Sharing the responsibility of education: The relationship between teachers and parents in 0-6 year-old children services and schools

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Social transformation in the realm of family and traditional models brings to light new needs and questions about early childhood education and requires greater attention to problems of communication and relationship between educational partners.
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  1877-0428 © 2010 Published by Elsevier Ltd.doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.03.506Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 2 (2010) 3308–3313  Available online at www.sciencedirect.com WCES-2010 Sharing the responsibility of education:The relationship between teachers and parents in 0-6 year-oldchildren services and schools Monica Guerra a *, Elena Luciano  b   a Dipartimento di Scienze Umane per la Formazione “Riccardo Massa”- Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca, U16, Via Giolli, 20126, Milano, Italy b  Dipartimento di Scienze della Formazione e del Territorio - Università degli Studi di Parma, Borgo Carissimi 10, 43100, Parma, Italy Received October 27, 2009; revised December 3, 2009; accepted January 14, 2010 Abstract Social transformation in the realm of family and traditional models brings to light new needs and questions about early childhoodeducation and requires greater attention to problems of communication and relationship between educational partners. Nowadaysin Italy infant-toddler centers (for children from 3 months to 3 years old) and preschools (for children from 3 to 6 years old) areseen as valuable resources for children but also for their families.The paper aims at analyzing good practices of Italian educational services for 0-6 years old children regarding relationships withfamilies; it explores the ways to transform educational services in educational communities, where good relationships betweenteachers and families can create places where early childhood educational culture is developed.© 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.  Keywords: Relationship; parents; families; education; teachers; children; educational services; school. 1. Introduction Everyone who works in the realm of education knows that any kind of knowledge is possible only inside arelationship. As a lot of scientific studies have highlighted, relationships are real key points in order to grow up andlearn. Not only are relationships necessary, but they have to be significant for the people who are involved in them: not just relationships but “good” relationships. This is true both for relationships between adults (teachers and parents)and children and between peers (children-children; adults-adults).In this paper we are going to start from this assumption to discuss the role of educational services for 0-6 year-oldchildren in building the relationship with their families. The relationship is the fundamental element to build a trulyrelevant dialogue where all the adults involved can be a reference for the children they are taking care of, as well asexperience and share a growth process regarding their role of educators. * Monica Guerra. Tel.: +39-02-64484830; fax: +39-02-64484895  E-mail address : monica.guerra@unimib.it   Monica Guerra and Elena Luciano / Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 2 (2010) 3308–3313 3309  2. The need of relation The relationship between educational services and families calls for a reflection regarding different elements, for instance the sense and role of different solutions about care and education of children which are available in Italynowadays, the possible educational alliances between educators and parents, the latest social changes, the requestsand needs of families, as well as the rights and the needs of kids.At present, parents ask educators for more care in their children’s education, but also to be listened in their parentalrole. This role implies having a lot of doubts, uncertainties, and for this reason parents look for a place for themselves and their questions, a place where they can confront with other people on the meaning of education andthe practises they can use, and on the necessary rules that have to be implemented with children. Educators, on theother hand, know that building positive relationships with families is essential both for themselves and for the service because they qualify the educational work.This assumption lies on the idea that a good educational activity comes from the knowledge of every family context.Building and consolidating trust with parents generates dialogue, wellness and mutual understanding; these areuseful elements to share doubts, fears and critical situations.A positive relationship also allows more wellness in the educational staff because it generates a better atmosphere.Setting up good relationships between educational services and families meets a need regarding both contexts thatdeal primarily with children’s education. Educational staff have to invest time, effort, projects and training on therelationship with families because welcoming a new child in an infant-toddler centre or in an infant school alwaysconcerns their families too, accepted with their histories, educational styles, efforts and resources.Educating a child means accepting them with their emotional points of view, but also setting up a project that cansupport their interests and curiosity. Therefore, the relationship with families becomes a central element for educational services because parents and educators can share the development of a common project where childrencan quench their thirst for knowledge.Therefore, it is necessary to find positive ways and efficient strategies to foster communication between the maincontexts where children live (home, infant-toddler centre, infant school) giving relevance to the theme of relationshipwhich is nowadays a need for both, children and adults, parents and educators, services and families.At present, the management of these relationships is a very complex effort for those who take care of children ineducational services, because parents often bring up difficult issues, that educators are unable to meet, oftenconsidering such requests non-legitimate.This happens because families nowadays think that educational services are essential reference places for their children’s education. In the 70s, in Italy, parents who chose these services were simply looking for a place to leavetheir children, with good hygienic standards and a good level of assistance; at present, adult relatives feel the need tofind a good environment where children can grow and learn, play and socialize, but also a service for themselves,where they can be listened to and supported, as well as share their opinions and experiences as parents. 