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Families As Partners - Making Family Engagement Truly Meaningful & Authentic

Families As Partners - Making Family Engagement Truly Meaningful & Authentic
Luis Hernandez, MA
February 15, 2019

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Editor’s note: This text-based course is an edited transcript of the webinar, Families As Partners - Making Family Engagement Truly Meaningful & Authentic, presented by Luis Hernandez, MA.

Learning Outcomes

After this course, participants will be able to:

  • Explain why they should think of families as valued customers.
  • Describe the consequences of biased or poor interactions with parents.
  • List at least three ways to establish a sense of respect and trust with families.


Let’s start by exploring in detail the terms in the course title, as these words have a lot of impact.

Partnership indicates that we're going to work together. It may refer to only two individuals, or it may be our entire team.  How do we create a working relationship with people who may not be related by blood?  Engagement means active participation by parents. Engagement means parents are a part of this partnership. Meaningful refers to the value that we give to relationships with the parents of the children that we take care of. Authentic refers to being real and genuine. Authentic refers to who we are as a person and as a professional.

At the heart of our profession is the power of a positive relationship with each family. We want to treat every family as an individual unit, the same way that we treat all children as individuals. We need to consider the power of our relationships with families. Today we’ll discuss what it is that parents experience even before they bring a child to our center or to our program.  We will want to explore their view of our profession, and of the child’s environment in our center. We will also discuss how we examine our own attitudes using self-reflection, and how attitudes impact relationships. Finally, we will consider the roles and responsibilities in building a relationship with every individual family.

All learning begins with families and home life. Mothers, fathers, aunts, and grandparents give us our love of learning, from manners to daily rituals, to the stories we shared, to the type of humor we shared. Your learning started at home with your family, and it will be the same for children in your setting.

As a professional, there are questions to consider that help frame the discussion of family relationships.  Think about the impact of child development and school success. What happens when a parent leaves a child in your center? Did you ever have to go off to work and you put your child in a child care center or pre-K program? How did you feel the first time? It was probably a very difficult thing to do. How do we adjust family life to life in our centers?

Families are valued customers. Families are putting their children with us.  What value do they see when they consider the cost?  Today I will also describe the consequences of a biased or poor interaction with families. Biases can taint relationships, and so we need to understand how we view families from our set of values.  Later in this course, I’ll cover how you create a sense of respect and trust with families. I will provide steps for you to rethink your approach to how you work with families.

Consideration #1 – What is the Experience of Families Coming to My Program?

The first thing to consider is what is the experience of families coming to your program. Think back to when I asked you if you had left your child in a child care center or pre-K program. How did you feel that first day? As I've heard from so many people, probably not very good. I've heard of families that drop off their baby and they go back to the parking lot where they sit in the car and cry. They cry because they think, what have I done? How can I leave my child with a complete stranger? I heard a story about a dad who just drove around the block for about half an hour because he wasn’t sure he had made the right decision to leave his child there. Other parents I've talked to said they went back to work, but they would call the center every 30 minutes asking if their child was okay. Remember, leaving their loved one with a complete stranger is a new experience for so many families.

Until we have a relationship with families, we are a complete stranger to them. The bottom line of all this is, how do we establish a sense of trust and respect? The teacher might say to the parent, “I have a BA degree and I have a master's degree in child development. I've been working with children for a long time.” That doesn't reassure me enough to say, I'm going to leave my child with you. I have to know you and know that you are a good person. Are you going to take of my baby the same way that I would? Many families experience hesitation and fear before they come to the program until there is a sense of trust established.

Let's look at these experiences as if we are shopping. Think about how you view places you shop at. Think first about unhappy shopping experiences you’ve had. One of those most of you have likely experienced is at the Department of Motor Vehicles, where you pull a number, it’s dirty, and there’s a long wait. You might hate going into a big box store because everything's disorganized.  Most people dislike going into places that are filthy, unkept, and disorganized. I think the most important part of an unhappy experience when shopping is the way we are treated, usually by the employees. This might be because they don't greet us or they treat us just like another number.

