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Family-teacher partnerships: an early childhood contract for success.
Article Type:
Report
Subject:
Early childhood educators (Social aspects)
Early childhood educators (Contracts)
Preschool teachers (Social aspects)
Preschool teachers (Contracts)
Parent and child (Analysis)
Family (Educational aspects)
Family (Social aspects)
Family (Contracts)
Home and school (Analysis)
Education (Parent participation)
Education (Analysis)
Author:
Beining, Kathleen H.
Pub Date:
01/01/2011
Publication:
Name: Childhood Education Publisher: Association for Childhood Education International Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education; Family and marriage Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Association for Childhood Education International ISSN: 0009-4056
Issue:
Date: Annual, 2011 Source Volume: 87 Source Issue: 5
Topic:
Event Code: 290 Public affairs; 490 Contracts & orders let; 610 Contracts & orders received Computer Subject: Contract agreement
Geographic:
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

Accession Number:
259460530
Full Text:
When dropping Jamie off at preschool, Jamie's grandmother, Mrs. Edwards, usually appeared to have a stern expression. Jamie's teacher, Miss Vickie, found Mrs. Edwards to be aloof and thought she seemed uncomfortable with the day-in and day-out routine of transporting Jamie. When the pair would arrive at school, Miss Vickie would exchange only a few spoken words with Mrs. Edwards. It seemed as though the two adults never moved past the awkwardness of meeting someone for the first time.

Although most early childhood providers realize the importance of developing and maintaining respectful and collaborative partnerships with their students and families, it can be difficult to establish and maintain these relationships with parents, extended family, or unrelated guardian caregivers. When people are called into early childhood teaching professions, they generally want to work with children and often do not realize it means working with both children and adults (Gonzalez-Mena & Eyer, 2004). As the traditional nuclear family structure is less common today than diverse or blended families, educators are more unsure of how to properly respond and to what degree family collaboration can occur. Nevertheless, all families share the expectation of a "partnership" with their children's teachers that will enhance the children's early learning experience. Understandings about what that "partnership" should be, however, can vary greatly between parents(s), extended family, and/or unrelated guardian caregivers.

The Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP), led by Heather Weiss (Weiss, Caspe, & Lopez, 2006), suggests that a shared belief of active involvement between families and teachers can lead to greater exchanges of information, improved demonstration and modeling of respect, and clearer learning expectations, which will positively influence a child's early learning experiences. With this said, it becomes more important than ever that teachers, parents, extended families, and unrelated guardian caregivers are involved in a mutual understanding of collaboration and partnership. In what ways can early childhood providers better communicate and build relationships with families? This article will investigate a teacher-family partnership contract as one method to help communicate about and prioritize teacher-family collaboration as a valuable component of a child's early learning success. Four aspects of building a partnership contract will be examined: benefits of having a written partnership contract, the early childhood educator's role, the family's role, and the three main components of a teacher-family partnership contract.

Why Is a Teacher-Family Partnership Contract Beneficial?

The teacher-family partnership contract is a formalized written document specifying a collaboration agreement

that will clearly indentify the roles of the family and the teacher in supporting a child's early learning experiences. It is adapted from the research on learning contracts from Huff and Johnson (1998) and Parsons and Durst (1982), along with research on teacher-family partnership from Ratcliff and Hunt (2009). The word "family" refers to all participants involved in the direct guardianship and care of the child. The agreement will help family members to understand that they are respected and recognized as vital partners in their children's learning. Too often, family members involved in the daily care of children feel awkward in a partnership role, or not up to the task of offering suggestions. This written contract should clearly specify that family suggestions or comments are welcome, and reiterate that no one should feel disrespected or unqualified to engage in their child's learning experiences.

While Miss Vickie was drawing conclusions about Jamie's grandmother, Jamie's grandmother was drawing conclusions about Miss Vickie. Without a shared belief for involvement, communication is often broken and a relationship does not grow (Weiss et al., 2006). A teacher-family partnership contract could help to reduce tension and build relationships.

Miss Vickie was pleasantly surprised that Jamie's grandmother was receptive to her invitation to talk about a teacher-family contract. Once an invitation to discuss a teacher-family partnership is offered, the teacher can begin the collaboration process and misconceptions can be eliminated.

Miss Vickie was able to tell Jamie's grandmother that she values and understands her important role and that she relies on her contribution to Jamie's education. In this example, the teacher-family contract was the catalyst to begin building a partnership between the child's guardian caregiver and the teacher. Conversations around the contract agreement remind teachers that the child's first teacher is their parent or guardian caregiver, and they may view this relationship as a supportive springboard for parents to participate in choosing learning goals and support school success (Weissbourd, Weissbourd, & O'Carroll, 2010).

In the words of Fred Rogers (2003), we are called to act: "We live in a worm in which we need to share responsibility. It's easy to say 'It's not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.' Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes." This action can begin with a teacher-family contract that promises to incorporate families as partners in their children's learning.

What Is the Early Childhood Providers Role in a Teacher-Family Partnership Contract?

The role of the teacher in facilitating a teacher-family partnership contract is to first engage the family as active participants in all aspects of a child's education (Hearron & Hildebrand, 2011; Keyser, 2006; Souto-Manning & Swick, 2006). Once a family is made aware that they are valuable contributors to the learning, the teacher can begin sharing goals that can lead to involvement or increase the family's ownership of the learning experience. To assist in engaging families, the teacher should consider the environment and their personal attitudes, and consider involving families in decisions without instigating conflict.