3. A necessary synergy For educators, it becomes fundamental to accept that the activities within the infant services can not be limited tothe relation with a child, but they are to be located within a wider relational network, involving different members of the family, who usually take care of the child in different ways and in different moments. Nowadays, it seems inevitable to affirm that the arrival of a new child to the infant-toddler centre or infant schoolalways reflects, without exceptions, their family, their peculiarities, their emotions, their problems and their resources.It is important to realize that the child is not an individual who lives differently in different realities, but it is a personwho lives in different contexts, influencing and being influenced by the environment around them. Analyzing theconditions of infancy means putting more contexts in relations, starting with the family where the child lives andwith which has relation since the very beginning to the wider context, of which the educational services are part(Bronfenbrenner, 1979). The collectivistic image of infancy and its social condition are defined by differentimportant relations, structured during the process of socialization within different educational institutions the childgets in touch with. Besides that, it is important to take in consideration the usual loneliness of the person who takescare of the child nowadays. This loneliness limits the possibility to share the problems and the precious experiences  3310 Monica Guerra and Elena Luciano / Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 2 (2010) 3308–3313 of education in a wider context than the family one. Taking part into the life of the center is an unavoidable need for  parents. Such need can not be ignored.Finally, developing good relations with families is useful, even necessary for educators, because it allows them tolead their own educational activity better, starting with knowing the peculiarities of the reality of every single family.Creating and cultivating trust in services facilitates wellbeing, the dialogue, the possibility to meet directly thedifficulties, solving problems, uncertainties and fears together.It is fundamental, within the infant services, to develop authentic relations with families, based on accepting, onvalorization and on trust, not on judgment or evaluation. This is possible only if educators accept responsibility for  building relations with the parents.Setting up the relation with the family is an important part of the professional skill of educator. The building of mutual trust depends on the educator’s ability to accept the parents’ point of views and emotions. This meanswillingness to recognize the importance of meeting and coexistence of professional and parental competences, givingthe same importance to both of them, although recognizing their peculiarities.It is essential to be aware that the educational work is not limited to the relation with a child, but it is situated withinwider dynamic of relations involving parents. That dynamic is influenced very much by the relations developed intime between parents and child. Because of that, it is important for educators to be aware that their educationalfunction belongs to the articulated framework of interdependence of relations developed with the family and withinthe family itself (Galardini, 2003).Due to all these reasons, every single educator has to develop, even in the most difficult and complex situation, goodways of relation with every parent, recognizing and keeping aside any possible prejudice. It is important to accept theresponsibility of creating necessary conditions for all parents to be respected, listened, welcomed and accepted, withtheir own peculiarities and together with their child. 4. The practices for welcoming relation with families The good relation is never given for granted, but is developed in time, with patience, dedication and mostimportantly, with pedagogical intention that allows educators and teachers to know and to recognize the ideas andstrategies of the project of relations with families, which every educational service intends to promote.Because of its uniqueness, the relation with a family can not be improvised, but has to be developed by the work group, that means by educational and non-educational staff. That staff has the responsibility to choose the style of intervention in line with agreed common goals and targets, specific within the project of welcome, based on a particular educational context. Every relation is different from another and never a repetition of the previous one, because every time the child is a different one and the family is different too, and so is interpersonal communication.Therefore, educators and teachers have to emphasize authentic attitude, recognizing the importance to listen, toobserve, to know and to respect every single parent, being aware that it is much better to activate the sensitivitiesand educational resources of every individual, rather than to judge, blame, condemn their decisions. The differencesgive an additional value to the relationships, and they become not only acceptable but also interesting. Only byhaving an attitude of curiosity and discovery, for example towards new and alternative ways of being parents, canone create the circumstances to build the relation of trust and welcome of the family.Thus, the relation with families is built by joining together ideas and actions, words and gestures, within theframework of practices developed and shared by the work group, where the coordinator encourages the dialogue andthe meeting of different perspectives.Particularly, more attention to the style of communication and some specific practices introduced here below, cancreate, as a complex, with their interdependence, a good way of welcoming the parents at educational services, notonly offering support to them, but also creating the opportunity for dialogue, exchange and share of experienceswith educators and teachers, as well as among parents themselves. Settling-in conversation. It is the moment of getting to know each other, time to listen to what the parent has to sayabout their own child, about the relation with a child, his emotions, expectations, convictions, but also the time toget acquainted with education service and its features. There is often a threat that such conversation is limited to aformal meeting during which only certain information regarding the child are gathered and the rules of theeducational service are stated. Furthermore this information can be exchanged in paper form. It is useful to say thatthis moment represents an important occasion to start such relation of mutual confidence that is usually developedand consolidated in time, but has its basis in first meetings and contacts, where more importance is to be given to   Monica Guerra and Elena Luciano / Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 2 (2010) 3308–3313 3311 listening and observing, in general atmosphere of welcome favourable to building of positive relations, when therewill be still time to talk and exchange of further information. Settling in can be defined as a time and space of transition between the context of family and the context of educational service. It is a fundamental moment for meeting new children and for creating the relationship with their families. It has to do with different organizational aspects between the families and the educational services duringthe first period of attending the services, but it also has to do with the experiences, ideas, imaginations and emotionsof each of involved subjects. These two dimensions, pedagogical-organizational and psychological-emotional,appear inseparable; otherwise there would be a risk of not understanding how the period is a complex one. Settlingin represents the first separation of a child from their family, as consequence of the decision of the family to sharethe care and the education of the child with an educational service. This is also the first educational experiencewithin a new context in which the children can meet their first competences to relate and communicate in situationof different and multiple relations, building their own identity through relations with adults and other children. Dueto fragility and multiplicity that are typical for settling in, this requires a specific approach regarding organization of groups, time, space, materials, proposals, moments of care and primarily educational and relational styles to adoptwith both children and parents. Welcoming and taking leave These are moments of fundamental transitions that are not to be done in a hurry, buthave to allow both children and adults the necessary time for greetings in the morning and for meeting again in theafternoon. Those, although short moments, allow to exchange basic information regarding the child’s daily routine, but more importantly, they are the occasions when the parent can share a book or a game with the child within theeducational service, contributing by these concrete, shared gestures, to create day after day the relation and trustamong the educators and the family. Those moments of transition, which have to make meeting or separation easier (from couple adult – child, the child from the group or from educators, the parent from educator), bring aboutdifferent experiences, rhythms and time of adaptation. Because of that it is recommendable for educators toaccompany whoever enters and whoever leaves the educational service, in the morning as well as in the afternoon,with particular attention corresponding to the needs of every individual.  Individual conversation during the year  . These interviews are particularly spread occasions in the educationalservices, because they enable to dedicate precious space and time for deeper and personalized knowing each other  by the parents and the educators. These moments are precious to analyze together the situation of every single child,their growth and wellbeing, exchange proper ideas, but also to clarify a critical situation or to solve any problematicissues, always without judgements and evaluations, but looking for joint hypothesis and strategies. This is possible if communication is configured as a mutually oriented exchange, also by listening to each other and sharing not justinformation but also ideas, thoughts, words and emotions generated by this information.  Parents-educators get togethers (general meetings, meetings of classroom, thematic meetings, workshops, parties).These are occasions to enhance the participation of parents in educational services, sharing views and perspectivesand helping dialogue. In that sense, rather than educating and forming parents, with the risk of making them moreinsecure and dependent on experts, these moments should be an important opportunity to help families to explore,together with other parents and educators, the significance of growing and of educating, thus making educationalservices the places of shared culture regarding infancy, where everyone can find its place, be listened and getanswers. 