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
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
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
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
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
What Is the Family's Role in a Teacher-Family Partnership
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
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
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
* 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
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
* 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).
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
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,
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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.
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Kathleen H. Beining is Instructor of Early Childhood Education, St.
Vincent College, Latrobe, Pennsylvania.