Family and Community Engagement

Family and Community Engagement


♪♪♪ [speaking in
a foreign language] When a family
comes to enroll, we have a New Parent Orientation
where we’re talking to them about what our program is
and how our program works. We want families to know
what we do here, and how
our program operates, so we talk about
our indoor program. We talk about
our outdoor program. We talk about the fact that
learning is done through play, and play is a child’s work. So today, Benji, he
was playing in the slide, and he was using
a lot more language. Have you noticed he’s been
using more language in the home? Oh, yeah, at home
he’s a little chatterbox. (Kimberly Nall)
Oftentimes, the only times we get
to have communication with them is during
drop-off and pick-up, and then there’s a whole lot
of unknown in the middle, unless you have real
strong communication. And for some families,
that might be e-mail. For some families that
might be a mid-day phone call. For some, it might be
a one-on-one conference. I think that we
have to be flexible. I really do, and you know,
sometimes that means that our hours
have to be flexible. If their best time
is 6:30 at night, and our program
closes at 5:30, 6:00, we might need to find a way to
meet with them at 6:30 at night, or at, you know, 7 o’clock
in the morning, and asking and finding
what works best for you. There’s no one way or
quote-unquote right way of doing this. And how important it
is for respectful, culturally responsive
communication, how important it is for
that to take place, and the best way for that to
take place is to be authentic, to be real, to be present,
and to listen. And to remember that
communication happens a lot of different ways. It’s verbal.
It’s nonverbal. It’s through the power
of storytelling. It’s through a nod,
a gesture, a smile. It’s all of those things. Thinking about the whole
business of cultural context and how we bring that
into the classroom so that both the children
and the families, when they walk
into that room, feel like it’s a place
where they belong. There are different
communication styles, and that’s not just
always wrapped up in a particular culture
or ethnic response. It could be
individual temperaments, dynamics,
personalities that create that. And sometimes that may mean
I might have to think a little bit differently
about how I communicate. Some families
might have to tell a story before they get to a point, and I may not be that
type of communicator, but how do I develop
some level of flexibility, some level of engagement,
and to understand that this is what this family needs in order to get to where
they’re looking to go, and maybe this is what they
need to share with me for me to be able to honor where
it is that we’re going. [speaking in
a foreign language] (Louise Piper)
Staff needs to be open to the fact
that in that invitation to families to join us on this
journey that we’re undertaking during the preschool years,
it also means permission, encouragement, the invitation
to ask any question, to raise any concern. And for us to be open
and willing to look at ourselves and our own assumptions,
really reflect on what we bring to the table, know our own identity,
our own communication and interaction style, and
understand that sometimes we need to modify what
comes naturally to us, and welcome our
families in a way that creates environments
that are familiar to them. When Nicholas
comes in in the morning, one of the things that their
family values is to go to every single person
and say, “Good morning.” And the same thing
when he leaves. They value it so much. So any time that we can go
and make sure that we connect with him, go out of your way. When conflict occurs or when
there’s a difference in values, beliefs, and practices, that
if we can begin to think about communication from
the perspective of, “I really want to get
to know this family,” and believing that the Jackson
family is not the same as the Rodriguez family. It’s not the same as
the Shahinian family. The way that you create your
environment is really essential to the relationship
you build with families. When you have newsletters
and information that goes home to families, that it’s written
in their home language. If you have somebody in
the program that can speak to the family in
their home language, to having books
and resources available that are also in all
of the languages, if possible, of the families
and children that are in your center. One of the things that teachers
want to do is they want to help the family feel
like their background, their culture beliefs, are
really valued by the community, by the preschool community. And so one of the things that
they want to do is welcome a child’s beliefs,
the family’s beliefs, in the classroom
to celebrate those. And so knowing
about the beliefs, knowing about the background, knowing about
the cultural traditions can help start up
a conversation, can help have the family feel
welcomed into the community. The welcoming
climate is created daily, and it’s with that
first point of contact. Something as simple as did
we greet you with a smile? Did we say hello in
more than one language? Culturally, there’s so many
different ways of letting people know that it is
a welcoming community. Making sure that over
the course of the year, we do have multiple points
of inquiry where we ask, “How well do we serve you?” It’s really important when
we’re creating our environments to consider all of the families
