In “Enfants d’Europe”, VERSION ANGLAISE : Article pour le supplément « Enfants d’Europe », Mai 2008, in la revue Le Furet n°25, 26 Mai 2008

Didier FAVRE, psychosociologue, formateur, éducateurs de jeunes enfants

Formateur vacataire en Centre de formation initiale d’éducateurs de jeunes enfants

Formateur Consultant à l’AFRESC, Paris 75004, site web : www.afresc.org



Un praticien-réflexif dans une mise à l’épreuve entre affect et responsabilité ?

L’analyse des pratiques dans la formation des éducateurs de jeunes enfants


Éducateurs de jeunes enfants in France

Didier Favre


An emerging profession

Since the 1970s, a new profession has emerged in French early childhood services : the éducateurs de jeunes enfants (educators of young children) (EJE). The education of this professional has increased from 2 to 3 years, and the EJE works now with children from birth to 7 years across many settings – including nurseries (for children under 3 years), haltes garderies (providing occasional care), toy libraries, services for children with special needs – though not in nursery schools (écoles maternelles) attended by most children aged 3 to 6 years. The EJE adopts neither a teaching nor a paramedical role ; rather their professionalism has a social pedagogic orientation, with a strong emphasis on relationships with children and families, social prevention and intervention, diversity and inclusion.

During the initial three years of professional training, the time devoted to analysis of practice during practical training placements is recognised as a highpoint of the learning process. Training centres, trainers and students all agree on the value of these meetings focused on the specific activities and problems of the profession. This time for analysis of experience during practical placements is considered very important for the "identity construction" of the profession. Group analysis of professional practices is often conceived of as a space for discussing situations experienced and practices applied in relationships with children, families and teams, in a dynamic of comparison with the realities of institutions and their goals.

For students, it is also the opportunity for sharp criticism of practical training, given that the gap between the training ideal and the realities in the field is often keenly felt. For the trainers, they expect students to become personally involved in voicing their opinions, in asking themselves "professional" questions, in formulating theory/practice connections and, finally, in participating in constructive criticism. The trainers must encourage the construction of a professional approach that creates an identity ; this is a question of challenging "master/student" positions or, in other words, the manifestation of what is implicitly professional in order to form professional practice.

Reflexivity and analysis of practices : constructing a reflective stance

I want to consider practitioner reflexivity, both that of students and my own in my practice as a trainer. The questions asked by students concern first of all the child : his or her development, needs, feelings and emotions, suffering, etc. How does one understand what the child experiences ? How does one communicate with the child ? Which interventions are relevant ? What is an educational intervention ? What is a pedagogical action ? Students are also interested in the child’s other relationships, with relatives, family, other workers ; but, more rarely, in institutions or in the political challenges faced in education.

It seems to me, when leading these sessions to analyse practices in initial training, that these student EJEs are seeking above all to construct for themselves a point of view relative to the child and his or her environment, from a very particular perspective : an adult point of view that tries to put itself in the child’s place. Let us say that this way of seeing things guides my process of developing the work methodologically.

Given that it is a question of experience, of the analysis of practice, of what has been lived, it seems to me to be necessary to place what has been experienced at the centre of the debate, asking myself/them : What does the child experience ? What does the parent experience ? What do I/you feel in this situation ? In this context, reason and emotion, analysis and perception cannot be confined to the professional strategy of "keeping at a distance". In my view, this strategy contributes only to disembodying what has been experienced ; it is as if "keeping distance" was a value and an indicator of professionalism, as though if it was miraculously possible to “keep the proper distance” this would constitute "professional" behaviour (I was once told that a cold and authoritarian educator was "an excellent professional" !).

How then does one construct or exercise professional competence, while being "reasonably involved" in situations ? A student working with infants in an emergency centre, when relating how upset she was when faced with a child piercingly expressing its anxiety, said that she wanted to cry but did not do so because she felt that this would not be professional. Nevertheless, she ended up taking the child in her arms to quieten it. She did well and, in the end, her action was approved by her trainer.

But how is this event constructed ? It is both the experience of personal emotion, which was also the source of a "successful" intervention (the child calmed down and was able to sleep) and, at the same time, the mobilisation of professional judgement, a combination recognised by all of the students. They tell us that it is not professional conduct to be excessively moved by a child and emotion.

I believe that it is useful to conceive of the construction of this point of view, putting yourself in the child’s place, as a resource in the intervention. What creates a problem for the adult engaged in contact with the child is also a resource for the child. The student was upset by the child, whom she intuitively "quietened" through physical contact. And I do not think that any other response would have been better in this case. A meeting never arises by accident ; it is never an accident when a child turns towards a non-parent adult, and vice versa.

The adoption of distance as a professional principle operates as a defence against asking questions about affect ; "professional distance" is offered as a positive principle a priori. Now, following Bruno Tricoire, in order to respond "from" (for example, an ethical position of professional values), we need to respond "to", and preferably when summoned by the other. And it is because we are able to respond with our actions that we are able to express our commitment.

The question here is not only psychoanalytic. Rather, it is a question of a methodological principle (the construction of training space/time) in order not to overlay pedagogical space with therapeutic space. Here, affect is a resource that engages responsibility : there can be no relationship without the engagement and giving of oneself and disengagement in a space that gives a feeling of security. Here, professional ethics require an urgent response : responding to the child requires responding from oneself. The child summons the adult with suffering that calls out for sharing, and declining to respond with an equivalent and deep movement would be to shy away from, to flee from, the meeting with the child and to refuse oneself. Here, in order to be genuine, to be oneself and to recognise oneself, means that the adult responds from where her/his own suffering is buried. Really working means holding oneself there, present with one’s inner self and facing one’s history.

For me, this is both a lot and a little. In order to be as close as possible to the child, one cannot be too far from oneself, and this is a not insignificant demand. But it is also one of the limits of this stance.

The educational/pedagogical obligation can no longer be satisfied with a mirror, at the risk of sidestepping the social/political dimension of our interventions and of releasing our institutions from their responsibilities vis-a-vis the difficulties that people experience, children in particular. Developing true reflexivity about the action and during the action must engage us in a change of stance, in a taking of professional responsibility. This reflexivity is not limited to the individual relationship. It also requires that the process be extended to the institution itself. And, in this regard, Donald Schön, who has written so much about reflexive practice, makes us understand the urgency of (but often the lack of) institutional mechanisms for reflective analysis as an integral part of the practitioner’s reflexivity.

It remains only to be said that spaces for analysis of professional practice during initial training are limited, making it all the more important to have truly dynamic analysis at the institutional level. The relationship to the child remains predominant because the principal challenge is always : to meet the child.

Didier Favre is a psychosociologist and educator of éducateurs de jeunes enfants


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