Working Together

Written by Debbie Riek, Education Coordinator | Sep 7, 2010 7:14 PM

At first, they couldn’t make it go at all and they were frustrated and would get quite upset with each other. “Maddie won’t do it my way!” “Mommy, Gracie keeps pulling!” They would storm off the glider to the sandbox or the slide, convinced that if the other just did what they were telling them to do, great fun would be had by all.

“You know girls,” I began one day, “If you would start talking to each other on the glider then you could work together and it would go really high.”

“Mom,” Maddie said with a sigh, “I am talking. I am telling Grace to go up but she isn’t doing it.”

“I’m talking too. Maddie just isn’t doing what I am telling her to do.” Grace countered.

“What if you try to be partners, to come to an agreement about how it is going to work?” I said eagerly realizing the benefit of this great object lesson only to be met with blank stares.

Grace finally shrugged and said, “Mommy, sometimes I have no idea what you are talking about!”

When we think about the idea of forming partnerships between early education teachers and families, sometimes we all feel a little like Grace and Maddie. What does partnership mean? Why isn’t it working if we are telling families what we want them to do?

For many of us in early education, we have worked at schools that do an annual family survey and have a back-to-school night and check off the “family involvement” box of our responsibilities in our heads. Having an open door policy and asking for feedback is good, but is it partnership?

Child theorist Uri Bronfenbrenner says that children’s development is affected by all the systems they are a part of…home, school, neighborhoods, etc. For this reason, he advocates building a bridge between family and teacher that includes, “ongoing patterns of exchange of information, two way communication, mutual accommodation and mutual trust “ (Bronfenbrenner, 1990).

This kind of partnership is hard work and requires that we are all reflective concerning our interactions with each other and the child. Sometimes, it can be easy. Some families and teachers we naturally click with and some not so much. We may not understand the family’s culture, the teacher’s practices, or a procedure at the school. We must ask questions, talk about what our individual perspectives are and build consensus. Sometimes trying to determine the whys behind decisions helps us to be less judgmental and more understanding.

The benefits from partnerships are plenty for the teacher, the family, and most importantly the child. In her book From Parents To Partners, Janis Keyser outlines all of the positives. Families have such a deep understanding that they can share with you as a teacher about their child. Teachers may have resources that they can share as well. In partnerships, teachers report a higher level of satisfaction with their jobs and families report a higher level of confidence in the teachers. As for the child, when all the adults who love her are working together, we call that a win.

Partnerships can begin from the moment a child begins in a program. Orientation, invitations to participate in family groups or committees, family mentors (a family who has been there a while to introduce the new family to), home visits, and postcards home are all great ways to make a family feel welcome and included. Ask families how they like to receive communication like newsletters. Do they want them e-mailed or copied in their child’s cubby? Ask good questions and be open to responses. Regular fun family events help families and teachers see each other as less institutional. Discuss conferencing and see how to make it more productive and create curriculum that reflects children’s lives and interests.

For my daughters, it took a lot of practice and they still get frustrated on the glider sometimes. But they learned that committing to work together, listening and talking with someone not at someone, sharing the same goal and supporting each other helps us all fly a little higher.

Join the discussion—how do you successfully build relationships and partnerships with families and teachers?

Published in Education

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