Now let’s contrast that and think about some positive experiences you’ve had when shopping. I love going to supermarkets where you go by the vegetable department and there are noises of a storm and thunder, and then all of sudden, there's a mist that comes over the vegetables. I usually think, wow, this is a great experience. I feel like all those vegetables and grains that I'm buying are absolutely fresh from some kind of jungle. It is a very positive sensory experience that we have. I love it when people smile and greet by my name. It's one of those things that is really so important.

You might be thinking, what is the purpose of this discussion about unhappy experiences with shopping and positive experiences when shopping? How does that relate to the work that we do? We have to keep in mind that much of our work is customer service oriented.

A Few Comparisons

Negative Experiences

Positive Experiences





Unpleasant staff

Friendly staff

Treated rudely



The negative experiences often cause unhappiness. These are the places that are dirty, disorganized, everything's thrown all over the aisles, and the staff could not be more unpleasant and we're treated rudely. On the other hand, when we think about great experiences, I think we often think of a place that is clean and well-organized. I think the most important part is that the staff is friendly and personal. We know from basic psychology that if you visit a store or a restaurant and they know your name, you'll tend to go back there more often. You tend to spend more money and you think of the restaurant or the store as almost like family. This idea of positive experiences has a deeper meaning to us because we feel welcome and we feel valued as a customer, versus a very negative experience.

Let's Apply Customer Service Principles to Our Centers and Classrooms

Let's apply some of those basic customer service principles to our centers and classroom.

Teacher with puppets and a groud of five preschoolers in an early childhood classroom

Figure 1. Early childhood classroom.

Outdoor view of a daycare center entry behind a locked gate

Figure 2. Child care center.

Look at the picture in figure 1.  You can see that the room is warm and inviting, it’s colorful and well-organized, and people seem happy.  The adult has a smile on her face and the children are engaged. That’s a big contrast from the picture in figure 2 where you see bars on the windows, dirty windows, and trash outside. It looks like a fortress.

How can we create a welcoming environment for families? Put yourself in their shoes as they come in for the first time or their initial experience of leaving their baby with you. Is it a welcoming experience? Is this a place that you would want to leave your child? As someone who does this work, many of my friends and family members ask me where they should put their child. They want my thoughts and recommendations. I tell them that I don't recommend a place, but I give them some of the criteria they should consider when choosing a center. When you walk through the front door of a center and smell dirty Pampers, I think it's time to turn around. If you go into a place and you hear lots of the adults screaming at children, turn around and leave. If you hear children crying all the time, it's time to leave. Is it dinky? Does it smell? Is it disorganized? Is it dirty? Please turn around. Fortunately, not many children are stuck in centers like that. I think the majority of people who work in early childhood are fantastic folks.

Thinking of Families as “Valued Customers”

  • Do we use their real name when greeting?
  • Is there a direct personal recognition or interest?
  • Are we helpful/concerned about their child?
  • Does the center exemplify a “safe & secure” environment?
  • Is it clean & well-maintained?
  • Is the staff friendly and knowledgeable?

Think about families as valued customers. These are strategies that we sometimes forget. Do we use the real name of the parent when we greet them? Instead of saying, oh, you're Johnny's mom. Johnny's mom has a name. The same way we like a restaurant to know our names, parents like us to use their names.  Using parent's names is essential.

Is there a direct personal recognition or interest? You might say, “You look great today. I love what you've done to your hair,” or “I like what you're wearing,” or “You seem really up today, I'm so glad.” A direct, personal recognition is essential because it makes a connection from one person to the other.

Are we helpful and concerned about their child? We are here because of their child. Hey, how did Johnny sleep last night? Is he doing better? Is he over the flu? Is he getting better at going to bed a little earlier? It’s important to share our concerns with the parent because their child is what we have in common.

