ED DICUSSES THE USE OF TEACHER PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AS A TOOL TO ENHANCE FAMILY AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
Audrey Busch (firstname.lastname@example.org )
November 22, 2010
On Thursday, November 18, the U.S. Department of Education (ED), in partnership with the United Way, the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA), the Harvard Family Research Project and SEDL, held the fourth and final in their Family, School, and Community Engagement Webinar series. This focus of this final event was on “The Teacher-Parent Relationship: Using Professional Development to Improve Family and Community Engagement.”
• Mishaela Duran, Interim Executive Director, National Parent Teacher Association
• Beatriz Ceja, Program Manager, School Leadership and Transition to Teaching Programs, U.S. Department of Education
• Charles “Chuck” Saylors, President, National PTA
• Jane Groff, Director, Kansas State Parent Information Resource Center
• Katharine Mora, Education Coordinator, Columbia University Head Start and Adjunct Professor, Bank Street College of Education
• Susan Walker, Associate Professor, University of Minnesota
Providing opening remarks, Beatriz Ceja stated that “as we move from identifying teachers as ‘highly qualified’ to ‘highly effective,’” it is essential to focus on the institutions that are preparing educators. Teacher preparation programs must provide candidates with strategies to engage families and involve parents. Ceja explained, "teachers must be taught how to build bridges between teachers and parents that foster learning….and inspiration.” Building bridges between parents and teachers is necessary to bring a child from “cradle to career.”
Agreeing with Ceja’s comments, Chuck Saylors added, “when parents are engaged, a child’s educational experience is going to be more successful….family engagement is a key point.”
Saylors highlighted that involving parents is also important in retaining teachers. Because of this, teachers need to be better equipped with particular strategies in
order to connect and involve parents. While 15 states have codified the PTA’s research-based National Standards for Family-School Partnerships into state law or policy, Saylors cited three specific examples. In Hillsborough County, Florida the PTA has played a significant role in a program called “Empowering Effective Teachers Initiative” that works to reform and improve teacher quality and link professional development with student outcomes. Additionally, in Oakland, California principals are trained to work as partners with families “to reduce truancy and improve student attendance.” The final example Saylors described was the Boston Public Schools, which has included the National PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships in their professional development district-wide plan. The district includes professional development for teachers and principals to prepare them to weave family engagement techniques into their instructional methods that have proven to be successful.
Jane Groff, discussed the Kansas PIRC vision for teacher education and explained that, between 2007 and 2010, Kansas institutions of higher education (IHE), such as Kansas State University, Wichita State University, Baker University, University of Kansas, Ottawa University and Friends University, provided professional development on family engagement to 1,391 pre-service students. Over 7,000 resources on family engagement strategies were distributed to these pre-service students. Groff announced the launch of the Institute for Higher Education Curriculum Enhancement Initiative for Family Engagement that currently includes three Kansas-based universities—Wichita State University, Ottawa University and Kansas State University. Each program must include instructional goals, clear learner outcomes, an evaluation plan, a course syllabus, a plan for sharing the project with other IHE faculty, a plan for the continuation of the curriculum enhancement initiative and a budget. At Wichita State University, in collaboration with the Wichita Public Schools, the program is called the Urban Teacher Preparation Program and will include standards 1 – 3 of the PTA National Standards for Family-School Partnership. The area of emphasis is Urban Secondary Education, and the program will require the student teacher to draft letters of introduction to families and develop “plans of methods to engage families.” At Ottawa University, the focus is to develop a Faculty Learning Community that will emphasize elementary and secondary education. This learning community, focusing on family engagement, will incorporate Parent Teacher Education Connection modules and require professional education standards on family collaboration as part of an “e-portfolio.” Groff explained that the results of the evaluation conducted with students proved those who received the pre-service training were “significantly better prepared in their ability to help parents support their children’s learning at home” and also in their understanding of how to build a classroom and school that is family-friendly. The evaluation also revealed that students needed additional training in preparation to work with diverse populations and the community at-large.
At the Bank Street College of Education, Katherine Mora explained that over 20 courses included in the teacher preparation program incorporate parental involvement. She added that another important facet of teacher training is adult development. The understanding how adults learn best in contrast to their children, Mora said, will aid teachers in their “role as educators of parents.” Teachers need training on cross-cultural communication; basic conflict resolution; how to speak with parents about difficult subjects; overcoming language barriers; and communicating with parents who have a low literacy level. Mora also discussed a “reflective practice” teachers should adopt in order to maintain a positive relationship between parents and teachers. Mora concluded that family engagement must be at the center of teachers’ and administrators’ work, and this focus “should be seen as an innovative way to improve student outcomes.”
Susan Walker provided a summary of the Teacher Education Redesign Initiative (TERI) at the University of Minnesota which is funded by the Bush Institute as part of an effort to improve high school graduation rates and close the achievement gap. With a ten-year grant, the Initiative is in its second year but has incorporated family engagement as part of the TERI through the teacher preparation component of the redesign. TERI has folded parental involvement into the overall strategic plan through teacher performance assessments and the teacher preparation curriculum. While Walker is still unsure “what family engagement will look like in the curriculum,” it is certain it will be a key component. Walker’s goal is for TERI to be used as a model for other teacher preparation courses across the county.
Mishaela Duran stated the importance of schools reviewing current parent engagement practices and reflecting on how they can improve current methods. Clearly, parental engagement is a key part of the solution to improve student outcomes, and it must be addressed in teacher preparation courses and as part of continual professional development throughout the duration of an educator’s career.
For more information on this webinar, visit: http://www.nationalpirc.org/engagement_webinars/archives.html .