- Learn about the importance of working together with other stakeholders to create positive experiences to strengthen the management of your family child care program.
- Discuss the significance of working collaboratively with families in the day-to-day operation of your program.
- Reflect on practices that highlight working cooperatively to care for children and their families.
“Unity is strength…when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” -Mattie Stepanek
When you reflect on your ability to manage day-to-day experiences or activities in your life, you probably acknowledge that working with others is part of your daily routine and helps get things done. We are by nature social beings, and our relationships with others greatly affect our personal and professional lives. Think about your daily life and how working with others helps you when sharing household responsibilities, taking care of children, taking care of parents, pets, or other loved ones, or taking care of yourself.
Collaboration is a dynamic process where individuals come together and share their knowledge, experiences, resources, and strengths to promote growth and development. When it comes to caring for children, these individuals are family members, family child care providers like you, service providers, family child care administrators, and community partners. Collaboration builds on the expertise, interests, and strengths of everyone involved in the process. By acknowledging that each individual has something meaningful to offer, collaboration creates opportunities to set goals and objectives, to make plans to implement those goals, to monitor progress, and to solve problems jointly. It assumes the thinking that “all of us are smarter than one of us” (Turnbull, Turnbull, Shank, & Smith, 2004, p. 80). The goal of collaboration is to ensure progress and growth for each child, each child’s family, and ultimately, your family child care program.
The Process of Working Collaboratively
Like everything else we do, learning to work with others is a skill that does not develop overnight. Just like when you are learning any new skill or experience, you have to invest time and effort in getting familiar with new information and practicing new things. Being able to work well with others requires ongoing effort, energy, and commitment. Remember that each person you engage with is a unique individual. In your daily interactions with children you care for, families, and fellow providers, you always bring who you are: your interests, your personality, your temperament, your background, experiences, and your special abilities and talents. The way you view yourself working cooperatively with others can define your interactions and relationships with children, families, and the professionals that support your program. When you work together with other professionals and families, the time spent on collaboration can benefit the children you serve, their families, and you.
Building collaborative relationships takes time, effort, networking and attention, but often has meaningful outcomes in terms of enhancing the overall quality of your program. You should not work solely independently, even if you are the only adult working with children in your family child care home all day. As you work with other family child care providers and your family child care administrators, you should have opportunities to share successes as well as challenges with each other. You may also see these experiences as opportunities to make new friends and network with others who have similar interests and responsibilities as you.
Two of the country’s leading experts on building collaboration, Jacqueline Thousand and Richard Villa, identify five elements as critically important in creating a collaborative process. (Johnson & Johnson, 1997; Thousand & Villa, 2000). As you read these, think about how they reflect your experiences with collaboration regarding your program:
- Face-to-face interaction among collaborators on a frequent basis
- A mutual “we are all in this together” feeling of positive interdependence
- A focus on the development of small-group interpersonal skills in trust building, communication, leadership, creative problem solving, decision making, and conflict management
- Regular assessments and discussion of the group’s functioning in setting goals for improving relationships and effectively accomplishing tasks
- Methods for holding each other accountable for agreed-on responsibilities and commitments
In your daily work, you make conscious, intentional decisions about how to interact in daily encounters with children, family members, and community members. Working collaboratively requires that you enter partnerships with a positive attitude and commitment to ethical behavior. No matter how experienced you are, being part of a collaborative group should be central to your practice as a family child care professional. Child care settings are primarily people-centric places. The biggest resources are people. The outcomes should be happy, secure children and families.
Collaborating with Families
Family-professional partnerships are a central part of your work as a family child care professional. One key feature of a successful family-professional partnership is a sense of equality between family members and professionals (Turnbull et al., 2004). As highlighted in the Professionalism course, individuals who deal directly with human welfare have a special obligation to behave in ways that benefit those they serve. Values that are foundational to professions based on human relationships are caring, compassion, empathy, respect for others, and trustworthiness (Feeney, 2012, p. 11). Above all, effective family child care providers are dedicated to serving the needs of the young children and families they work with. Your program should have a clearly articulated and shared mission and philosophy that is demonstrated by anyone who may work with children in your home, and that everyone understands.
