For professional educators, serving children in schools means serving the family as well, and we must adopt practices which will move school systems, procedures, perspectives, protocols and program policies, towards being family-centered in the framework of teaching and learning. The elements of family-centered practices all work towards empowering families with the knowledge and skills to make the best decisions for their children and the family as a unit. When parents are empowered, they feel in control; a palpable sense of agency.They also become more invested when they feel they are respected as experts and collaborators in the educational planning process.
Professionals must recognize that when they develop a relationship with a child, they are also developing a relationship with the child’s family. The more collaborative the relationship is with families, the more invested and engaged the child becomes in the classroom and learning and achievement potential is optimized. Collaboration is the key, and successful relationships require hard work. When the life of a child is at stake, there is no room for failure-it is not an option.
An essential component of family-centered practice is collaboration in decision-making. As a model of partnership, family-centered practice has as its underlying philosophy the belief that
families are pivotal in the lives of children and should be empowered to engage in decision making
It actually has its origins in Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, in that it recognizes that children exist within a wider context of family,
community and society where at every level the ecological system is interconnected. In this ecological system, the child, the family and the
environment are inseparable and what affects one member of the system impacts on the other members. Each member of the system, and their relationships, are in turn influenced by the broader social, political and educational policies. It is this broader system (mesosystem) that shapes the perceptions, expectations and equality of the relationships that exist between the nested systems.
Since we recognize the interconnectedness of these systems-family, child, school, community- it is logical that we likewise assume a multi-generational approach to teaching and learning at school. What empowers one system, empowers and impacts all others. “If you know better, you do better!” Today, we know better and more about the interplay between learning at home and learning at school. When all are aligned, we maximize successful learning outcomes, we enhance life quality for families, strengthen communities, and position our society and its citizens to thrive in a global economy-the global village.
What remains baffling, however, is why it seems to be such reluctance to ‘share’ power and expand the instructional audience to include families, adult caregivers, and diversity. There is an incredible difference between giving away power and sharing power.
Family-centered practices do not mean that the experts in education are relinquishing their expertise to the parents, whose expertise is in their child, culture and unique strengths they possess. Instead, we are asking that professional educators, whose knowledge, experience and expertise lies in their chosen specializations, share their knowledge and benefits from their expertise with families-a collaboration.
Family-centered practices is a partnership, an alliance between systems of care, where knowledge is shared, goals are mutually identified, designed and collaboratively implemented. When parents and families understand your purpose, recognize common interests, and are given the tools and skills to support and fully align with them, children fare better, relationships become more meaningful,
and come to life in the classroom, the home and the community at large-inseparably.
The pathway to this end is through authenticity, trust, respect and reciprocal communication.With a focus on strengths and solutions- finding, we must adopt a genuine appreciation for diversity, culture, language, family structure, etc… Unless and until we can honestly say that we understand the impact of our own culture and cultural experiences, as it influences our cultural lens, we are challenged to engage in family-centered practices with cultural competence.
Cultural competence is also at the core of family-centered practices, when working with children and their families. To respectfully teach and engage a child in learning is to respect and engage that child’s family and with that child’s culture. Demonstrating respect for the culture is to recognize the differences, acknowledge the similarities, and communicate, in conversation or classroom instruction, responsively. This brings us to ‘mirrors and windows’. Children require, not maybe, but definitely, require in their best interests, a healthy balance of both mirrors and windows in the classroom, within a curriculum framed by a broad and inclusive lens.
Eurocentricity and windows-focused curricula and instruction defy the ‘whole child-whole family’ philosophy, and is harmful to the comprehensive growth and development of children. It also negates our responsibility to empower every child and his or her family, as well. If diversity is represented in a school community, especially, and the instruction does not address, affirm or highlight that diversity, we are ‘mis-educating’ the child, disempowering the family and performing a great disservice to that community.
Family-centered practices place children and families at the fore and central consideration at the core of curriculum, policy, practice, and procedural design and protocol…if indeed we endeavor to act in the best interest of children, and to help them realize their potential for school, career, and life success.
“So goes the family; So goes the nation.”... interconnectedness!