Whose Expertise?: An Analysis of Advice Giving in Early Childhood Parent-Teacher Conferences

Article excerpt

Early childhood and early childhood special education programs have a focus on parent-educator partnerships. Parent-teacher conferences are a context for these partnerships, and advice giving is one type of exchange occurring within conferences. Parent-teacher conference advice was investigated through participant interviews and the methodology of conversation analysis. Six early childhood parent-teacher conferences were studied to determine the extent to which parent-educator partnerships were implemented. Results indicated that conference participants socially constructed their roles such that teachers were advice givers and parents were advice seekers. As such, teachers' expertise was expected and acknowledged, whereas parents' expertise was largely unrecognized. Nonetheless, teachers supported and encouraged parents' childrearing competencies and fostered positive parent-educator relationships. Implications for early childhood educators and researchers are provided.

Keywords: parent participation, early childhood, early childhood special education, parent-teacher conferences

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Early childhood education (ECE) programs, such as Head Start and early childhood special education (ECSE) programs, have adopted a partnerships model, which places families/parents and teachers on an equal footing for the benefit of young children's development and learning. The current study focused on the provision and reception of advice in early childhood parent-teacher conferences as an indicator of the extent to which parent-educator partnerships are fulfilled.

From its inception, Head Start, the federally funded early education program for families from low-income backgrounds in the United States, adopted a philosophy of parent-educator partnerships, including the goal of empowering parents regarding their parenting and their children's education (Henrich & Gadaire, 2008). Parental participation in Head Start, parent-teacher collaboration (Head Start Act, 1998), and facilitation of parental decision-making (Research Assessment Management, 1996, p. xi) are characteristics of the Head Start partnerships philosophy.

Similarly, ECSE programs are charged with pursuing parent participation (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, 2004). In addition, researchers have focused on parent-professional partnerships as a component of a family-centered approach. From this perspective, Trivette and Dunst (2005) emphasized families as participants in decision-making for their children. Partnerships are defined as, "Parents and other family members working together with professionals in pursuit of a common goal where the relationship between the family and the professional is based on shared decision-making and responsibility and mutual trust and respect" (Dunst, Trivette, & Snyder, 2000, p. 32). Educators' roles include respecting, encouraging, supporting, and enhancing competencies of families of young children. Research has shown that when parent-professional partnerships and family-centered practices are adopted, families are satisfied and perceive early childhood programs as family centered; additionally, parental beliefs about their own self-efficacy and empowerment increase (Dunst & Dempsey, 2007; Dunst, Trivette, & Hamby, 2007).

Despite these and related studies, evidence suggests that parent-educator partnerships remain challenging for educators. More specifically, researchers have illustrated, through observation and interview studies, that partnerships and collaboration are challenging in special and general education programs (Garriott, Wandry, & Snyder, 2000; Harry, 2008; Harry, Allen, & McLaughlin, 1995; Hess, Molina, & Kozleski, 2006; Power & Clark, 2000; Ramirez, 2003; Rao, 2000; Salas, 2004; Soodak & Erwin, 2000). Researchers reported similar results when analyzing discourse between parents and educators during K-12 Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings (Mehan, Hertweck, & Meisels, 1986) and Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) meetings (Minke & Scott, 1993). …