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Professional Partnerships Within Educational Context Research Paper

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Professional Partnerships

Professional partnerships between schools and families are the types of relationships in which teachers and parents collaborate intending to gain the best learning outcomes for children. According to the Australian Government Department of Education and Training (n.d.), all children have the right for their family and cultural identity to be respected. Therefore, educators must create such an environment in which every young learner could feel secure and happy. To promote these feelings of security and comfort, teachers should engage in close collaboration with parents to find out about any specific needs of their students (Cottle & Alexander, 2014). As stated by Winton et al. (2010), establishing a partnership commonly incorporates getting to know the other individual, inaugurating trust, and “reaching consensus on how best to work together” (as cited in Knight-McKenna & Hollingsworth, 2016, p. 384). A professional partnership differs from a personal one in that the code of ethics is involved here, and both sides of the association should respect each other’s goals. Hence, it is necessary to make an emphasis on professional collaboration rather than personal ties.

The Importance of Professional Partnerships for Education

The significance of professional partnerships for education is impossible to overestimate. Such collaboration is useful for all stakeholders of the educational process: teachers, children, and families. Most of all, professional partnerships benefit communities by creating an environment in which every person feels important and respected. Shared decision-making and objectives are the driving forces of the development of professional partnerships (Rouse, 2012). In Australia, the notion of professional partnerships is given appropriate attention at different levels. The Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) singles out several main principles of teachers’ practice: considerate mutual relationships, impartiality and high expectations, continuous learning and reflection, and recognition of diversity (Rouse, 2012). One more principle considered crucial by the EYLF is partnerships with families (Rouse, 2012). Researchers emphasise the need to promote children’s transition from home to school (Sims-Schouten, 2016). Specifically, they note the need to mitigate the difficulty of early emotional and behavioural accommodation of young learners (Gerber et al., 2016). At the same time, scholars note that despite acknowledging the role of partnerships, not all teachers can arrange and maintain them (Beining, 2011). Hence, it is rather crucial to eliminate any possible challenges.

One of the problems related to professional partnerships is that children’s transition from the preschool to school level typically involves a decrease in parental involvement. As Murray et al. (2015) remark, the best opportunity for successful collaboration can be provided if parents demonstrate an interest in their children’s learning activities at home. Hawkinson and Davis Tribble (2019) add that partnerships promote children’s achievements and lead to high-quality care. Knight-McKenna and Hollingsworth (2016) suggest a variety of principles with the help of which teachers can foster professional teacher-family relationships. Among them, there are the following: embracing a broad definition of families, utilising effective communication skills, valuing equality, respecting families’ decisions on the level of involvement, and being persistent but patient. Additionally, scholars emphasise the prevalent role and responsibility of a teacher in establishing partnerships (Knight-McKenna & Hollingsworth, 2016). Therefore, the significance of professional partnerships cannot be underestimated since it offers a variety of beneficial outcomes for children, teachers, families, and communities.

The Communication Plan

The Main Components and Theories

The suggested communication plan incorporates two major components, each of them based on theoretical approaches. The first element is the combination of the family-centred approach and the ecological systems theory. Meanwhile, the second one utilises Hornby’s (2011) models of engagement. Both of these approaches are expected to enhance teacher-parent communication and arrange the most beneficial conditions for children to obtain knowledge and expand on it.

The Family-Centred Approach and Ecological Systems Theory

The family-centred approach is one of the basic elements of effective partnerships. This practice is incorporated in the EYLF as the determinant of successful intervention practice between schools and families (Rouse, 2012). A family-centred framework allows teachers to arrange successful communication with parents to enhance the education and care of young learners. Under this method, a partnership is viewed as the process of teachers’ and parents’ mutual respect’s contribution to children’s development (Rouse, 2012). A specific partnership model singled out of the general teacher-parent collaboration approach is family-centred practice. The latter involves close collaboration between school and home at the earliest stages of children’s learning (Rouse, 2012). The approach originated in the 1970s in the USA and was first utilised as a medical model of providing services to children with special needs. Since then, the method gradually moved from the healthcare sector to a social one. As a result, the family-centred approach emerged, which presupposed a considerable impact of the family context on disabled children’s development (Rouse, 2012). Hence, the institutionalised approach to care was changed by home care.

