Getting ready
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Part 1. Collaborating with families
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Part 2. Culturally responsive collaborations
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Part 3. Inclusive practice and social justice
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Part 4. Collaborating with children
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Part 5. Collaborating with communities
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Part 6. He waka eke noa: Bicultural practices and pedagogies
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Part 7.
Part 8.
Wrapping up
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It is not always easy

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Watch

In this video, first Shirlene Murphy and Lah Tuaputa from Kids’ Domain Early Childhood Centre, and Madeleine Dobson share some ideas about why it can sometimes be difficult to form relationships with and collaborate with families, and then Kalpana Prasad, headteacher of The Rumpus Room Early Childhood Centre, Auckland, Denise Evans, and Professor Carmen Dalli offer ways to think about and approach any conflicts that occur.

Learn about these speakers

Ko Tawhitirahi te Maunga 

Ko Awapoka te Awa 

Ko Parengarenga te Moana 

Ko Potahi te Marae 

Ko Te Aupōuri te Iwi 

Ko Shirlene Murphy tōku ingoa 

Shirlene is the Education Manager at Kids’ Domain and over the past 25 years has worked in various roles within the centre. This has given her the opportunity to continuously grow her leadership skills by working with and alongside a diverse range of kaiako and leaders over this time. 

Laraine (Lah) Tuaputa is a Pedagogical Leader at Kids’ Domain and has been a part of this learning community for the past 14 years. Over these years, embracing and connecting to her cultural identity as a Samoan and Cook Island educator has been fundamental in celebrating who she is and creating the vā, the space to empower children to tap into their potential in a way that is authentic to who they are. 

Dr. Madeleine Dobson is a Senior Lecturer of Early Childhood at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia. Madeleine’s teaching and research areas include caring and trauma informed pedagogies across educational contexts and children’s rights and social justice in Early Childhood Education & Care. 

Kalpana Prasad has been working at The Rumpus Room, Auckland, since 2013, in various roles with infants, toddlers, and older children, including as Team Leader and now as Head Teacher. She comes from a big family in India and has been living in New Zealand since 2006. She strongly believes that early childhood education is all about trusting children to be initiators, explorers and self-learners. As a kaiako, she strives to provide an environment where the children and their families can feel loved, cared, and respected for who they are and where they come from,  as well as a place in which teachers can thrive and learn in an environment in which they feel valued and respected for their strengths and capabilities. 

Denise Evans is a resolution practitioner, leader, and lecturer. As an experienced lawyer, mediator and arbitrator, Denise is passionate about finding the right option to help people resolve disputes while recognising individual needs. 

Professor Carmen Dalli has an international reputation for her research in early childhood education and care policy development, and remains actively involved in early childhood policy formation in Aotearoa New Zealand. Her research focuses on teacher professionalism, and on pedagogy with under-threes.   

Transcript

When collaborating with families is difficult 

Shirlene: I would definitely say don’t give up. I think you can quickly think that this family doesn’t want to be involved or they’re not engaging with us to how we might want them to. Try another way. Keep trying, keep trying to build that relationship. Don’t just make assumptions that they are stand-offish or they’re … there could be so many reasons behind why they’re choosing not to or just why … I do believe sometimes they see us as being the professionals and that we should already know these things about their child, and it’s really letting them know that they know their child best and we just want to work with them in that relationship. 

Lah: Just stick at it, you know, and keep trying to experiment with ways to invite whānau in, wherever you can and whatever that might look like. 

Madeleine: Sometimes children and families can bring in complex histories, where schools and early learning environments, and educational environments in general, can not feel safe. They can feel like untrustworthy environments where they may fear conflict or punishment, or other issues like that, which may have come up in the past. A trauma-informed approach means that families who have experienced trauma may have difficulty engaging in educational environments, so coming to school, coming to early learning communities, feeling safe there, feeling as though they belong.  As teachers and leaders, we have a significant opportunity to welcome these people in and make them feel safe in our context, or help them feel safe in our context. We can work to build really strong relationships, to communicate with family members, to understand who they are, the issues that they may be facing, and to make sure that they understand that they are an important and valued member of our community.   

