Collaborative Partnerships in Early Learning

Table of Contents

Introduction

For young children, early learning is a prerequisite of success in future academic life. Appropriate educational strategies can help young children to develop basic skills and abilities that are necessary to progress to school-level education. While developing teaching plans and delivering instruction to young learners, educators must consider a variety of factors, such as individual abilities and interests, family dynamics, and cultural background.

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Collaborative partnerships between educators, young children, and families can be beneficial for all parties. For educators, collaboration with children and families provides valuable insight into children’s interests, needs, and home environment. For families, collaborative partnerships can be helpful in goal-setting and exchanging experiences and knowledge. For children, collaboration in education increases the chances of academic success and ensures a higher quality of education.

However, building collaborative partnerships is not an easy task, as it requires educators to use a variety of strategies. Following the core principles of effective collaborative partnerships can assist educators in achieving positive learning outcomes and fostering family resilience. The first part of the project will seek to explain the significance of collaborative partnerships between educators, young children, and families and explore the benefits of collaboration for all parties further. The second part of the paper will introduce a set of principles that educators can apply to build collaborative partnerships that will benefit children and families.

Part 1

First of all, collaborative partnerships create a foundation for shared decision-making. Shared decision-making, in turn, helps to achieve better academic outcomes by choosing activities that are interesting to children while also recognizing their needs and abilities with regards to learning. According to May (2013), families are the primary source of knowledge for very young children, and thus family members know more about children’s strengths, weaknesses, and needs than their educators. Involving children in decision-making, on the other hand, is also important, as children are more likely to enjoy learning from activities that are interesting to them.

Thus, shared decision-making usually leads to improved academic outcomes and allows children to excel in their learning. In addition, shared decision-making is critical to promoting children’s rights. Boylan and Darlymple (2009) note that involving children in decision-making allows solving issues or problems faced by children on various levels. Te One (2011) concurs, stating that “Listening to children can be understood as a political act that unites the child with civil society, and as such, is critical to facilitating children’s participation in society” (p. 43).

For educators and families, children’s participation in decision-making enables addressing the concerns that could influence the child’s future learning and welfare. Children, on the other hand, can learn to voice their opinions and interests through shared decision-making, thus becoming more independent and developing the capacity for critical thinking. This will contribute to their academic success and social functioning in future life.

Secondly, collaborative partnerships help to set realistic goals for children, families, and educators and achieve these goals more effectively. In early education, the assessment of young children often depends on the fulfillment of specific tasks and activities. When children experience difficulties with these developmental tasks, this can undermine their perception of their abilities. Thus, setting learning goals in collaboration with children and families can help to adjust the curriculum to suit the child’s needs. This, in turn, can result in improved behavior and attendance, as children will be more motivated to learn at their own pace.

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Collaborative partnerships with families and children can also help educators to find ways of achieving children’s learning goals. Amatea, Smith-Adcock, and Villares (2006) explain that the understanding of family dynamics allows educators to capitalize on strengths or resiliences of a particular family, thus finding ways of resolving children’s learning problems. Similarly, families also have different aspirations depending on their socioeconomic status, composition, and values.

Educators can use collaborative partnerships to assist families in realizing their goals by considering families’ wishes with regards to children’s development and connecting them with valuable community resources (Clarkin-Phillips, 2012). Hence, collaborative partnerships are essential not just for ensuring the academic success of children but also for facilitating the development of families.

Thirdly, collaborative partnerships contribute to family resilience by providing support to parents of young children. Resilience is defined as the ability of an individual or a group of people to successfully withstand and rebound from stressful events (Walsh, 2008). For families, building resilience is crucial to creating a positive environment for young children. Early childhood centers and educators working with young children are a great source of support for families, as they can provide valuable knowledge and resources. Duncan (2006) explains that educators can improve family resilience by bonding, bridging, and linking.

