Exploring our practitioner and parent partnerships


This article presents the ongoing results from a research project that has set out to examine whether existing assumptions of working relationship between homes and settings need revisiting.

Key points

  • This article presents the preliminary analysis of the data collected through questionnaires in a Froebel Trust funded study on practitioner-parent partnerships
  • Our investigation of the parents’ and practitioners’ views on partnership has provided us with insights on how to further support these key agents in working effectively together
  • The results demonstrate the multidimensional character of practitioner-parent partnership – the evidence gathered indicates that many complex, yet dynamic, contextual factors shape and determine them
  • The study acknowledges this complexity and suggests for parents and practitioners to have systematic opportunities to discuss and share ideas, in order to develop trust relationships and constructive partnerships between them
  • The data continue to be analysed in order to identify patterns between practitioners’ and parents’ views – they will also be discussed with the interview data the team has collected. Nevertheless, it is evident, that the practitioner-parent partnership is a continuous and dynamic process, subject to a range of contextual factors, such as spaces to get together, barriers to collaboration, and time management

The partnership between practitioners and parents/carers (whenever referring to parents we also mean carers) in the early years has a significant impact on children’s development, both during (Desforges and Abouchaar, 2003) and before school age (Melhuish et al, 2008; Evangelou, Brooks and Smith, 2007).

Parents are the most important part of children’s early lives because they are the first point of reference when it comes to children’s interactions with the world, and they also communicate meaning and knowledge with children before and after they enter into institutional settings (for example, nurseries or childcare). In effect, collaboration between practitioners and parents is important, and when it is effective and meaningful this means that both parties are working together to achieve common goals; through mutual respect and recognition of the contribution each key agent makes towards children’s development (Baum and McMurray-Schwarz, 2004).

The study presented here (funded by the Froebel Trust) is underpinned by Froebel’s pedagogy and principles; acknowledging the importance and value of the relationship between children, family members and practitioners, and the role of play as a central, integrating element in children’s development and learning (Froebel, c1826, translated 1912). For Froebel, parents and family members form the basis for a child’s understandings and interactions, which reiterates that an effective partnership essentially involves the engagement of parents and practitioners in order to support all children educationally, socially and emotionally.

Research methods

The focus of the study was on the empowerment of practitioner-parent partnerships, recognising the complexity of their relations, and the positive impact a constructive partnership may have for children, their learning outcomes and their overall wellbeing. To encourage and support the development of this constructive relationship, the study focused on understanding parents and participants by exploring their ideas, perceptions and experiences in relation to practitioner-parent partnerships. To do this, the research team used questionnaires (the study included other elements and additional methods of data collection, but this paper focuses on the questionnaire due to word count limitation).

The questionnaire was sent out through Survey Monkey to the parents and practitioners of five settings in Berkshire. A total of 109 responses were received, which gives a response rate of 43.6 percent. The questionnaires provided a substantive amount of quantitative data, which helped to understand participants’ experiences and comprehend the meaning they make of that experience. Before sending out the questionnaires, the project was passed for approval by the University of Reading’s ethics committee, and all of the participants in the project were aware of the study’s aims and what it involved. Participation was voluntary, while informed consent and anonymity were ensured in addition to confirming that the participants were aware of their right to withdraw from the study at any time.

Preliminary findings

The project is still ongoing, which means that this article provides a summary of the preliminary data analysis of the questionnaires. The data very clearly suggest that both the parents and the practitioners (about 80 percent) feel that they are very interested in practitioner-parent partnerships, with more than half of them feeling extremely interested.

In addition, both parents (53 percent) and practitioners (55 percent) feel that daily face-to-face communication or parent meetings are the main way of communicating with each other. However, 75 percent of the practitioners consider home visits as a good means of communication, while only 12.36 percent of parents agreed to this (Figure 1).

The same pattern of discrepancy was also found in the post-session questionnaire (practitioners – 58.33 percent; while parents – 23.08 percent). This might be because not all families receive a home visit, which may lead to parents having different perceptions of ‘home visits’. For those families who did receive a home visit from staff members at the setting, both the quality of the conversation and/or the outcome of the visit will be worth looking into.