In Australia, the use of the family-centred principle became popular in the 1990s. However, it soon moved from purely healthcare practice to a social system one (Rouse, 2012). Thus, the family-centred practise became an important model of partnership between home and school. The core value of the approach is that parents are able to make decisions regarding their children’s education. When Bronfenbrenner offered an ecological systems theory, which argued that children’s lives were involved in a variety of contexts, the understanding of the family-centred practice changed (Rouse, 2012). According to the ecological systems approach, the child, his or her family, and the environment are inseparable from one another. Therefore, if one of these elements undergoes an outer impact, other elements are bound to be impacted, as well. The proponents of this approach believe that each family owns some strengths that should be taken into consideration when building partnerships (Rouse, 2012). Most importantly, teachers should encourage families to be active participants in their children’s educational lives. Because children’s wellbeing depends on all other family members’ states, teachers cannot view children as separate elements of collaboration.

Educators should realise that sincere communication with parents will foster children’s progress. Such partnerships allow teachers to ensure young learners’ wellbeing (Hedges & Gibbs, 2005). Brofenbrenner’s ecological model is composed of five closely interrelated subsystems: “the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem, macrosystem, and chronosystem” (Paat, 2013). The ecological systems theory, therefore, is made of several subsystems, varying from smaller to larger ones. Each of these levels has a particular function that bears significance for children’s development (Paat, 2013). Due to the versatile characteristics of the approach, it enhances the identification of ecological challenges that children from various backgrounds can meet.

The most important microsystems for immigrant children are their families and peers. The mesosystem incorporates the cooperation between the family, peers, and school (Paat, 2013). The exosystem is represented by neighbourhoods, whereas the macrosystem is made up of immigrants’ values and culture (Paat, 2013). Finally, the chronosystem contains the life transitions as a critical point in children’s development. The value of the ecological system is the possibility of a teacher understanding the problems faced by children as related to their environment. Since family environments differ, it is necessary to build partnerships with all learners’ families in order to foster their growth.

Hornby’s Models of Engagement

The second viable approach to arranging effective partnerships is the application of Hornby’s models of engagement. Hornby (2011) has outlined the six most typical models of parental involvement: protective, transmission, expert, consumer, curriculum enrichment, and partnership. Out of these, the partnership model draws the most attention concerning the teacher-parent collaboration theme. Hornby (2011) considers the partnership model as the most suitable approach to arranging effective communication between school and home. Under the premises of the partnership approach, teachers are treated as experts on children’s education, and parents – as “experts on their children” (Hornby, 2011, p. 29). This type of partnership between teachers and parents presupposes the exchange of experience and supervision with the aim of gaining the optimal education for young learners.

Caregivers and educators can commit various strengths to their collaboration, thus promoting its efficiency. At the same time, it is necessary to differentiate between the good and the bad points of parental guidance since it can not only foster children’s development but also restrict it. For instance, due to a strong emotional connection between parents and children, the former tend to function as advocates for the latter. Unfortunately, such a connection can also serve as a negative factor contributing to the subjectivity of opinions (Hornby, 2011). At this point, educators can add an objective view that is not always available to parents. As a result, a partnership between teachers and parents brings about the best in children and prevents the emergence of negative situations.

Turnbull et al. (2011) have suggested seven principles of effective teacher-parent partnerships (as cited in Hornby, 2011, p. 30). These principles include trust, respect, competence, communication, commitment, equality, and advocacy. Trust is believed to be the most important principle of all. It entails such qualities as reliability, confidentiality, reasonable judgment, honesty, and openness (Hornby, 2011). Teachers guided by this principle will not conceal anything from parents but, at the same time, will not tell unpleasant things bluntly. Respect is another crucial component of a positive partnership since it is built upon the mutual respect of the two parties. Specifically, this principle presupposes teachers and parents to pay due attention to one another’s opinions and suggestions (Hornby, 2011). Also, everyone under this approach should respect cultural diversity and consider the views and beliefs of others.