Developing bonds with parents or family members of young children can foster family resilience by creating a supportive environment for parents of young children. Educators can also build bridges by introducing families to different professionals and resources in the community that can provide support and assistance (Duncan, 2006). Finally, linking describes the process of building connections with institutions and authorities in order to advocate for children and their needs (Duncan, 2006). This process can foster family resilience by ensuring that children’s needs with regards to welfare, education, and future employment are met.

Another essential benefit of collaborative partnerships is that they promote the continuity of learning and development. While attending early learning centers or kindergartens, young children can enhance their skills and learn more about the world surrounding them. Nevertheless, as children often spend the vast part of the day at home or with family members, it is vital to ensure that families also support their development. Collaborative partnerships help educators to achieve this goal by enabling them to learn more about family members’ knowledge of early learning strategies, as well as their parenting style.

Pryor (2010) discusses four different parenting styles and their effect on children’s development. For example, the authoritative parenting style is characterized by high support, monitoring, and autonomy of children, which leads to improved confidence and self-esteem of kids (Pryor, 2010). Children whose parents used this parenting style are more likely to be successful in academics due to being independent and resourceful. Permissive and neglectful parenting styles, on the other hand, often lead to behavioral issues and a lack of interest in studies (Pryor, 2010). Learning about parenting styles used by different families can assist educators in filling the gaps in children’s development or providing parents with advice on addressing behavioral problems.

Moreover, collaborative partnerships can help educators to obtain more information about activities and strategies used by parents in home learning. May (2013) argues that “it makes great sense for practitioners to fi nJ u Ul about the type of learning to which the child has been exposed at home and to build on this in the Foundation Stage” (p. 53).

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The exchange of information, in this case, can work both ways. Families can share strategies for engaging their children in activities and discuss exercises that they do with children at home, thus helping educators to adjust the curriculum to children’s needs. Educators, on the other hand, can suggest home activities that build on the material learned in class. Therefore, a collaborative partnership between families and educators would enable parties to exchange information to improve the continuity of learning and development.

Lastly, collaborative partnerships are crucial to building an inclusive environment that would benefit children from any cultural background. New Zealand is a diverse country, where 80% of the population are Europeans, 18% Māori, 13% Asian, 8% Pacific, and 1% Middle Eastern, Latin American, or African (“Demographic overview of families,” 2015). Nevertheless, early education often does not respond to the needs of children from minority cultures. Robinson and Jones-Diaz (2006) argue that “practices in the early childhood education field still largely represent and perpetuate normal family relations within the discourse of the white, middle-class, heterosexual nuclear family” (p. 83).

These practices create barriers for children and families to engage in the learning process and could distance children from their cultural heritage (Gunn et al., 2004; Patel & Agbenyega, 2013). Collaborative partnerships with parents can facilitate inclusivity by improving educators’ awareness of cultural norms and values and their applicability to children’s learning and development. For example, Guo (2012) shows that Chinese immigrants view the family as the most important site of learning and education. In Indian communities, early learning is greatly focused on academic performance and discipline (Patel & Agbenyega, 2013).

Culture can also affect children’s emotional and social functioning, as different cultures have different norms with regards to expressing emotions (Drewery & Claiborne, 2010/2012). Using collaborative partnerships, educators can find out more about the family’s culture and adjust the learning process accordingly, thus promoting participation and inclusivity.

Part 2

The analysis of readings on the topic shows how collaborative partnerships function to support families, children, and educators. Based on this information, there are three core principles that will ensure collaboration between all parties and help to achieve positive outcomes explored in Part 1. The present section will outline these core principles and explain strategies that would help educators to apply these principles in their practice.

The first principle of building collaborative partnerships is to prioritize the needs of children with regard to development, learning, and welfare. This means that educators should acknowledge differences among children and ensure an individual approach to meeting each child’s needs instead of merely following the standard curriculum. Applying this principle in work can help to promote children’s participation in learning and enable educators to advocate for children (Boylan, & Dalrymple, 2009; Te One, 2011).

