Q. What are the best strategies for working in partnership with parents?

Lauren Colvin Power of Postive Parenting and Teaching

All families and teachers can benefit from forming a mutual partnership and most importantly it helps to provide the best support for the child. Through working together, parents and teachers can offer consistency in their approaches. This helps to prevent conflicting messages being given to the child and instead provide similar boundaries and expectations, which the child can respond to and feel secure within.

I would say that first and foremost one of the best strategies towards developing good relationships with parents is to provide clear lines of communication. This can be achieved in numerous ways. Drop off and pick up are two of the busiest points of the day, but having time to spend a few minutes with parents and carers during these brief periods is invaluable. Simply smiling and saying good morning in a happy manner, reassures parents that you are ready to welcome and care for their child. It also gives parents the opportunity to pass any important information on to you about their child.

Mornings can often be a little more relaxed than pick up, as children tend to arrive at more staggered intervals. Pickup time on the other hand can be very busy if collection is at a set time for everyone. Despite this, simple things like our manner and facial expressions whilst handing children over to parents, are something to keep in mind. They can either comfort a parent or cause concerns and anxieties. If you do have time to mention one thing about their child’s day to a parent, then this goes a long way. It can bring great joy and reflects your individual level care and attention.

If your school pick up and drop off procedures don’t allow for this level of regular personal communication, then having things like communication diaries for each child is a good alternative. It provides open communication between yourselves and the parents on a daily basis when required. Letting parents know that you or another member of staff check the diary daily and respond with a brief reply and signature, helps parents feel secure that you will and have received their information.

Parents ultimately want to know that their child is important to you and that you genuinely care about them. By mentioning to parents little things their child may have achieved during a day with excitement and enthusiasm, helps parents to know that their child and their development is a big priority of yours also. Providing regular opportunities throughout the term for parents to come into school for different events, such as parent’s evenings, workshops, classroom activities and trips etc. is important towards building a partnership. Through engaging parents in these events, it helps them to feel like they are a valuable part of their child’s development and learning. It also gives them a greater insight into their child’s life at school and how they are coping and progressing, whilst providing you as the teacher with time to ask questions about children’s lives outside of school. Where possible, providing a few different options in regards to timings and days, can help busy parents to be more involved. Sending little reminders about up and coming events can also provide steps towards building a strong and supportive partnership.

Communication is also vital when dealing with more sensitive issues. When incidents occur involving children that require the information being passed onto parents, this should be done on the same day. If parents hear about incidents later on through their child or someone else, it can lead to miscommunication and a lot of upset. This can have potentially detrimental effects on the relationship between the school and parents. As a practitioner, you need to make a professional decision around the best way to communicate the information depending on the situation itself. Telling parents about something that may have occurred when they collect, may be the best cause of action for smaller day to day occurrences, such as a falling over at break time. However, depending on the severity and sensitivity of the instance, during pickup time may not be the best option. The school door doesn’t offer any form of discretion, there are other parents around and you won’t necessarily have the required time needed to deliver the information appropriately. Making time for a call to parents during the day or if need be inviting them in for a meeting to discuss the incident, may be a more appropriate and professional way of handling the situation.

When raising concerns or issues about a child to their parents, it is important to bear in mind that this could be the first time a subject has been brought to the parent’s attention and could therefore be very distressing or worrying for them. Ensure your approach is sensitive and mindful of this. Let parents know that you want to help support and work with them and their child. Share your strategies and offer guidance to parents, so that consistency can be achieved at both home and school. In this way you and the family, along with the child feel supported. This could be in relation to anything from behaviour or social skills to learning needs. No matter what the subject matter, always remember to be considerate and sympathetic towards the parent and offer suggestions towards continuing to cater for their child in the best possible way.

All parents need support at some time. Maybe they are experiencing a particularly difficult time, such as the loss of a loved one, money problems or illness. In some cases they may have on-going issues that may prevent them from being as present in their child’s school life and overall development as they would like. These families in particular need your understanding and forming a supportive partnership can be especially important for them. Being sympathetic to individual families’ struggles and backgrounds and helping by offering advice and support can make all the difference to a family.

Giving parents as much clear information as possible about the curriculum you are providing and the ways in which you will be catering for their child, is a crucial part of building a partnership. If the parents understand the goals and objectives you are focusing on and prioritising within your setting, then they too can play an active part in supporting their child to achieve them. Parents may sometimes have misconceptions about early years education and not realise the importance of certain aspects of their child’s development, such as social and emotional wellbeing first and foremost before academics. Through sharing this knowledge with parents, you can work together to nurture their child and help them to reach their full potential across all areas of their learning and development.

Another great technique towards developing partnership with parents, is to involve parents in providing evidence for their child’s ‘Early Years Child Profile’. Each setting does this in their own unique way, but the idea behind it should be the same, to capture evidence through observations, photographs and work samples to demonstrate their child’s progress, growing abilities and changing interests throughout their time in early years. Teachers spend a great deal of their time observing the children and using what they learn about the child to cater for their individual needs. Through involving parents in this process, by asking them to provide photographs, texts or quotes of their child’s life outside of school, you are able to capture a more rounded picture of the child. They may have interests, hobbies and experiences outside of school that you are completely unaware of. These interests can then be further catered for in the classroom. Having communication from home about the child’s life, is also a great way to learn more about their background and culture. Again this information can be brought into the classroom in a number of ways. This helps the child and their family to feel valued and creates an ethos of celebrating and respecting different cultures and faiths. In my school we have home observation templates that parents can use, but at the same time photos on their own can be equally as useful. The parents have fed back that being involved in this way makes them feel that their input is appreciated and valuable. Having a class mascot teddy and diary that can be sent home on weekends and holidays, is another fun way to get a picture of the child’s home life and discuss this in class.

Parents are the most important people in their children’s early lives. They are the people they first form relationships with and learn from, about the world around them and their place in it. As an Early Years teacher, you may be the first person that a child forms a close relationship with outside of their family unit. You also play a crucial part in introducing children to school life and helping them to settle into an environment away from home and their parents. The relationships formed and environments created at both school and home, are therefore both key factors in a child’s development and future. Forming a strong partnership between families and teachers, allows you to share information more easily and therefore gain a deeper insight and understanding of the whole child. This knowledge allows for mutual support, consistency and a greater likelihood that the child’s needs will be met in the best possible way.

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