Because Wisdom Can't Be Told: Using Comparison of Simulated Parent-Teacher Conferences to Assess Teacher Candidates' Readiness for Family-School Partnership

Article excerpt

Parental support and involvement in their children's education can have a profound influence on student's academic, social, and emotional outcomes (Brody, Flor, & Gibson, 1999; Grolnick & Ryan, 1989; Jeynes, 2003, 2007), and teachers play a central role in the parent involvement process. For example, the frequency of parents' home- and school-based involvement behaviors is robustly predicted--across cultural, socioeconomic, and developmental lines--by teachers' use of effective parent involvement practices (K. J. Anderson & Minke, 2007; Deslandes & Bertrand, 2005; Green, Walker, Hoover-Dempsey, & Sandler, 2007; Walker, Ice, Hoover-Dempsey, & Sandler, 2011). Moreover, the quality of teachers' relationships with parents has consequences for student achievement, motivation, and emotional, social, and behavioral adjustment (Boethel, 2003; Fan &Chen, 2001; Hughes & Kwok, 2007).

Despite the positive impact of family-school partnerships, most teacher education programs fail to help novice teachers develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they will need to engage families as an educational resource (Epstein & Sanders, 2006; Hiatt-Michael, 2001). For example, in a survey of 60 teacher education programs across 22 states, Shartrand, Weiss, Kreider, and Lopez (1997) found that only 23% required that candidates interact with families during fieldwork or student teaching. Furthermore, these researchers found that when family-school relations were addressed, the most commonly used pedagogies may not help candidates construct a deep understanding of the complexity of home--school communication (reading and lectures were used in 90% and 86% of programs, respectively, whereas video and case studies were used by 55% of programs). As Ferrara and Ferrara (2005) have noted,

   Teacher candidates ... join the ranks of those already
   teaching and yet [do] not know how to make their classrooms
   parent-friendly, how to inform parents about
   what is really happening in the classroom, or how to
   talk with parents without using teacher language.
   Overall they will not have gleaned strategies on how
   to make parents feel and believe that they are truly
   collaborative partners in learning. (p. 77)

Grounded in models of apprenticeship and social constructivism that advocate situated practice as the best means of promoting meaningful learning (Greeno, 1998; Wenger, 1998; Rogoff, 1990; Vygotsky, 1978), innovative models of teacher preparation for family involvement have emerged. For example, Dotger adapted an experiential learning paradigm common in medical education to the context of teacher education (Dotger, Harris, & Hansel, 2008). Through the development of a simulated interaction model (SIM), unscripted teacher candidates participate in a series of increasingly challenging, one-on-one interactions with standardized parents (SPs)--persons carefully trained to simulate the distinct characteristics and attributes of a variety of parents (Dotger, 2010; Dotger et al., 2008). Candidates receive immediate feedback on their performance within the simulation from the SP and from observing faculty members. Moreover, candidates conduct detailed self-evaluations of their performance, supported by their careful review of the video recordings of their simulated interactions and by individual and whole-group debriefing/reflection sessions.

Across 14 different simulations, participating teacher candidates (N = 526) have shown advances in professional dispositions and skills. For example, they show significant advances in their responsiveness to parents such as ethical and multicultural sensitivity (Dotger, 2010). Postsimulation debriefing data also indicate that simulated interactions expose teacher candidates to, and raise their awareness of; the emotional geographies (Hargreaves, 2000) associated with interactions between teachers and parents/caregivers. …