Recognizing the Influence of Children's Families Results in More Effective Teaching

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“I went into education because I wanted to work with children, not parents.”

Believe it or not, in my 20 years of experience in the early childhood education field, I have heard this phrase many times. Fundamentally, it makes sense. Teachers often choose to teach because of their love for children. 

At the same time, it seems obvious that with children, come parents. We know children exist within the context of families. But for teachers, the structure of managing a classroom and ensuring mandated standards are met doesn’t allow this notion to take precedence. Focusing on children’s learning and development is a lofty job. It doesn’t leave much time for supporting parents. 

Ironically though, in the same 20 years experience that permitted me to learn the quote above, I have also learned that viewing children in the context of family actually facilitates my ability to support children’s learning and development. 

Therefore, I challenge us all to move away from the idea that we want to work only with children.  I believe that in recognizing the significance of empowering families, teachers will find there is a substantial return on the investment. By viewing children in the context of the family and taking time to empower families, we will find support for our work with children in the classroom.

Here are suggestions for teachers to aid your efforts in empowering families:

  1. Parents as Decision-Makers. Include parents in decision-making about their child’s classroom and school. Not only are parents the first and most important teacher of their child, but often parents can offer ideas and perspective that you may not see.
  2. Community. Provide information about community resources. Connect parents with the community. The beauty of doing this not only allows parents to rely on the community resources for what they need, but also it creates a community that sustains and supports its children, families and schools.
  3. Strength-Based Model. Get to know individual parents and families. Help them identify their own strengths in order that they may learn to embrace and rely upon their individual strengths.  Different values, visions, and perspectives make families neither better nor worse, just different. 
  4. Direct Communication. I challenge and encourage early childhood centers to provide parents with contact information not only for the center, but also for the teachers. We open communication lines and need to ultimately connect parents directly to the teachers. 

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Michelle Beedle, M.A. ED, is a Program Coordinator for the School of Education at Rasmussen College at the Lake Elmo/Woodbury, MN college campus. She has worked in the field of early childhood education for over 15 years. Michelle has a BA in Psychology from Marquette University. Additionally, Michelle holds a MN teaching license and has a master’s degree in early childhood education.

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