Academic journal article School Community Journal

Preparing Special Education Teachers to Collaborate with Families

Academic journal article School Community Journal

Preparing Special Education Teachers to Collaborate with Families

Article excerpt

Abstract

Positive family-school-community relationships are associated with student success. Creating successful relationships with parents is an important but difficult task for teachers to master. Therefore, teacher candidates need opportunities to learn how to develop collaborative relationships with parents of all children, including children with disabilities. This paper describes the implementation of the Families as Faculty Program (FAF), jointly developed by a parent center and a special education program at a southwestern university. The purpose of this program is to prepare teachers and other professionals in the community to work collaboratively with parents in an effort to improve services, develop partnerships, and to increase positive outcomes for students across the full range of disabilities. This program provides teacher candidates with a unique opportunity to learn firsthand from parents who agree to share their experiences and stories about the strengths, differences, and challenges of raising a child with disabilities. This article describes the way in which FAF was integrated into a graduate-level course in a special education master's degree program. Information is given on how other teacher preparation programs can access materials created through FAF for their own programs.

Key Words: teacher preparation program, special education, parent-teacher partnership, school-community collaboration, parents, involvement, engagement, students with disabilities, families, home visits, virtual learning

Introduction

The purpose of this article is to describe a program that explicitly prepares teachers to develop the disposition and skills they need to implement successful school-family collaboration. Studies have shown a strong association between the degree of parent involvement and children's positive social, emotional, and academic growth (Boethel, 2003; Epstein & Sanders, 2000; Fan & Chen, 2001; Green, Walker, Hoover-Dempsey, & Sandler, 2007; Henderson & Mapp, 2002; Hill & Tyson, 2009; Jeynes, 2003). Epstein (1995) emphasizes that, through parent involvement, "schools, families, and communities create caring educational environments" (p. 703). We use Epstein's concept of the term "parent involvement" throughout our article. This concept entails parent communication with their children about education, parent participation in school-related decision-making, parent engagement with schools and teachers, and parent collaboration within the school community. Throughout this article, the terms parent involvement and parent engagement are used synonymously. In a similar fashion, the words parent and family will be used interchangeably, each signifying the adults who play significant roles in caring for their children.

Teachers play a significant role in parents' decisions to become involved in their children's education (Dauber & Epstein, 1993). Research has shown that teachers who reach out to parents and encourage participation are more likely to motivate parents to become involved in their children's education (Green et al., 2007; Hoover-Dempsey et al., 2005). Teachers who encourage parent involvement and establish positive relationships with parents of children with disabilities are in a better position to provide the support needed for these parents to constructively engage in their children's education (Colarusso & O'Rourke, 2007; Forlin & Hopewell, 2006). Teacher preparation programs that have provided opportunities for teacher candidates to engage in meaningful interactions with parents of children with disabilities, while rare, have been shown to result in positive outcomes (Baker & Murray, 2011; Bingham & Abernathy, 2007; Espe-Sherwindt, 2001; Murray & Curran, 2008; Murray, Curran, & Zellers, 2008).

Given the significance of the connection between parent involvement and successful student outcomes, it is important that school employees, especially teachers, develop skills in establishing positive relationships. …

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