In our early childhood programs, parents are the third leg of a three-legged stool – the children, the teachers, and the parents. When all three are in balance, so is the stool. The stool can be a metaphor for our classrooms, our programs, or our organizations. The parents are a key component in each.
To the director of the program, there is nothing more important than getting this stool balanced! The relationship between the children, the teachers, and the parents is the foundation for everything that happens in our early childhood world.
The goal is for teachers and parents to think similarly:
- That children’s rights and needs be recognized in the early childhood program.
- That children have high quality care and education that supports the development of their potential.
- That parents are their children’s first teachers and, as such, are active participants in their learning experiences.
- That teachers partner with children, offer them possibilities and opportunities, and facilitate their self-discoveries.
Each leg supporting the other and building a solid foundation.
But, how many of us ever thought about parents when we became teachers? Didn’t we become teachers because we love being with, and working with children? Who even considered the parent component?
I can tell you, not many! When I ask this question in training sessions, people simply shake their heads.
But, when a new child comes into our classroom, it’s a package deal. With one, comes the other – the child and the parent.
I envision children with parents on their first day at the front door, both dressed like Paddington Bear with notes pinned to their coats. And, interestingly, it is the same note for both. It reads, “Please look after me!”
And both, the child and the parent, do need looking after, and taking care of.
This is all new to them – going to school, leaving one another. There is much that is, as yet, unknown to them. They are both anxious and looking for reassurance. And sometimes we forget this. Our training prepared us to help children. We focus on the child and assume the parents are fine. Our training should prepare us to support the parents as well. Because just under the surface lies their biggest worry, their biggest concern, that goes unsaid.
What parents really need from us; what parents are really asking for in all of their questions; what parents really want to know is, “Do you know and love and really care about my special child?”
And, we do! Sometimes we communicate this successfully – sometimes we do not!
In my next few blog posts, I will share what I have learned about parents – and how we can build effective partnerships with them. My most recent director position at the John Hancock Child Care Center in Boston was my most challenging. With two hundred children, four hundred parents walked through my front door!
That was one big stool to balance! As a result, I learned a lot!
I have found that the more we practice “being the parents,” and walking in their shoes, the more we understand, and the easier it is to build that partnership. It takes patience, sensitivity, and time to build the necessary trust and respect.
I believe that when we can see things through parents’ eyes; hear things as parents would hear them; and feel all of the feelings parents carry for themselves, for their child, for their family, for their work, for their world, and for their circumstances, our relationship with them will vastly improve. As a result, the work we do together will no longer be “us and them,” but “we!” We will be looking after one another.
The long and the short of it is this: Building positive relationships with parents is about opening our eyes, opening our ears, and opening our hearts!
My next post: What Parents Can Teach Us About Their Children – If We’re Asking the Right Questions!