Early childhood education plays a vital role as it is the first step to foster physical and cognitive competence in turn to influence a person's lifelong learning and achievement. To work as a successful early childhood educator, empathy and an understanding of the early childhood curriculum - Te Whariki is requested. Along with this regulation, an effective partnership between educators and whanau has appeared as an essential and valued aid to achieve the target successfully - to attain a quality achievement for children's learning and development. According to this, the importance of partnership in the context of early childhood service and its key components to implement will be discussed in this essay.
Definition of teacher-parents (whanau) partnership
The term 'partnership' is used to describe a reciprocal relationship between two parties who collaborate on a joint activity or project. With different valued beliefs which may occur in the process of collaboration, teachers and whana, in this partnership, complement each other in various teaching approaches to promote a valuable and quality early childhood education service for children.
Similarly, the notion of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, which states about partnership between people who from different cultural backgrounds, Maori and pakeha, to "mahi tahi - work together" (Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, 1992.) in any circumstances.
For this reason, in Aotearoa/ New Zealand, the early childhood curriculum - Te Whariki have employed the notion of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and suggested in its bicultural approaches for an equal and respectable attitude in teaching approaches.
Effective partnership and key components
Teachers' attitude in a partnership with whanau and the setting of pedagogy are influential to succeed the early childhood service (Lindon, 1997). As Stonehouse (1994) insisted, "unless staff in children's services give priority to relationships with parents, they do not help children" (p55). Along with the Guiding Principles of Quality in Action, it has also mentioned managers and teachers should work together "by acknowledging parents as first educators and by working collaboratively to develop shared goals and expectations" (Ministry of Education,1998, p. 14). Therefore, collaboration with parents/whanau in the context of early childhood centre is one of major assessment for all educators while promote the caring service. In short, a number of key components to achieve effective partnership are listed as references:
Empowerment & Involvement
According to 'Family and Community', a principle in Te Whariki, teachers should acknowledge that the participation of whanau in their teaching approaches is essential - "Families should be part of the assessment and evaluation of the curriculum" (Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 30). Likewise, in order to "empower parents/whanau to advocate their children and make decisions or to influence the practices" for their children's own goods (Keesing Styles, 2000), an appropriate pedagogy needs to be settled. For example, design a programme for parents/whanau to build a family portfolio with their children. These approaches are to encourage whanau to analyse centre's policies and pedagogy by participating their own children's learning and development process. A positive regard and trust between whanau and teachers will be formed whithin the process.
"Communication must be meaningful and effective as it is communication that forms the basis of partnership" (as cited in Grey & Horgan, 2003, para 18).
Inviting whanau to join regular meeting "to discuss their child's learning progress, interests, abilities and areas for development on a regular basis, sharing specific observation-based evidence" (Ministry of Education,1998, p. 55) can be a proper channel for an effective communication. Manager and educators should ensure the communication with parents/whanau are continued and in two-way. The purpose in this approach is for exchanging views and supporting the individual needs. It is also a strategy to foster parents' confidence in the context of early childhood service and increase the opportunity to improve teaching approaches by acquiring their significant advices. In addition, a positive attitude to accept and respect different thoughts or particular queries is essential.
"Parental understandings and expectations will alter children's expectations of themselves" (Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 30).
"Consultation is the process of gathering information to achieve shared understandings, goals, and expectations that will inform decision making" (Ministry of Education,1998, p 51). A statement of philosophy is an example to express centre's fundamental beliefs, vision, values and centre's teaching. This approach will gain the trust and support from parents/whanau.
"Partnership between parents and professionals is regarded as the "integration of different wisdoms" (as cited in Grey & Horgan, 2003, para 16). Contribution from partnership between parents and teachers is valuable in the context of early childhood education service as it may influence the result of children's learning and development. In the conclusion, the empowerment and involvement of parents/whanau and appropriate communicating and consulting channels from teachers can help to construct a genuine partnership to succeed the goal for a quality service of children's learning and development. However, an effective partnership may have difficulty to maintain, for instance, difficult personality or unacceptable belief, which may result from how an educator perceives him/herself in role of the teaching and how they encourage parents/whanau to step on this partnership.
