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9.15: Communicating with Families

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    According to NAEYC’s - 5 Guidelines for Effective Teaching , the fifth guideline states “Establish reciprocal relationships with families.” Effective communication begins with cultivating a trusting and mutually respectful relationship. As a best practice, teachers must strive to make family members feel like they are valued members of the team. Teachers must strive to encourage open lines of regular communication and should collaborate whenever possible, especially when it comes to making important decisions about their child. It is ultimately the teacher’s responsibility to set the tone that lets families know a partnership is highly valued. In this section, we will review what effective communication entails, and we will look at how to prepare for family conferences. [118]

    Sharing Perspectives

    Effective communication is based on respect for others. When we have regard for other people’s perspectives, we are able to show genuine respect and can cultivate a caring classroom community. Perspectives are personal viewpoints that allow us to make sense of the world we live in. We develop our attitudes, beliefs, and biases based upon our own knowledge, experiences, family history, cultural practices, and interactions we have throughout our lives. Both teachers and families make crucial decisions on how to guide and support children based on their own perspectives. Without realizing it, our perspectives can influence the way we interact and judge others. If we recognize our biases and try to understand that everyone is entitled to their own perspective, we can strive to develop respectful relationships with our families as we continue to support children’s development. Let us look at valuable contributions both teachers and families bring to the relationship.







    Pin It! What Teachers and Families Bring

    Teachers bring

    • information about the child based on observation and assessment
    • information about the child’s developmental performance
    • information about the curriculum activities and learning goals for the child
    • knowledge about the best practices, theory, and principles in early childhood
    • Information about the program’s philosophy, job description, agency policies
    • their own unique personality and temperament
    • their own training, experience, and professional philosophy

    Families bring

    • an understanding of the child’s temperament, health history, and behaviors at home
    • expectations, fears, and hopes about the child’s success or failure
    • culturally-rooted beliefs about child-rearing
    • past experiences and beliefs about school
    • parent/caregivers’ sense of control and authority, and other personal and familial influences

    Developing a Collaborative Partnership

    father and toddler with two teachers sitting on floor

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Family-centered care relies on respect and collaboration. [119]

    As you engage in conversations, be aware that you communicate with your words, as well as your actions and body language. How can you create a warm and welcoming vibe that encourages open communication with families?

    • A smile goes a long way. Make every attempt to greet each family at drop off time and be sure to say good-bye when they pick up their child.
    • Family Questionnaires. It is important to realize that children come from diverse family settings and we should never assume to know the unique dynamics. In most cases, a child’s home life is the child’s first “ classroom ” and the parents are the child’s first “ teacher. ” A questionnaire will provide useful insight and background information that you will need to approach the family more responsively.
    • Offer anecdotes. Families appreciate hearing about special moments that occur in their child’s day. Some parents may feel guilty or may struggle with missing out on those milestone moments. To help families feel connected, share those moments whenever possible.
    • Have opportunities for families to volunteer. Include opportunities where families can get involved both in and out of the classroom setting.
    • Have a system in place for on-going communication. Consider how you will share all that is happening at school and think about how families can inform you about what is happening at home. Some programs use handouts, emails, bulletin boards, and file folders to relay messages.
    • Share your ECE knowledge. Keep in mind that childrearing practices are embedded in cultural practices. When we recognize that every family is doing their best that they can and wants the best for their children, we can provide support to families that matches their needs. Some families will need more support than others will. Provide parenting resources (handouts, books) and post information on community services (food pantries, free events, counseling) for your families.
    • Maintain confidentiality and keep sensitive information private. Monitor what you say and write and NEVER share information about other families. Keep all documents, assessments, and important information stored in a safe place.
    • Honesty is the best policy. Be direct and tell the truth (which is sometimes easier said than done). It is a good practice that if a parent asks you something and you do not have the answer- tell them you will have to get back to them. Guessing or giving inaccurate information can ultimately breakdown communication.
    • Follow through. When you and a parent agree upon something (to talk at a certain time or to implement a new guidance strategy) be sure you do your part to keep up with the agreement. [120]


