14 SES 07 B, Parent Engagement in Schools and Communities (Young Children)
Many occupational practices are premised on interactions between and amongst participants with distinct roles. This contribution focuses on encounters amongst parents, early childhood educators and children during pick-ups, drop-offs and meetings at educational early childhood education centres. At an institutional level, and in various governance documents, the importance of a 'partnership' with parents is increasingly stated as a declared objective. The concept of partnership refers to collaborative relationships, including shared decision-making, between the roles of parents and educators. However, a closer look at Swiss policy documents proposes a prominent role assigned to educators in establishing relations with parents: professionals are to 'support parenting' (VDG, 2016), 'develop' the partnership and 'identify the needs' of parents (PEC, 2015). Parents are, therefore, positioned in a symmetrical position and involved in a process of “co-education”, with this place conferred by educational institutions and framed under the responsibility of others. Hence, there exists the potential for ambiguity between intentions and how they might be enacted in practice. Educational sciences suggest that effective partnerships respond to the context in which they are achieved, and in particular consider spaces that enable a “positioning or sociocultural strategy for communicating across (…) boundaries” (Fluckiger & al., 2012, p. 53).
Institutional constraints, operating rules and routines established over time strongly influence encounters amongst educators, parents and children. However, interactions emerge in specific, individualised and “one-off” circumstances to which participants are constantly adjusting. “Human agency operates relationally within and through social structures, yet is not necessarily subjugated by them” (Billet, 2008, p. 63). This dual nature of the interactional order can be conceptualised through the notion of "bounded agency", which considers agency as a process in which past habits and routines are contextualized and future possibilities envisaged in the contingencies of the circumstances in which is being exercised (Evans, 2008; Shanahan & Hood, 2000). In their social practices, parents can exercise agency and take advantage of opportunities “advancing their goals and practices or interests” (Billett, 2008, p. 61). The approach adopted is not focused on the parents’ intentions as expressed in their discourse, but on the observable and publicly accountable traces of agency evident in their behaviour.
The dynamic construction of interpersonal relations has long been investigated by research in the field of interaction analysis. From such a theoretical perspective, participants in an interaction assign meaning to each other's behaviour to make their intentions in action accountable (Mondada, 2019). Relations that exist prior to a social encounter may provide the basis for the positions adopted in it. However, a specific relationship is "necessarily renewed, negotiated and discursively brought into play in the very course of the interaction" (Filliettaz, 2006, p. 94).
In the specific field of early childhood education, partnerships are established through situated interactions occurring on a daily basis, when parents engage in brief conversations with professionals as they drop off their children in the facility in the morning, or pick them up in the afternoon. These partnerships can also be developed during formal meetings held across the school year. Yet, there are multiple ways of endorsing parental roles in these situated exchanges with educators, dependant on the situation and its exigencies. Consequently, the research questions we pose and addressed are: How do encounters among parents, educators and children occur in actual practice? To what extent are parents actively contributing to transitions as they take place in drop-off and pick-up encounters? Through what interactional resources and to what extent can parents exercise their agency in such encounters?
To address these questions, a methodology based on the principles of multimodal interaction analysis was implemented. This analysis borrows analytic categories and research procedures from an array of disciplines, including the micro-sociology of everyday life (Goffman, 1961), ethnomethodology (Garfinkel, 1967), conversational analysis (Schegloff, 2007), communication ethnography (Gumperz, 1982) and multimodal semiotics (Kress et al., 2001). From an interactional perspective, social encounters are conceptualized as coordination processes in which participants use a variety of semiotic resources to make their behaviours and identities accountable to others and to solve the practical problems they are facing when accomplishing actions collaboratively. To perform coordination in an ordered and legitimate way, participants have to apply and develop specific methods, communication skills or “interactional competences”, defined as “participants’ knowledge of how to configure resources in a specific practice” (Young & Miller, 2004, p. 520). These competences are recognizable by how they are enacted in context, and can be developed through participant’s reflexive practice. To understand the sorts of interactional competences required and developed by participants in early childhood education, a research design based on video-ethnography and work analysis was implemented in two early childhood institutions in the Francophone context of Geneva, Switzerland. Interactions amongst parents, children and educators were videotaped during two consecutive weeks in naturally occurring situations. Three typical interactional situations were the focus of these analyses: a) drop-offs as they occur in the morning, when parent bring their children into the facility, b) pick-ups as they occur in the afternoon, when parents collect their children from the facility, c) informal meetings with parents, when educators provide feed-back on children’s development and progress. For this phase of data gathering, a total of 80 hours of video recordings has been collected. In the second phase of the study, data from the video-ethnographic phase have served as training material for small groups of volunteer educators, with the purpose of expanding their interactional competences in relation to parents and family interactions. Educators were trained to select and transcribe video data from their work and facilitated a collective analysis of these data with the group. These training sessions and collective data analysis experiences have also been videotaped and collected as research material. The video recordings were organized in a data base, transcribed and coded with a qualitative analysis software called Transana Multi-User.
A systematic analysis of these data shows that parents contribute in multiple ways to facilitate children's drop-offs and pick-ups. At a sequential organizational level, they often orient themselves in a collaborative way to the specific progression of communicative events and to the specific structure of drop-off and pick-up interactions. When the educators are busily engaged in other tasks, parents display waiting behaviours without expressing impatience; and often shorten interactions so as not to interrupt other interactions. They also carry out part of the activity, such as alerting educators when a child needs attention or chatting with the children present. The parents also have the capacity to identify when educators are available in the specific temporal contingencies of their work. In addition, they scrutinize their child and make their observations explicit in order to facilitate educators’ understanding of what is going on. They often speak for their child when he or she is not expressing himself or herself and try to repair their child’s communication shortcomings. In addition, parents often complete utterances from educators and orient themselves to develop shared understandings. In a wide variety of ways, parents regularly recognise the work undertaken by educators. In some cases, they also negotiate or even challenge the educators’ views. The analyses conducted so far shows that professionals are not the only participants to mobilize interactional competences in early childhood education. In many distinct ways, parents exercise their agency and become competent so as to secure smooth transitions between family and educational contexts for their children. These competences are not mere biproducts of peripheral practices in education. They are fundamental for establishing and maintaining strong partnerships between parents and educational institutions and illustrate how a symmetrical or asymmetrical relation between partners can be enacted through tangible actions and beyond declared intentions.
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