Kalpana: You will always have one or two families in your centre who will need extra support, who will be quite sensitive to little things, and they may not like this way or that way, and you may have to tweak your ways around them a bit more. And we have had that too. And we have had our teachers who had to face some of those situations that they didn’t feel very comfortable about. The way they were spoken to by some of our families. It’s just a situation and somebody has had a reaction to it. First thing you can only do is to not take it personally. Like, you know, if you have taken it personally, you will be so hurt, you will be so upset about it, that it becomes really hard to look at it from somebody else’s perspective. It can be so many factors that have contributed to that kind of reaction. You know, there’s so many underlying things that we don’t know. Sometimes parents don’t even tell us because they don’t want to share their issues and their problems with other people. So I think if you can keep yourself detached from that situation, and try and understand that there must be a reason, there must be something that has risen to this kind of reaction, you kind of build that empathy and you kind of start acknowledging a bit more why it has happened. And then you can start with kind of acknowledging them and coming from a place of empathy. There’s so much to learn, and then that, actually, these challenging and tricky situations actually make you a better teacher. If we have a challenging child in the centre, I say that this is a good opportunity for us to become a better teacher. And same with the challenging … not the challenging families, but those families who can be more sensitive to things.  

Denise:  If we always try and choose that people are well-intentioned – so, if we’re taking a, oh, that wasn’t very nice, just take a moment to think. Have you moved the conflict to being something about you now, or are you still trying to work out, is it something else? We need to understand ourselves: who we are, how we react, and more importantly, how we can grow to do things differently. Too often, we’re quick to look to externals for solutions, or even look and see that the problem lies with someone else when in actual fact it may lie with us. Is it the right time to have a conversation with a parent who’s clearly been stressed, getting ready to go to work, dropping a child off at day-care, may not be very happy about having to leave their child at day-care, may have had an argument, may have had all those things going on, and most of that is just about timing. It’s always about timing. The world of unintended consequences is all about timing. 

Carmen: If you think someone is hostile, what could be at the root of it? Is it the fear that you’ll discover about their poverty? Is it the fear that they may not be able to pay the fee for very long? You really need to have your wits about you – your eyes, all your senses, really. There are all sorts of things you can pick up by using your senses, even smell, even clothes – are they washed? All of these things which we use with our children, when they’re very little, these are all skills that remain essential when you’re trying to understand what could be going wrong.   

Denise: So, just leaning in closer to that person, just talking about what’s going on in just general life and allowing that person to build relationship, and to begin to trust that kaiako, would be the better way of approaching that immediate situation of concern. It’s that understanding that you are powerless to do anything about it. It’s not your problem. It is only for you to create the space, or the connection to occur with the parent, who may well need to talk to someone, and if you’re lucky, it will be you. So it’s empowering the person who owns the concern, to do something, but not taking it on as the person who’s worried. Building relationship, and not taking on responsibility that’s not yours. 

Reflect

The speakers in the previous video suggest there are many reasons why families seem distant and difficult to reach, sensitive, easily upset, and even confrontational, many of which are factors outside of the early childhood setting context.

Both Denise and Kalpana remind us not to see difficulties with particular families as a reflection on us as leaders and teachers, but more indicative of the things that are going on for that family, and as a source of potential learning about this family (you will remember from Course 2 how useful it can be to reframe conflicts as opportunities for learning). Carmen’s advice here also suggests that when there are difficulties with families, it becomes even more important to listen carefully to the words spoken by family members, and to look and listen for subtle information about the person speaking, what they are feeling, what is important to them, and how they perceive the world. This means listening for the other person’s deepest emotions, intentions, dreams, desires, and beliefs. For example, with careful attention, you might hear defensiveness and denial, cries for help, prejudices, or requests for acknowledgement that can help you to meet people’s needs in ways that reduce conflict and help to build relationships. 