One strategy that can be used to support this principle is assessment and regular re-assessment of children’s needs. For example, upon meeting a new student, an educator should use a formative assessment tool to determine their level of development with regards to key skills, as well as subjective information obtained from family members. The educator could ask questions, such as “What are the activities that the child struggles with?”, “What activities do they find interesting?” and “Do they struggle with communication upon meeting new people?” Also, the educator should aim to connect with the child in order to determine their preferred learning style, strengths, and areas for improvement.

This assessment should be performed on a regular basis to track the child’s progress and identify any new needs. In this example, the educator evaluates the child’s needs prior to engaging them in the learning process. As a result of the evaluation, the educator can partner with the child’s family to set individual learning goals. These goals can be adjusted based on the results of future assessments, thus promoting positive academic outcomes and supporting the collaborative partnership.

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Another example of prioritizing children’s needs is ensuring that the curriculum and the learning process respond to the needs and goals of children. The strategy here is to use the results of formal or informal assessments to determine whether or not the standard curriculum used in class can help a particular student to reach their developmental and learning goals. If a child excels in a particular skill, the educator should improve the program by including more advanced tasks.

Similarly, if a child does not have the capacity to follow the curriculum for a specific skill, the educator should offer them simpler tasks. Tailoring the curriculum to the needs of children will ensure that each child will be able to learn at their own pace and in a comfortable learning environment. It will also motivate children to learn by creating activities that are feasible and interesting to them.

Prioritizing the needs of children also involves providing advice to parents with regards to home learning and solving behavioral problems. For example, if a child struggles with a particular activity or skill, the educator should notify parents about this and advise some at-home activities, books, or games that can help the child to overcome their difficulties.

If the educator sees that a child has a particular behavioral problem, such as aggression, they should speak to the child’s family about it and offer some strategies that they could use to address the issue at home, thus engaging in collaborative problem-solving (Amatea et al., 2006). This example of collaboration would assist in promoting academic and behavioral outcomes by applying appropriate learning methods.

The second principle of using collaborative partnerships is supporting families of young children with knowledge, information, and resources. Educators should understand the importance of their position and use it to help families build resilience by developing the necessary support networks. The strategies discussed by Duncan (2006) and Amatea et al. (2006) can be used to exemplify how this principle can be applied in practice.

Firstly, educators should seek to build close positive relationships with families. This can be done by organizing activities or events that both children and their families could attend, as well as by conversing with families on a regular basis to discuss their child’s success, future learning opportunities, and various learning activities. This strategy provides families with a sense of connectedness, showing them that they can trust educators and rely on them for support and help. As a result, this helps to build family resilience by establishing a support network (Amatea et al., 2006).

Secondly, educators should seek to provide parents with information about specialists, community resources, and agencies that they can use in case they need any assistance beyond early learning. Duncan (2006) refers to this strategy as bridging and linking, mentioning that, in helping families to develop resilience, “the early childhood centers introduced families to specialists, health and welfare professionals, primary school teachers and others in the local community who the families could turn to for assistance with particular problems and when in need of specific resources” (p. 19).

It would be useful for an educator to keep a list of resources or agencies in various areas, such as health, welfare, primary schooling, and homeschooling, to offer these to parents when needed. Connecting parents with organizations, agencies, and professionals can help to improve family resilience by strengthening its support network that can be used in case of an adverse situation.

Thirdly, educators should understand the family’s strengths and help families to capitalize on them while resolving various problems. This approach is called a strengths-based perspective and involves assessing the family’s resilience and encouraging families to use these for support (Amatea et al., 2006; Sanders & Munford, 2010). To use this approach in practice, educators can assess families for strengths and areas of improvement and use the findings to help families resolve different issues.

Examples of strengths that parents can rely on to solve problems are a developed social network, strong family leadership, emotional connectedness, and positive attitudes (Amatea et al., 2006). Supporting families in utilizing these strengths can also help in facilitating family resilience by enhancing problem-solving.