Another significant aspect of successful cooperation is the principle of confidentiality. According to it, both partners should have trust in each other’s professionalism (Hornby, 2011). That is, teachers should give learners quality education and promote continuous knowledge. Meanwhile, parents should support their children’s development both at home and at school and make sure there is a variety of possibilities for the child to evolve. The principle of communication incorporates the ability of partners to be attentive to one another and share information effectively. For instance, parents can explain their children’s needs to educators, whereas the latter can share information about learners’ school achievements (Hornby, 2011). Good communication presupposes friendliness, attentiveness, and willingness to share information.

The principle of commitment entails a long-term responsibility for a variety of tasks and duties both on the part of parents and teachers. Committed professionals and parents should perceive children’s emotional needs and be able to support them (Hornby, 2011). Equality presupposes mutual planning, decision making, and problem-solving, which are aimed at meeting the needs of particular children or whole schools. Educators and caregivers can help each other in supporting this principle. For instance, teachers can explain how parents can help children cope with some tasks at home. On the contrary, parents can perform some duties at school voluntarily (Hornby, 2011). Finally, the principle of advocacy involves the prompt identification of complicated issues and their prevention. Both teachers and parents should be children’s advocates and do their best to foster young learners’ development.

The partnership model of teacher-parent engagement is not void of challenges. Specifically, there is a gap between “rhetoric and reality” of parental involvement due to various contexts (Hornby & Lafaele, 2011). Parents’ understanding of a partnership may differ due to their cultural backgrounds, children’s learning peculiarities, and behavioural or economic issues. However, parental involvement has been proved to have a positive effect on children’s educational, emotional, and social outcomes (Murray et al., 2015). Hence, it is necessary to implement Hornby’s (2011) partnership approach to minimise the barriers and increase the effectiveness of collaboration.

The Rationale for Choosing the Theories

The reason for selecting the discussed approaches is that both of them are highly effective in gaining a positive partnership between teachers and parents. The combination of the family-centred approach and ecological systems theory will promote educators’ understanding of families’ needs and diverse backgrounds. Meanwhile, Hornby’s (2011) partnership model of engagement offers a detailed explanation of how collaboration between school and home should be arranged. The use of these theories will foster positive relationships between educators and parents, which will inevitably have a beneficial effect on children.

The Implementation of the Plan

The communicative plan will involve four approaches, the use of which will promote its successful implementation. First of all, regular excursions or activities involving children, teachers, and parents will be arranged. Families may have different opportunities, on which children’s wellbeing depends greatly (Clarke & Denton, 2013). Meetings in relaxed and informal environments will enable the teacher to communicate with parents, see the differences in their family relationships, and arrange trusting communication. Research indicates that frequently, teachers have difficulty communicating with children whose cultures are different from their own (Einarsdottir & Jónsdóttir, 2019). Thus, an indigenous walking tour, a festival, or some other kind of entertainment will be a useful option for getting to know the culture of children belonging to one’s class. As a result, it will be easier to maintain the principles of equality, respect, and communication.

The next component of the plan’s implementation is the arrangement of parent-teacher meetings. Partnerships with families are known to have a positive effect on children’s educational achievements (Rouse, 2012). Furthermore, family-focused early childhood interventions are reported to promote young learners’ skills (Dunst & Trivette, 2009). Informally communicating with parents enables teachers to build relationships that will bring benefits to children (Hornby, 2011). Hence, parent-teacher meetings present an essential component of successful communication. Such meetings may be held twice a year: at the beginning of the first and second terms. The first meeting will allow getting to know learners’ families and understanding the strengths and barriers to cooperation. The second meeting will help in noticing changes in children’s achievements and tracing the positive and negative factors influencing these alterations. Additionally, meetings will enhance the understanding of children’s special needs, which particularly involves children with disabilities.

The third approach to plan implementation is utilising social media platforms as channels of communication. Written communication enables teachers to update parents on their children’s achievements or inform them about some problems. Many modern parents prefer to use electronic communication since it saves time and does not require getting distracted from their work, allowing them to reply whenever they feel comfortable (Murray et al., 2015). Facebook is an excellent two-way communication opportunity, which enables teachers not only to send messages but also attach photos and other media related to school activities. A teacher can create a classroom page, access to which will be granted only to parents. Thus, parents will be able to ask questions, learn about the children’s activities, and leave comments. This approach is the least time-consuming and the most convenient one.

