In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Educator Partnerships with Parents and Families with a Focus on the Early Years

  • Introduction: Partnerships with Families in the Early Years, birth-8
  • Conceptualizing Partnerships between Families and Early Years Educators
  • Benefits of Effective Partnerships with Families
  • Partnerships with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Families
  • Barriers to Effective Partnerships
  • Partnerships and Invisible Families
  • Enacting Partnerships with Families

Education Educator Partnerships with Parents and Families with a Focus on the Early Years
Fay Hadley, Elizabeth Rouse
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 February 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0272

Introduction: Partnerships with Families in the Early Years, birth-8

Parental involvement, engagement, and partnerships within the early years have become key policy directions in many countries in recent years (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article in Education Family Policy and Its Relation to Early Childhood). Since the early 2000s there has been a global push to include guidelines for educators that focus on the engagement and enactment of partnerships with families, especially in the early years. However, the family-educator partnership literature is varied, does not reach consensus on what is meant by “partnership,” and fails to provide a clear definition of parent-family partnerships in early years settings. This lack of a clear definition and the interchangeability of terms used to describe the phenomena creates ambiguity of what authentic partnerships are and often culminates in a deficit approach to the discussion. For example, there is the question of who is visible/invisible? Often there is judging of parents and families on their level of involvement rather than on how the educational setting may be contributing to this sense of disconnect. This article draws on a range of recent international literature that contests and challenges existing paradigms of family-educator partnerships in the early years. It aims to create a space where those working with parents and families of young children can move beyond the position that partnerships, as determined by a school-centric and neoliberal discourse, are only effective when the “visible” is considered. In fact, more recent research has suggested that it is what parents and families do in the home that has the greatest impact on children’s achievement rather than the visible involvement in the early years setting (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article in Education Relationships across Schools, Families, and Communities Supporting Learners). Through exploring a number of key themes emerging in the literature on parent and family involvement, engagement, and partnerships in the early years, the article presents alternate views of partnerships which, rather than focusing on barriers and challenges, positions parents and families as possessing strengths and agency in relation to their child’s learning. Understanding these varied perspectives provides readers an opportunity to digest other approaches to partnerships that move beyond an instrumentalized approach to engaging with parents and families. Within this examination of the literature, the generic term “early years” rather than early childhood education and care setting has been used, as globally early years (birth to eight) programs are situated in multiple educational settings, including childcare, preschools, kindergartens, and schools, and the term educator is used, which is inclusive of teachers. The terms parents and families are also used interchangeably as both terms are used throughout the research literature. When we use the terms parents and families, we are referring the children’s primary caregivers, who may or may not be biologically related.

Conceptualizing Partnerships between Families and Early Years Educators

The family-educator partnership literature is varied and does not reach consensus on what is meant by “partnerships.” Rouse and Obrien 2017 identifies that there is ambiguity in the language used to define parent and family partnerships, and Hadley and Rouse 2018 further argues that this lack of consensus can lead to misunderstanding and ineffective practices. Goodall and Montgomery 2014 suggests that various terms are used interchangeably and can mean different things depending on context, but that there is a continuum which influences the agency of the stakeholders involved in the partnership. Formoshino and Passos 2019 also notes how parental involvement can be varied and look different. Douglass 2011 speaks of partnerships with families occurring in which there is shared power, responsiveness, reciprocity, positiveness and sensitivity, while Karila and Alasuutari 2012 suggests that literature on family-centered partnerships usually focuses on how to involve all parents in their child’s education, rather than describing the relationship. Murray, et al. 2018 argues that terminology concerning relationships between parents and educators differs depending on context and includes terms such as “partnership,” “involvement,” and “engagement,” and notes that the terms used in Hungary and Kazakhstan translate into English more closely as “co-operation.” Both Emerson, et al. 2012 and Pushor 2012 suggest that there are nuanced differences between using the term “involvement and “engagement,” suggesting that when parents are seen as involved this is more about what parents are doing, rather than engagement, which is about parents being more reciprocal in the ways they work with educators to support children to achieve their potential. Woodrow, et al. 2016 extends on this and notes the early years setting often equate parents being physically present as a sign of partnerships, but this stance negates the importance of mutual and reciprocal understandings, and it is much more than being physically present (see Partnerships and Invisible Families).

  • Douglass, A. 2011. Improving family engagement: The organizational context and its influence on partnering with parents in formal child care settings. Early Childhood Research and Practice 13.2.

    The author identifies a number of dimensions found in the literature on parent partnerships which include shared power, the values of responsiveness, reciprocity, and a relationship which honors the strengths, cultures, traditions, and expertise that everyone brings to the relationship. Within the article the author uses the terms “parent-educator partnerships” and “family partnerships” interchangeably and their US study noted the importance of a relationship-centered organizational system.

