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


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. Cultivating supportive relationships is central to forging parent-teacher collaboration (Dinnebeil, Hale, & Rule, 2000). Despite the recognition of its importance, collaboration between teachers and parents continues to be difficult to achieve. Due to the frequent complexity that parents face in raising a child with a disability, teachers may find it particularly difficult to know how to best initiate positive collaboration with these parents (Dunst & Dempsey, 2007; Forlin & Hopewell, 2006).

Teacher preparation programs are in a primary position to promote professional learning opportunities that prepare teacher candidates to learn how to partner with parents. All too often, graduating teacher candidates lack the skills, attitudes, knowledge, and confidence necessary for building collaborative relationships with parents (Murray et al., 2008). Although many teacher preparation programs acknowledge the importance of parent involvement, frequently the preparation and training that teacher candidates receive in these programs falls short of what is needed to actually foster collaboration and partnership with parents (Caspe, Lopez, Chu, & Weiss, 2011; Dotger & Bennett, 2010; Flanigan, 2005; Giallourakis, Pretti-Frontczak, & Cook, 2005; Murray, Handyside, Straka, & Arton-Titus, 2013; Rodriguez-Brown, 2009).

Federal mandates have recognized the importance of parental involvement as a strategy to improve the education of children. …

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