5. Relationship with families in perspective of mutual responsibility for education In its complex articulation between theory and practice, between reflective and operational, between pedagogical and organizational, the relationship that is built and consolidated by educators with families, in theinfant-toddler centre or infant school, is rather complicated and not without problems and obstacles. If this relationis understood as one of the most important elements of the pedagogical project of a certain educational service, it isessential to invest in it, also in terms of professional growth of educators. Indeed, in order to use efficient andaccepted strategies, it is necessary to share them within the work group. It is useful to plan the activities that have to be implemented, in a synergic way every time. For educators, it is essential to be able to lean on proper professionalcapacities in different directions, towards children, towards families, towards the working group (composed not only  3312 Monica Guerra and Elena Luciano / Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences 2 (2010) 3308–3313  by educational staff), towards owners and managers of educational services, towards citizens… This requires amultiplicity of competences and skills such as being able to observe, to be informed, to communicate, to organize, tomanage, to plan…Having in mind what has been said until now, it is important to emphasize that the relation with the families shouldnot start by the request for simple collaboration, but it should be inspired by a proposal to participate in a story to build and share, taking care of what resources and mutual assets could be used in specific situations, with freedom tochoose when and how to use these resources. In that sense, a good relationship shouldn’t be understood as parents’accepting the requests of the educational service, because such understanding would not allow educators to count onreciprocity by the parents. To speak about participation and not about involvement of families enables to recognizethat each of the involved subjects, parents and educators, but also other members of the community, share theresponsibility for education and for the development of children (Epstein, 2009). This comes to the point of  prospecting the mutual responsibility among all individuals, members belonging to a certain community,educational, school, civil and social.On the other hand, the opening towards families, a long welcome, the open days, the possibility to stay within theinfant-toddler centre or infant school, shouldn’t be understood as an anarchic presence of parents within educationalservices. They have to be understood as a connotation of inclusive approach and modalities thought and prepared toopen the educational service and to invite people in. Agreeing on modalities, rules, limits will enable everyone to actwithin the educational services with mutual respect and paying particular attention to the children.In that sense, the most useful tool of the educational services is willingness to listen, a primary form of welcome of the other and his particular story. In fact, the trust that parents acquire towards educators is a fruit of capacity tolisten and to understand of those ones (Coles, 1990). This doesn’t mean getting answers for every kind of request, but it means ability to create space to speak, where one can offer proper warm attention or even proper silence.Furthermore, it is useful and recommendable that within educational services there is not just the attention to createa good relation between educators and parents, but also among the families. In those places primarily dedicated tothe education of children, the adults can meet, get acquainted, confront their ideas and live the relevance of being part of the group of equals sharing common experiences, questions, doubts (Guerra, 2002). From that starting point,relations of friendship and support can be created and this can be extended outside the educational services, becoming a means of precious mutual help between families.The educational effort has a relevant ethical and political importance: it projects education and growth of children assomething that matters to educators together with children’s adult members of families. Staying one next to the other  becomes working together, each from a proper point of view and within its role, but involved in a common perspective.Rather than a critical approach which considers families as not interested, inadequate, incompetent, as often happenswhen speaking about the capability of giving rules to their own children, the major interest of educational services isto develop an approach intended to dedicate more time to stay with parents, to discuss, to share small actions andgestures, to confront the outcomes of different strategies. This represents also a pedagogical function towards thewider community. We need to work so that educational services keep their role of “public educational space, in thesense of extra familiar, as the expression of the community that has different forms of relations with families - civil participation, individual contact, group meetings, and mutual exchange - an essential educational subject orientedtowards the child in a perspective of promotion, support, collaboration, partnership and active participation”(Mantovani, 2006).Starting from here, as different existing experiences confirm, educational services can open more towards families,using very interesting forms of participation in everyday’s life.More that anything else, a global vision seems necessary that knows how to involve in educational services thedifferent roles that exist there. Furthermore, it is important for these people to relate out of social services, with thecommunity and with the territory, in order to spread the culture of the infancy and of the family, generated throughyears by the infant-toddler centres and the infant schools, out of the places directly dedicated to the care and theeducation of children.The educational alliance between educators and parents, the interest in dialogue in order to create together newreflections about what educating and growing children means nowadays, a mutual understanding of the ideas andthe doubts of the other, can contribute to a new radical, social, ethical and political approach towards the sense of  being part of a certain community, towards the responsibilities that everyone has, towards the role of good relationsamong people, starting from those among children, educators and adult relatives.
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