Monday, October 17, 2011

Choices choices...

We had an electrician in today. His daughter attended the local Montessori centre and although he kept going on about how 'hot' the teachers were there, after observing his work for a while I began to have other ideas for his decision to choose Montessori. Red wire to the red wire, two twists and a connector carefully attached and screwed tight. Next wire. Next wire. Isn't electrical work just so precise, exact, a step-by-step progression to a clearly defined goal? No wonder Montessori appeals to his inner schema.

My sister sends her girls to a Steiner Kindergarten. Despite all my head shaking and mutterings about Steiner being the educational version of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, she thinks it's just perfect for her darlings. It's peaceful, 'alternative' and has a beautiful environment - I can see why it appeals.

I find the choice people make in centre philosophy fascinating. Or that they don't choose - it's just the closest to home and that'll do eh? Have you noticed that when parents hunt you out, cross town through shitty traffic, or fork out a few extra dollars, they engage at a deeper level than the 'drop and runners'. They engage pedagogically, they want to know what you think and do - and why. This enthusiasm is a gift we as teachers must run with...

From Swick et al (2001):parents thrive on healthy relationships with other adults, children, and supportive groups" where they gain knowledge on a wide range of child and family issues. Positive, reciprocal relationships with teachers are shown to encourage and empower parents that sees increased involvement in their child's education producing positive educational outcomes. Swick et al discuss how empowering parents/whānau as learners themselves is a way of enhancing this involvement, needs to be a major goal of early childhood professionals. 

In recognising that we are a valuable source of support and resources, 'an ecology of hope', where parents and families can become an integral part of the curriculum as empowered learners, I drew up a list of personal challenges to the notions of partnership and collaboration - the core of our pedagogy as ECEC teachers. In welcoming diversity, in challenging western notions of power, in surrendering professional power to embrace the wider ecology's of learning, ask yourself:

  • Are we able to clearly articulate the how and why of our pedagogy and practice?
  • Are we able to clearly articulate our vision of partnership and what this entails?
  • How can we create authentic partnership based on mutuality in the face of such diversity?
  • How can we move beyond a veneer of multiculturalism and open up the centre structures to allow for authentic participation?
  • Is there genuine flexibility in our pedagogy to accept other interpretations? Is there a limit to how much change is acceptable?
Hmmm, indeed. Are we stick-in-the-muds, or are we evolving...

From the Swick article and personal experience I've drawn up the following list as possible ways to engage with parents and family:

  • A strong focus on welcoming new families that includes a formal meeting, a 'parents pack' that includes a guide to the centre philosophies, and a supported, open-ended transition process.
  • Parent representatives as a formal component of any communication strategies, disputes processes, and liaising with individual parents, groups, management etc.
  • A policy of prioritising time to interact with parents and whānau.
  • To consciously create a physical sense of welcoming: space for couches, access to kitchen etc.
  • Establish a parents library of books, magazines, articles to enable self-study.
  • Re-conceptualise 'routines' to become 'ritual' and involve parents – tree planting is suggested as a birthday ritual
  • Establishment and ongoing promotion of parent support groups and mentors for young and/or first time parents.
  • Build a skill share registry to draw in 'experts'.
  • Parents and whānau displays and information board.
  • Explore and develop ideas relating to critical multiculturalism and practice.
  • Utilise pepeha (written family history that is displayed in the centre) as an integral part of building community.
  • A weekly morning play group for younger siblings and others waiting to enroll to allow for familiarisation and build a sense of belonging.
  • The active promotion of learning journals as a tool for sharing formal and informal learning.
  • A centre newsletter (print and electronic) that explores pedagogy and current issues in ECE.
  • Regular clothing and toy swaps.
  • Ongoing process of inviting grandparents and other whānau in for story-telling.
  • Ongoing critical analysis of ways to support and encourage the involvement of Fathers and other male whānau in the centre.

Many of the proposals should be established as part of an ecological view of learning and the desire to make the centre an authentic part of the learners community. They also reflect research showing that parents value daily informal interactions above structured events (Hedges & Lee, 2010). They should not be considered 'done' however, and an ongoing process of critical reflection along with wider dialogue with the community (including children) is essential.

Now, just do it. 

Swick, K., Da Ros, D., & Kovach, B. (2001). Empowering parents and families through a caring inquiry approach. Early Childhood Education Journal, 29(1), 65-71.

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