Once families are vested into their children's learning and the involvement is present, teachers can expect that they will experience better teaching effectiveness, fewer conflicts with families, and a school environment that fosters respect, support, and greater learning outcomes.

What Is the Family's Role in a Teacher-Family Partnership Contract?

The family role in the partnership contract is also very important, but sometimes difficult to encourage if the family is more removed than most (Hearron & Hildebrand, 2011; Keyser, 2006; Souto-Manning & Swick, 2006). Often, teachers can help more reluctant families share valuable information and insight about family history, dynamic, culture, and realistic goals, based on newly gained knowledge of school standards from the family's perspective.

Once families become involved in a teacher-family partnership contract, they will benefit from having the sense of security and respect from the teacher, have greater understanding of regulations and standards, and feel welcome as a part of their children's learning experience. While this may be a new and unfamiliar role for some families, it will improve the teacher-family relationship and help foster better receptivity toward learning at school and home.

How Is a Teacher-Family Partnership Contract Developed?

Although the following quote is humorous, it does speak to the trust and open communications called for by a contract of this nature: If you promise not to believe everything your child says happens at school, I'll promise not to believe everything he says happens at home.--Anonymous Teacher

Any contract between a child's family and the teacher should include three components: the teacher's role, the family's role, and combined agreements. All three components should be brief in nature and speak to general ideas that can be altered or adapted as needed. The purpose of the contract is to provide the means to bond for the benefit of the child and not to create a legal binding document. Lemieux (2001) calls contracts tools of both empowerment and accountability.

Family/Teacher Contract Between: Jamie's Family and Teacher

1. Teacher's role.

I, Miss Vickie (Jamie's teacher), will do my best to:

* Communicate and listen openly to concerns, opinions, and suggestions.

* Provide information and include parents/guardians in decisions concerning their child.

2. Family's role. We, Lee and Nancy Edwards (Jamie's grandparents), will do our best to:

* Provide the teacher with background information about our family dynamic, history, and cultural beliefs that could affect our child.

* Share our concerns and goals for our child in an open manner with the teacher.

3. Combined agreement. Together, we will do our best to:

* Communicate openly and always place the focus on building a supportive, nurturing, cooperative environment for Jamie to learn and grow in.

* Place the needs of the child before any personal agendas.

The actual contract contents should be brief, sincere, and based on what is appropriate for the teachers and families involved. A teacher-family contract can be the beginning, renewal, or validation of a strong partnership (Richman & Cook, 2004).

Closing Thoughts

After Miss Vickie had asked Jamie's grandmother, Mrs. Edwards, to sit with her and consider a teacher-family contract, she was relieved to learn that Mrs. Edwards and her husband were very interested in becoming involved. After reviewing and signing the contract, Nancy Edwards realized that Miss Vickie did respect and rely on her to contribute to Jamie's education. Her demeanor was much friendlier and more relaxed from that day on. Miss Vickie no longer avoided her and they developed a strong cooperative relationship that focused on Jamie's needs.

Too often, written paper contracts are considered too formal or "binding" and tend to put people on the defensive. However, they can be a positive tool, if designed thoughtfully and explained clearly. Teachers can benefit from knowing that they can rely on families for support while families can benefit from knowing that they can trust the teacher. The teacher-family partnership contract is one mechanism that will reinforce a respectful and collaborative partnership designed to support and benefit not only the child, but also the family and the teacher (Decker & Decker, 2005). All parties involved in well-designed teacher-family partnership contracts will be placing children in an environment that models healthy relationships (Keyser, 2006).

References

Decker, C. A., & Decker, J. R. (2005). Planning and administering early childhood programs (8th ed., pp. 350378). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Gonzalez-Mena, J., & Eyer, D.W. (2004). Infants, toddlers, and caregivers: A curriculum of respectful, responsive care and education (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Hearron, P. F., & Hildebrand, V. (2011). Management of child development centers (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Huff, M.T., & Johnson, M. M. (1998). Empowering students in a graduate level social work course. Journal of Social Work Education, 34(3), 375-385.

Keyser, J. (2006). From parents to partners: Building a family-centered early childhood program. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Lemieux, C. M. (2001). Learning contracts in the classroom: Tools for empowerment and accountability. Social Work Education, 20(2), 263-276.

"'Neighbor' Fred Rogers dies at age 74." (2003). Retrieved from http://wtae. com/news/2007669/detail.html.

Parsons, J. E., & Durst, D. (1992). Learning contracts: Misunderstood and underutilized. The Clinical Supervisor, 10(1), 145-156.

Ratcliff, N., & Hunt, G. (2009). Building teacher-family partnerships: The role of teacher preparation programs. Education, 129(3), 495-505.

Richman, J., & Cook P. G. (2004). A framework for teaching family: Development for the changing family. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 24(1/2), 1-18.

Souto-Manning, M., & Swick, K. J. (2006). Teachers' beliefs about parent and family involvement: Rethinking our family involvement paradigm. Early Childhood Education Journal, 34(2), 187-193.

Weiss, H., Caspe, M., & Lopez, M. E. (2006). Family involvement in early childhood education. Family involvement makes a difference: Evidence that family involvement promotes school success for every child of every age. Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP), Spring(1), 1-8.

Weissbourd, B., Weissbourd, R., & O'Carroll, K. (2010). Family engagement. In V. Washington & J. D. Andrews (Eds.), Children of 2020: Creating a better tomorrow (pp. 114118). Washington, DC: Council for Professional Recognition.

Kathleen H. Beining is Instructor of Early Childhood Education, St. Vincent College, Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
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