Online communication platforms can be great because early childhood education and care (ECEC) professionals can easily share easily accessible information with families about what is going on in the service. Notably for families that are keen to learn more about their child's activities at the centre but have limited time to read in the rooms and foyer. Families can also share information about what is happening in the home. Furthermore, both parties are able to see who has read and/or looked at stories, comments, observations, and communications. Overall, they support stronger partnerships.
However, there is a recent concerning trend in Australia of educators and services being encouraged to increase engagement with posts without maintaining their teaching integrity. Sometimes, educators create 'cutesy' posts or encourage children to pose for photos unrelated to their learning to increase likes and comments. In response to this concern, ECMS has created a list of helpful tips to support educators and teachers in engaging in meaningful digital documentation with children and families through their online communication platforms.
Help families learn more about how to navigate and actively engage in online platforms
In particular, a child's allocated administrator (typically a family member) might share access to their child's profile with other key people. Accordingly, remind the administrator to share access with other family members. The administrator also can provide the service with access to the child's profile from other services when they attend or have attended other services in the past.
Respect children's agency and right to consent to photos being taken and posted
Please pay attention to children's body language. If they look or sound apprehensive, uncomfortable or nervous about you taking a photo or video, please do not take it. Children's rights are important, and providing opportunities for children to be informed about their image use and for them to provide consent is essential. You can read more about this in a short blog post in The Spoke.
Involve children in the documentation process
The children are the stars in the posts, after all! But it is also crucial to include them in matters that involve them. Ask them which photo they want to post and what they would like to say about the experience you are sharing. In doing so, you can enhance your assessment practices by including children's own voices about their learning.
Provide opportunities for meaningful online interactions and feedback
Stories and photos need to create opportunities for responses and feedback. When writing a learning story, observation, or caption with a photo, it is good to include or create it with opportunities for answers or responses. Avoid closed questions like, "Have you seen this in your garden?". Instead, ask questions such as, "What have you seen in your garden or in your street that is similar to these birds at kindergarten?" We can learn more about how children's experiences align with or are different to home experiences.
Stay in the moment with children
We must remember that ECEC professionals are not employed as 'photographers' – it is not our core role, nor should it be! It is okay if you don't get a photo of the awesome learning experience in which you and the children are engaged. It is so much more meaningful for children's learning and relationships with you if you stay in the moment with them instead of pausing the experience to get the camera.
At times you may need to pop up a 'technical difficulties' sign to indicate that while you have written extensive notes about what children were doing or saying that you did not have access to a camera at that time.
Online communication is not always the best
Communication is 7% verbal. The rest is non-verbal communication (body language, facial expression, tone and more). Please remember the limitations of online communication and try not to expect it to fulfil all aspects of relationship-building between families and teachers. Therefore, it is not advisable to use an online form of communication to discuss more serious issues about the child.
But you could use private online conversations via email or direct messaging through the platforms to organise a private chat through an invitation to discuss in-person or in an online meeting about what the teacher has observed.
Continue to use strengths-based language
Remember: misunderstandings can happen more easily in online communications because we can't read the tone and body language.
This list of tips is not exhaustive. We often enjoy having a couple of key questions or problems we reflect on in our work on an ongoing basis. When engaging families in their child's learning and development, the main question is, "How can we continue to engage the families that we work with to understand their child's learning, interests and development?"
Nominated Supervisor/ Educational Leader and Teacher at Delta Road Preschool with a strong passion for all things Early Years Education.