Associate Director of ParentCorps Kai-ama Hamer remembers her first experience attending ParentCorps Professional Development as an educator at P.S. 41 in the Bronx: “I had met Kat [the facilitator] one other time… and I’ll never forget walking in and Kat saying ‘Kai!’ like she remembered me,” she said. “It resonated with me so much that these people see me, that they are interested in me, that they care.”
Kai-ama’s memory of her entry point into ParentCorps speaks to a particular spirit at the center of our theory of action. In a recent chapter of Family-School Partnerships During the Early School Years, entitled “Understanding ParentCorps’ Essential Elements for Building Adult Capacity to Support Young Children’s Health and Development,” a group of ParentCorps leaders and practitioners took the opportunity to describe in detail what we believe are the “essential elements” in our approach to strengthening adult capacity to support young children. Having evolved over years of implementation, these essential elements are: build authentic relationships, honor culture, understand race and racism, share the science of early childhood development, and practice self-reflection. Together, they represent the critical “how” behind our programming – from Parenting Program (a program for families as part of the pre-K experience) to Friends School (a social-emotional learning program for pre-K children) to Professional Development (which supports educators to forge strong, culturally responsive relationships with families and support children’s social-emotional well-being) – which works to bolster the family-school connection and emotionally responsive environments that are critical for children’s long-term positive outcomes.
Spring Dawson-McClure, ParentCorps Manager of Research Strategy and Assistant Professor at NYU Langone's Center for Early Childhood Health and Development, put it this way: “While some programs include some of these elements, my read of the early childhood landscape is that our combination and our sequencing -- how we do this -- is quite unique, and it’s why we believe that we get the engagement and the impacts that we do.”
Below, we highlight how each of ParentCorps’ essential elements work in practice and are enhanced in combination with each other:
ParentCorps facilitators work to build authentic relationships with educators and parents and caregivers – importantly, we believe we must interrupt patterns where parents are told how to parent by people and systems outside of their homes and teachers are told how to teach by those outside their classrooms. For example, in Professional Development, we deeply affirm teachers’ tremendous impact on children’s lives and explicitly invite them to share candidly when they disagree with us or a colleague or have negative and often unspoken emotions, allowing Professional Development to quickly become a space for authentic dialogue about teachers’ real struggles.
ParentCorps is designed to honor culture – knowing that we cannot talk about parenting or teaching without this explicit focus (considering race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, and sexual orientation). For example, in Parenting Program, we explore what we mean by culture and invite parents to share the parts of their culture of which they are most proud, setting an early foundation that who parents are and where they come from matters deeply in the program.
Supporting social-emotional learning of all children requires understanding intimately the challenges families face – especially understanding racism. For example, in Professional Development, we offer tools to interrupt predictable patterns of avoiding conversations about race and racism. This centering of race continues as family engagement and classroom strategies are explored.
It is within the context of authentic relationships that we share the science of early childhood development with educators and families. Building trust and always honoring parents as experts on their own children and teachers as the experts of their classroom are critical for the mutual exchange of information. For example, In Parenting Program, we share honestly about both the power of science (“We know from the evidence that just a few minutes a day playing with your child in this way can have a really positive impact”) and its limitations (“We need more studies with families from different cultures to really understand how spanking affects children's behavior. We believe that you, as a parent, are the one who can best decide what works for you and your child. Let’s talk about the reasons that parents may choose to spank and not to spank”).
We know that who you are is how you teach and how you parent, and an understanding of self is critical for all adults in children’s lives. This requires creating space for parents and teachers to practice self-reflection so that they can consider relationships, culture, race, and science to make the best decisions for the children in their lives. For example, in Professional Development, teachers are guided through activities that recall their best and worst memories of their own teachers, how those early experiences impacted them, and how they may be reflected in their current practice.
Kai-ama shared more on how these essential elements come together in her own experience: “I go back to my very beginning with ParentCorps and how I felt entering the ParentCorps community: caregivers and educators being seen, heard, cared for, and believed is such a critical part of our work,” she said. “And through the essential elements of building authentic relationships, understanding race and racism, and honoring culture, we lay the foundation for parents and caregivers and teachers to be seen, heard, cared for and believed. It builds a foundation of trust that allows for the taking in of the science of early childhood development that we share, and the strategies that we share. And it lays the foundation for people to do the honest work of self reflection.”
Read the full chapter “Understanding ParentCorps’ Essential Elements for Building Adult Capacity to Support Young Children’s Health and Development” in Family-School Partnerships During the Early School Years by Spring Dawson-McClure, Dana Rhule, Kai-ama Hamer, Esther Calzada, Bukky Kolawole, Michelle Mondesir, Katherine Rosenblatt & Laurie Brotman.
Lisa Ellrodt is a ParentCorps Educator.