Collaboration, respect and support: Relationships and partnerships with families and communities

This month on We Hear You, ACECQA’s Deputy National Education Leader, Perry Campbell, reflects on his experiences as an educator in the education and care sector and the enduring influence of the unique relationships and partnerships he has formed with families and communities.

Collaborative relationships with families and community partnerships are fundamental to achieving quality outcomes for children. When we think about these relationships, active communication, consultation, collaboration, and meaningful support are essential.

When I have the opportunity to speak with educators and service providers, I am always interested to hear about how they engage with families and the community, and how that engagement influences their work. Educators and providers have talked to me about the challenges, but also about how rewarding it can be and, most importantly, how integral it is to their work with children. Quality Area 6 of the National Quality Standard (NQS) acknowledges the value of collaborative partnerships with families and communities in contributing to children’s learning, development and wellbeing.

In many ways, the NQS and Quality Area 6 are acknowledging and building on the very relationships and partnerships that have been so central to educators committed to quality outcomes for children for decades. When thinking about some of the elements of Quality Area 6, I can’t help but reflect on my own experiences working in education and care services where we strived to forge those partnerships through collaboration. One particular long day care service I worked in springs to mind, along with a couple of standout examples. At that time, this service was brand new and located in a quickly growing area that was just hanging on to being urban fringe.

The Spring Parade and Fair

When I look back to that service, I can’t think of a time where families and the community weren’t involved. One of my greatest memories is the annual community Spring Parade and Fair. Not only did our service support it, but we were in the thick of it. Picture a little yellow Suzuki Mighty Boy in this parade (the car belonged to a member of our staff), decorated front to back in children’s work.  Following the car was nearly every child and educator from the service, joyfully and enthusiastically cheered on by the local community – in this parade we were with the local community and for the local community. We were a vital and contributing part of the local community.

While the decorations changed and there were changes in children, families and staff over the years, we always proudly walked under our slogan of ‘Education and care go hand in hand’. This one Sunday each year, everyone looked forward to participating, sharing, collaborating – no one ever gave a second thought about not being there or not giving up part of their weekend. Even though the parade itself was only a day, the collaboration with families and the community to prepare started long before the parade. But it never seemed like extra work – it was just part of who we were as a service. A community festival followed the parade where we could see, with pride, our community footprint throughout that festival for the rest of the day.

Spreading the word

As a service we were always visible in the community. We walked around the neighbourhood to local parks, the local shopping strip and the library. We even used the local basketball courts regularly, which had an amazing array of mats, balls, games, as well as a huge, full-size basketball court where sinking a ball was the aim for most of the children to feel like they had made it as a basketballer! We were such an important part of the community that when we asked new families how they had heard about us, we could have really asked who had spread the word about us. Almost every time we asked that question, families would tell us about who rather than how.

Bringing the community in

Another event that was important to our service was our annual fete. It was not only a chance to raise funds, but also a way to bring the community together and into the service. Once we started planning, local businesses were happy to be involved because they knew who we were. We were part of the community and not merely a place you drove by unless you needed education and care for your child. During fete preparations, we would often have locals who we hadn’t met drop in with donations, knick-knacks for the white elephant stall, plants for the plant stall, and a variety of all the things that make a fete great. We realised that our community word of mouth was in action again, with neighbours up the road, or community members at the shops, telling others about our service’s fete, or people seeing our fete poster in the newsagent or other local shops. While the funds raised always meant the resource catalogues got a good workout, the real benefit came in bringing the service, families and community together.

In good times and in bad

Engagement and community aren’t just about the good times. There are times when services can get rocked to the core by events that happen, both within the service and or to families of the service. One of our families experienced an extreme trauma, which also significantly impacted the service. I have never seen a community come together to support not only the family, but also the service so quickly. Suddenly, we became an unofficial hub for meal donations to support the family. There was no notice, no request – just a community in action. I have no doubt that the way we valued the partnerships with families and community contributed to this level of support at this extremely difficult and challenging time.

Working hand in hand

We had a genuine partnership with families in service delivery; they were involved in all areas that interested them, and, I suspect, sometimes ones they didn’t want to be involved in but didn’t want not to be involved. As well as true partnerships with families, we were also an important part of the community, helping to create a community amongst the families at our service. I believe two of the biggest contributors to our success were the great leader we had (who set the expectation from the start) and an attitude of reciprocal benefit. We never simply focussed on how the service could benefit; we also concentrated on the rewards the families and communities gained from the partnerships as well. Thinking back, this might be the reason the extra activities and events didn’t seem like extra work.

~o~

There is much more to family and community engagement than I can capture here. But I also know there is so much to gain from those relationships and partnerships too. All we need do is look at the 2018 NQS and the Exceeding NQS themes to see how families and communities are acknowledged as important contributors to quality outcomes for children. Reflecting on my experiences in this service takes me back 20 years. The lessons I learnt there enriched and informed my work, practices and relationships at the other services that followed. As I look back, I know my experiences at that particular service, and others just like it around the country, contributed to the expectations of family and community partnerships and engagement we see reflected and acknowledged in the NQS to this day.

Working in partnership with families and the community enriches and informs what we do every day. I often look at the incredible people who give generously of themselves within their community and wonder just how many of them developed that commitment to their local community as a result of the positive, formative experiences they had in an education and care service as a child.

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