Effective Partnership In Action
To construct an effective partnership with parents/whanau is more difficult than having a pleasant relationship with children. The reason what I observed is adults have complex thoughts which acquired from the experiences of social reality for protecting themselves from selfishness and harms. In a relationship of partnership, when differences of personality, belief or value come out, they mislead the decision and fail to reach the goal. Unfortunately, this situation happen easily and it always need a long time solve and maintain the relationship in stable because we are adults who might come from unexpected background as we need to know each other first then get into deeper relationship to collaborate with. To be a negotiable person and getting effective communication skill with an opened-mind will promote quality partnership relationship in this case. Moreover, a positive attitude of trust and respect is a key component to construct an effective partnership. As an early childhood teacher, there is a necessary to have a self-awareness, to accept individual differences, to be brave enough for challenges and the ability of problem solving since they all count as factors of achievement of partnership. In short, to learn to construct effective partnership with parents/whanau, we need more hand-on experience to comprehend the principle and discover the degree of understanding while applying our knowledge into practice. It is an expectation for my learning for become a professional in early childhood education service.
Personal case study
My brother has a son named Alvin. He is 16-month old. We live together and I help to look after little Alvin in my spare time while the parents are busy. Alvin has a strong attachment with me as I had proven from his actions. He usually becomes exciting when he seeing me around and then tend to run towards me for a big hug even his parents are playing with him. From my observing, his parents have their own approaches to raise their own child which some of them are against mine. They have pride and have no willing to share the experiences of Alvin's caring to others. In consequence, Alvin have had a cautious caring from them, for example, no outdoor walk without shoes, no water playing and has no much opportunity to learn to eat by himself as I think he is big enough to do those in his age. In fact, he is already a 16kg - 70cm fitness boy and he understands our words most of time. My pedagogy encouraged him to explore and encounter his surroundings safely through our interaction. This could be the reason he has strong attachment to me and mean to listen what I say when he has emotional upset rather than his father. In this situation, I feel embarrassed and struggling in my brother's jealousy and a tense relationship with my sister-in-law. They had complain my action is about to replace their role as child's own parents. It sounds a big problem in our relationship.
Interpersonal communication strategies
I think our relationship is form as a 'partnership' relationship as I am casual carer of Alvin and they are parents. Through our reading material for partnership principle and some advises from teachers who are working in my support centre. I had thought about my problem which leads the tension between me and Alvin's parents need to be solved by my attitude with communication strategy. My understanding from the principle of partnership and Te Whariki acknowledged that I had break the rule of 'empowerment' which insists the authorization of parents' right and to empower parents to make decision for their child's own goods (Keesing Styles, 2000). Therefore, I could not gain the respect and trust from my brother or my sister-in-law in this partnership, instead, a negative feedback came. Listed some good examples from Quality in Action. They are useful aid to solve my problem in this caution partnership and it works well in my practice.
Provide opportunities for parents/whanau to discuss their child's learning "process, interests, abilities and areas for development and sharing specific observation";
"Recognize the rights of all parents/whanau and their aspirations for their children";
"Listen, value and respect the perspectives of parents/whanau";
"Invite and empower parents/whanau to contribute through their involvement" in the interactive activity;
"Consult" and discuss "with parents/whanau about teaching approaches that concern their children";
Make parents/whanau feel comfortable "to express their concerns";
Less the attachment with children and encourage them to interact with parents and focus on their relationship;
In order to please our relationship from this situation I had explained. I applied the above approaches and communication skills learned from reading and advises from teachers of support centre into practice. As the result, trust and respect from Alvin's parents have dismissed my worries from our tense relationship. I move Alvin's attention back to his parents by encourage his trust to his parents when we are all in the same room. For example, 'please listen to what mum/dad said and mum can help him'; or 'yes, mum/dad is right, why don't you go with them and check what will happen? It must be good.' In those interaction, There are some suggestion that I gave as implications to avoid a misunderstanding for taking away parents' power from Alvin's caring. For example, I asked for parents' permission and their willing before I gave Alvin something else that they have not provided yet. It also comforted me that we could have opportunities to play hide-and-seek with parents' involvement and work together with the same purpose - make Alvin happy.
In conclusion, I am learning to provide a quality caring to my nephew through playing and learning from adults without confusing which side is right or wrong. The partnership between me and Alvin's parents is constructing positively in progress. I had recognized the importance of partnership in childcare service as we can support each other's time, ability and intelligence as complementation to achieve our common goal for children's needs. As from my experiences, my communication skill and attitude with parents, who are also relation of mine, shall get more improvement as I do have a willing to become a professional and work in the context of early childhood education service. I will never stop learn or stop my practices. It is also fortunate to have this experience at home that I could learn from it before I may meet the same situation at workplace.