How can I support effective communication with parents in the Head Start community?
I can act on the knowledge ...
Seek first to understand and then to be understood 1
These words of wisdom are at the heart of staff and parent communication in Head Start. Whether working together to meet the developmental needs of children or towards realizing personal and family goals, staff and parents seek to understand and be understood. They seek to form a partnership based on mutual trust and respect.
This guide assists staff in meeting their communication goals and enhancing their relationships with parents. It is based on three central ideas about communication in Head Start programs:
- Effective communication is the cornerstone of the parent/staff partnership.
- Whether formal or informal, effective communication is respectful and clear.
- To communicate well, one must consciously practice the skills involved. Plus, one must plan for it, at both the personal and program levels.
Sometimes our communications with each other resemble the bumper car ride at a carnival - haphazard, fast-paced and a little chaotic... cars bumping and crashing into each other, some spinning, some jammed up in a corner, some careening wildly off on their own... most of us having a good time but a few of us picking up bruises.
Sometimes our communications work like a graceful dance- well-orchestrated and beautiful... each dancer moving in rhythm... everyone participating with purpose and focused on a common goal.
And sometimes our communications are as brief as a lightning burst-a jolt of electricity that connects two parts and changes each.
There are many metaphors for the many different kinds of interactions that people have with each other. However, all communications are alike in that they tend to have a purpose whether we are aware of it or not.
At Head Start, the purpose of most of our communications with parents is to build partnerships with families. Interactions with parents should therefore support that purpose. However, directing our communications purposefully takes skill. It is an art learned over a lifetime. Staff can reflect on the value of authentic, positive communications and provides activities for staff to practice and use in advancing their skills.
Communication is viewed as a dynamic process-two-way and mutually beneficial. The concrete communication skills of listening and observing as well as speaking and writing are important.
Of course communications at Head Start are not limited to staff-parent interactions. Parents interact with each other, staff with each other, and everyone with children. While the focus here is on the partnership-building communications that develop between staff and parents, staff will be able to apply and model their skills in other contexts.
The Head Start Program Performance Standards require Head Starts to:
- Provide effective two-way communication on program services, activities, policies, and resources.
- Create methods for enhancing parents' knowledge and understanding of their-children's needs in terms of education, development, nutrition, health, and disabilities.
- Communicate with parents about community resources and other agencies that can better serve the needs of Head Start families.
- Include parents in the design and implementation of the communication process within the Head Start program in order to further their involvement in the program.
- Work with other community agencies to develop strategies for improving services to Head Start families.
(The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People
, by Stephen R. Covey)