and the children and their culture and their
language in all aspects, and the very first aspect
of that is developing an environment where the family
feels that when they walk in, they’re welcome. And their children are
going to be safe and cared for, and cared for in a way
that is relevant to that child and family. (Cheryl Williams-Jackson)
When we enroll children
in our programs, we actually are
enrolling families, which means we really must work
on building the relationships with the parents
or the grandparents, whoever it is that has some
meaning in the child’s life. (Louise Piper)
We really believe children and their
extended family members are the most significant
people in the lives of the children
that we serve. A kiss on the feet? Where’s your feet? (Louise Piper)
Our families are the experts on their children. They are their child’s first
and most important teachers, and their input is
invaluable to us. So it’s building
relationship with the family, listening to the family, finding
out what the family’s goals and expectations
are for the child. And then figuring out with the family what’s
the best way to address that, and how can we work together
for the benefit of that child’s development? How about his drawing? Is he getting stronger
with his pen-holding? You know, he is starting to
correct it a lot more quickly. He’ll start off fisting it, but then with working with
other manipulatives, I’m seeing him correct it in a shorter period of time. (Minie Lopez)
In order to really
build strong relationships with families, we have to
do that when they start, because that’s the moment
you can assure them that you’re the person they can
come to if they need support. And then we have a lot of
different events and things. We have a monthly family
event, and we have themes and celebrations together so that
parents can network together, and it gives us an opportunity
to be with parents doing fun activities. We have parent evenings and
curriculum nights where we’re informing them about what
their children are doing, and we do two parent/teacher
conferences a year. Two a year really gives us
the opportunity to talk to them about what their children’s
goals are and how we can follow up with them,
and that really builds trust, because they know that we have
their children’s best interests at heart. Should we try to make
another layer on the house? That’s yours. We can do it together, ’cause
you put two of them on and I put two of them on. It was a team effort. Are you building
with your mom? (female)
Every time
I have a co-op, I learn something
from the teachers. I usually go home
and say to my husband, “You would never believe what
they did with this conflict,” where they actually had the
children resolve it themselves, instead of telling
the children what to do. So every time I’m here, I feel
like I become a better parent. “That’s terribly
kind of you, Fox, “but no. I’m going to have
lunch with a gruffalo.” I travel a lot for work,
so if I’m gone, I know that I can go and
set him up like I did now, and read him a story and get
him used to the environment, and then when I leave, that
he’s going to kind of seamlessly blend in and feel at home here. So it helps a lot. You want to paint with us? Did you finish your sign? (female)
My daughter’s in a day care where I’m not involved at all, and I don’t know
those families. I don’t know
the parents or the kids, and here, when I come in,
I kind of get excited to see the children and to
hang out with them, and to just to make those
relationships, too. And it’s fun to see who
she chooses to become closer friends with. So setting the stage for
making the connections we need to in order to ensure
that families feel welcome, that families know
there’s an open-door policy, that if it’s comfortable for
them to come in and spend time with us and just observe,
and just be together, enjoying informal interactions,
that that invitation to come in isn’t only when it benefits us
or there’s something we need. That living with our
families is the way we make those connections. Because it is a partnership,
so we want to make sure that they have the resources they
need to always be their child’s advocate, teacher,
and nurturer. So one of the things we do
on a weekly basis is send home information that’s going to
help parents understand the different approaches
to helping, with either language
development or any other
cognitive development. In addition to that, we invite them to partake in
weekly parent orientation or parent workshop
where they can learn additional strategies, strategies that perhaps you
would not have learned unless you went into
education per se or had that kind of training. We have many families who
come and will spend the day with us if we’re doing
different activities. Our major family activities
are in the evening, though, so that all
families can come, because we are respectful of
the fact that they do work and they may not take time off. We have–it’s called Connect Ed,
so it’s a phone system where it will call each family and
give them a message for us. So we will call them and say,
“We’re trying to build up “our messy building
material outside, and we’re asking can you
please bring us some twigs?” And they do. Parents participate
in a myriad of ways. We want to make sure we have
opportunities that allow busy parents to feel
and to be involved. Did you see these? They have really
taken off with them. So okay, so they