    Pause to Reflect

    Do these make sense to you? Why or why not? What would you add?


    cycle of connection: family, teacher, and child

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Cycle of Connection

    Effective Family Conferences

    The purpose of conferences with families is for both teachers and families to share information about the child and to find ways to foster continued growth. To ensure that family members understand the purpose of the assessment process, you may want to create a handout that explains what family conferences look like at your center and what your goals are as the teacher. Be mindful that many families work and may find it difficult to engage in a traditional face-to-face conference. We recommend that you provide alternative ways to communicate with families to discuss their child’s progress.

    Here are some other tips and recommendations to consider when planning effective family conferences:

    • Create a welcoming conference space. Set up a private space for the conference and arrange chairs side by side. Provide light snacks and beverages to help families feel more comfortable and relaxed during the conference.
    • Be Prepared. Preparation is vital to conducting a successful conference. Take time to review the child’s work and make notes of what you want to discuss during the conference. Prepare any handouts/resources you may want to give families at the meeting. Have the child’s portfolio up to date and in pristine condition.
    • Start the conference with a positive comment or question. Families are often anxious about what teachers will say about their child, so start the conference with a positive comment and let them know you appreciate them being there. Ask a question to open the dialogue (this will also let you know what is important to the family and what to focus on).
    • Knowing the family’s expectations will help guide your conference. Ask the family for input on their child's strengths and needs, behavior, and learning styles. Actively listening to the family will help you learn more about the child and his or her home life. This will help you better understand the hopes and goals the family has for their child.
    • Remember that you are not a professional counselor, therapist, or social worker. Some families may want to tell you about their personal family matters, or about the challenging situations, they are facing. Keep social service resources on hand and have them readily available to give to your families.
    • Stay focused. Conferences can easily get off-topic for one reason or another. The child’s development is the purpose of the conference, so circle back around as needed to keep the conference on track.
    • Ask open-ended questions. This will facilitate conversation and encourage families to engage and participate during the conference.
    • Use family-friendly terms and avoid professional jargon. We want to make sure that families understand what we are telling them. We use professional jargon with our colleagues/co-workers. We may even consider colleagues as professional jargon. Remembering that families did not study child development will help us to use family-friendly terms in all of our communications with families.
    • Have an inclusive support team on hand. Some families may not speak English and may need someone available to translate information.
    • Engage families in the planning process. To further support their child’s development, families will need practical activities to do at home. Discuss ways to tie in what efforts are being made at school with activities that can be done at home.
    • Be reassuring. Families are not usually aware that there is a range of mastery when is pertains to developmental milestones.
    • Be professional. You must always use professional verbal and written communication skills when dealing with families
    • Be sensitive. When dealing with children who have special needs, put the person before the disability. Make sure family members are familiar with any important terms and that they understand questions or statements about their child’s abilities. Have resources available.
    • Focus on strengths and what the child can do. Families appreciate looking at their children from a strength-based lens. That perspective builds trust with families to enable them to hear everything that they need to know about their child in an early learning environment.
    • Schedule a follow-up if needed. Schedule a follow-up meeting as needed if the family has concerns or to check in on the child’s progress. This is also best practices with all families as a follow-up could be merely an informal check-in when dropping off or picking up.
    • End the conference on a positive note. Thank all family members for coming to the conference. Stress collaboration and continued open communication. Let families know their support is needed and appreciated. Express confidence in the child’s abilities to continue to learn and develop. Share at least one encouraging anecdote or positive comment about the child to end the conference. [121]

    teacher and parent meeting

    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): A family conference in action. [122]

    This page titled 9.15: Communicating with Families is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Cindy Stephens, Gina Peterson, Sharon Eyrich, & Jennifer Paris (College of the Canyons) .