- Learn about the importance of working together to create positive experiences to strengthen the management of your school-age classroom.
- Discuss the significance of working collaboratively with families in the day-to-day operation of your classroom.
- Reflect on practices that highlight working as a team to care for school-age children and their families.
"Unity is strength…when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved." - Mattie Stepanek
As you reflected on your abilities to manage day-to-day experiences or activities in your life, in the previous lesson, you probably acknowledged that working with others is to some degree 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 or other loved ones, or taking care of yourself.
Collaboration is a dynamic process in which individuals come together and share their knowledge, experiences, resources, and strengths to promote growth and development. When it comes to caring for school-age children and youth, these individuals are family members, staff members like yourself, related service providers, administrators, and community partners. Collaboration builds on the expertise, interests, and strengths of everyone involved in the process. By acknowledging that each of these individuals has something meaningful to offer, collaboration creates opportunities to set goals and objectives, make plans for implementing those goals, monitor progress, and 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 school-age child and youth, their family, and ultimately, your program.
The Process of Creating Collaborative Teams
Like everything else we do, learning to work with others is a skill that does not develop overnight. On the contrary, it is a process that takes place over time. Just like when you are learning any new skill or experience you have to invest time and effort in getting to know information and practicing new things, being able to work well with others requires ongoing work, energy, and commitment. Remember that each person you engage with is a unique individual. In your daily interactions with school-age children, families, and colleagues, 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 as a team member can define your interactions and relationships with school-age children, families, and colleagues. When you work together with colleagues and families, the time spent on collaboration can benefit school-age children and youth, their families, as well as yourself.
Building collaborative relationships takes time, effort, and attention, but often has meaningful outcomes in terms of enhancing the overall quality of your program. As you work with fellow staff members, your T&Cs, or managers, 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 with you.
Two of the country's leading experts on building collaborative teams, Jacqueline Thousand and Richard Villa, identify five elements as critically important in creating a collaborative process. (Johnson & Johnson, 1997; Thousand & Villa, 1990, 2000, p. 258). As you read these, think about how they reflect your experiences with collaboration in your program:
- Face-to-face interaction among team members 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 team's functioning in setting goals for improving relationships and effectively accomplishing tasks
- Methods for holding one another accountable for agreed-on responsibilities and commitments
In your daily work, you make conscious, intentional decisions about how to interact in daily encounters with school-age children and youth, family members, and colleagues. Being part of a team 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 workplace should be central to your practice as a school-age staff member. School-age programs are primarily people-centric workplaces. 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 school-age staff member. 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). Effective school-age staff members above all are dedicated to serving the needs of the children and families they work with. Your program’s parent handbook is the ideal place to share with parents your program’s vision, philosophy and offerings. Your program should also have a clearly articulated shared mission and philosophy that is demonstrated by everyone who works in the program and that all staff understand. You should familiarize yourself with this mission and philosophy.
When discussing family-professional relationships, Janice Fialka, in her highly regarded 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 the school-age children in your care, you have to get to know their families. 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 school-age child and a better understanding of where they come from, what they need, and what their vision is for their child and family.
Reflecting on your Own Experiences and Practices
High-quality environments for school-age children cannot be created unless these environments are also good for the adults who work in them. Education professor Lilian Katz, in Talks with Teachers of Young Children (1995) urges professionals to ask themselves the questions below. As you read each of these questions, think about how things are in your own work environment.
On the whole, are relationships with my colleagues:
- Supportive rather than contentious?
- Cooperative rather than competitive?
- Accepting rather than adversarial?
- Trusting rather than suspicious?
- Respectful rather than controlling?
Effective school-age staff members value collaboration and acknowledge it is important to work together with families, other staff members, and supervisors to be successful. They know it is important to critically think about their practices with school-age 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 colleagues, in their daily work. Your program may plan joyful events that build community at different levels: among the staff, as well as among staff, school-age children and families (e.g., acknowledging individual staff members during staff meetings, celebrating staff birthdays and life events with potluck suppers, attending a professional conference together, organizing family nights, inviting families to participate in program experiences, encouraging families to spend time with children throughout the day).
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 T&C or manager when faced with difficult situations you are not sure how to deal with.
Take time to review the practices listed below, which highlight working as a team to care for school-age children and their families:
- Respect each school-age child and youth in your care and their families and acknowledge diversity and individual differences in growth, background, beliefs, and values. Invite each family's input as you plan and implement activities and experiences. Make sure every family has an opportunity to share their views or ideas with you.
- Meet regularly with colleagues to plan experiences for school-age children and their families. Regular meetings allow you to discuss children's interests, plan experiences, and make necessary changes.
- Ask clarifying questions when not sure about something. Miscommunication can lead to unnecessary frustrations, delays in getting things done, and a negative work climate. As a team member, make sure you have a clear understanding of procedures, rules, or regulations, and always talk to your T&C or supervisor when in doubt.
- Share ongoing observational information about each school-age child in your care with colleagues and family members and use that information to plan for individual children and your group.
- Provide a variety of developmentally appropriate choices and experiences for children and youth in your care.
- Have developmentally appropriate expectations about school-age children's behaviors and be proactive when dealing with 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 member of your team and welcome the knowledge, experience, or expertise that each has to offer.
Download and print the handout Working as a Team. Take some time to read the identified article, and respond to the questions. Then, share and discuss your responses with a T&C or supervisor.
Use the resource in the handout Collaboration to learn more about working together with colleagues. Think about new ways to collaborate with others and share your ideas with your T&C.
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