fit the cars nice? Perfect. Okay, well, let me know if
you guys ever need any more. (Louise Piper)
Families don’t
need a reason to come in. They spend time with
us throughout the day. They come in to do
carpentry projects, to read aloud
in home language. We’ve had families who
really enjoy gardening, and so families have come in
to share their expertise with gardening. We also want to be sure that
parents have ways to engage with us and be involved in their
child’s learning at school in ways that are
comfortable to them. So what,
you just need this– See, because what you
gave us was perfect, because– It’ll sit. So that they can
kind of flatten it out. Just flatten
a little so it sits. Okay, I’ll ask him. We want to know if there’s
any special things going on in their family. Is grandma raising the child? Are mom and dad together? Do multiple families
live in the same household? Who is the child
interacting with? So we’re looking at this
information because that all impacts children,
and many times, families will tell
you right away, “This is what’s happening,” and sometimes it comes
a little bit later as they get to know
the staff a little bit better. You know, if they say,
“I’m struggling with this, or I’m having this problem,”
then we provide them with some resources that we know that
are within the community. We found out from families
what resources they need during our intake process, during
our family surveys that we do. I have a parent advisory club
that meets monthly. And always assessing
what they’re needing. And because we create this
environment where parents feel welcome and trusted,
they’re going to come to me all the time. “Christie, I’m having
problems with housing. How can you help me?” Because I’m very engaged
in our community, I’m able to bring resources in through our
Head Start partnership, our partnerships with
the school district, with the county
Office of Education, with the non-profit agencies. So we’re constantly
getting e-mails, or I’m out in the community
getting those resources. It’s easy to say,
“Here’s the brochure. “Here’s the number. You know, this is
the agency that you call.” Sometimes families have
a really hard time mustering up the strength or even having the information
to be able to engage in that call. Oftentimes I won’t give
the resources to a family cold, but I myself will call first,
because I want to make sure it’s still viable, but also that
they’re going to be treated well, because not everybody
feels as though seeking assistance is
a sign of strength. Sometimes it’s a real
difficult thing to do. (Senta Greene)
Helping them to think about the types of questions
that that agency or that program
might ask them, what types of documents do they
need to have available and handy for themselves, so that when
those questions are asked, they’re readily available
and they’re accessible, and that they’re successful
in that process. It’s looking at the needs
of the population, and understanding what
parents want for their children, and the vision that they bring,
so it’s asking them, “What are your needs?” And looking at it not just
from the cognitive domain, but really from
the whole child. So making sure that one,
their medical needs are being attended to,
their dental needs. Doing a lot of wrap-around
services so that if a parent approaches us
and says, you know, “I’m looking for housing,” that
we can actually bring ’em into contact with someone who’s gonna
support them with that need. I constantly carry around
a little notebook that has all the resources that
are in the county. The idea is that when
a family needs something, that someone there to give them
a little information or to help them out,
because at that moment, they’re in such stress that
they may not know how to go and research that information. Also, there are professionals
out there who are being underutilized by our programs. Can you shake ’em loud? Ready? [children singing] Like, for instance,
librarians, bringing ’em in to read a story
or to recommend certain books, because there are librarians
out there who really have an understanding of what new
books are being introduced, and having those
conversations about, you know, “Here’s how
you can use this book in your classroom.” That’s one thing,
and then nurses also. We have connections with
doctor’s offices as we’re talking about
childhood obesity, nutrition, looking at healthy families
and having parents cook healthy. So we include all of that into
our program with our children, as well as providing
those resources for families. I intentionally build up
those relationships, because I know what it
can do for the children and their families. And so now I have this
relationship where I’m able to bring them in, and they donate
their time to come in and talk and be with the children
for an hour or two. Inviting the people
to come into their center, but also coming
out of the center and going to those programs, I think is incredibly
important. And also thinking about
the types of resources that are identified
for families. Are these resources
the best match or a good match for the family? And are we thinking about
multiple ways to provide families with resources? It is always print, or are there
avenues and other mechanisms that we could use
to help support the family’s understanding
about a resource or a community agency
that will help that family achieve the goal that
they’re striving for? ♪♪♪

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