Furthermore, there was evidence that some settings occasionally consider and try out new ways of communication, such as social media (Facebook, Twitter), while they also look for additional attempts to engage in conversations around the learning taking place in the setting, without necessarily focusing on routines – for example, eating, sleeping, and so on. Having said this, data also reflect that in some settings, managers may feel hesitant to make use of such open access platforms online (such as social media or other websites), possibly because of previous communication problems experienced by the nursery.

In relation to how practitioners and parents perceive their communication and their own role in developing effective practitioner-parent partnerships, it is interesting to note differences documented between them. Initially, it was noted that practitioners perceive ‘Sports Day’ (45 percent) and ‘Fundraising Events’ (65 percent) as two good ways to involve parents in their children’s learning experiences and to empower the parent-practitioner partnership.

It is interesting to note, however, that parents do not feel the same, since only 15.73 percent and 25.84 percent of them agreed that Sports Days and Fundraising Events (Figure 2) are a good way to involve parents.

Furthermore, while 40 percent of the practitioners think the main way of involving parents in the children’s learning experiences is to have parents’ meetings or face-to-face chats, only 26 percent of the parents agree. In fact, 35 percent of the parents think that activities, such as ‘Stay and Play’ sessions, are more important for them and their children. The same view is shared by 35 percent of practitioners regarding the Stay and Play sessions, but at the same time, the same percentage of practitioners consider fundraising, fairs or any social events as equally important in involving the parents in children’s learning experiences.

Looking at the ‘Face to Face Meetings’ and the identification of parental needs more closely, it appears that the majority of parents (55.04 percent) do not identify this as an effective way of identifying their needs, even though the vast majority of practitioners (90 percent) see this as the main way to identify parents’ needs. Instead, over half of the parents think that either ‘Word of Mouth’ or ‘Surveys’ are the most common way of identifying parental needs, while many of them (11.93 percent) feel that there are no specific efforts to identify their needs at all.

This may suggest that when the two parties formally meet, parents may find it difficult to discuss their specific needs directly with the practitioners. Yet, an informal chat or an anonymous/non-direct way of communication, such as a survey, might make it easier for parents to express their thoughts and be more sincere and open about their needs.

Finally, it is important to note that practitioners believe that lack of time, both on behalf of parents (40 percent) and practitioners (35 percent), is the main barrier to empowering practitioner-parent partnerships (Figure 3). Parents also acknowledge their own lack of time or availability during the settings’ opening hours (66 percent), rather than the practitioners’ lack of time (Figure 4).

Also, 10 percent of parents think that practitioners need to have been more proactive or need to highlight the importance of the partnership between parents and practitioners more by offering further opportunities for sharing information and for encouraging active parental involvement.

It becomes clear from the results that parents and participants share a mutual understanding of the importance partnerships hold, and that both recognise that effectiveness requires mutual respect and recognition of the contribution each party makes towards children’s development (Baum and McMurray-Schwarz, 2004). It is also evident that both parties recognise that effective and meaningful collaboration and communication is an essential part of successful partnerships (Ainscow and Sandill, 2010), while both parents and practitioners recognise that collaboration involves reflection, exchange of knowledge, and coming together to share experiences and ideas and to support the children.

Nevertheless, even though there is an accepted understanding of the role parents can take, which includes talking, listening, role-modelling and managing expectations, as well as ensuring school attendance (Muschamp, Wikeley, Ridge and Balarin, 2007), practice often falls short of this ideal (Epstein et al, 2009; Wilson, 2015).

Unfortunately, this can be the case even though partnerships have a solid theoretical background and are supported both rhetorically and through legislation by the Department of Education in the UK, for a variety of reasons, such as the challenges faced when performance in schools is prioritised over other things (Rogers, 2007).