When discussing family-professional relationships, Janice Fialka, in her highly regarded article The Dance of Partnership: Why Do My Feet Hurt? (2001), compares collaboration with dancing. She reflects on her experiences as a social worker and as a parent of a child with disabilities and shares the complexities of the dancing-collaborating experience. At times, she notes, her professional partners and she do not seem to be gracefully moving together across the floor, their movements seem awkward, stiff, and uncoordinated, as if each partner is dancing to different music. Sometimes the partners may even step on each other’s feet while trying to figure out what to do next. She notes, however, how important it is to have each partner’s perspectives, hopes, dreams, and expectations be heard, valued, and respected at different times during the dance.
In your daily work, in order to truly get to know a child in your care, you have to get to know their family. In this process, you need to be open-minded, flexible, and genuinely interested in order to make a difference.
There are several positive outcomes of collaboration between you and family members. During this process, families become active participants, share valuable information, and work with you to promote their child’s optimum development. You get a window into each family’s dreams, hopes, and aspirations for their young child and a better understanding of where they come from, what they need, and what their vision is for their young child and family.
Reflecting on your Own Experiences and Practices
High-quality environments for children cannot be created unless these environments are also good for the adults who work in them. Education professor Lilian Katz, in her book, Talks with Teachers of Young Children (1995) urges professionals to ask themselves the following questions. As you read each of these questions, think about your own work environment.
On the whole, are relationships with the professionals that I collaborate with in support of my family child care program:
- Supportive rather than contentious?
- Cooperative rather than competitive?
- Accepting rather than adversarial?
- Trusting rather than suspicious?
- Respectful rather than controlling?
Effective family child care providers value collaboration and acknowledge it is important to work together with families, fellow family child care providers, other support professionals, community members,PUB licensing specialists, and family child care administrators to be successful. They know it is important to critically think about their practices with children and families, and to make changes when needed. They also know it is important to celebrate successes and acknowledge the efforts of others, like family members and those who collaborate and support the program. Your program may plan joyful events that build community at different levels: with other providers, community members, children and families (e.g., acknowledging individual community members during meetings, celebrating birthdays and life events with potluck suppers, attending a professional training with fellow providers, organizing family nights, inviting families to spend time with children in the your home).
While working with others is one of the most rewarding parts of your job, it can also present challenges. It requires dedication, commitment, problem-solving skills, and a willingness to learn, change, and be flexible in order to address the multiple and often complex needs of those in your care. It is your responsibility to maintain professional conduct and seek the advice of your family child care administrator or licensing specialist when faced with difficult situations you are not sure how to deal with.
Enhance Quality Through Professional Development Activities
As a family child care provider, you will want to find time to engage in professional development activities as much as possible. Family child care providers are required to learn about a variety of topics such as child development, teaching techniques, child guidance, child assessment, building relationships with families, health and safety, working with fellow family child care providers, and collaboration with other community members. Learning often occurs in the context of day-to-day work in the program.
For instance, a coach or family child care administrator might observe in your family child care home as you transition to lunch and notice that this is a chaotic time. After discussing these observations with you, the family child care administrator might suggests that he or she visit the next day during the same transition and model some new strategies such as helping the children set the table or singing songs as they prepare for lunch.
Just as children are continuously learning, so are the family child care providers who care for them. As the program leader in your own home, you should model an open attitude toward improving your skills and practices. A trainer, coach, or family child care administrator may help you to openly state what your professional goals are and how you can plan to meet them. Seeking out face-to-face professional communities of practice, working with a mentor, or scheduling conference calls or meetings with other local family child care providers can be helpful in your growth as a professional and a leader. Continuously learning new skills and gaining new knowledge is part of being a professional; it is important for children and families to see leaders who are not perfect and who show a personal commitment to expanding their knowledge and skills.
