ACECQA’s National Education Leader, Rhonda Livingstone provides insight into National Quality Framework topics of interest.
Positive relationships between education and care community members strengthen quality outcomes for children. In the fourth part of our series, we outline some key strategies for developing relationships with your community members.
Building relationships with my community
- Understand the ingredients of a relationship
Relationships are the bedrock of education and care quality practice as they are central to child development, learning and wellbeing. Relationships are also essential to creating a sense of community. Whether the relationship is between an educator and a child, a group of children, a provider and a family-support organisation, or a service’s staff members, positive relationships require the essential ingredients of honesty, warmth, open communication, responsiveness, respect and mutual trust.
- Be thoughtful when developing relationships
Awareness of cultural differences and respect for diversity will support positive relationship-building. Be open to differences and seek to genuinely know your community members. Ask questions sensitively, consider cross-cultural communications issues such as language, eye contact and greetings, and reflect on of the influence of your own values, beliefs and perspective.
- Appreciate relationships can take time
As some ingredients of a relationship, such as respect and mutual trust, take time to develop, relationships can also take time. Just as children need to feel secure and supported before they feel confident to interact and explore, adults also need to feel emotionally comfortable before they interact and participate. A welcoming, respectful and inclusive environment will support this.
- Ensure community members feel welcome
“When the environment reflects and is rich in the culture and identity of the enrolled families and the wider community, it helps families to feel valued and good about themselves.” (Early Childhood Australia 2012, p. 36)
If community members feel welcome and comfortable, they will be more confident to engage and confidently participate in a service. This promotes relationship-building with other community members. To create a welcoming environment, consider:
Your physical environment:
- Welcoming, inviting and inclusive spaces and signage that reflect, respect and celebrate the culture and context of children, their families and your community.
- Consistent, child-friendly spaces for children to keep their belongings.
- Learning environments that are inviting and inclusive and foster pro-social interactions between children.
- Spaces that promote unhurried conversation and interaction between adults.
- Spaces for families to contribute to and engage in children’s learning.
- Calm and peaceful spaces that promote wellbeing.
- Spaces that respect privacy (for example, for sensitive conversations or discussions).
Your ‘people’ environment:
- Welcoming and positive staff whose honesty, warmth, consistency and responsiveness encourage interaction and relationship building.
- Staff who respect the culture and context of children’s families and your community.
- Professional, respectful and positive communication and interactions between staff.
Your ‘organisational’ environment (policies, practices and procedures):
- Respectful and responsive enrolment and orientation policies and procedures that promote communication, understanding and relationship-building.
- ‘Open door’ policy for families.
- Staffing organisation that allows time and opportunity for interaction with families and meetings with professionals.
- Staff induction procedures that promote confidence and belonging.
- Staffing arrangements that provide opportunity for professional collaboration.
- Community engagement practices that encourage collaboration.
- Ensure relationships are meaningful
Respect and trust will be more likely to be developed when the commitment to forming the relationship is genuine and meaningful without the expectation that something is required in return. When relationships are meaningful, positive outcomes are promoted.
A good example of this is when educators and a family have a genuine desire to support a child’s learning, development and wellbeing by sharing their knowledge and understanding of the child. Through honesty, warmth, ongoing communication and responsiveness, mutual trust and respect can be developed and shared decision-making enabled. Another example is when an organisation is committed to staff development and provides the opportunity to develop stronger relationships through team building experiences. Team building can support communication skills, responsiveness, respect for different perspectives, and mutual trust. Strong staff relationships create a sense of connectedness and promote staff stability, which, in turn, support consistent and secure relationships between children, staff and families.
- Ensure relationships are reciprocal
Communities are a shared responsibility and work best when relationships between community members are reciprocal. A one-way relationship where only one member gains something from the relationship will not be equitable, meaningful or sustainable. Services are encouraged to reflect on community relationships to ensure contributions and engagement are two-way. If you believe that relationships are one-sided, what could be changed to foster or ensure reciprocity?
Reflective questions and activity for you and your team or service
- Select members of your team to each imagine they are a child, a child’s family member, a staff member, a visiting health professional or a local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Elder.
As each team member walks through your service, they should:
* consider how they would experience the service for the first time
* take photographs of elements that contribute to its welcoming and inclusive atmosphere
* share these photos with other team members and at the following staff meeting
* reflect together with the staff and identify what the service is doing well to ensure all community members feel welcome and what could be changed or improved.
- How does your service contribute to your community? Reflect on your relationships with your community members and consider if the relationships are reciprocal.
To support your collaboration with community members and promote positive outcomes for children, the final instalment will outline a number of key strategies and conclude the series.
Further reading and resources
ACECQA – Information sheet – Educational leadership and team building
ACECQA – Team building NQS knowledge game – Quest for Quality
Early Childhood Australia – Being, belonging and becoming in the physical environment
Early Childhood Australia – Developing a space for belonging
Early Childhood Australia – Understanding cultural competence
Read the complete series: