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Nurturing Trusting Partnerships: A resource for effective educator-family collaboration

Research 4 minute read

A new ACER resource will help educators navigate difficult conversations with families.

In response to the challenges educators face in building strong partnerships with families, ACER researchers Simone Griggs, Greta Rollo and Dr Kellie Picker have started developing a resource called Trusting Partnerships.

Discussing the initiative in Teacher magazine today, the researchers explain that, while educators often find it easy to discuss a child's strengths with families, navigating conversations about areas of difficulty poses a significant challenge.

The 3 experienced educators with backgrounds in teaching students from early childhood to adulthood identified a need for improved guidance on forming effective partnerships between educators and families.

Ms Griggs’ research revealed gaps in existing literature regarding educator and parent partnerships, especially in supporting educators to engage in meaningful collaboration with families. One key insight was the interchangeable use of terms like 'partnerships,' 'parent involvement' and 'parent engagement,' leading to confusion about the roles and steps involved in forming collaborative relationships.

To address these challenges, the team created Trusting Partnerships. A prototype was presented at various conferences, providing an opportunity for consultation with educators, teachers, policymakers and educational organisations. This iterative process allowed the team to refine the resource based on valuable feedback.

In their interview with Teacher, the researchers emphasised understanding families' pivotal role in their children's lives is critical to the success of any approach to build a genuine partnership. Drawing on ecological systems and social exchange theories, the team advocated for adopting a Family-Centred Practice model as a framework for schools. This model prioritises empowering families to engage in decision-making for their children.

Language plays a crucial role in educator-family interactions, and Trusting Partnerships addresses this by emphasising co-education and learning together. Educators are encouraged to present themselves as facilitators rather than experts, fostering collaboration with families by seeking their valuable contributions.

‘We need to remember that parent partnership is not parent education, which assumes to correct parents’ current strategies and knowledge,’ the researchers say.

Establishing common ground is identified as a key strategy for successful partnerships. The resource suggests that educators and families can find shared understanding about a child, leading to agreed-upon next steps. By opening conversations about how children are observed at home and in the community, educators can build a more holistic and trusting partnership.

In situations where conversations may not be progressing well, the resource guides educators to recognise cues indicating when to proceed or when to pause and rebuild the partnership later. This sensitivity aims to maintain positive relationships and ensure constructive communication.

‘Knowing when to end a conversation because it is not productive to keep going, gives you the option of reintroducing it – potentially in a different way – at a later time,’ the researchers say.

Looking ahead, the team plans to finalise the Trusting Partnerships resource and initiate a pilot project in 2024. Participating schools and Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) services will receive training on using the resource, with a focus on navigating difficult conversations and finding common ground. Feedback from educators will inform further refinements to the resource, with the ultimate goal of supporting effective educator-family partnerships.

Schools and ECEC services interested in contributing to this important initiative are invited to contact the research team for potential involvement in the pilot project and ongoing development of Trusting Partnerships.

Read the full article:
'Expert Q&A: Navigating difficult conversations with families', by Jo Earp, is published in Teacher.

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