The third principle of developing collaborative partnerships is creating an inclusive space for children and families from all cultural backgrounds. Despite the high level of cultural diversity in the world, education often remains a system that is tailored to the needs of middle-class, white, nuclear families, which might make parents and children from minority cultures feel alienated (Robinson & Jones-Diaz, 2006; Gunn et al., 2004). In addition, Patel and Agbenyega (2013) found that Indian immigrant parents of children often feel that the lack of inclusivity in education causes children to become distanced from their culture.

Promoting cultural inclusivity in learning can help to overcome these problems, thus improving collaboration with families from minority cultures. Moreover, culturally sensitive education can also be beneficial for children, as it would create a comfortable environment for learning. According to Guo (2012), culture affects parenting styles, and thus children would feel more comfortable if the learning process does not conflict with their home education.

One example of applying this principle in practice is gaining awareness of the cultural influences affecting children’s learning and development. Bradley and Kibera (2006) offer a set of questions that educators can ask families to examine how the four main dimensions of culture are represented in the family. The first dimension is values and beliefs, and it can be explored by asking questions about the roles of adults and children, strategies for coping with behavioral difficulties, and family priorities (Bradley & Kibera, 2006).

The second dimension involves historical and social influences that shape the family. Educators should ask questions such as “What strengths and stressors does the family identify?” and “What barriers do they experience?” (Bradley & Kibera, 2006, p. 36). Thirdly, it is essential to know about communication in the family and how it is affected by its cultural background. With regards to this dimension, educators should ask what languages are spoken at home and how emotions, needs, and wants are expressed (Bradley & Kibera, 2006).

Lastly, it is beneficial to understand the family’s attitudes toward seeking help and support. Bradley and Kibera (2006) suggest asking questions about whether or not family members are open to the idea of seeking professional help when needed and if they have any established sources of support. Assessing the influence of culture on these key dimensions will equip educators with the information necessary to promote culturally sensitive learning and facilitate family resilience by offering advice and referring to various resources.

Designing and introducing culturally relevant activities for children is another example of creating an inclusive learning environment. Aronson and Laughter (2016) show that culturally relevant teaching was connected to increased student motivation and engagement in the learning process. Indeed, when introduced to activities that are aimed at the majority culture, children might not be as interested in them as when they participate in activities that are familiar to them.

Therefore, educators should have a good understanding of different cultures and learn to apply it to ensure culturally relevant education. For example, in role-play activities for a culturally diverse group of students, educators should allow children to choose a character from their culture instead of playing popular characters from books or animated films. This can help to make students more interested in the activity while also preserving their connection to their cultural background.

Furthermore, educators can foster a culturally inclusive environment by creating events and activities where both children and their families could participate. On the one hand, this would help to promote collaborative partnerships with families and strengthen their bond with educators. On the other hand, this would enable children to learn more about their own background and different cultures. For instance, educators can organize events where kids would re-tell their favorite children’s stories or create a play where children could play famous characters from their culture. Families should also take part in these events, as they are the primary source of cultural knowledge for children.

Another useful example of promoting cultural inclusivity in early learning is networking with community organizations that serve specific cultural, ethnic, or religious groups. As noted by Bradley and Kibera (2006), “building networks between early childhood programs and community groups with expertise that is culture-specific is essential in increasing the ability of professionals to work effectively with diverse children with disabilities or challenging behaviors and their families” (p. 39).

Such organizations can provide resources for families from minority cultures, thus increasing their support network and improving family resilience. This is particularly true for families that have recently relocated to the area, as they often lack awareness about culturally-specific groups and organizations that operate in the community. In addition, networking with cultural, ethnic, or religious organizations can help educators to develop culturally relevant pedagogy, as they can offer information about values, parenting, and critical cultural influences. For example, educators working with children from Muslim families could connect with local mosques or other spaces that serve Muslim people from the local community.

The final principle of creating effective collaborating practices is advocating for family involvement, cultural inclusivity, and children’s needs, among other early childhood professionals and in educational organizations. This principle is essential because research shows that not all educators and learning centers apply these values to teaching (Duncan, 2006; Clarkin-Phillips, 2012; Patel & Agbenyega, 2013).

