Building bridges with families
Published on Tuesday, 17 November 2020
Last updated on Saturday, 14 November 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a period of dramatic change for early learning services. Educators had to shift rapidly to digital communications in response to remote learning demands, safety and social distancing measures.
In many instances the lack of physical connection between families and educators during lockdown changed the relationship and now is a good time to reflect on the lessons learnt and how engagement with families has changed as a result
Many families found a new appreciation for the work of their educators during the early days of COVID-19. Lockdown provided a unique window for families to experience teaching and, for educators, it provided insights into the homes and families of the children in their care.
The opportunity now is to build on this good work, to reflect, adapt and work closely with families to maintain and build on this partnership.
A strong relationship between educators and the caregivers and families of children is very important in early learning, and was the focus of a recent webinar by Future Tracks.
Hannah Barber, an early childhood practitioner from Harvard’s Centre of the Developing Child, outlined the importance of this relationship as a key determinant to improve childhood outcomes, improve parents’ experience and it makes an educator’s job a lot easier.
“There’s a lot of evidence to suggest parents have a stronger sense of self efficacy and a more positive perception of their children when they have a really strong relationship with their educator,” Ms Barber said.
“Layered on top of that, they can also have a more positive and greater sense of competence about their parenting, and that’s super powerful because if you think about that, it has long term effects. Not only when the child is in the environment with you [educator] but also when they go on to school and other settings. That’s a pretty amazing gift to be able to give a family.”
Deprived of rituals like the pick-up and drop-off conversations, and shared spaces – such as parents being allowed into classrooms – early learning centres must now be proactive and invest extra effort to ensure this connection thrives.
Here are some ideas to strengthen your ‘real’ and digital presence to improve and nurture contactless communications with parents:
Using the COVID-19 experience, educators can use reflection to process their experiences and improve practice. Engage your team to reflect on what your centre has achieved in the area of parent connection and ask questions such as:
- What worked?
- What didn’t?
- What were the consequences?
- Does any messaging need to be changed or altered?
- What did parents, educators and children want to know?
- What did we learn from this?
Brainstorm ideas collectively and independently on how to improve and sustain connections that are positive, supportive and productive. The responsibility lies with the educator to drive and sustain this relationship.
Consider a pulse survey to obtain feedback on your communications. Find out what families liked and what topics they wanted to hear about the most. Keep it short and succinct with questions that help you to take clear action once you have responses. Make sure you let families know their feedback was heard and appreciated and include your plans for implementing change based on their feedback.
Strong communication is essential to support families during times of uncertainty. By finding the right mix of communication tools, your centre can keep families up to date on their child’s daily activities. Include videos, photos and share milestones to involve parents in their children’s day-to-day activities and engage them with their child’s learning. It is important to be positive, encouraging and celebrate successful stories.
Being transparent and communicating the precautions and measures your centre is taking to keep children, families and staff safe, will instil trust and build family loyalty.
Keep in mind that some families may need education on how to use digital communication tools. Offer training via phone, emailing a video tutorial link or through a video conferencing platform like Zoom. Train educators to better engage with technology and choose tools that are simple and easy to use.
Your suite of communication tools could include:
This may be via an app or through email. Ideally you want to be able to share links to websites and documents plus offer photos. Distribute on the same day each week so families know when to expect updates. If using an app, check that it allows for in-app communication so parents can contact the centre when they need to.
Dedicated Facebook group:
Setup a private Facebook group for a class and share brief messages of daily activities with photos and videos. This allows parents to provide comments and send messages as well as allowing children that may be isolating to be involved with their class and friends.
Some early learning providers share videos on platforms such as Vimeo or YouTube. These can just be short recordings and don’t need to be perfectly produced, clips of children learning and having fun are all that is required! Additionally, educators could provide recordings of book readings, lessons or special tips and tricks for families to promote their child’s development and learning journey at home.
Use text or send a message through your childcare app to keep families instantly updated on any important announcements or simply to send a communication about their child. This could be as simple as a random message about their child such as “Liam made this beautiful artwork today and I just had to send you a photo!”
Set aside a few hours each week during work hours and promote this availability to families as a time to chat about their child. Offer short time slots and make the appointments available via video conferencing platform, such as Zoom. For families that are not comfortable with technology or do not have access, organise an on-site meeting space that allows physical distancing and privacy. Be proactive and seek out parents that may be reticent about engaging.
Responsibility to drive and sustain this relationship is with the educator. Use these communication opportunities to learn more about a family and what’s important to them and their hopes and goals for their child. Let them see you’re listening. Don’t forget to follow up with details on their child’s developmental journey and how you’ve used their feedback for activities you’re doing in the classroom.
Build community through fun, virtual events
Provide opportunities for parents to meet each other and educators virtually. Try a coffee morning event, which could work to offer support, share experiences and to collect feedback from families. Or host a virtual movie night and invite children and their families to a Netflix party – a free Google Chrome extension that allows you and your families to watch Netflix together.
The plugin allows you to watch the same movie or show at the exact same time as others. It also has a group chat function so you can share commentary, GIFs and Emojis while laughing or crying along to your favourite movie. Run a ‘test’ party first just to ensure it all runs smoothly on your system.
Be present at drop-off and pick-up
As children enter and leave your building ensure a director or educator is there to be the face of the centre. Provide a friendly wave and “hi, great to see you.” This small exchange is part of maintaining a ‘real’ presence in the everyday lives of your families when they have to be physically distanced.
Provide activity kits
With more parents working from home why not provide some simple activities to extend lessons from early learning into the home environment. These don’t need to be costly and don’t have to take up too much time to put together. HiMama provides some fun ideas that educators can print and provide with required supplies.
References and further reading:
App Institute: How technology enables parent-teacher communication in 2020
Tips for communicating tricky topics effectively with families.
Strategies for addressing the digitally empowered parent head on.
Adrian Pattra from Farran Street Education explains how early childhood managers can better recognise what educators need to successfully navigate through and adapt to change.