Preservice Teachers' Beliefs About Family Involvement: Implications for Teacher Education

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  • Early Childhood Education Journal, Vol. 32, No. 1, August 2004 ( 2004)

    Working with Families

    Preservice Teachers Beliefs about Family Involvement:Implications for Teacher Education

    Angela C. Baum,1,3 and Paula McMurray-Schwarz2

    Teacher educators have long recognized the importance of adequately preparing preservice teachersfor their work with families. Preservice teachers express many concerns that they believe mayimpact the development of comfortable and collaborative relationships with members of childrensfamilies. In a previous study, the authors found that preservice teachers expressed concerns aboutthe quality of the teacherfamily relationship, meeting childrens basic needs in school, and therole of parents in education. These concerns, along with some recommendations for incorporatingfamily involvement across the teacher education curriculum, are the focus of this article.

    KEY WORDS: teacher preparation; family involvement; preservice teacher beliefs.

    INTRODUCTION their work with families. Guidelines from professionalassociations have stressed the importance of preparingThe importance of family involvement in earlyearly childhood professionals who are able to establish

    childhood programs is well documented (Eldridge,and maintain collaborative relationships with families2001; Epstein, 1985; Henderson, 1987). Children whose (National Association for the Education of Young Chil-parents are involved in their education demonstrate dren, Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Ex-higher gains in academic achievement, more positive at-ceptional Children, National Board for Professional

    titudes toward school, and better homework habits than Teaching Standards, 1996). Henderson, Marburger, andchildren whose families are less involved (Epstein, Ooms (1986) make several recommendations for prepar-1985; Henderson, 1987). The benefits of family involve- ing educators to build strong schoolfamily partner-ment are not limited to children. Studies have shown

    ships. They suggest that future teachers need to developthat parents, teachers, and schools also benefit from in-

    an understanding of the importance of parents role increased involvement (Eldridge, 2001). For example, par-

    education, diversity in families, family factors that im-ents who are involved in their childs schooling exhibit pact childrens learning and development, and skills nec-increased self-confidence in their parenting and a more

    essary for successful communication and collaboration.thorough knowledge of child development (Becher, McBride (1991) further emphasized the importance of1986; Epstein, 2001). Teachers demonstrate a greater

    this preparation by noting that teachers who are not wellunderstanding of individual childrens lives, while prepared may feel frustrated and demonstrate negativeschools benefit from greater community support (Ep-

    attitudes about their work with families.stein, 2001). In spite of the overwhelming agreement amongTeacher educators have long recognized the impor- professionals about the importance of family involve-tance of adequately preparing preservice teachers for

    ment in early childhood education, there seems to bea gap between our beliefs and our practice as teachereducators. While many steps have been taken to improve

    1Ohio University, Athens, OH. the quality of teacher preparation in this area, our efforts2Ohio University-Eastern.may not be enough (Brand, 1996). One common ap-3Correspondence should be directed to Angela C. Baum, School ofproach is for early childhood teacher preparation pro-Human and Consumer Sciences, W324 Grover Center, Ohio Univer-

    sity, Athens, OH 45701; e-mail: bauma@ohio.edu grams to include a class devoted to parent involvement

    571082-3301/04/0800-0057/0 2004 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.

  • Baum and McMurray-Schwarz58

    and education. While there is no doubt that this is a QUALITY OF THE TEACHERFAMILYRELATIONSHIPnecessary component, completion of one course may not

    adequately prepare students to implement effective par- One concern expressed by preservice teachers wasent involvement strategies into their early childhood

    related to the nature or quality of the relationship thatclassrooms. Preservice and beginning teachers, who

    they expected to have with families. Many students ex-have had only one course on parent education, often ex- pected their relationships to be extremely challenging.press hesitation and sometimes even trepidation when They spoke frequently of the need to avoid and resolvediscussing the nature and the quality of the relationshipsconflict, cope with critical and judgmental parents, and