In addition to job-embedded learning opportunities, there are many other ways family child care providers may want to engage in learning. Educator and author Gigi Schweikert (2012) offers these sources for further learning:
- Colleges and universities (face-to-face and online)
- Formal courses and webinars
- Other people (mentors, communities of practice, professional book groups)
- Group trainings
- Performance appraisals
- Visits to other programs
- Community partners
- Membership in professional organizations (e.g., Zero to Three; National Association for the Education of Young Children; National Association for Family Child Care)
You should always carefully choose appropriate webinars, workshops, and other professional development resources that are designed with family child care professionals in mind. There are many high-quality free webinars and modules available online. You may want to become familiar with the following excellent online resources:
- Early Childhood Investigations Webinars: http://www.earlychildhoodwebinars.com
- Family Engagement, Language, and Literacy Webinar Series: https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/family-engagement/article/family-engagement-language-literacy-webinar-series
- Hatch Early Learning Webinars: http://www.hatchearlylearning.com/resources/all
- IRIS Module: Early Childhood Environments: https://iris.peabody.vanderbilt.edu/iris-resource-locator/
Take time to review the practices listed below, which highlight working collaboratively to care for children and their families:
- Respect each child in your care and their families and acknowledge diversity and individual differences in growth, background, beliefs, and values. Invite and include each family in planning and decision-making about their child’s development and learning. Make sure every family has an opportunity to share their views or ideas with you.
- Meet regularly with professionals and community members that support your program to plan experiences for children and the families you serve. Provide a variety of developmentally appropriate choices and experiences for children in your care. Regular meetings allow you to discuss children’s progress, plan experiences, and make necessary changes.
- Ask clarifying questions when not sure about something. Miscommunication can lead to unnecessary frustration, delays in getting things done, and a negative climate. When working collaboratively, make sure you have a clear understanding of procedures, rules, or regulations, and always talk to your family child care administratorPUB or licensing specialist when in doubt.
- Share ongoing observational information about each child in your care with family members and use that information to plan for individual children and your group. Invite families’ input when planning.
- Have developmentally appropriate expectations about children’s behaviors and anticipate challenging behaviors.
- Be open-minded and use creative thinking skills, like brainstorming, when planning or problem-solving. Be willing to see others’ viewpoints and consider multiple options or solutions when tackling a problem or challenge.
- Most importantly, have a good attitude and demonstrate respect for each individual you collaborate with. Appreciate each professional that supports your family child care program and welcome the knowledge, experience, or expertise that each has to offer.
Take some time to read the identified article, Building and Supporting Teamwork, then review the activity, Working Cooperatively, and respond to the questions. Then, share and discuss your responses with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.
Use the resources in the Collaboration activity to learn more about working with parents and family members. Read the articles and think about new ways to involve families in their children’s care. Then share your ideas with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.
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Bernhardt, J. L. (2000). A Primary Caregiving System for Infants and Toddlers: Best for everyone involved. Young Children 55(2): 74–80.
Dance of Partnership. Retrieved from http://www.danceofpartnership.com/.
Division for Early Childhood. (2014). DEC Recommended Practices in Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education 2014. Retrieved from http://www.dec-sped.org/recommendedpractices.
Fialka, J. (2001). The Dance of Partnership: Why do my feet hurt? Young Exceptional Children, 4(2), 21-27.
Godwin, A., & Schrag, L. (1996). Building Relationships with Parents. In Setting Up for Infant/Toddler Care: Guidelines for Centers and Family Child Care Homes (pp. 51-52). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
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Harvard Family Research Project (2013). Family Involvement. Retrieved from http://www.hfrp.org/family-involvement
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Lynch, E. W., & Hanson, M. J. (2004). Developing Cross-Cultural Competence: A guide for working with young children and their families (3rd ed.). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes.
National Association for the Education of Young Children. Engaging Diverse Families. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/principles-effective-family-engagement.
National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2009). NAEYC Standards for Early Childhood Professional Preparation: A position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Retrieved from https://www.naeyc.org/resources/position-statements/standards-professional-preparation.
Simon, F. (2015). Look Up and Out to Lead: 20/20 vision for effective leadership. Young Children, 70(2), 18-24.
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Thousand, J.S., & Villa, R.A. (2000). Collaborative Teaming: A powerful tool in school restructuring. In R. A. Villa & J. S. Thousand (Eds.), Restructuring for caring and effective education: Piecing the puzzle (pp. 254-292). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
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