Lastly, the implementation plan will involve the option of reforming the school to be a community-based institution. This approach means that families can become active participants in children’s learning and development. Many learners have special needs that can be promptly met if parents become members of the decision-making process (Grace et al., 2014). Additionally, children coming from indigenous and remote communities frequently do not have equal access to resources compared to those coming from urban areas (Clarke & Denton, 2013). Therefore, giving parents leadership roles will help teachers to understand children’s barriers and needs better, which will promote meeting them effectively and promptly. In their turn, parents will obtain a more efficient perception of school policies. As a result, it will be easier to create the most suitable learning plan for young students’ development.

Possible Challenges and Strategies of Addressing Them

While each of the approaches suggested for the plan’s implementation seems to be highly beneficial, they all may present difficulties for teachers or parents. Challenges with the planned activities may vary in intensity, but each of them can slow down the process, which is not desirable. Teachers should bear in mind that the “one size fits all” method does not exist in educational settings (Murray et al., 2015, p. 1033). Therefore, it is crucial to discuss the possible challenges and come up with ways of addressing them mutually.

Challenges with Regular Excursions or Activities

Complications that may emerge concerning this part of the plan are largely related to time and financial opportunities. Most commonly, children’s parents are individuals with full-time employment who simply cannot afford to go on an excursion that will take away their whole working day. For many families, taking a day off work may not be a problem, but losing a day’s wages is a rather serious one. Additional costs may appear due to the need to hire a bus and purchase tickets to attend exhibits and museums (Martin & Buckley, 2018). Hence, there may be parents who will never be able to attend such an activity, which will make them feel left out and will deprive them of equal opportunities to discuss their children’s development with the teacher.

A backup plan for such situations may involve arranging excursions to places that are not far away from children’s homes so that they would not take up too much time. Such excursions might be taken on a day off or after work. If entrance tickets are too expensive for some families, the teacher could arrange an excursion to some plant or park nearby so that learners could see how trees and bushes grow or how some products are made. Family engagement is highly important for children’s positive development (Grace et al., 2014). Therefore, a teacher should arrange activities engaging both children and parents in the least harmful but most beneficial way.

Barriers to Parent-Teacher Meetings

Challenges in this dimension are more numerous, and they are associated with social difficulties that parents and teachers may experience. Firstly, meetings may be time-consuming both for educators and caregivers. Early years’ plan presupposes much attention and effort both on the part of educators and parents. Teachers may feel burned out, and parents may not always find extra time for attending meetings, them already having to find a possibility to pick the child after school every day. The next possible problem is that teachers may not have a full understanding of how to arrange a family-centred approach (Rouse, 2012). Furthermore, for teachers who spend much time preparing and conducting lessons and various activities, it may be too tiring to arrange meetings with parents.

Next, some parents’ level of English may not be sufficient to communicate with teachers. Another issue is that parents may be interested in a meeting but have no opportunity to attend it due to looking after small children or elderly relatives (Hornby, 2011). Finally, most parents are not “help seekers” but rather consumers of child services (Rouse, 2012, p. 22). Thus, such parents may not find it necessary to attend meetings with school teachers.

A backup plan for the barriers described may involve several stages. First of all, a teacher should not make meetings compulsory but offer such a possibility to parents. Secondly, if a conversation is necessary, but parents have no time, it is possible to reduce a meeting to a phone conversation. Finally, to overcome the language barrier, the teacher might inquire about an interpreter or a volunteer in the neighbourhood who could mitigate the language barrier (Murray et al., 2015). By using these approaches, a teacher will be able to save time and still share vital information with parents.

Problems with Communication on Facebook

Difficulties with this component of the plan are largely related to the limited knowledge of technology use. Some children are raised by grandparents who have quite a limited notion of how to use the Internet and social media. Since children are young, they may not know how to help their caregivers, either. Another problem is that some parents cannot read English, which will eliminate their access to information. As a result, a teacher will not gain unanimous activity on the Facebook page, and the feedback will not be complete.

