The Value of Culture in Your Family Partnerships

by Lorena Rodriguez

January 22, 2015


Editor’s Note: Winter brings a diverse collection of celebrations. As our nation’s demographics shift and blur the once distinctive cultural lines, these holidays offer time for reflection on diversity’s role in early childhood education. Throughout the next several weeks, the McCormick Center will publish blog posts that highlight cultural diversity and offer tips to administrators on how to incorporate diversity into all organizational aspects of an early care and education program.


Many times I worried that it was not going to happen for me, but with encouragement from family, coworkers, and faculty, my dream has come true. I—a proud Mexican American, working mom, and mother of two—am just about to finish my bachelor’s degree! I know my dedication to my family, my career, and to completing my degree has shown my two daughters that anything is possible. I’m proud that both are bright, goal oriented self-starters who will succeed as I have to become role models.

As I think about this month’s blog topic, my own culture, and my own daughters’ early experiences, something from my recent Human Development in a Multicultural Society course stood out to me.

In my course, I read that parents from some Hispanic cultures tend to regard teachers as experts and will often defer educational decision making to them. In contrast, European American parents often see themselves as being in partnership with teachers to support their children’s educational experience. These cultural differences in value and belief may cause educators to make inaccurate judgments regarding the value that Hispanics families place on education (Samovar, 2010).

As I thought about my work at the McCormick Center, it became quite evident to me that early childhood leaders play a critical role in helping teachers understand individual histories and ideologies regarding education and learning as well as the cultural patterns and beliefs of groups.

Reflections From My Own Experience

My own personal story makes me quite passionate on this topic. In 1999 my daughter, who was 4 years old at the time, was tested at preschool to see if she needed speech therapy. I knew that she would qualify for bilingual assistance because she had a speech problem. I was astonished by the results; the director told me that her speech problem was due to being confused by the two languages she spoke. She suggested that we stop speaking Spanish at home. I was hesitant to challenge the director’s expertise. I eventually got the support of my pediatrician to advocate for my daughter’s speech therapy needs.

I believe that the director of my daughter’s preschool was doing what she thought was in the best interest of my daughter, but, one negative consequence of my daughter’s preschool experience was that she never learned to speak Spanish. I often wonder how additional information about cultural diversity or the benefits of multiple languages may have impacted the director’s opinion on my daughter’s speech problem. Here are some ways in which you as an early childhood leader can help value the cultures of the families you work with…

Tips for Developing Cultural Understanding

  • Learn as much as you can about the different cultures in your early childhood program. Once you are aware of some of the cultural differences among your staff and families, you may find it easy to be a more effective leader.
  • Expose your staff to a wide variety of cultures throughout your program. If you ignore the cultural differences, you are more likely to create friction and tension. However, if you choose to accept and celebrate those differences, you may find them to be a great asset for your program.
  • Encourage a positive environment by inviting families into your program. Asking families about their culture and beliefs is a great way to get to know them and what is important to them. Extend these conversations past the intake process at parent meetings or conferences.
  • Encourage children and families to share their personal cultural stories. This can create an atmosphere of respect and will help children and families build a sense of belonging and trust.
  • Consider keeping a calendar of holidays and events important to the families and staff you serve. This can help you keep the pulse of what cultural events and celebrations might be on the minds of the families in your program and help you organize family-centered events at times most appropriate.

Here are some more resources that can provide insight into this topic:

I’d also encourage you to check out sessions related to this topic at the 2015 Leadership Connections national conference.

Join the conversation. How have you worked to value families’ cultures in the programs you work with? Add a comment below.

Lorena Rodriguez is a bi-lingual Administrative Technology Associate at the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership at National Louis University. Prior to working at the McCormick Center, Lorena served as a Professional Development Specialist at the Lake County IL YWCA.

8 Responses to “The Value of Culture in Your Family Partnerships”

  1. Barbara Volpe says:

    Thank you for sharing your experiences, Lorena! I could relate to the description of parents from Hispanic cultures regarding the teachers as the “experts”. Years ago, when I was conducting a Head Start parent meeting, I talked to Hispanic parents about how they were their child’s first and most important teacher. A Hispanic dad quickly said, “No, Mrs. Volpe, you are the most important teacher not me!” It took a little convincing on my part to help him see how, as a parent, he was truly his child’s most important teacher! I think you also make a good point about how, as parents, we need to advocate for what we know is right for our children. I really enjoyed your post!

  2. Susana says:

    I love the suggestions given around creating a cultural understanding. It is very important that we are embracing inclusion and diversity. That we are taking the time to teach at a young age that being diverse is a great thing and that we should celebrate our differences and value what we each can bring.

  3. Kimberly Hostetler says:

    I wanted to say I enjoyed reading about your experiences and would like to be able to teach my children about diversity. I teach 2-3 year olds but currently do not have any children in my class from a different culture. I would like to still be able to teach them that there are other cultures. How would you suggest getting information without having parents to talk to?

  4. Lorena Rodriguez says:

    Thank you Barb for your insight.

  5. Lorena Rodriguez says:

    Susana, the sooner we expose them to other cultures the more they will embrace diversity.

  6. Lorena Rodriguez says:

    Kimberly, costumes are a great idea. Books can be the window to the world as well as a resource for children and parents. You might want to try the book called: All the Colors We Are: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color by Katie Kissinger. This book comes with unique activities ideas for children.

  7. Jean Nathanson says:

    We are grateful to be on the campus of an International Company. Providing care to children whose parent(s) are employed by the Company, has given us access to colaborating with parents on special programs such as Chinese New Year, Diwali (the Indian Festival of Lights),Canada’s Boxing Day, Mardi Gras, Cinco de Mayo, and Japanese Girl’s Day. We are going on our third year of our version of the World’s Fair. Parents and children together choose a country they want to learn more about or a native country and bring in artifacts, books, clothing, to supplement the study. Here, the teachers work with the children on building a landmark the parents and child selected. The World’s Fair culimates in the spring with the Company playing host. Each country has its own table where much is displayed and at the end of the Fair, we all sit down together for supper and share in the native dishes the families have made for the occasion. We embrace the special nature of each child, their family, and their country. It is a wonderful avenue for pride and education.

  8. Diversity begins at home in the classroom. We do not have to look different to have different cultural values or likes and dislikes. Sharing our stories of our childhood at family meetings or teacher meetings is the beginning of seeing diversity as them and us. During the winter holidays our families shared their traditions. Most of us celebrated Christmas. However we all were different in how we celebrated it. The children delighted in their uniqueness. Throughout each day we reflect on our differences and similarities. We all look the same but we are not the same.