Do we have a center that's really safe and secure? Given the times that we live in, we want to be able to guarantee families that their child is safe and secure.

Is this place clean and well-maintained? That's essential all the time. Is the staff friendly? That's a key element. We need to smile and look like we are enjoying what we’re doing. Do you know your stuff? Are you knowledgeable about the work? When we think about valued customers, these are the kinds of things we want to keep in mind.

Bottom Line:  Treat Others as You Want to Be Treated

Treat others as you want to be treated. Think again about how you want to be treated when you go shopping or to a restaurant. We have to be cognizant of how we are treating families. Are we welcoming them? Are we saying good morning? Even if mama doesn't say good morning back, we have to keep saying it.

Typical Concerns/Questions About How Our Work Relates to Customer Service

One question I am often asked is how do I make customer service part of my early childhood program? First of all, it has to have support from everybody. It starts with the director and goes to the person who does your maintenance of the program. Everyone on the team, including teachers and assistants, has to have the philosophy of good positive customer service.

The second thing to think about is that customer service needs regular monitoring. Sometimes stores send what they call secret shoppers who are monitoring the service of the store. Often times when you get a phone call from a company you’ll hear a recording saying the call is being monitored for quality assurance. It's all about maintaining and regular monitoring. Are they doing their job as it's meant? This is not just a one-time thing you do this at the beginning of the school year and forget about. It is ongoing. Customer service is a business philosophy, but it's really just friendly relationship building, which is what we want. We want to maintain the sense that people we are coming in contact with, including the parents of the children, are going to have a great experience.

Consideration #2 – How Does My Attitude Impact Relationships?

Next, we’re going to talk about attitude. You might think, what does that have to do with me? Everything has to do with you.  It’s important to think about what your attitude is. Take a moment to think about what is your attitude and how does it impact your relationships by answering the following questions. Write down your answers if you’d like.

  • What's your attitude about children?
  • What's your attitude about families?
  • What's your attitude about your coworkers/team members?

Attitude is everything. Whether we recognize it or not, your body and your facial expressions really reflect your attitude. Facial expression and body language are 90% of communication. What you have to say verbally is less than 10%. Your attitude reflects how you greet somebody in the morning. For example, is there a smile on your face or do you cross your arms and mumble, good morning. Your attitude impacts relationships because people are reading your face, your eyes, and your body. That has an impact on how people will approach you, including children.

Checking Our Attitudes… How Do I Feel When Mama…?

  • Doesn’t greet me?
  • Comes in her pajamas?
  • Is always on the phone?
  • Has a better car than me?

Let's check our attitudes on a few things. This is kind of difficult because there are times when our attitudes are not the most positive ones. Keep in mind that the children are watching how you relate to each family member or parent. They are reading your body as to how you, their teacher, feel about their mother or family member.

What happens when that mama doesn't greet you in the morning? You've been saying good morning and she doesn't say anything back. A part of you might think, well, if you want to play that game, I'll play it with you too, I'll never say good morning to you again. However, we have to maintain a sense of professionalism by saying good morning every day, regardless of what that mom is going through. Remember, we are a positive role model. That mom may need a good morning more than we can imagine. If she doesn't respond, we keep saying good morning.

Have you ever had a mother come in wearing her pajamas? Again, a part of you might wonder why she couldn’t have taken the time to get dressed. Have you asked her an open-ended question? You could simply say, “Hey, tell me about what's going on? How come I see in your pajamas?” She may share with you that she's coming from a third shift and worked all night. Maybe she just had a very tough night. Maybe it's none of your business, but at least you asked an open-ended, authentic question that gives you a better idea of why she's in her pajamas instead of just judging her.

I’m sure you’ve all had the mother who comes in and is always on the phone. There are times when you may say, “Can I just squeeze a second with you?” Maybe they're on the phone because they want to avoid you or because your attitude is not the most positive one. We always want to make time for them to help build that sense of trust.  