To address this problem, the educator should create a self-report assessment for parents and grandparents. Such an evaluation method will enable the teacher to find out about the family needs, strengths, and limitations in technology use (Dunst & Trivette, 2009). By obtaining the results of a questionnaire, the teacher will detect whether some of the caregivers need an additional explanation on how to use Facebook. Another part of the backup plan will be instructing those parents who cannot read English to use the Google translate option. Finally, if even after clarifications, some caregivers still are not able to utilise Facebook, they can leave their feedback in the communication box in the classroom or express their ideas during a face-to-face meeting with the teacher.

Difficulties in Reforming the School

Challenges in creating a community-based school advocacy environment involve issues with parents’ lack of time and confidence. Many parents may be willing to participate in the process of transforming the school environment, but full-time employment and the need to take care of their families needs can prevent them from such an opportunity. Another difficulty is that some of those caregivers who have time and possibility do not possess enough self-assurance and, thus, are afraid to volunteer for any activities.

To address these issues, the teacher should get to know the parents and assess their characters. This task may be time-consuming, but it will be rewarded by parents’ active participation in their children’s school life later. A backup plan is to start with some simple chores, such as creating an announcement or helping to make costumes for a school play. Also, it will be useful to note connections between parents and involve them in pair or group activities so that they should not feel embarrassed to do something alone.

Conclusion

With the help of the suggested plan, the teacher hopes to achieve the most productive and mutual collaboration with parents whose children attend the school. It has been historically proved that home and school cannot be viewed separately when children’s upbringing and education are at stake. Both teachers and parents share the responsibilities and opportunities to inculcate knowledge and ethical behaviour to young learners. Therefore, it is impossible to view these two entities separately and not try to bring them together. With the help of the suggested measures, it is expected that family involvement in school life will increase. By gaining this, school and home will be able to work mutually on the promotion of children’s skills, experiences, and knowledge.

In order to know whether the suggested plan has been beneficial for the promotion of partnerships with children’s families and communities, it is necessary to perform some assessment measures. Since making teachers’ collaboration with parents stronger is the core aim of this plan, the most viable approach to evaluating it is asking the second stakeholder of a partnership, that is, parents. A teacher might conduct a survey asking parents to share their feedback on various forms of building partnerships. A combination of open-ended and closed-ended questions will be utilised to gain a complete picture. For instance, parents may be inquired about their favourite method of school-home relationships. Also, they may be asked to describe what they particularly liked and disliked about a certain approach. Furthermore, the survey will contain questions about the strengths and weaknesses of various methods in enhancing the principles of respect, equality, advocacy, and trust. At the end of the survey, parents will be given space for expressing their suggestions and recommendations. This questionnaire will be the best tool for finding out the level of the plan’s effectiveness and parents’ readiness to continue the collaboration.

Another way of evaluating the plan’s results is monitoring children’s achievements before and after the intervention. Namely, the teacher can observe whether students from diverse communities can find a common language with others more easily. Also, the educator can assess the improvements in children’s receptiveness to each other’s culture. At the communication level, one can evaluate whether those children who used to be shy and afraid to cooperate with others changed after the program. If positive results are noted in each of the mentioned spheres, the plan may be regarded to have been successful.

Opportunities for future research in this sphere may be diverted in two ways. Firstly, it is necessary to study the possibilities of cooperating with other professionals whose work relates to students with special needs. Specifically, such areas as welfare and allied health need to be investigated in this respect. Teachers should assess the level of these professionals’ readiness to combine their duties with educators’ ones and reach a positive outcome for learners with special needs. Another dimension of future research is the formulation of a partnership between teachers and families and communities from indigenous backgrounds. It is necessary to find viable ways of cooperating with these population groups in order to make education equally available to all children. Overall, the combined efforts of teachers, families, researchers, and other professionals are needed to bring up the generation of happy learners eager to attend school and share their experiences with their families.

References

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Martin, S., & Buckley, L. (2018). Including children’s voices in a multiple stakeholder study on a community-wide approach to improving quality in early years setting. Early Child Development and Care. Web.

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