Not all families are seeking advice, support or education from early childhood educators. What happens to partnership with families when we view early childhood relationships through different lenses? As early childhood students graduate and early career educators review their first year in the sector, Fay Hadley and Elizabeth Rouse explore this timely question and the implications for relationships and practice.
Many of us frame parent partnerships as an opportunity and see the potential of what it can bring. Partnerships is one of the key principles of the Early Years Learning Framework (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2009) where families are positioned as the child’s most important and influential first teacher. The language used to describe partnership in the EYLF includes: ‘value’, ‘trust’, ‘share’, ‘engage’ and ‘respectfully’. The National Quality Standard (NQS) identifies seven quality areas against which all early childhood education and care centres are rated. Quality Area 6 focuses specifically on collaborative partnerships with families and communities and includes Standard 6.1: Respectful relationships with families are developed and maintained and families are supported in their parenting role. Whilst supporting families in their parenting role is one aspect of partnership, we need to recognise that not all families are seeking advice, support and education about parenting. Imperative in this approach is the need to acknowledge diverse ways of parenting, and of being engaged, and for us as educators not to default to ‘our’ lens for viewing the nature of the relationship.
The discourse on learning and development has become a key driver of parent partnerships, where educators are encouraged to ‘inform’ parents to ensure optimum educational outcomes for children (Berthelsen & Walker, 2008; Emerson, Fear, Fox & Sanders, 2012; Toper et al, 2010). Again, the NQS also includes a focus on this and includes Standard 6.2 Collaborative partnerships enhance children’s inclusion, learning and wellbeing. The danger of linking learning to parent partnerships makes the assumption that parental involvement in children’s early childhood education will prevent school failure (Fan & Chen, 2001; Epstein, 1995; Epstein & Salinas, 2004; Barnard, 2004; Carter, 2002). The rhetoric (often driven by policy) then becomes one about reducing vulnerability and/or disadvantage and the family not the system is then blamed for their child not meeting their educational outcomes. This focus has led to educators seeing parent partnership positioned as one to educate parents on what is best for their child. When we approach partnerships from this lens we often default to a view of parents being difficult and that parents are not listening to our advice if they engage in ways that are in opposition to what we see as important. In this scenario neither the parent or the educator feels valued.
Rather than seeing partnerships from a compliance perspective we argue partnerships are an opportunity. Building partnerships with families can lead to other ways of seeing the world, deeper reflection on current practices and beliefs, opening the setting up to diversity and recognising who is ‘invisible’. Approaching partnerships from this perspective provides social justice learning opportunities for all stakeholders.
- Families and educators valued different experiences
- Families were not as focused on qualifications and/or expertise, but valued educators who knew and loved their children
- Educators rarely mentioned the words love or happiness, but focussed on child development and learning
- Families identified less communication about experiences compared to educators
So do we really know what families value? Do we really question our own practices? How can we ensure our parent partnerships embrace opportunities and as we do with children how can we ensure we approach each family as an individual? We encourage you to question your practices and think of one family that you have found harder to engage. Try a different strategy and see if it changes the relationship.
Dr Elizabeth Rouse is a senior lecturer in early childhood at Deakin University, Australia, working with pre-service teachers gaining initial teacher education qualifications. Her main areas of teaching focus on developing professional practice of teachers, especially those working in early years classrooms. Elizabeth has over thirty years experience as a teacher, having spent many years working in early childhood settings, as a teacher in the early years of school as well as working with children and families who have additional learning needs. For the past ten years she has been working to build the next generation of early years teachers at both Deakin and prior starting there, a number of universities and polytechnics in Victoria, Australia. Elizabeth’s research focus has been centred on partnerships between families, children and educators, bringing a view of partnerships that encompasses reciprocal relationships leading to shared decision making based on mutual trust and respect, and in 2015 graduated with a Doctor of Education where her dissertation explored the relationships between families and educators in an early childhood education and care setting through a lens of family centred practice. Within the context of her research, a strong belief in rights-based pedagogies where both parents and children are valued decision makers has informed her work with preservice teachers. Elizabeth has published a number of professional texts as well as scholarly papers focusing on parent educator partnerships, professional practice of early years teachers and leading pedagogical change in early years settings.
Elizabeth Rouse, Deakin University @Liz_Rouse_56