Maybe you see what kind of car she drives and think, she has a better car than me. You might wonder how she can afford that car. Again, that's a judgment. It’s none of your business how she got her car. Maybe she’s been working that third shift in order to pay for it.

The whole issue about any of these is how your attitude then changed your point of view about that mama. Again, her child then may look at you, and say hmm, this teacher doesn't feel so great about my mama and that's a mistake.

In Checking My Biases… Do I…

  • Know what is happening in her life?
  • Understand economic issues she is dealing with?
  • Recognize racial or cultural differences with this mother?
  • Use the power of compassion and empathy to relate to this mother?

We all have biases, which are similar to prejudice or negative view of other people. They can be both conscious, that is you’re really aware of them, or unconscious, where you're not even aware that you have a bias. It’s important to check yourself on how you judge others.

Think about the mother we just talked about. Do you know what's happening in her life? Does she have to get up really early? Are there some economic issues that she's dealing with that are a real struggle? So many families, especially young families, are dealing with economic issues. Are there any cultural, linguistic, or racial differences with this mother that set you apart? Do you understand where the parent is coming from or their language? Or do you just judge them for speaking English poorly? Do you have a sense of compassion and empathy to relate to this mom? Can you walk in her shoes? Do you really understand what she's going through? Sometimes part of being humble in our work is to be more aware of what individual families are going through. That can be a difficult thing to do. Part of our work is to have a sense of compassion and empathy. Many of us just do it naturally and many of us have to be a little more conscious about how to get to that place of compassion and empathy.

YES! We All Have Our Biases… How Do I Understand Them… and Change?

  • Reflect
  • Acknowledge the bias
  • Seek understanding
  • Read, research, investigate
  • Talk to people you trust
  • Be genuinely curious

Everyone has biases and we have a variety of biases. I have my own biases that I have to work through. I see myself as a work in progress. I'm not perfect, so I need to understand them and make a change within myself about particular biases that I may have. For example, I may have a bias about teen parents. We often see children 14, 15, or 16-years old that are parents. Again, I'm talking for me, that's my bias. I think, don't they know any better? Didn't they seek help? Didn't they go to a clinic? How come they did not say no? I have my own biases about a young woman who is a mother at the age of 15. I have to reflect on where this bias is coming from. For some of you, your bias could be something else. For example, here's a Muslim, how do you feel about that Muslim? How do you feel about those two mothers? How do you feel about that older parent? How do you feel about grandparents that are taking care of their grandchildren because their parents are not available? You have to do your own reflection about what your biases are and where they come from?

Then, you have to acknowledge it. For me, I have to acknowledge, hey, Luis Hernandez, you have a particular bias about young mothers, especially teen moms. What is that about? Why do you feel that way? Then, how do you seek understanding? For me, I have to talk to people. I started talking to teachers and directors that work in centers for teen moms, which gave me a better understanding. I went to a group with young teen moms and they spoke about their lives. Then, I started talking to my colleagues who were once teen moms themselves, but got their stuff together and went back to school and finished college. I was seeking my own understanding of the dynamics of my bias. I read, I did research, and I investigated.

Part of my responsibility as a professional is to be generally curious. I have to be curious so that I can understand the world, but most importantly for me, to understand my own biases. Where's that bias coming from? Can I make a change? I can say that I made a change. I made a change because I had a deeper understanding of what my own previous bias about teen moms meant. That gave me a sense of more compassion and more empathy about this group of young mothers.

In a Meaningful and Authentic Relationship

  • Be an active listener
  • Check the body language
  • Find common ground & interests
  • Focus: mutually want the BEST for the child
  • Be your REAL self

Be an active listener. We often don’t give people the time and space to really talk and for us to really listen. You may be talking with a friend who says she has a bad headache and you start talking about the horrible headache you had yesterday. In any relationship, whether it’s with your teenage children, your spouse, or a friend, take time to listen to people first, without reacting immediately, judging them immediately, or facing the problem immediately.