    that they expect to develop with the families of the chil-work with parents who may be harming their children.dren with whom they will work (Baum, 2000; Sumison, The following are examples of comments from under-1999). graduate students that illustrate the anxiety that futureIn a previous study (Baum, 2000), the authorsteachers frequently possess about the prospect of work-found that preservice teachers had misconceptions ing with parents and families. Preservice teachers often

    about, and not enough experience with, families duringanticipate that these relationships will be characterized

    their undergraduate training experiences. In this study, by conflict and criticism.preservice teachers were interviewed about their beliefssurrounding many issues in early childhood education. It is going to be a big challenge just to talk to the

    parents at a level where they understand where you areDuring focus groups and individual interviews, preser-coming from and you know where theyre comingvice teachers frequently spoke about the relationshipsfrom. And instead of getting into a yelling match or

    that they desired and expected to have with childrenswhatever, keep your cool, I guess, and just try to work

    families. Students made many positive and appropriate it out.comments when describing these potential relationships.

    Its hard to watch children be hurt and feel like youFor example, preservice teachers emphasized the impor- cant do anything about it. Abusive households andtance of open communication. They used words such as things like that. . . . Or parents that are mean or parents

    who arent giving them discipline. I feel like thatsongoing, honest, and frequent when addressingharmful to a child.the topic of communicating with parents. In addition,

    participants described the role of teachers as supporting I think its hard when parents think their child is theangel of the world and yet the child is beating up alldifferences in families and understanding how those dif-the other kids on the playground.ferences impact their work with children. They de-

    scribed families from diverse cultural or socioeconomic Students seemed to expect that their relationshipsbackgrounds as having a variety of different needs. They with parents and families would be characterized bybelieved that an understanding of where the family is conflict and criticism. Students frequently expressed thecoming from would not only enhance the childs educa- perspective that they must try to educate children intion, but strengthen their relationship with the family. spite of their parents, rather than in partnership with

    While these beliefs form an important foundation their parents. Perhaps students could better visualize thefor early childhood educators work with families, Baum positive role that parents play in their childrens lives if(2000) also found that preservice teachers expressed they had sufficient opportunity to experience the parentmany concerns that they believed would inhibit the de- perspective. Many traditional preservice teachers do notvelopment of comfortable and collaborative relation- have children themselves and seem to adopt an us ver-ships with members of the childs family. In general, sus them attitude toward their work with families. Stu-preservice teachers expressed concerns about the quality dents should have opportunities to talk to parents. Theyof the teacherfamily relationship, meeting childrens need to hear about the struggles that are inherent in par-basic needs in school, and the role of parents in educa- enting, as well as the struggles that individual familiestion. These concerns, along with some recommendations face. This could help students develop empathy and un-for incorporating family involvement across the teacher derstanding, rather than jumping to a first response ofeducation curriculum, are the focus of this article. The defensiveness. Activities such as parent interviews, at-following section describes some of the concerns that tending parent-oriented meetings such as parent advi-became evident through the authors research. Quotes sory boards and support groups, and observing parentfrom focus groups and interviews are included to illus- teacher conferences may further students understandingtrate these concerns in the words of preservice teachers in this area.themselves. It is unrealistic, however, to present parent involve-

  • 59Beliefs about Family Involvement

    ment in the classroom as being completely free of con- perspective while respecting both the parents rights asa decision-maker and the best interests of the child.flict. Students need to receive instruction and have op-

    portunities to practice their skills in the area of conflictresolution and effective communication. Often these

    MEETING CHILDRENS BASIC NEEDSimportant skills are not given enough attention in earlychildhood teacher preparation programs. Teacher edu- Students were also apprehensive about the idea thatcators stress the importance of effective and appropri- they may be required to provide for a childs needs thatate communication and conflict resolution, but do not are not being fully met at home. For example, studentsoften teach students the skills needed to be successful in expressed concern that some children may come tothis area. While it is not uncommon for parent involve- school not ready to learn because they were tired, hun-ment/education textbooks to include a chapter on com- gry, or unclean.munication with parents (e.g., Berger, 2004; Wright &

