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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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Karen Horsch of Harvard Family Research Project lists recommendations for teacher development from an HFRP study.

School-linked services are one of several educational reforms that recognize that schools cannot work in isolation from students' families and communities. Research shows that family involvement in children's education makes critical contributions to student achievement and can help to build relationships between schools and communities. However, school efforts to promote family involvement will only succeed if teachers are adequately prepared to support these efforts. A new study by Harvard Family Research Project examines both why training teachers to work successfully with families is so crucial and how to train teachers to work effectively with parents and families.

Findings from the study reveal a serious discrepancy between the preservice training teachers receive and the types of family involvement activities they are increasingly being expected to perform in schools. In many states, teacher certification requirements do not mention working with parents or families, indicating that family involvement is often not a high priority in state certification. The study's findings also show that in states where family involvement was mentioned in certification requirements, family involvement was rarely defined.

Teacher education programs, the study shows, also lack a comprehensive definition of family involvement. They tend to focus on traditional means of family involvement (such as parent-teacher conferences) rather than more innovative ways to establish parent-school partnerships. Fewer than half of the 60 teacher preparation programs examined in the study provided a full course on family involvement. Likewise, more family involvement training existed at the early childhood level than at all other levels. Findings indicate that the challenges to preparing teachers in family involvement include: the lack of an infrastructure to support model development and information dissemination; restrictive university and/or government policies; limited scale and resources of programs; and resistant attitudes from key actors.

The recommendations from the report focus on the development of the capacity of teacher education programs to create excellence in the field of family involvement. These recommendations include the following:

  • Develop a national network to support teacher preparation in family involvement. Ideally, this would entail the establishment of an entity that would model development and evaluation, work with professional organizations to develop standards, and disseminate information.

  • Evaluate the experiences and outcomes of preparing teachers to work with families. Efforts should be made at the school and district levels to assess and evaluate the family involvement practice of teachers and other school personnel.

  • Strengthen state policy guidelines for teacher preparation in family involvement. This would begin with a clear and comprehensive definition of family involvement that could be used to guide teacher education programs.

  • Make family involvement training available to elementary, middle, and high school teachers. This would help to address the finding that family involvement in schools declines dramatically with each passing grade.

  • Improve the effectiveness of training through collaboration across subspecialties and disciplines. This could include encouraging collaboration across teacher subspecialties and between education and the fields of health and social services.

  • Integrate training throughout teacher education curriculum rather than treating it as an isolated component. Integration of family involvement throughout the education curricula would both reinforce the importance of family and community in education and address concerns about excessive certification requirements.

  • Espouse family involvement as a priority among professional organizations. Resistance to family involvement might be lessened if professional organizations prioritize family involvement.

  • Sustain teachers' knowledge, skills, and positive attitudes toward families through in-service training. In order to sustain preservice efforts, professional development opportunities for teachers must be ongoing.

  • Move beyond classroom-based teaching methods by offering teachers more direct field experiences working with families. Teacher preparation programs that use interactive and experiential methods to help students to integrate theory and practice would help to build student skills and knowledge about working with families.

The report on which this article is based, New Skills for New Schools: Preparing Teachers in Family Involvement, will be available in fall 1997. Contact the Publications Office at 617-496-4304 for further information.

Karen Horsch, Research Specialist, HFRP

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