Check your body language. Our faces, including our smile or lack of smile, reflect a lot. Other important aspects to body language include the fact that we may not have any eye contact with somebody, the way we cross our arms, or the way we stand. Our body language relays communication to the person at the other end. It's important for us to keep in mind what our body is saying.

Find common ground and interests. Ask yourself what you have in common with the parents. You may find out they have a dog and you have a dog so you can start talking about dogs or cats if you prefer. Maybe you go to the same church, live in the same neighborhood, or like to cook. Think about areas of common ground that you can start a conversation about.  Then, from the conversation, a relationship can develop.

Most important is that both of you, the parent and teacher, want the best for the child. Because of that, the parent sees that you are authentic and that you care about her child.

Consequences of Biased/Poor Interactions

  • Children “sensing” that teacher does not like my mama
  • Setting a future pattern on parent/teacher interactions
  • Mixed signals as to the value of a school experience

What happens when my biases go unchecked or when my biases lead to poor interactions? This can be detrimental for us professionally. We always have to think, what's the impact of my actions, consciously or unconsciously?

For example, children may have a sense that their teacher may not like their mother. That's sad because that signal must be fairly strong for that child to pick up that you don't like his mom. That really gets in the way when mom comes to pick him up. The child knows that there's going to be some tension there, and that can set a pattern toward the future. If he sees that his mom and his teacher, who are two important people in his life, don't get along, maybe that's where the mixed signal comes in that school is not such a great place. Maybe he’ll tend to misbehave a little bit more just to get back at you. He might feel sad because his mom, who's number one in his universe, is not liked by the number two person in this world, which is his teacher.

Always think about the consequences of how you relate to a parent because children are observing us constantly. When it's time for the parents to come in to pick up the child or his mom is dropping him off, they're observing those interactions between these primary adults in their lives.

Relationships = HARD WORK!!

  • Respect
  • Trust
  • Time
  • Clear Communication
  • Common Ground

You might be thinking, this is hard work.  It is.  Relationships are hard work. We know that we cannot take any relationship for granted, whether it's your primary relationship with a spouse, your child, or parents. We should always be working on every relationship to make it better.

The first thing any relationship needs is respect. Many immigrant parents look at teachers with a deep sense of respect. You are a teacher. You're an adult who went to school and who knows their field, so there's an amount of professional respect. They respect the fact that you are taking care of their baby. For you as a teacher, what is your sense of respect for the parent? You might think, I respect this mother because she is dropping her baby off here. She's taking two buses to go to work. She works all day, she comes back, and she puts food on her table. She has a roof over her head. I respect the fact that she works very hard.

The second important piece in a relationship is trust. The parent needs to trust us. She trusts us to take care of her child while she's working. Having respect and trust is an incredible combination. Nothing's going to move forward without a sense of respect and trust.

Any relationship takes time to form. We cannot form a friendship or a relationship in five minutes, half an hour, or even in a day. It's going to take some time for both parties, as both have to learn about each other. Going back to customer service, the first impression is very important. What is our first impression of each other? How is it that we see each other from the get-go?

Clear communication is extremely important in a good relationship. Please do not beat around the bush. Be very clear about things such as the expectations of having a child in this center and the rules, whether it’s regarding drop-off time or pick-up time.

As I mentioned before, be aware of the common ground that you have with parents. The common ground certainly includes the benefit of the child. How is the child doing? They're not just dropping their child off just to be with us for X number of hours a day. There's a common ground about their development and their learning. What are the expectations about learning, for example? Be very clear about that, whether it’s in regards to toilet training, behavior issues, eating habits, health habits, or discipline issues.

I put the word repeat here because respect is earned over and over again and trust has to be maintained. There's nothing worse than losing a sense of respect or trust. It’s like a broken egg, once it's broken, you can't put it back together.