By supporting the integration of collaborative practices into the local educational system, educators can allow more children, families, and colleagues to benefit from them. For example, when communicating with other professionals, educators can suggest informative articles and resources on the topics of family resilience, the use of community resources in education, and cultural inclusivity. They can also reflect on their experience, describing the benefits of applying specific recommendations in their practice.

This would motivate other educators to learn more about these ideas, thus supporting collaborative practices in different learning environments. Another example of applying these principles is providing recommendations to organizations. For instance, if an educator sees the need to improve cultural inclusivity in their organization, they can approach the management and present their ideas on how to achieve improvement. This strategy can help to enhance the learning environment throughout the organization, thus contributing to learning outcomes and supporting more families.

All in all, creating collaborative partnerships between families, educators, and young children has numerous benefits. They can enhance family resilience and improve children’s academic outcomes by facilitating cultural inclusivity, shared decision-making, informed goal-setting, and the continuity of learning. However, in order to build successful collaborative practices, it is essential for educators to adhere to four core principles.

Firstly, educators should prioritize the needs of children in order to ensure positive learning outcomes. Secondly, it is vital for educators to support the families of young children, as this promotes family resilience. Thirdly, educators should ensure that learning environments are culturally inclusive so that parents and children from different cultural backgrounds could participate in learning. Lastly, advocating for family involvement, cultural inclusivity, and children’s needs can help educators to achieve meaningful change in the education systems, thus allowing more families and children to benefit from collaborating partnerships.

References

Aronson, B., & Laughter, J. (2016). The theory and practice of culturally relevant education: A synthesis of research across content areas. Review of Educational Research, 86(1), 163-206.

Amatea, E. S., Smith-Adcock, S., & Villares, E. (2006). From family deficit to family strength: Viewing families’ contributions to children’s learning from a family resilience perspective. Professional School Counselling, 9(3), 177-189.

Boylan, J., & Dalrymple, J. (2009). Understanding advocacy for children and young people. New York, NY: Open University Press.

Bradley, J., & Kibera, P. (2006). Closing the gap: Culture and the promotion of inclusion in child care. Young Children, 61(1), 34-40.

Clarkin-Phillips, J. (2012). Connecting curriculum and policy to assist families’ aspirations. Waikato Journal of Education, 17(1), 17-27.

Demographic overview of families in New Zealand. (2015). Web.

Drewery, W., & Claiborne, L. B. (2010/2012). Human development: Family, place, culture. Sydney, Australia: McGraw-Hill Education.

Duncan, J. (2006). Collaboration between New Zealand early childhood centres and community resources. Childrenz Issues, 10(2), 14-19.

Gunn, A. C., Child, C., Madden, B., Purdue, K., Surtees, N., Thurlow, B., & Todd, P. (2004). Building inclusive communities in early childhood education: Diverse perspectives from Aotearoa/New Zealand. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 5(3), 293-308.

Guo, K. (2012). Chinese immigrants in New Zealand early childhood settings: Perspectives and experiences. Early Childhood Folio, 16(1), 5-9.

May, P. (2013). The thinking child: Laying the foundations of understanding and competence (5th ed.). Wellington, New Zealand: Bridget William Books.

Patel, S., & Agbenyega, J. (2013). How we view Australian early childhood education practice: Indian migrant parents’ perspectives. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 38(1), 49-54.

Pryor, J. (2010). New Zealand families: Diversity and change. In J. Low & P. Jose (Eds.), Lifespan development: New Zealand perspectives (pp. 187-195). Auckland, New Zealand: Pearson.

Robinson, K. H., & Jones-Diaz, C. (2006). Diversity and difference in early childhood education: Issues for theory and practice. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press.

Sanders, J., & Munford, R. (2010). Working with families: Strengths-based approaches. Wellington, New Zealand: Dunmore Publishing.

Te One, S. (2011). Defining rights: Children’s rights in theory and in practice. He Kupu, 2(4), 41-57.

Walsh, F. (2008). Using theory to support a family resilience framework in practice. Social Work Now, 5-14.

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