Strategies for Preparing Educators to Enhance the Involvement of Diverse Families in Their Children's Education

Article excerpt

Educators want and need specific preparation about the knowledge, attitudes, and skills it takes to enhance the involvement of diverse families in their children's education. The importance of preparing educators to work together with diverse families cannot be overstated; a parent is a child's first teacher and the only teacher who remains with a child throughout his or her education. The research is compelling about both the academic benefits (Henderson & Mapp, 2002) and the social emotional learning benefits (Zins, Bloodworth, Weissberg, & Walberg, 2004) of family involvement in education.

When families are involved in their children's learning, children do better in school and in life. In addition to the strong research and practice findings about family involvement in education, current policy initiatives also dictate a strong role for family involvement in education. The No Child Left Behind Act (2001) has specific requirements for family involvement that require notification and participation of parents in their children's education.

Universities have a tremendous potential to improve the academic achievement and social emotional learning of all students by preparing future educators to work with diverse families; however, most universities are just beginning to prepare educators to work with diverse children and families (Goor & Porter, 1999). Diverse families include families with different social economic status, living arrangements, languages, histories, cultures, religions, sizes, etc. The list of differing characteristics is endless, and it is important for educators to be prepared for these differences.

Educators need to understand the many contexts in which families live, work, and play-these different contexts are important components of the way we can work together with families. Differences can be strengths, and it is with this strengths perspective that educators can help diverse families become actively involved with their children's schools.

There has been some earlier work at the university level on preparing educators to engage families in their children's education, but these earlier efforts did not focus on the diversity of today's families and the potential resources that these diverse families can bring to their children's education. This article will describe promising theoretical models, discuss successful approaches, consider key issues, and offer recommendations for preparing educators to work with diverse families.

Promising Theoretical Models

Recently, there has been a renewed interest in developing theoretical models of preparing educators to work effectively with diverse families. Some of the renewed work builds on a model originally developed in the mid-eighties by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL), and thus it is important to examine the prototype plan originally developed by Chavkin and Williams (1988). It contains four essential components for a prototype parent involvement teacher preparation program: the personal framework, the practical framework, the conceptual framework, and the contextual framework. An overlapping of elements from the first three components is the ideal program (see Figure 1).

Even though this model is almost twenty years old, the knowledge, understanding, and skills areas that are contained within SEDL's personal framework are particularly relevant for preparing educators to work with today's diverse families and can be a building block for curriculum modules. The personal framework focuses on teachers' knowledge about their own beliefs and values, their understanding of the school, their comprehension of the diversity within the community, and the importance of individual differences among parents.

Another model was developed by Shartrand and her colleagues (1997) from the Harvard Family Research Project. They identify seven key knowledge areas about family involvement that teachers need to know and recommend that they be included in teacher training programs (see Figure 2). …