Many of the strategies that were described in Course 2 for working with and resolving conflict with team members are also relevant to working with families. These include remembering to ensure that everyone involved in conflict feels they have been heard and that their comments are taken seriously, clarifying family members’ issues and differences of opinion in a neutral manner, and emphasising the areas on which you agree (even if this is just that the wellbeing of their child is paramount). As in the authentic leadership that you learned about in Course 1, it is important to be transparent about your own views on the matter, which might mean summarising conversations and conflicts by saying things like ‘Here are the issues I think we still disagree over and have to work out…’.  

KEY PRACTICE: Collaboration for resolving difficulties

Consider a scenario in which a family comes into the centre one morning, and tells the teachers that they do not think children should be permitted to do carpentry activities at the centre because they feel it is too dangerous. The team has several options open to them. Decide which mode (avoidance, accommodation, assertion/aggression, compromise, or collaboration) characterises these responses: 

‘We have a free play environment here, and we can’t exclude a child from carpentry’. (This line of argument can be continued until it reaches a case of ‘if you don’t like it, perhaps you should find another centre’!) 

Assertion/aggression

Removing carpentry activities from the programme entirely

Accommodation 

Removing carpentry activities from the programme on the two days a week the child attends

Avoidance 

Agreeing to continue to provide carpentry activities for other children, but ensuring the family’s own child does not participate 

Compromise 

Finding out why the family feels like this, and what their concerns are, suggesting other ways to address their concerns so that the child can enjoy carpentry but the family are not stressed by the child’s participation in this activity, and giving the family decision-making abilities in regards to which option will work best for them.  

Collaboration 

Each of these modes of response represents a slightly different focus on solving the problem. Some modes of response emphasise a focus on the person, and on the relationship with that person, whereas others emphasise finding a good result or outcome for the child’s learning.  

Reflect

This tension between relationships and outcomes was also identified in Course 2 in relation to offering constructive feedback to team members, and there too, it was important to find a middle ground which emphasises both the importance of relationships and attention to positive outcomes. This chart shows how accommodation, aggression, avoidance, compromise, and collaboration are related to meeting concerns for people and meeting concerns for outcomes, respectively.  

You can see that avoidance, for example, is a strategy that shows little concern for either people or outcomes, whereas accommodation is primarily focused on concern for people, and aggression on concern for results. Collaboration is the only mode that addresses both concern for people and concern for results. Collaboration maintains an emphasis on meeting the needs of the people involved in a disagreement, but does not sacrifice a need for really good outcomes.  

However, there are no wrong or right answers here. Thinking with an ethic of hospitality in which we can never know another person’s situation or understand their perspective fully, it becomes impossible to prescribe fixed and universal rules to apply to every situation. Avoidance, accommodation, assertion or aggression, compromise, and collaboration can all be the right choice within a particular scenario. Avoidance, for example, can be a useful strategy where issues are trivial, or you have no power over the issues and are better leaving it to those who can, whereas compromise (less than total agreement) can be sufficient where outcomes are not so important to any of the parties involved, or where making a quick decision is more important than the nature of the decision.   

It is useful to be aware of the messages that, for example, these different approaches to disagreement and conflict convey to whānau. For example, if you use accommodation, you automatically communicate to people that you care more about them than you do about the outcomes of a particular decision. This might be a useful approach where you need to gain a family’s trust. If you use assertion, you automatically communicate to a family that a particular outcome is more important to you than their feelings and perspectives. This might be entirely necessary in relation to displays of aggressive or discriminatory behaviour by a family member within the setting. However, when you collaborate with families, you send the message that both your relationships with them and positive outcomes for the child, family, and team are important. 

Of all these responses to issues with families, collaboration is the most difficult, and requires the greatest amount of skill, time, and energy, as it involves everyone taking time to understand the others’ perspectives, and thinking carefully about the best ways to merge those perspectives. Collaboration is the response that turns the conflict or disagreement into an important learning opportunity for everyone, and supports everyone’s commitment and motivation to making solutions work. While there definitely will be times when the most effective approach is to surrender, or to walk away, or even to fight and be aggressive (!), responding with collaboration usually produces the best and most satisfying results.  