In addition, this is often because some educational settings may not promote effective and meaningful partnership opportunities between practitioners and parents (Phtiaka, 2008; Baum and Montgomery-Schwartz, 2004). The results of this study support the above and show that additional barriers to effective partnerships include practitioners’ and parents’ everyday busy lives and routines, indicating the lack of time, but also past negative experiences, as well as different interpretations of what an effective partnership is, and how it can take place (Pieridou, 2013).

Conclusion

This article has synoptically presented the preliminary analysis of the data collected through questionnaires in a Froebel Trust funded study on practitioner-parent partnerships. Our investigation of the parents’ and practitioners’ views on partnership has provided us with insights on how to further support these key agents in working effectively together with the children’s best interests in mind.

The results demonstrate the multidimensional character of practitioner-parent partnership – the evidence gathered indicates that many complex, yet dynamic, contextual factors shape and determine their partnerships. The study acknowledges this complexity and suggests for parents and practitioners to have systematic opportunities to discuss and share ideas, in order to develop trust relationships and constructive partnerships between them.

It is worth pointing out that the data and the discussion presented at this point is indicative rather than conclusive because the study is still ongoing. The questionnaire data continue to be analysed in order to identify patterns between practitioners’ and parents’ views, while they will also be discussed with the interview data the research team has collected.

Nevertheless, one theme has become evident, that practitioner-parent partnership is a continuous and dynamic process, which is subject to a wide range of contextual factors, such as spaces to get together, barriers to collaboration, and time management, to name a few. In this process, mutual contributions from both sides – practitioners and parents – are essential, so as to develop a meaningful partnership, which could be facilitated by both parties being more proactive in exploring effective ways of communication, rather than waiting for the other one to take the initiatives.

In order to ensure success in the development of partnerships, there is a need for settings:

  • To acknowledge and take action on barriers to collaboration, such as the changing demands on family life and the increase in demands upon practitioners.
  • To strengthen enablers to collaboration, such as the use of a range of methods to facilitate communications and the encouragement of a shared vision of what practitioner-parent partnerships will look like. eye

References

  • Ainscow M, Sandill A (2010) ‘Developing inclusive education systems: The role of organisational cultures and leadership’; in International Journal of Inclusive Education 14 (4) pp 401-16
  • Baum A, McMurray-Schwarz P (2004) ‘Preservice teachers’ beliefs about family involvement: Implications for teacher education’; in Early Childhood Education Journal 32 (1) pp 57-61
  • Desforges C, Abouchaar A (2003) The Impact of Parental Involvement, Parental Support and Family Education on Pupil Achievements and Adjustment: A Literature Review RR433. DfES: London
  • Epstein J, Sanders M, Simon B, Salinas K, Jansorn N, Van Voorhis F (2009) School, family, and community partnerships: Your handbook for action (3rd Ed). Corwin Press: Thousand Oaks, California, USA
  • Evangelou M, Sylva K, Kyriacou M (2009) Early years learning and development: Literature review. DCSF: London
  • Froebel F (c1826, trans 1912) Froebel’s Chief Writings on Education (Rendered into English) by Fletcher S, Welton J (trans). Edward Arnold: London
  • Melhuish E, Mai B, Phan M, Sylva K, Sammons P, Siraj-Blatchford I, Taggart B (2008) ‘Effects of the home learning environment and preschool centre experience upon literacy and numeracy development in early primary school’; in Journal of Social Issues 64 (1) pp 95-114
  • Muschamp Y, Wikeley F, Ridge T, Balarin M (2007) Parenting, Caring and Educating. Primary Review Research Study 7/1. Interim Report. University of Cambridge: Cambridge. Available online: http://core.kmi.open.ac.uk/download/pdf/309511.pdf
  • Phtiaka H (2008) Drop by for a coffee: Family and school relationships at the edges of diversity. Taxideutis: Athens, Greece [This text is in Greek]
  • Rogers C (2007) ‘Experiencing an ‘inclusive’ education: parents and their children with ‘special educational needs’; in British Journal of Sociology of Education 28 (1) pp 55-68
  • University of Reading (2012) University code of good practice in research. Available online: http://www.reading.ac.uk:8081/web/FILES/reas/UCOGP...

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