From watching to teaching: how to get parents to see you as more than a babysitter

For as long as I can remember, I have always received judgment for choosing a career in early childhood education. Family members, professors, coworkers, and even good friends questioned why I would “waste” my graduate degree and “babysit.” It’s a constant battle to have to justify my decision. I know that if everyone were educated on how vital and important early childhood education really is, their ignorance would turn to admiration. So what do we do when our own students’ parents do not see us as educators, and instead they see you as a “glorified babysitter”? Here are some ways we can help parents see that it goes way beyond childcare:

1. Teach it.

For as long as I can remember, I was taught the quote by Maya Angelou, “When you know better, you do better.” Parents who have not studied early childhood education do not know what it is you do all day at work. They know what they do at home, and they know what they do at work. But they have no idea what you do. So, teach them! Send blogs and articles helping them learn about brain development in young children and the impact of early childhood education on their future success. Host parent seminars or webinars that help them understand the importance of play. Host a parents night in which they get to learn all about the typical day in their child’s life. 

I know many schools host “back to school” night, but why not require it for all parents starting at the center? At my center, we do just that, and I believe it makes all the difference. Parents come in all together to hear from myself, or from another director. We take this time to cast a vision for the year and what to expect. Then, parents go to their child(ren)’s classroom(s) where the teacher gets to share all about who they are, and what happens during the day. This is a key reason why parents at our center do not see us as babysitters. They see us as partners and educators, not just for their children, but for them as well. It is a required part of their enrollment, and it is a set calendar item every year. 

We also offer parenting classes/groups once a semester that lasts 8 weeks. There are about five groups offered and led by various teachers and directors, and it gives a chance for parents to connect with each other as well as teachers/directors to offer care and education on certain topics like infant care, toddler care, discipline techniques, etc. This is usually free or low cost to families, and it is not required. 

2. Show it.

With technology being so readily available, it is assumed that most centers would take advantage of some kind of communication app for parents to be able to receive information. At our center, the HiMama app is the best way to show parents what is happening throughout the day, sometimes in real time! We send photos and videos of their children creating, playing, mastering a skill, and learning, along with a description of what the activity is. We also attach the early learning standard from our state of Pennsylvania to the activity, so we can show parents that every activity we do is directly linked to a specific developmental outcome. 

Also, as often as possible, invite parents to be part of the day so they can experience firsthand how your students are learning and growing. Consider inviting them beyond the classroom, and organize center wide events in your auditorium or community space. Have them come for a read aloud or come see a project you’re working on, etc. 

This will require you to be prepared and to use your interpersonal skills to be welcoming and open to having them in your space. But I promise you, it will make all the difference. 

3. Prove it

If you’ve attempted the above suggestions, now it’s time to make them consistent. The best way to do so is to create rhythms that become part of your routine. For our center, the teachers create daily reports in HiMama and send a minimum of three photos per day with a description of what is happening in the picture. We also require teachers to share articles, blogs, and resources with parents regularly. As a director, I love sending a monthly resource that educates parents on their child’s development. 

This helps parents see that we consistently educate the students and the family unit, and we are there to partner with them as a whole. It is also important to have an open door policy. At any moment, the teachers at my center know that a parent can walk in without notice. This doesn’t happen often, but it does help teachers to be “on” at all times. You won’t find teachers hanging out on their phones or being lazy in a corner somewhere. Instead, knowing that parents are in and out, they respond and behave in ways that you would see in any school for older children – present with their students and fostering an environment where they can thrive. 

There’s a reason why ECE centers are often seen as a babysitting service. And that is because many do operate that way. So what are you doing to make sure your center is set apart and stands out as different? How can you prove it?

4. Cultivate it.

Once parents learn more and see you proving it, I guarantee they will come around and realize you do way more than just change diapers and watch their kids sleep. Your job isn’t to convince them. Your job is to make sure you are doing what you were created to do. If you love what you do, and I hope you do, what are you doing to make sure you continue to love it? Are you still growing? The world of ECE is ever changing, and while it’s great to teach parents about what we do, we need to make sure that we are always learning. I truly believe that leaders are learners, and leaders are readers. The day we stop learning is the day we should stop teaching. So, make sure you are developing yourself and other teachers to stay fresh and motivated by what you’re doing. 

Attend an ECE conference; watch a TED talk, have a retreat with your staff or engage in online professional development with HiMama Academy. Just do what you can to stay on a track of learning and growing. 

People are always going to have their opinions, and that is fine. Don’t waste your energy on convincing others that your job is important. If you follow these four things above, those around you will catch on and learn that your job is one of the most important jobs out there. You not only care for these children daily, but you nurture their brain development on a daily basis, which sets the tone for the rest of their lives. Instead of having the stance of proving them wrong and living on the defense side of this, just keep doing what you are doing in confidence knowing that you are walking in your purpose, making a huge difference in not only your students’ lives, but also their entire families. 

Those in my life who once judged me and questioned my “path” now truly understand the importance and have apologized for ever doubting it. You may or may not get those apologies, but the only one who needs to be convinced that this work is important and vital is YOU. 

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To learn more about how HiMama helps to increase professionalism and respect for the field, check out our case study here: Increasing professionalism and respect for early childhood educators with HiMama.

Missy Knechel

Missy is a professor in the early childhood department at Eastern University and director of Victory Early Learning Academy, a childcare center that she started ten years ago. Prior to that, she taught Kindergarten and second grade for a total of 10 years. She has been married to her best friend, Jason, for 18 years, and together they have four beautiful children ages 8, 9, 12 and 13 in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. In her spare time, Missy loves to bake, read historical fiction, sing karaoke and travel to Central America on short term missions.

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