Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Teacher-Parent Partnerships: Sharing Understandings and Making Changes

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Teacher-Parent Partnerships: Sharing Understandings and Making Changes

Article excerpt

Teacher-parent partnerships: A central principle

A central commitment to partnerships between teachers and parents exists within early childhood education philosophy. Bronfenbrenner's (1996) ecological model describes the multidirectional nature of contexts and influences on children's learning. In particular, the relationship between the home and the educational environment has been determined as an important complementary influence on young children's learning. Within early childhood education, the Ministry of Education in Aotearoa/New Zealand (1996; 1998) acknowledges the importance of parents and teachers working cooperatively as a foundation for quality.

The potential value of teacher--parent partnerships for children's learning is highlighted by research. For example, Fleer (1996) considered the relationship between centres' and families' experiences of children's science education. Findings indicated that parents' awareness of what children were learning supported further discussions at home and that children asked scientific questions more frequently at home. Further, when children perceive positive parent--teacher relationships, these children tend to also have more productive relationships with teachers and achieve intended learning outcomes (Elicker & Former-Wood, 1995).

While the philosophy and research of early childhood education describe the benefits of collaboration between parents and teachers for children's learning, ongoing responsibility for establishing and maintaining this collaboration rests largely with teachers. Some studies have reported parent-teacher partnerships as complex and/or problematic (Bernhard, et al., 1998; Ebbeck, et al., 2003; Laloumi-Vidali, 1997). Some literature suggests teachers' and parents' views about children's learning might be different, indeed conflicting, and impact negatively on the partnership. For example, Sharpe (1991) noted in her study of parental involvement in early childhood settings that discrepancies between teachers' and parents' views about appropriate curriculum and pedagogy led to dissatisfaction and difficulties in communication.

Similarly, in a recent study in New Zealand (Hedges, 2002), there were differences in the views of parents and teachers about parent involvement. These differences are reported in this article, followed by a description of the teachers' efforts to close the gaps in understanding. Although specific to this setting, because of the centrality of teacher-parent partnership, this discussion is likely to have relevance to other early childhood contexts.

Case study: Oaktree Kindergarten

Early childhood education is characterised by a diversity of curricular approaches offered in different settings. The New Zealand Government partially funds public kindergartens, with the balance met by parent donations and fundraising. Kindergartens employ fully qualified teachers and provide half-day sessional programs for three- and four-year-olds. The role of the teacher is seen as supporting or guiding children's learning in a richly-resourced environment. Kindergartens usually enjoy significant parent support and input.

Teachers, parents and children at Oaktree Kindergarten, located in Auckland, New Zealand, participated in a case study of beliefs and practices about subject knowledge in early childhood education (Hedges, 2002). The kindergarten employed three teachers for the 45 four-year-old children on the roll for the three-hour-long morning sessions that the researcher attended for seven weeks. A child-initiated, integrated, play-based curriculum was offered for the majority of the session time. Crackers, fruit and water were available to children throughout the session. At the end of each session, the whole group of children gathered with two teachers for 10-15 minutes to share stories, music and action songs, and events from children's home lives.

The three teachers, Nicola, Catherine and Julie, were all degree-qualified and ranged in experience from a beginning teacher to 10 years' experience. …

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