  • Emerson, L., J. Fear, S. Fox, and E. Sanders. 2012. Parental engagement in learning and schooling: Lessons from research. In Family-School and Community Partnerships Bureau. Canberra: Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY).

    The authors of this Australian report argue that the terms’ involvement and engagement should not be used interchangeably. They argue parent engagement presents a more equal relationship between parents and educators.

  • Formoshino, J., and F. Passos. 2019. The development of a rights-based approach to participation: From peripheral involvement to central participation of children, parents and professionals. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal 27.3: 305–317.

    DOI: 10.1080/1350293X.2019.1600801

    The authors argue that parent involvement can take several forms: pedagogic, organizational, communitarian and policy involvement. This Portugal study highlighted the role of educators as scaffolding parents over time from passive information gathering to involvement and participation in their child’s learning journey. They ask educators to pay conscious attention to the parents’ feelings, suggesting that parents engage when they have trust in the educator and feel listened to and respected.

  • Goodall, J., and C. Montgomery. 2014. Parental involvement to parental engagement: A continuum. Educational Review 66.4: 399–410.

    DOI: 10.1080/00131911.2013.781576

    In this article the authors note that the value of parental engagement in children’s learning is well documented. Like Emerson, et al. 2012, the authors argue that there is a continuum which shifts from parental involvement to parental engagement with children’s learning. The authors argue that parental engagement is never “complete,” or ticked off a list and considered “done” as families and contexts are continually changing.

  • Hadley, Fay, and Elizabeth Rouse. 2018. The family–centre partnership disconnect: Creating reciprocity. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 19.1: 48–62.

    DOI: 10.1177/1463949118762148

    The authors suggest that the family-educator partnership literature does not reach consensus on what is meant by “partnerships.” Their Australian research highlighted disconnects in the language of families to that of the educators. Parents perceive the relationship based on trust and mutual guidance, however educators’ practice reflected their role as experts in understanding children’s learning and development and communicated with parents using more technical language.

  • Karila, K., and M. Alasuutari. 2012. Drawing partnership on paper: How do the forms for individual educational plans frame parent-teacher relationship? International Journal about Parents in Education 6.1: 14–26.

    Key to this Finnish study is how the partnership literature often subordinates the expertise of parents to be less than that of educators, and is not as valued by educators who come from an expert position. Rather than being mutual and reciprocal, they argue that partnerships can often be associated with practices such as advising, guiding, and teaching parents how to support their child’s learning and development at home.

  • Murray, J., E. Teszenyi, A. N. Varga, S. Pálfi, M. Tajiyeva, and A. Iskakova. 2018. Parent-practitioner partnerships in early childhood provision in England, Hungary, and Kazakhstan: similarities and differences in discourses. Early Child Development and Care 188.5: 594–612.

    DOI: 10.1080/03004430.2018.1438422

    The United Kingdom, Hungary, and Kazakhstan were the focus of the study and the article suggests definitions of the relationship between parents and educators is determined by context. While they found some similarities and shared understanding, there were also differences in the language of parent-educator partnerships in the three countries.

  • Pushor, D. 2012. Tracing my research on parent engagement: Working to interrupt the story of school as protectorate. Action in Teacher Education 34.5–6: 464–479.

    DOI: 10.1080/01626620.2012.729474

    In this Canadian research Pusher argues that “parent involvement” is the dominant discourse in the literature on parent partnerships, where educators are viewed as experts. She argues that in a “partnership” both parents and educators learn from each other and notes the term “engagement” suggests a more equal relationship based on a mutual desire by educators and parents to be in relationship with one another and with children.

  • Rouse, E., and D. Obrien. 2017. Mutuality and reciprocity in parent-teacher relationships: Understanding the nature of partnerships in early childhood education and care provision. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood 42.2: 45–52.

    DOI: 10.23965/AJEC.42.2.06

    In this Australian study the authors argue that there is much ambiguity in the way the relationship between parents and educators is defined in the literature. The authors present a model of partnerships in which the relationship is based on mutuality, reciprocity, and shared decision making, and where both educators and parents are positioned as equals.

  • Woodrow, C., M. Somerville, L. Naidoo, and K. Power. 2016. Researching parent engagement: A qualitative field study. In The Centre for Educational Research. Kingswood, NSW: Western Sydney University.

    This Australian study suggests disconnects between the views and understandings of educators to that of families. Many parents feel excluded, isolated, and marginalized, yet almost all parents want their children to succeed. Despite wanting to engage in their children’s learning they lack the confidence, knowledge, language, or opportunity, which the early years setting can perceive as a lack of interest. Adopting whole of setting approaches can be effective.

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