The days when formal education was regarded as the process of knowledge transfer from older to younger generations characterized by teachers’ instruction and learners’ passiveness have passed. Moreover, the number of actors involved in this process has been extended considerably. The relationships between the teacher and the student gave way to the partnership between teachers, families, and children, but present-day educators try to develop collaborative partnerships with children and their families (Duncan, 2006).
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When working with young children, this approach can be beneficial in many ways. All the stakeholders should be involved in the academic life of young learners who should feel the support of their families and their teachers (including classmates and school administrators). This paper includes the analysis of the significance and impact of such kinds of collaborative partnerships, as well as three principles ensuring the development of collaborative partnerships.
Defining Collaborative Partnerships
In order to define collaborative partnerships, it can be useful to consider certain changes in the way education is now perceived in society. Boylan and Dalrymple (2009) note that the consumerist approach to education was common in the second half of the twentieth century. In simple terms, students were regarded as consumers of educational services, so their voices received a certain weight. For example, learners obtained an opportunity to complain in case the provided services were of low quality, which translated into the enactment of the corresponding legislation (Boylan & Dalrymple, 2009).
However, consumerist frameworks were inconsistent with the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century, so the democratic approach came into use. Students do not simply have a chance to express their views and tell about their needs. These stakeholders, as well as their families, have become active participants in the educational process. The use of this approach made collaborative partnerships possible and beneficial for the involved stakeholders.
Collaborative partnerships imply the mutual effort of educators, families, and students to ensure young children’s participation in the educational process. Educators and families are the most active actors, while students (due to their age) have limited power to shape the academic process. Teachers address families to facilitate young children’s learning and socialization. On their part, families seek educators’ help when they have concerns or commentaries regarding their children’s progress, motivation, and difficulties. However, these instances are only a part of the collaborative partnerships developed.
Significance and Impact of Collaborative Partnerships
Collaborative partnerships are core contributors to the success of the educational process and the development of the educational systems or the entire society. The significance of this kind of partnership is difficult to overestimate due to its manifold effects. All the stakeholders influence each other and are affected by one another. For example, teachers are still regarded as the primary facilitators of young children’s learning in the academic setting (May 2013).
Teachers utilize a set of evidence-based strategies and methods that assist young learners in acquiring new skills and knowledge. However, these practitioners also learn from their students every day. They try new approaches and choose the most effective tools that can be used in a variety of settings. This interconnectedness is facilitated through the development of collaborative partnerships. Educators listen to their students, trying to identify their needs, peculiarities, learning styles, desires, and preferences, as well as cultural background or familial aspects.
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As far as the family is concerned, this unit is regarded as the core universe influencing or rather shaping the development of the child (Robinson & Jones-Diaz, 2005). Children are raised within the scope of certain cultural peculiarities, values, and beliefs. Trustful relationships between close relatives are some of the characteristic features of families. Children tend to copy their parents’ behavioral patterns, and they accept their family members’ authority.
Rigg and Pryor (2007) explored the ways children and adolescents defined the concept of the family. It turned out that support, care, and trust were the primary elements of families. Rigg and Pryor (2007) stressed that the difference between the perceptions of children and teenagers was associated with developmental aspects rather than views and attitudes.
The influence of families is specifically pronounced in minority communities as people addressing a certain kind of issue try to remain in their immediate circle. The difference between group members and outsiders is often well-established, especially when it comes to such ethnically diverse societies as the United States, Australia, or New Zealand (Clarkin-Phillips, 2012).
For example, Patel and Agbenyega (2013) note that Indian immigrant parents have mixed feelings regarding Australian education and curriculum as they believe that the educational system creates a gap between children and their culture. Some cultural groups place more value on bilingualism and biculturalism and see educational facilities (schools, early childhood centers) as the primary platform for achieving this goal. Guo (2012) considered the opinion of Chinese parents on the matter and found these people’s dissatisfaction with the level of knowledge gained at early childhood centers.
Educators are aware of the significance of the family for their students, so they try to create trusting relationships with families who are encouraged to take an active part in their children’s academic life. It has been acknowledged that families can positively affect children’s academic performance and contribute to their achievements (Amatea, Smith-Adcock, & Villares, 2006). The involvement of families in their children’s studies is often critical to their success and motivation to learn (May 2013). As mentioned above, teachers can also elicit the necessary information concerning their students’ concerns or backgrounds. This information is necessary to choose the most effective teaching strategy that will facilitate the student’s learning.
