DR KATEY DE GIOIA reflects on a discussion with teachers about learning goals for children, which led her to think about partnerships between families and teachers in early childhood education and care.
Dr De Gioia will be presenting at the 2019 ECA National Conference in September on ‘There’s more to being a teacher than playing in the sandpit: Teachers leading pedagogical practice in the early childhood sector’. You can see the Conference program here.
I was in a Network Meeting with a group of teachers from our organisation and the conversation turned into a discussion about learning goals for children. This is not an unfamiliar conversation at the beginning of the year as we transition and orientate children and families. The conversation then shifted to expectations of learning goals for children. The conversation moved further into familiar but uncomfortable territory—the one that I am sure you have heard about or participated in before: ‘… parents want their children to … they expect that we teach children … [insert age-inappropriate activity here]’. It was this end part of the conversation that caused me to pause. We know that partnerships are critical. The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers reinforce our roles as teachers at the Proficient stage for professional engagement, and require us to ‘Establish and maintain respectful collaborative relationships with parents/carers regarding their children’s learning and wellbeing’ (Standard 7.3).
We know that one of the principles of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) (DEEWR, 2009) is Partnerships, and that the EYLF states, ‘Partnerships are based on the foundations of understanding each other’s expectations and attitudes, and build on the strength of each other’s knowledge’ (p. 12). Having read this sentence over a few times, I realised that it was the ‘build on the strength of each other’s knowledge’ part that was bothering me. I wondered what opportunities we afforded to families to help them understand, for example, what developmental milestones are, what the curriculum is, why we offer play-based learning, what the key outcomes are that we see as critical for children to succeed. It is these pieces of our knowledge that we must bring to the partnership.
As early childhood teachers, we hold knowledge and expertise that we need to ensure we articulate to families so they can be confident in the decisions they make about the learning goals for their children. These pieces support families in understanding their children from a different perspective, and assist their decision-making. They know their children, but framed with further information to assist understanding children and learning more broadly helps in our discussions. Were we setting families up to fail in their expectations of their children? Are we being unfair by denying our side of this partnership?
So, back at the teacher network, I could feel the shift in the room and in our conversations. These teachers do great work and take time to build meaningful relationships with both children and families. I know; I have witnessed these interactions. However, thinking explicitly about opportunities for giving and sharing information enables us to view the alternate side of the partnership.
Perhaps, as centre teams, we need to take the time to ask ourselves some of these questions:
When do we have family meetings? Are there two-way opportunities to ask questions? What do these opportunities look like, and how often do they happen? How are we bringing our knowledge and offering spaces for conversations to work with families on developing meaningful learning outcomes for children?
Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). (2009). Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Canberra, ACT: Commonwealth of Australia.
ECTARC (Early Childhood Training And Resource Centre) is an Australian registered training organisation that specialises in early childhood training and professional development. This resource explores how to work in partnership with families and engage in authentic interactions. Practical examples inspire and promote the provision of environments that are welcoming, supportive and respectful of individual parenting practices and beliefs. You can purchase your copy here on the ECA Shop.