Consider how using each of these modes of response to family’s disagreements and challenges makes you feel.

It is possible that always accommodating whānau wishes is likely to make you feel like a door-mat, while always resisting may make you increasingly angry. Always avoiding may make you disengage, and always compromising may make you feel compromised. Collaborating with families to solve issues, on the other hand, is likely to make you feel both connected to your whānau and successful. It is a respectful practice, builds better relationships, and is more pleasurable, at the same time that it leads to more effective and lasting results. It is also the practice that is most aligned with the conceptions of authentic and ethical leadership that were examined in Course 1, and that you perhaps adopted for your personal leadership vision. While there are no recipes for collaboration, it certainly starts with the attentive listening and caring, empathetic responses to families that have been outlined in this part, and which will be revisited in Part 3 on culturally responsive collaborations with families. For example, if we return to the carpentry example you examined earlier, a move into a collaborative problem-solving approach would mean trying to learn more about the different perspectives on carpentry of the family and the teaching team. Watch the next video to see how one centre responded to a similar situation. 

Watch

In this video, Kalpana Prasad, headteacher at The Rumpus Room Early Childhood Centre, describes a very specific conflict of meaning and perspective on a carpentry activity between parent and teacher. See if you can relate to both perspectives described, and think about how this understanding might help you to move into a collaborative stance for problem-solving. 

Transcript

Conflicts of values and meanings 

There was a, we had one incident when a child did a carpentry activity, and so proud of their creation and holding the creation in their hand. As soon as the parent arrived, the child ran to the parent and gave their creation to them and she told them all about, you know, I did this carpentry, and so happy about it. As soon as the parent took it in their hand, they could feel the nail was popping out from the other side. So for the parent, straight away, that was the focus, that my child could have got hurt with this nail that is coming out from it. Why was it not hammered? So for this parent, it was the safety of their child that was straight away being questioned. Was the teacher not being careful enough or more observant enough to be able to fix that up straight away? When you hear the teacher perspective in this situation, it was more about, it was the child’s creation. Why do I want to alter it? Why, you know, putting my own input into it? 

Moving into a collaborative mindset means that when you are challenged by family or whānau, you might try to hear those deeper elements as Carmen suggested in our videos for this part, by using an open heart, and drawing on your empathy and intuition. Empathy involves recognising other people as separate, unique, and complex individuals whose ideas and feelings cannot ever be fully known or understood, but nevertheless trying to walk in their shoes, and to find part of ourselves and our experiences that resonate with parts of what you learn about them and their experience. In this way empathy is easily aligned with the ethic of hospitality. Focusing on collaboration, you can bring all the techniques of responsive and active listening, curiosity, and open-ended questions that you have explored in this course so far, and aim to enact the ethic of hospitality by being willing to accept without judgement whatever you find beneath the surface. 

Finding out what families’ and whānau’s concerns are gives you the basis for collaborative problem-solving. Rather than resolving our example of issues with carpentry activities in the early childhood setting by applying power (using your authority as a leader to decide what activities are good for children), or even on the basis of rights (the rights of teachers and parents to make decisions on children’s behalf), leaders can move towards looking at the concerns and interests of family and whānau that lead them to make a demand such as limiting carpentry in the early childhood setting. If families want to limit carpentry because they are worried about injury, there may be many things the team can do to increase safety measures. If families want to limit carpentry because the noise is problematic for them where they are studying or working near to the centre, there will be other things that can be done. Simply asking families why they would like a particular solution put in place is a great way to begin. And when you start genuinely and curiously asking questions (not those that are probing, prying, attacking, or judgemental), keep going! Finding out what the specific concerns and interests are (for both families and team members) and finding a solution that enables all these interests and concerns to be met, means that everyone ‘wins’, and everyone feels united, connected, and respected. This is the pathway to a collaborative mode of problem-solving which honours the principles of partnership with whānau based in responsive relationships, and on respect for the other without prior assumption or judgement, as a unique individual, capable, with the appropriate support, to work together with you to find mutually satisfactory solutions.