In order to encourage families to be involved in their children’s academic life and have access to the necessary information, teachers work on the development of collaborative partnerships with families. One of the ways to develop proper relationships is teachers’ assistance and guidance that helps families cope with the challenges they have to face. Duncan (2006) emphasizes that the provision of access to resources for families is one of the educators’ priorities when developing collaborative partnerships. Parents are often unaware of the available resources that can help them create a favorable atmosphere for the child to learn, as well as improve their overall wellbeing. Teachers tend to have the necessary information, which makes their assistance critical.
Building families’ resilience is one of the elements of collaborative partnerships. Walsh (2008) defines resilience as “the ability to withstand and rebound from disruptive life challenges, strengthened and more resourceful” (p. 5). It is linked to dynamic processes that facilitate the effective adaptation of the family to the environment irrespective of possible adversities. Walsh (2008) states that families lacking resilience become damaged systems that have negative effects on each member of the family, their coping abilities, and adaptation. Teachers can help families to build their resilience and adapt to the environment effectively.
Communication plays the central role in this process as educators provide valuable information concerning available resources instrumental in effective adaptation. Teachers also employ various frameworks that involve contextualizing distress, providing compassion, facilitating family internal communication and collaboration, identifying vulnerabilities, and seeking strengths (Walsh, 2008). Families that have the capability to adapt are more active and ready to collaborate, which is essential for the academic success of their children.
All these links between the teacher, the learner, and the family indicate the importance of collaborative partnerships for the stakeholders. This type of partnership ensures the positive attitude of the stakeholders, their trust in each other, and their readiness to work together and address the issues or difficulties that may arise. Children study in a favorable environment characterized by trust and care, as well as feelings of empowerment and commitment to the established goals. Importantly, the stakeholders acknowledge their rights and responsibilities related to student’s academic life and the development of families’ resilience, and teacher s’ professional development.
Principles Facilitating the Development of Collaborative Partnerships
Every educator should have a set of principles that can guide them when developing collaborative partnerships with young learners and their families. One of the primary principles that can assist in fostering collaborative partnerships is respect. Teachers should acknowledge and respect other people’s peculiarities related to their cultural, socioeconomic, educational, and other backgrounds.
May (2013) argues that educators should understand that their students are not isolated individuals but remain a part of larger networks of their family members. These webs have to be understood and respected, which is essential for the development of effective partnerships. All the aspects have to be considered, but culture-related dimensions are specifically influential in the context of the educational system of New Zealand.
Bradley and Kibera (2006) emphasize that cultural differences such as linguistic are often on the surface, but some aspects are implicit and can hardly be noticed. Cultural awareness is instrumental in acknowledging the major differences, which is essential for respect. The modern educational system involves the use of the inclusive approach where differences are regarded as opportunities rather than challenges. A respectful attitude towards these peculiarities is the basis for the development of inclusive education.
Example 1 of the Use of the Principle
Linguistic peculiarities can serve as an illustration of the way the principle of respect can be applied in the teaching practice. Being a newcomer to New Zealand society, I witnessed many instances when linguistic differences led to miscomprehension. Although the majority of people speak English, they use different dialects, which often results in some funny or unpleasant situations. Early childhood education is often associated with the use of some linguistic cues that enable teachers to communicate with young learners coming from another cultural and linguistic background. Respecting other people’s need to express themselves and to be able to use their language and share it is pivotal.
Rokx (2016) states that minority people’s linguistic peculiarities should be acknowledged, respected, and incorporated into mainstream early childhood education. McKenzie (2006) told her own story of the participation in projects that involved many people’s efforts to develop a society where Maori people could proudly use their language and share its beauty with the rest of the population of the country.
When it comes to linguistic peculiarities, respect can be manifested in the educator’s use of some patterns, words, and verbal cues when working with young learners coming from a different cultural background. Respect is revealed in teachers’ knowledge of some words as well as their willingness to learn from young students who are often eager to bring something new to the class, characterized by strong collaborative partnerships.
