A new report looks at promising methods in preparing teachers to understand the family's role in a child's education and to effectively involve the family.
Parent participation in children's schooling is so important that it was established in 1994 as a National Education Goal. Yet "Teacher preparation in family involvement lags far behind school efforts to promote family involvement," according to a report released November 5 by Vice President Gore and Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley at the "Partners for Learning: Preparing Teachers to Involve Families" teleconference.
The 65-page report, New Skills for New Schools: Preparing Teachers in Family Involvement (1997, Harvard Family Research Project), examines reasons for -- and the status of -- teacher preparation in family involvement. It also provides a framework that illustrates various kinds of teacher training for family involvement. Unlike other family involvement typologies, this framework focuses not on actual family involvement activities carried out in schools, but on the attitudes, skills and knowledge teachers need to work effectively with parents.
Below are the framework and an excerpt from Chapter 4 ("Promising Methods for Teacher Preparation") of the report.
Teachers need to have general knowledge about family contributions to child development and school achievement. The following should be among the goals of any teacher preparation program:
The nine programs featured in this report shared common innovative practices. These practices focused on developing prospective teachers' problem-solving skills by exposing them to challenging situations that required them to negotiate sensitive issues. The programs also provided them with opportunities to work in schools and communities -- often under the guidance of experienced professionals -- where they were able to gain valuable communication and interpersonal skills, especially when dealing with families with very different backgrounds from their own.
These community experiences also gave prospective teachers the opportunity to develop collaborative skills with professionals from other disciplines. In addition, the programs emphasized the application of research skills to develop a better understanding of families and communities. They encouraged the use of information about families to develop family involvement activities and to create supplemental materials for classroom use.
These programs utilized guest speakers, role play, the case method, community experiences, research with families and communities, self-reflection, and interprofessional education.
Attending guest lectures and discussions led by parents, practicing teachers, experts from other disciplines, or co-instructors in teacher education courses provides prospective teachers opportunities to learn from and interact with key players in children's education. Program faculty and researchers alike attested to the benefits of drawing upon the expertise of parents, school personnel, and faculty in other disciplines to enrich teacher preparation.
Examples of guest speakers include:
Role play requires students to act out situations that they might face when working with parents. Role play gives prospective teachers simulated experience in communicating, handling difficult or threatening situations, and resolving conflict. By dramatizing situations, prospective teachers become emotionally engaged and learn in a "hands-on" manner about the situations that they will face in their classrooms.
Because role play usually takes place in the university classroom, teacher educators can analyze their students' reactions and responses, and peers can give feedback. By alternately playing the roles of teacher and parent, prospective teachers can gain a better understanding of each perspective.
Examples of role play scenarios include:
In the case method, prospective teachers read about dilemmas or ambiguous situations that could arise in working with parents. After reading the cases, these students analyze and discuss them, referring to their own relevant experiences and to the theories and principles covered in class.
Because the case method approach encourages prospective teachers to examine many possible responses to a particular situation, and to evaluate the merits and drawbacks of each of these responses, they are able to understand the complexities of home-school relationships. Students' analyses of these situations help them develop crucial problem-solving skills. The case method also offers students the opportunity to integrate their beliefs with known theories as they respond to complex and problematic, real-life situations (Hochberg, 1993).
Examples of the case method include:
One way to learn about children from diverse ethnic backgrounds is to live as they do. Cultural immersion is especially helpful when the teaching force and student body come from different cultural and/or economic backgrounds.
Examples of cultural immersion include:
During placement in community settings, such as human service agencies, children's homes, and community centers, prospective teachers can learn about services in the community and form relationships with family and community members in a nonschool context.
In programs that prepare teachers to work in urban schools or in communities with linguistic and cultural diversity, community experiences tend to be emphasized. These experiences allow prospective teachers to see children in a variety of settings, become more visible in the community, and understand children's sociocultural contexts.
Examples of community experience include:
Research with families and communities can range from parent surveys to in-depth ethnographic interviews with families. This method offers teachers the opportunity to understand issues from the perspective of families and communities and to utilize their expertise and insight. Teachers can learn from and interact with families of different cultural and economic backgrounds as they conduct their research.
According to one program respondent, this method sends the message: "I want to get to know you," rather than "I'm here to teach you something."
Examples of research projects with families and communities include cases where prospective teachers have:
The prospective teachers then reflected on what they had learned from the family and on the implications for working with children. They
Self-reflection techniques include journal writing and other assignments that ask teachers to think about their own family backgrounds, their assumptions about other families, and their attitudes toward working with families. The goal is for prospective teachers to consider how their own perspectives will influence their work with families, especially those very different from their own.
Self-reflection can be combined with other methods used to teach family involvement. It helps teachers process what they are learning and make the experiences personally meaningful. Self-reflection is also useful for addressing cultural differences.
Finally, this method helps prospective teachers uncover any negative feelings and assumptions that they might have which may inhibit them from building positive relationships between home and school.
Assignments for self-reflection include:
Interprofessional education is a new trend in preparing human service professionals. Schools of nursing, social work, and other disciplines join with schools of education to prepare teachers and other professionals working with children and families. The purpose of this strategy is to train a range of human service professionals to work more closely with one another, to work in an increasingly collaborative environment, and to deliver services more effectively to families by placing them at the center of the human service system.
Examples of interprofessional education include:
Comprehensive interprofessional training programs have the potential to prepare teachers and other human service professionals to work effectively with families. For example, teachers involved in such training programs will be better prepared to identify children's and families' nonacademic support needs and refer them to appropriate outside agencies and personnel. Promising models are currently being developed at Ohio State University, the University of Washington in Seattle, and Miami University in Ohio.
Source: U.S. Department of Education. The views expressed in this report, developed with contractual support from the U.S. Department of Education, do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the Department, and no official endorsement by the Department should be inferred.
Article by Gary Hopkins
Copyright © 2006 Education World