Typical Concerns/Questions About How Biases Impact Our Work

Let's think about some concerns and questions that all of us have about this idea of bias. Think about your own life, how you see your own biases. How does bias impact your work? Is there a particular bias that you may have about a family? Think about it. You do not have to share this with anybody and you might want to write it down. Now think about how that bias might get in the way of a good positive relationship with a family?

Now that you’ve identified a particular bias, I think the hardest thing about this is that we have to realize that this work starts with ourselves. You have to do a lot of self-reflection. You have to look at yourself and you might need to do a little research. You might have conversations with other people about this. If you were to share this with other professionals, you may find that other people have similar biases. You might find others who are looking to be able to share them with somebody and say, hey, I want to move forward. I don't want to get stuck in a particular bias that gets in the way of my professional responsibilities or my relationship with particular families.

Consideration #3 – My Professional & Personal Role

Our third consideration regarding the work that we do is your professional and personal role in having a relationship with families. You have all likely had someone tell you how lucky you are that you get to play all day with children or that you’re just a glorified babysitter. However, we are professionals.  We have to make that clear to the families we work with and sometimes even with the people we work with or our own families. It’s important that they understand that the work that you do every day with children is one that is important and has value. Never let anybody take away your sense of professionalism because early childhood education is a profession. Remember, those first five years are the most critical, important years in a child's life. You are there spending time with them during those critical years of development and learning. Let's cheer each other up. Let's applaud one another. Let's recognize the value of our profession all the time.

Affirm Professional Principles & Ethics

  • ECE is about children & families
  • Affirm that families are the child’s first & most important teachers
  • Know that the child’s home is their FIRST classroom
  • Focus on a positive partnership to model love for learning and school success

Let’s talk about some of the principles and ethics of our profession. Principles are what guide us and our profession. Recognize that we have professional ethics. There is a balance between the good and the bad, and we always want to be able to go for the good, for the good of children and the good of families. Let's look at some of these principles that we have.

One principle is that our work is about children and families. If you say, oh, I just love children but I can't stand their families, that’s a problem because our work is intertwined between children and families. It's about both of them. The reason for that is that families are the child's first and most important teachers. We always have to keep that in mind. We have to be humbled by that because we have the privilege to have children for a year, two, or even up to three years. We have children from infants right through pre-school age for X number of hours a day, for X number of months a year. But children will be with their families for the rest of their lives.

We always have to know that the home is their first classroom. Everything that happens at home is a learning opportunity. There’s a learning opportunity when we go shopping at Walmart, do laundry, or help with cooking. When Dad or Mom is washing the car or changing a tire, it is a learning opportunity. When we're sorting socks or putting things away, it's a learning opportunity. When we tell stories and we tell jokes, it's a learning opportunity.

Again, we're looking at a positive partnership. It is key that we model love for learning and school success. We want to emphasize to parents that learning is a fantastic experience and that the more curious we are, the more joyful we are in our learning, which will lead to school success.

On the Professional Side

  • Keep learning – read, research, investigate
  • Know & treat each family as an individual
  • Always focus on the BEST interest of the child
  • We are ALL teachers

On the professional side, as a person who works with young children, it’s important to keep learning. We are lifelong learners. Just because you have a CDA or AA or BA degree, that is not terminal. We're still learning, so we have to continue reading, researching, and investigating so that we can keep up with ideas and trends in the field. I need to know more about brain development, for example. I have to learn more about outdoor play and STEM in young children. There are so many things that are happening, and there's no excuse now for not being able to find information. We can all Google things we’re interested in and investigate.

This is a repeat, but it’s so important to know and treat each family as an individual. Every family is unique, very much like children are unique. We cannot treat them like cookie cutters. We want the very best for children and once parents understand and sense that, the partnership is going to fly.

Remember that we're all teachers, but more importantly, we're also all learners. We're learning all the time from children and families. We learn in a variety of ways and that is part of our professional responsibilities.

