Communication is a critical tool for achieving Strong Partnerships. In this context, it involves:
- keeping the best interests of children at the centre
- being open and respectful
- listening to understand differing perspectives
- communicating messages clearly and concisely
- using nonverbal visual cues to convey respect
- selecting the right form of communication
- Australian researchers confirm that ineffective communication results in negative outcomes for Education and Care services and schools in relation to shared spaces, resources and equipment. They assert that positive communication is needed between stakeholders in education and care settings and schools in order to provide high-quality services (Cartmel, J. & Grieshaber, S. (2014) Communicating for Quality in School Age Care Services”. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood 39(3): 23-28).
- Being open and non-judgemental and engaging in active listening to consider each other’s perspectives is needed to create a collaborative partnership to support children and families (Cartmel & Grieshaber, 2014 – see above; Dockett, S. & Perry, B. (2014) Continuity of Learning: A resource to support effective transition to school and school age care. Canberra, ACT: Australian Government Department of Education).
Communication is one of the key areas of the Strong Partnerships Framework. Clear, effective communication is crucial to working in partnership. It is an expectation under the provisional Policy to guide co-location of Education and Care and Development of Education services (Co-location Policy) that co-located services will communicate frequently, openly and respectfully. The Co-location Policy has been collaboratively designed by Department of Education (DoE) and Education and Care (E&C) representatives.
Additionally, there are a range of documents that guide communication between DoE teachers, educators, principals and E&C service leaders, including:
7.1 Meet professional ethics and responsibilities.
Lead teachers: Model exemplary ethical behaviour and exercise informed judgements in all professional dealings with students, colleagues and the community.
7.4 Engage with professional teaching networks and broader communities.
Lead teachers: Take a leadership role in professional and learning networks.
- Personal qualities, social and interpersonal skills – take account of the social, political and local circumstances within which they work. They continuously improve their networking and influencing skills.
In relation to colleagues, I will: build a spirit of collegiality and professionalism through collaborative relationships based on trust, respect and honesty.
In relation to community and society, I will: collaborate with people, services and agencies to develop shared understandings and actions that support children and families.
Standard 6.2 – Collaborative Partnerships: Collaborative Partnerships enhance children’s inclusion, learning and wellbeing.
Communication must also comply with legislation, regulations and policies in relation to personal information. These include:
- The Privacy Act 1988 (Commonwealth of Australia)
- Department of Education Personal Information Protection Policy
- Department of Education Authority for release and exchange of information
- National Quality Framework, which includes:
- National Law and Regulations
- National Quality Standard
- National Learning Frameworks
- Belonging, Being and Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia
- My Time, Our Place: Framework for School Age Care in Australia
Legislation, regulations and policies may differ between the Department of Education and the Education and Care sector; therefore, it is important that partnering leaders establish a clear and transparent communication agreement that supports children’s and families’ right to privacy. This can take the form of a Working Together Agreement (WTA), to guide the building of respectful and purposeful relationships.
Communication involves the use of a range of channels to inform and support shared understandings and collaborative work. Stakeholders in Strong Partnerships meet and collaborate through:
- face-to-face scheduled and unscheduled contact
- phone calls
- websites and social media.
- Collaboratively schedule meetings as required by the provisional Policy to guide co-location of Education and Care and Development of Education services.
- Use meetings as opportunities to seek and build shared understanding of the legal requirements and ethical obligations for co-located services.
- Schedule additional meetings, when needed, for sensitive and important issues.
- Involve students in scheduled meetings between DoE school and service leaders, and E&C service leaders when appropriate (e.g. to provide input on matters that affect them, such as projects, experiences, the outdoor environment and expectations).
- Invite other DoE and E&C representatives to scheduled meetings when relevant or beneficial.
- Value unplanned visits and catch-ups as important opportunities to build and strengthen relationships and understandings.
- Introduce new employees to staff from partnering services.
- Share and discuss policies and procedures that are relevant to the partnership.
- Share up-to-date Quality Improvement Plans, School Improvement Plans or Service Improvement Plans.
- Discuss approaches to supporting behaviour and align them where possible and appropriate.
- Include Strong Partnerships on School Association or parent group meeting agendas, and on parent/community group meeting agendas associated with the E&C service.
- Distribute information about learning and recreational programs and experiences to support connections and linkages, e.g. NAIDOC Week, Harmony Day, Children’s Week, community events, and Launching into Learning.
- With written parent/guardian permission, share:
– Learning Plans and Individual Education Plans
– Strategic Inclusion Plans
– Behaviour support Plans for individual students
– Reactive Strategies Plans for individual students
– Transition Statements
Work together to develop shared and agreed understanding about key elements of the partnership that outlines:
- a shared commitment to the wellbeing of children
- the ways in which programs connect
- how children are supported in transitions.
This document can then be shared on DoE and E&C services websites, on posters and in brochures.
Celebrate Strong Partnerships in newsletters and on social media sites by including:
- contributions from partnering services
- reports on shared enterprises
- congratulations to partner services on their own notable achievements.
Review staff and parent guidelines and other information and resources and amend them where necessary to include and communicate key messages about partnerships. This may include:
- induction resources for staff
- written advice to staff outlining expectations about shared professional practices and protocols, for example, respectfully supporting children’s daily transitions
- signage to support children, family and community access and understanding.
Effective Department of Education (DoE) school and service leaders, and Education and Care (E&C) service leaders use a range of communication strategies and tools on a daily basis to share information and reach agreement. Respectful communication between DoE school and service leaders, and E&C service leaders, along with communication with their respective teams, ensures the intent of Strong Partnerships is clear to everyone and approaches are aligned.
- consistently model positive relationships and a positive culture between DoE school and service, staff and E&C service staff
- establish formal and informal communication strategies between staff at various levels, and between services
- agree to a regular meeting schedule, and circulation of an agreed agenda that keeps participants’ focused on outcomes for children and drives decision making
- ensure that meeting minutes and action lists are prepared and circulated promptly to provide opportunities for responses and to keep things moving.
REFLECTIONS FOR LEADERS:
- Do the current governance and leadership structures of my organisation support building Strong Partnerships with my partnering organisation/s?
- How often and in what ways should I meet with leaders from the service we partner with?
- How are we creating opportunities for professional conversations between the staff of our services?
- What professional learning could I propose to build a shared capacity to support the wellbeing of children who transition between our partnering services?
- How can I be sure that staff members in both services clearly understand all requirements of our agreement, including how we share resources?
- What approaches could we use to build relationships and collegiality between Department of Education (DoE) school and service staff, and Education and Care (E&C) service staff?
- How do we communicate effectively to connect school-day activities with outside school hours care activities?
- How do we share the benefits and successes of our partnership with families and the community?
- Do we have suitable supports/tools in place, such as checklists, that help staff members manage and monitor shared resources?
Critical reflection by all stakeholders is essential to developing and sustaining Strong Partnerships. By regularly reflecting on processes, partners ensure the ways they work together are continually improving.