Reframing Alliances with Families

Dew covered cobwebs cover gorse bushes in heavy fog on the Blorenge Woodland Trust reserve in the Brecon Beacons. November

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The value of the relationships we build with families should never be underestimated. As teachers, educators and leaders, we are mindful of the impact that these relationships can have on the wellbeing and the learning of children. Self-isolation and physical distancing practices are significant and, as we all experience the far-reaching effects of this pandemic, we should ask ourselves, what does this mean for education and our relationships with families?

We find ourselves in unchartered waters, grappling with the uncertainty that emerges from this complexity. Families may be struggling to assist their child/ren with learning at home, dealing with the impact of their changed life circumstances or suffering from mental health issues, and teachers, educators and leaders play pivotal roles in creating a space of re-imagined connectedness with the children, families and the communities they are members of. We must always take an ethical approach when we confront new realities.

One of the principles of the Reggio Emilia Educational Project, the value of participation can be useful to draw from here. Indications, a publication from Reggio Emilia states, ‘Participation generates and nurtures the feelings and culture of solidarity, responsibility, and inclusion; it produces change and new cultures that contend with the dimension of the contemporary world’.

Our new reality and consequent daily contexts may look and feel different from what they previously were. Still, opportunities for dialogue and exchange can bolster our communities and provide a sense of strength and comfort. What can a re-imagined sense of community feel like? How are you currently consulting with families? Are online learning opportunities being constructed with empathy for families?

The implementation of online learning is not easy, especially when there are so many ideas being shared and suggested. Our professional identities, as researchers, could never be more pertinent. In this new context, we should consider Malaguzzi’s invitation for us to be ‘a new type of intellectual, a producer of knowledge connected with the demands of society’.  This concept of teachers can orient our approach to education; an approach that should be timely, relevant and responsive to the experiences of children, parents, and communities. It is vital for all of us working in education to re-cognise (emphasis intended) the shared values within our contexts and communities, and listen to the questions that evolve, as these can become a compass to guide us.

You may contemplate the following reflective questions to focus your thinking:

  • How do I maintain reciprocal relationships with families in new and innovative ways, and how do I do this with the values of gratitude, kindness, responsibility and citizenship?
  • Have we created a community a place that embraces uncertainty, that welcomes other points of view?
  • How might we create opportunities to work in solidarity, building on shared values as a community? What do we believe the purpose of education is?
  • How can we provide opportunities for children to make meaning of this pandemic, at the centre/school or home?
  • Can the challenges become opportunities and could our new reality become a time for transformation?

References:

Reggio Children, 2010, Indications, Preschools and Infant-Toddler Centres of the Municipality of Reggio Emilia.

Moss, P. April 20, 2016, A profession of Uncertainty: The Reggio Emilia image of the ‘Rich’ teacher, IOE London Blog.

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