On the Personal Side

  • Treat all families equally
  • Show no preferences
  • Know boundaries between the personal and professional
  • Be consistent with communication, follow-ups
  • For many, YOU are part of the family

We have to balance the professional and personal side of things. You have to treat all families equally. Whether we like it or not, there are families that we're going to like more than others. It’s important for you to be balanced though and for families to see you as a professional, treating everybody on an equal basis.

It’s also important to show no preference because people can sense that. It’s key to know the boundaries between personal and professional. You don't want to end up with a lot of Facebook friends who might look at your page and see you out during happy hour drinking margaritas. Try to avoid blurring the lines between personal and professional. Ensure you set clear boundaries between what you do in your personal life and in your professional life.

Be consistent with communication. Parents want to know how their child is doing and they’re going to ask you. Always come up with positive things that children are doing. They may not sound like a fantastic thing, but they are important. Be clear in your communication, especially positive communication. Too often all people get is negative communication about their children. That's not fair treatment.

For many of us, we've become part of a family, which is incredible. You may talk to some veterans in the field who tell you they’ve been invited to high school graduations, college graduations, and weddings. You may run into that child that you had when she was four years old. Now, she's 25 years old and she's working in a store, and she says to you, “Hi, Miss Lucy, remember me?” There's great satisfaction in the positive relationships you build with children and families.

Typical Concerns/Questions About the Role of Teachers in Working with Families

Let’s go over some concerns about this role between teachers as professionals and the personal side of it in our work with families. You might have a parent tell you that you are the teacher, you went to school to do this, and you know your stuff.  We have to think about how to redefine our role as a partner with families. You may have professional and academic knowledge, but as a parent, their child is looking to them as a teacher as well. Both you and the parents are role models.

You may have a mother say, “You’re the teacher.  I’m just a mother.” This goes back to the idea of our roles. Being a mother is a fantastic job title. You want to be able to lift people's identity that they are. Yes, I'm a teacher, but I'm not more powerful or more knowledgeable than you are as a mother. How can we create a sense of equality between both roles?

The other thing that happens in regards to boundaries is that many of us live in the communities that we serve. These families may be our neighbors, go to the same church, or shop at the same stores we do. We see each other all the time. When we live in communities that are tight-knit, it’s even more important to know the boundaries of family and friends and your profession. Sometimes we have to be very clear with families. I know we’re friends, but right now I'm talking to you now as a teacher, and I'm speaking to you as the mother of this child that we both care about. Let's leave our friendship aside and talk on a professional basis. Again, this idea of boundaries has to be very clear all the time.

Summary of Key Points PLUS “Takeaways”

  • Every child & family deserves a “welcoming environment”
  • Positive relationships with families are KEY in a child’s love for learning
  • Respect & trust are the foundation for any relationship
  • Reflect on internal biases to understand reasons and act on change
  • How we interact with families will impact how children view teachers
  • All families want the best for their child

Remember that every child and family deserve a welcoming environment. Keep in mind the customer service focus and ask yourself, “How is this environment welcoming?” People will tell others when it's a good place and word of mouth will allow others to learn about your great program. It is said that people on a ratio of two to one will say, “Oh, don't go there, that's a terrible place,” versus one that says you should go there. People will talk badly about your center if it’s bad and they will talk very affirmatively if it's a great environment. Always keep in mind that we want to have people really feel welcome.

The second key point is that positive relationships with families are key. If children are going to fall in love with learning, they need to see us and the families having conversations, talking about books, or exchanging ideas. This is the foundation for later things, such as academic success. Success in school is about success at home with families.

The third key point is the idea of trust and respect. It is a work in progress all the time with everyone, whether it be our own families or the families we work with.

We talked a lot about internal biases and how they can keep us from having a positive relationship with people. Remember, start with yourself. You have to work on yourself, do some reflection, gain a better understanding, and be willing to change. You then have to act on the change because it is not a healthy attitude to have negative biases. If we have extreme negative biases, maybe it's time to find another job.