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A similar attitude should be adopted when interacting with families. One of the ways to show respect to their languages is possible to greet them in their language. It can be interesting to ask parents to bring some rhymes, children’s songs, and just lists of words in their languages. Arranging some spaces for different languages can become a good opportunity for the development of respectful relationships that are the basis of collaborative partnerships.
Example 2 of the Use of the Principle
Different beliefs should also be respected as people are more willing to share if they feel a positive attitude towards things they value. Gunn et al. (2004) argue that multiculturalism and biculturalism are now regarded as characteristic features of the modern educational system in New Zealand, but many gaps are still there. Teachers often lack knowledge concerning the cultural peculiarities of different populations. Even Maori people may face certain instances of disrespectful attitude or other types of constraints (Gunn et al., 2004). Although New Zealand society is open and a lot of effort is made to ensure the development of the inclusive educational system, teachers still tend to focus on the mainstream (western) beliefs and values.
The case with linguistic peculiarities is closely linked to the cultural domain, so similar strategies can be used to make early childhood education more inclusive. Leaning from students and encouraging them to share their beliefs will create an atmosphere of collaborative partnerships in the classroom that can extend the physical boundaries helping in interactions with parents. Parents can provide lists of the most valuable beliefs or aspects of their cultures.
This information can be incorporated into the classroom in different ways. For instance, educators can arrange days of different cultures, as well as particular areas, where different beliefs can be intermingled. However, it can be insufficient to confine the collaboration associated with beliefs and values to sharing exact details related to different cultures. Educators may consult families on the bulk of resources available for them as representatives of certain populations, which will contribute to the development of collaborative relationships (Duncan, 2006). Respect is closely linked to care, so teachers should show opportunities. For example, they can share information on the existing communities or government-based programs providing aid.
Another principle that can guide the teaching practice in early childhood education is the principle of empowerment. Educators should empower students and families to become active players in shaping the educational system and achieving children’s academic goals. This principle is closely connected with advocacy for children’s rights, families’ resilience, and overall improvement of the academic opportunities for many populations.
Boylan and Dalrymple (2009) state that Hart’s ladder of participation can equip educators with the necessary framework for their advocacy. This model can also be utilized to empower young children and their families.
Hart’s ladder involves the focus on knowledge, communication, opinions, and decision-making. The views and needs of children and, of course, their families are brought to the fore. It is noteworthy that empowerment in collaborative partnerships within the context of early childhood is often associated with the focus on families rather than children (O’Brien & Salonen, 2011). Nevertheless, children’s voices should also be heard as they can have a positive effect on young learners’ academic outcomes as well as the entire educational system.
Example 1 of the Use of the Principle
Teachers may resort to various instruments aimed at empowering young learners. The first level of empowerment is the provision of certain autonomy to solve problems and find the most appropriate solutions to conflicts (Te One, 2011). Giving young children an opportunity to manage some situations with no adult intrusion is beneficial for their resilience and empowerment (Te One, 2011).
Furthermore, children’s empowerment can be achieved through their involvement in decision-making and the provision of certain responsibilities that can consist of asking them to take care of some toys or even plants. Teachers will guide and mentor (or sometimes supervise), but decisions will be made by children who will be able to acknowledge the outcomes of their behaviors and choices.
Celebrating young learners’ accomplishments, especially when it comes to some decisions, is also essential. Children should take pride in their autonomy and resilience; otherwise, these capabilities can go unnoticed and be less appreciated. In addition, educators should motivate and encourage their students to participate in the decision-making process within their families. The development of collaborative partnerships will be facilitated in that case as all the involved stakeholders will be active players rather than passive recipients of information and guidelines.
Example 2 of the Use of the Principle
As mentioned above, families are the primary contexts where young children adopt their values, beliefs, norms, and behavioral patterns. Teachers should empower families to build their resilience to any internal or external adversity, which is specifically true for underprivileged groups. Internal factors that may impair families’ resilience include health issues or relationships between family members.
External factors that can have a negative impact include work-related issues, unemployment, problems related to social status, and the like. Clearly, the lack of families’ resilience tends to result in an inappropriate atmosphere at home that negatively affects young children’s development. Sanders and Munford (2010) argue that many families are reluctant to seek help and try to cope with their issues on their own or just ignore problems.
