One of the main benefits of establishing partnerships between home and school is how this contributes to children’s long-term success. But before deciding on the kinds of strategies or activities to promote home-school partnerships, it is helpful for teachers to first examine their own perceptions, beliefs and values about families. The questions posed below are intended to help guide early childhood educators through an examination of their beliefs, and assist them to apply those principles to their unique teaching circumstances.
In Photo: Teacher Masturah Bte Kamal Bacha (ET)
At The Caterpillar’s Cove, we uphold these principles of working with families:
1. The centre is a shared space among families, children and teachers.
We like to envision the centre as a comfortable space where families, children and teachers meet, with an invitation to interact. An open-door policy can exemplify this belief; at The Caterpillar’s Cove, family members are encouraged to come into the centre and spend time in the classrooms especially during pick-up and drop-off time. A shared dining area where families join their children during breakfast creates opportunities for conversations. We often observe children playing “host”, introducing their family members to those of another child’s even if they are from a different class!
What atmosphere does your centre create for families and children? What messages does it send to families about the relationship they have with the centre?
2. Every family member or parent communicates differently. The centre takes responsibility for reaching out.
Children are unique individuals and so are adults — this means teachers should adjust how they communicate with each family member. The centre uses various complementary modes of communication in order to meet the vast needs of families — these include emails, face-to-face conversations, phone calls, informal notes and classroom blogs. We actively seek feedback on how effective these modes are and adapt as necessary.
What communication modes are present in your centre? Why are these communication modes chosen and how do they enhance the relationship between home and school?
3. Every family brings their unique culture, strengths and challenges into the home-school relationship. Empathy promotes a trusting relationship.
At The Caterpillar’s Cove, we remind ourselves that children come from different backgrounds; working with families means recognising and accepting diversity. One of the areas teachers should examine closely is how love, care and concern are expressed within the family and to the child. For example, think about how different parents may respond to a crying child who has just suffered a minor trip and fall with a scraped knee. One might offer a hug; another might plainly suggest that it is a small matter and ask for the child to get up; another might offer to buy a toy for the child.
As teachers we jump to conclusions as to whether the responses are appropriate, but it might be more useful to set the judgments aside and instead consider what insight the responses tell us about each family’s values. We can only establish trusting relationships with families when they feel that we are empathic and here to inquire, not criticise or judge.
What challenges do you face when working with families? What do these challenges tell you about the family’s needs and values?
4. A child’s life is situated in the context of the family, which may consist of members other than parents.
We are mindful that children may have more than one primary caregiver that can include parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts or domestic helpers, and we define them as part of the child’s family. Interactions with each family member can shed valuable insight on the child’s life and when put together, provide a holistic perspective. We use the information to gain awareness on how similarities or differences in the way children are nurtured by different caregivers impact their development and growth.
What are the implications when children are nurtured by different caregivers? How can we make use of the knowledge gained to enhance each child’s growth and development?
5. Shared knowledge builds a comprehensive perspective of the child; views about the child are co-constructed.
In addition to daily face-to-face conversations facilitated by our open-door policy, the centre sets aside uninterrupted time to meet with each family thrice a year through a parent-teacher meeting. These discussions are not meant for teachers to disseminate information about the child, but rather, purposefully invite two-way conversations about the child’s development. Teachers and parents are both experts about the child in their own right and a co-constructed image of the child provides both parties with insight on how to work as partners.
What kinds of interactions take place between parents and teachers in your centre? How can they be enhanced to benefit the child?
In Photo: Teacher Yu Jin (CT)
A successful home-school partnership is more than just a set of activities and strategies; it is highly dependent on the beliefs of the centre and how these beliefs are translated into practice. It takes time and effort to build a trusting relationship and teachers must always take the first step to establish the relationship.
One of the ways that may show when we have earned a parent’s trust is not when there are no complaints, but rather when the parent feels safe enough to approach us to share the problem (especially if it is to do with the teacher or centre) trusting that we are here to work things out together. We continue to work towards establishing a balance of power between home and school, acknowledging that one of the best ways to ensure a child’s success is to have both parties in a respectful partnership.
Cynthia Tan is principal of The Caterpillar’s Cove Child Development and Study Centre, which is a child study centre where families, teachers, researchers and student-teachers strive to discover and advocate best practices in early childhood education to promote children’s optimal learning and development. It is located in Ngee Ann Polytechnic, and a second centre will be set up in Devan Nair Institute in 2014.