When we interact with families, remember the impact that it has as children view us and they view their parents. The children are always observing the interactions and conversations between you and their parents.

Regardless of economic conditions and any other differences, all families want the very best for their child. This is something that we share with them because we want children to succeed and to have a fantastic future. This is at the heart of our work.

Next Steps in My Professional Development

  • References: Go to  The National Association for the Education of Young Children has numerous publications on building relationships with families.
  • Back to basics:  Use the classic book, Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth Through Age 8 from NAEYC.
  • National organizations have resources and strategies on family relationships:  PAT – Parents as Teachers, Zero to Three, NBCDI – National Black Child Development Institute, National Center for Families Learning.
  • Office of Head Start:  New and expanded resources on the Family Engagement Framework
  • Attend seminars, classes, discussion groups that address family engagement topics; check your local colleges.

When you think about professional development there are many opportunities. There are many organizations that support the work with families. I always start with the National Association for the Education of Young Children, NAEYC. You can go to their website at A great book to read is Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth Through Age 8 from NAEYC. There are other organizations you can check out such as Parents as Teachers, Zero to Three, the National Black Child Development Institute, and the National Center for Families Learning. There are many more, but I encourage you to go to their websites and do a search for some of the things that you may be interested in, including the importance of great relationships with families.

Those of you who are working with Head Start can learn more about the Family Engagement Framework in specific areas where families can be engaged. Please go to Even if you're not working with Head Start, this would be helpful information for you. As a lifelong learner, please go to seminars, workshops, and classes. There are many things happening now online. Go to your local college and keep growing and learning.

Last, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for the work that you do with children and families on a daily basis. It's not easy work. There are not many accolades or roses being sent to you, or any of that, but it's fantastic. If anything, keep in mind that some of these relationships are going to last the rest of your life. I want to reiterate what we talked about, the experience of families coming to our centers is key to keep in mind. Be sensitive about the emotional impact that it has on the family. Second, think about your own attitude, and how that impacts relationships. Again, remember your professional responsibilities and your professional role in maintaining this philosophy forward. I wish you joy in what you do because the work that you do with children and families is the best job ever. Thank you very much, from the bottom of my heart, and keep growing and learning.


Hernandez, L. (2018). Families as partners - making family engagement truly meaningful & authentic. - Early Childhood Education, Article 23131. Retrieved from

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luis hernandez

Luis Hernandez, MA

Luis A. Hernandez, T/TAS Early Childhood Education Specialist, holds an M.A. in Bilingual/Multicultural education from the University of San Francisco. Luis brings solid expertise based on his work history in Head Start, child care, Pre-K programs, college and universities, child care resource and referral administration, and professional development design. 
At TTAS-WKU, his work focuses in a wide range of early childhood education and professional development topics. His expertise includes early literacy, dual language learning, adult learning practices, family engagement, changing demographics and diversity, and ECE management and leadership topics. As a regular presenter and keynote speaker at national, state, and local conferences, Luis is highly regarded for his motivational and energizing presentations.
In addition, Luis published his first Redleaf book, “Learning from Bumps on the Road,” focused on leadership topics in early childhood education. The book is a compilation of presentations and conversations with three fantastic leaders in the field. Mr. Hernandez is active in a number of organizations that support children and family
interests. At the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), he has been active in developing professional and leadership development opportunities. He currently serves on the Advisory Board of the McCormick Tribune Center for Early Childhood Leadership, the United Way's Center for Excellence in Early Childhood. He has served on the Boards of Parents As Teachers, the Florida Children’s Forum, the Child Care Workforce, the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (NACCRRA), PSP- Parent Services Project in California, and the National Latino Children’s Institute and in advancing the goals of the World Forum on Early Care and Education. Lastly, Luis is proud to serve as Trustee on the Board of Hampshire
College in Amherst Massachusetts, his undergraduate alma mater.

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