    One thing that I have seen and have had other teachersStegelin, 2003), it is likely that a more comprehensivetell me . . . things like hygiene issues and maybe not

    approach to teaching communication skills would be having a parent there as much as they need them. Onebeneficial. teacher told me, As much as you dont want to be,

    Offering a course devoted entirely to the topic of youre going to have to be their parent a little bit be-cause they need something stable.communication is one obvious option, but there are

    other ways that teacher educators can provide theseSometimes you hear of cases where kids arent gettingtheir basic needs met, like not getting breakfast beforelearning opportunities within the existing frameworks ofthey come to school or their parents send them with ateacher preparation programs. For example, one benefi-can of pop and its really sad. Some schools do havecial activity is allowing students to role-play a variety ofprograms for breakfast; otherwise I dont know whatpossible situations in which they need to use appropriate you could do to help that.

    communication and/or conflict resolution strategies.While discussing their concerns about meeting chil-These situations could be tailored to address the level of

    drens basic needs, they frequently expressed confusionthe student and/or a topic specific to the course informa-about how to do so while respecting parents rights andtion being taught. For example, students enrolled in anboundaries.Introduction to Early Childhood Education course may

    reenact a situation in which a parent questions theI think that its really unfortunate, but I also think that

    amount of time children spend playing in the classroom. if we dont deal with it, we cant go on. Those basicIn a course related to the topic of guidance and disci- needs have to be met first before you can be successful

    teaching them anything else. Yet, you dont want topline, a student may be asked to defend their classroomoverstep your boundaries. You dont want to have apolicy on time out. Teacher educators and other stu-parent coming in and saying You are parenting mydents can then offer feedback surrounding communica-child! Its hard. Where do you stop? Its a fine line.

    tion and conflict resolution strategies. Not only will thisgive students the opportunity to practice methods of One of the most important strategies for teacher ed-

    ucators related to this issue is to help preservice teacherscommunication, but it will allow them to further identifyand develop their personal philosophies. develop an understanding of and sensitivity to the daily

    lives of children and their families. Students are oftenFinally, it is important to direct students toNAEYCs Code of Ethical Conduct (1997). Section II quick to pass judgment when a child comes to school

    not fully prepared. For example, if a child comes toof this document clearly identifies the ethical responsi-bilities early childhood educators have to the families of school not having had breakfast, students initial re-

    sponse may be criticism of the parent. Teacher educatorsyoung children. When teachers are confronted with ethi-cal dilemmas involving parents, the Code of Ethical need to emphasize the importance of considering the

    context in which the family lives. A missed breakfastConduct can be a very useful tool in their decision-mak-ing processes. For example, Ideal 12.4 states that the may signify poverty, or that even the most conscientious

    parent may have had a hectic morning and simply runearly childhood practitioner has a responsibility to re-spect families childrearing values and their right to out of time, or that the child does not want to eat even

    if offered food. In other words, we need to teach stu-make decisions for their children. This is an importantidea to stress to preservice teachers, who may be con- dents to reserve judgment and refrain from jumping to

    conclusions. Students should be given the opportunityfronted with a disagreement with a parent. This idealmay help them keep their opinions about the situation in to experience and develop an understanding of families

  • Baum and McMurray-Schwarz60

    lives. Again, providing opportunities for students to hear portance of having parents share their experiences withthe class because it is fun for the children or it makesfrom parents directly may be the most effective strategy.

    This could include parent interviews, panel discussions, the parent feel valued.or participation in home visits.

    If you are going to do a project, have parents volunteerWhile understanding the lives of families is impor-to help out or make the materials or donate the materi-

    tant, the reality remains that some children do come toals for the project. Use them as a resource and make

    school unprepared for their day and the learning process. the parents feel like theyre needed.The challenge th...

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