excited about a book contract that I have signed with Redleaf Press. I am going into the new year thinking about professional friendships, which is the topic of my new book! Friendship has always played an important part in my professional learning and growth. I have grown because of the shared memories I have with my friends. I have learned from the stories my friends have shared. When I entered a new work context, whether it was working in a child care centre, a school board, or at a community college, I sought out friends. I know there is value to professional friendships. Professional friends are formed voluntarily and are characterized by interdependence. Pleasure is taken in the company of another and there is reciprocity, a give-and-take. The support that professional friends offer each other flows both ways as the need arises for either friend. Essentially a professional friend is good to have! We can grow from reflections on our experiences with friends from the past, present and the future! Friendship is a relationship of mutual affection between people. Beginning in early childhood it is part of our self-identity. Self-identity is who we believe ourselves to be. In the early years, children begin to form friendships through play. This is one of the many reasons, why play is critical to development. Making friends is a vital part of a child’s emotional and social development. When children play, they learn from each other. They develop their language skills and cognitive abilities. Their physical development flourishes in play. All the while, children are gathering information about other people as separate from themselves. Play helps children to learn more about themselves and to form their identity. It is important to maintain one’s self-identity in a friendship and to nurture the common identity.

Where is Me?

Recently, my granddaughter who is 2, told me a fictional story about being in the living room and falling asleep. When she woke, she said, “where is me?”. She wasn’t in her own bed, but she was still “me”. Her sense of self and belonging is developing. Inspired by Reese and her expanding sense of self, I am reflecting on self-identity in relationship to our professional friends. I see this as a reflection tool for professional growth and development. Even though we share a common identity with our friends, we bring our own sense of self to the relationship. With shared experiences, we develop our common identity. Think about a Venn diagram depicting two overlapping circles.

Two Separate Entities and a Common Identity

To have a successful professional friendship, the common identity should not overtake individual senses of self. We need to remain separate entities. Your friend can help you understand your own self because they have a close relationship with you. However, they will never know exactly what you feel (Crépel 2014). When I think about my professional friendships, I can now see that some of these relationships represented an unhealthy merging of our identities.

The Common Identity Takes Over

It is important to be self-aware and to maintain your own identity with your professional friends. You are already what will make you a good friend to another early childhood educator. You are what you are meant to be – a loving and caring person who supports children and colleagues. Starting from this place of self-awareness you can write your story going forward. Think about what has come before and where you are currently. This is your professional narrative that tells your stories of the past, the present and the future. Bruner (1986) explains that we construct ourselves through narrative and make sense of our lives by telling stories of those lives. Remember, you are the protagonist or the lead character of your narrative.

2 thoughts on “Where is Me? Reflecting on Self-Identity in Early Childhood Education

  1. This post made me think back to a TedTalk on Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce with Malcolm Gladwell. In thinking with Pespi, Pepsis … Ragu, Ragus … Mustard, Mustards, the talk made me think if we only look for The Child, we miss THE CHILDREN: “in embracing the diversity of human beings, we will find a surer way to true happiness.” … and it connected for me with the following question in HDLH?: What do I know about each child’s unique spirit and character?
    Similary, if we only look for the educator we miss THE EDUCATORS.

    /malcolm_gladwell_choice_happiness_… Malcolm Gladwell: Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce )


  2. Thanks Diane for another insightful post. I would agree about the need for professional friendships. These are build on relationships of reciprocity, respect and an understanding of professional responsibility. I am so grateful to the many people I have worked with over the years including yourself to learn from and with. Hopefully this will continue into 2022. Perhaps too, I include the children that I work with from time to time as great critical friends too as their comments and ways of being continue to open my eyes and get me thinking too.

    Liked by 1 person

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