Educators can and should empower families and encourage them to address the problems they encounter. The government of New Zealand has enacted various policies aimed at addressing the needs of people in need. Non-profit organizations also launch numerous projects that assist people, families, and communities in handling a wide range of problems. Teachers should be aware of the most effective and accessible state and local programs available for different groups (Duncan, 2006). The provision of information concerning these opportunities is one of the ways to build resilience in families. Making families believe that they can and should address authorities or different organizations is another way to empower them.
The principles mentioned above are closely connected with the third one. Inspiring is another important activity any educator has to undertake in order to establish collaborative partnerships with young learners and families. Pryor (2010) notes that New Zealand families have changed during the past three decades and became more diverse in many respects. People marry later, they have fewer children, responsibilities, and gender roles are undergoing considerable changes as well.
Families are different in terms of their cultural backgrounds and socioeconomic status. All these peculiarities are often seen as challenges to the creation of an inclusive educational system with effective collaboration between stakeholders. Nevertheless, this diversity offers numerous benefits and can help in creating collaborative partnerships if certain measures are undertaken.
The appropriate environment or rather an atmosphere can facilitate the creation of such partnerships. Teachers should work hard on the establishment of this atmosphere. In order to motivate children and families to be active participants in the academic process, teachers should inspire these stakeholders. The acknowledgment of differences and empowerment are only steps that should be followed by inspiring. May (2013) claims that families are primary contexts for young learners’ development, and they tend to be aware of their role and willing to take part in collaborative partnerships. However, it is always important to make partners believe in what they do or intend to do.
Example 1 of the Use of the Principle
It may seem obvious, but some educators often pay little attention to this aspect. The dissemination of information about projects and success is instrumental in motivating and inspiring families and children to collaborate. Teachers should share information in different ways and through a variety of channels. Social networks can be a valuable platform for this type of activity. The official website of the school its account in a social network, forums, and online communities can be effective tools to share information. Educators should show the success they and their colleagues, as well as children, parents, and relatives, achieve by collaborating (May 2013).
These success stories can inspire families and children to stand for their rights, voice their needs, and call for changes. Receiving feedback from families can help teachers in choosing the most effective methods to inspire and motivate. The provision of presentations and giving speeches during formal and informal gatherings are another way to tell people about opportunities and accomplishments. Sharing information with other teachers and other educational facilities can help in addressing this goal.
Example 2 of the Use of the Principle
The development of collaborative partnerships can be facilitated by the establishment of informal ties. May (2013) states that informal occasions serve as an appropriate background for the creation of the proper atmosphere where families, children, and teachers are eager to collaborate. May (2013) adds that teachers should be creative due to the diversity of families who face various constraints, have different resources, and cherish different values.
Some families can be willing to take part in fairs while others will be more motivated to participate in parental days’ activities. Choosing the most appropriate time for as many stakeholders as possible can be the most challenging task as people have different schedules and plans. Teachers should remember that the involvement of all the stakeholders in some activities is desirable but unnecessary and hardly possible. It is sufficient to launch numerous projects and arrange events that could engage different families. The most important rule to remember is the need to involve all families in the academic life of their children, but this involvement can take place at different times and occasions.
During these semi-formal venues, families, children, and teachers share information and build links necessary for effective collaboration. Inspiring different populations and groups can be a difficult endeavor, but teachers can try to be inspirational leaders. Support, empathy, and telling success stories can do the job and motivate families to be more collaborative. Children and their families should feel that teachers their school administrators are committed to helping young learners to achieve various goals.
In conclusion, collaborative partnerships have become an integral part of the modern educational system. It is acknowledged that young children develop within multiple contexts where their families are the primary source of learning. The collaboration with children and families lies in sharing information, receiving feedback, assisting in accessing resources, providing support, and showing empathy.
Educators, families, and children benefit from the effective collaboration that can be achieved by the application of such principles as inspire, empower, and respect. This set of principles can guide teachers’ efforts aimed at building partnerships, but every educator has to choose the way these principles can be manifested or the circumstances under which they can be applied.
The diversity of the New Zealand society makes it critical for teachers to continue their learning concerning cultural (as well as other) peculiarities of different populations and methods to develop effective communication and collaboration. Of course, it is essential to remember that young learners are the primary recipients of educational services, and these stakeholders’ needs should be met. Families’ needs and ideas should be considered and addressed, but they should be consistent with children’s needs and their academic outcomes.
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