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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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Rena Rice
Bank Street College of Education

This course will meet for eight 3.5-hour sessions in June and will be conducted as a seminar. We will examine the role of the teacher in the classroom and school community with the intention of developing insight, understanding, and personal style which will support the teacher in his/her interaction with families.

The goal is maximum teacher effectiveness in communication between home and school, and as a sensitive member of the larger school community. This will include development of specific skills in parent conferencing with particular attention to the issues of parents whose children have special needs. The class will study the techniques of family-school collaboration, constructive methods of evaluation, and the parameters of the federal law (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).

Required Readings

Casper, V., & Schultz, S. B. (1999). Gay parents/straight schools: Building communication and trust. New York: Teachers College Press.

Fadiman, A. (1998). The spirit catches you and you fall down. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Swap, S. M. (1993). Developing home-school partnerships: From concepts to practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Bowman, B. T. (1994). Home and school: The unresolved relationship. In S. L. Kagan & B. Weissbourd (Eds.), Putting families first: America's family support movement and the challenge of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Brantlinger, E. (1991). Home-school partnerships that benefit children with special needs. Elementary School Journal, 91(3), 13–35.

Cook, D. A., & Fine, M. (1995). “Motherwit”: Childrearing lessons from African-American mothers of low income. In B. B. Swadener & S. Lubeck (Eds.), Children and families “at promise”: Deconstructing the discourse of risk (pp. 118–142). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Harner, L., & Davis, H. (1990, April). Point of view: Parent-teacher talk. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Boston, MA.

Margolis, H. (1991). Listening: The key to problem solving with angry parents. School Psychology International, 12, 329–347.

Moll, L. C., Amanti, C. A., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms, 31(2), 132–141.

Readdick, C. A., Goldbeck, S. L., Klein, E. L., & Cartwright, C. A. (1984, July). The child-parent-teacher conference: A setting for child development. Young Children, 67–73.

Shaheen, J. A. C., & Spence, C. C. (2002). Take charge!: Advocating for your child's education. Albany, NY: Delmar. Chaper 12 only.

Wasow, E. (200). Families and schools: New lenses, new landscapes. In N. Nager & E. K. Shapiro (Eds.), Revisiting a progressive pedagogy: The developmental-interaction approach (pp. 275–290). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Epstein, J. L. (1995, May). School/family/community partnerships: Caring for the children we share. Phi Delta Kappan, 701–712.

Spielman, J. (2001) The Family Photography Project: “We will just read what the pictures tell us.” The Reading Teacher, 54(8), 762–770.

Barrera, I., & Corso, R. M. (in press). Cultural competency as skilled dialogue. Topics in Early Childhood Special Ed, 22(2).

Recommended Readings

Alper, S. K., Schloss, P. J., & Schloss, C. N. (1994). Families of students with disabilities: Consultation and advocacy. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Buzzell, J. B. (1996). School and family partnerships: Case studies for regular and special educators. Albany, NY: Delmar.

Chandler, P. A. (1994). A place for me: Including children with special needs in early care and education settings. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

Dorris, M. (1989). The broken cord. New York: Harper Collins.

Featherstone, H. (1980). A difference in the family: Life with a disabled child. New York: Basic Books.

Kranowitz, C. S. (1998). The out-of-sync child: Recognizing and coping with sensory integration dysfunction. New York: Perigee.

Levine, M. D. (1996). All kinds of minds. Cambridge, MA: Educators.

Seligman, M., & Darling, R. B. (1989). Ordinary families, special children: A systems approach to childhood disability. New York: Guilford Press.

Smith, S. L. (1995). No easy answers: The learning disabled child at home and at school (rev. ed.). New York: Bantam Books.

Course Outline

Session 1

Topic: Introduction to the Course

  • Review of course outline, readings and assignments; demonstration of web-based component
  • Developing competency in working with families: attitudes/dispositions, content knowledge, practice skills
  • Small group exercise – reframing attitudes

Session 2

Topics: The Culture of the School and Learning From Our Own Experiences

  • Brief history of family involvement in schools
  • Exploring school climate – “Treasure Hunt”
  • Learning from our own experiences: In small groups, discuss what characteristics describe who you are. How have race, ethnicity, culture, language, religion, sexual orientation, geography, age, and ability shaped who you are? What was your family's involvement in your schooling? How congruent were our family's values with those of the school(s) you attended? With the community in which your school was located (if different). How did this congruence or dissonance shape your family's involvement with and attitude toward your education? What were your and your families experiences with and attitudes toward special needs? What about the attitudes and services in the school(s) you attended? Using Moll's concept of “funds of knowledge” as a framework, discuss some of the ways, if any, your family's funds of knowledge were acknowledged and included in your schooling.
  • Analyzing your school's structures of power and governance
  • Initial family contacts – role play

Assignment due:

  • Think about the questions (above) that we will discuss in class. If a parent, guardian, or sibling is available, ask them about their perceptions.
  • Bring in an organizational diagram of your school's “power hierarchy.”

Required readings:

  • Moll, L. C., Amanti, C. A., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992)
  • Spielman, J. (2001)
  • Swap – Chapter 3

Sessions 3 and 4

Topic: Family Involvement and Home/School Communication

  • Modalities of family involvement
  • Techniques for effective conferences, including examining one's own attitudes, empathy, active listening, normalizing, forming alliances, collaborative decision making, arriving at a plan of action
  • Role playing parent-teacher conferences

Video: Parent-teacher conferences

Video: Diversity and Developmentally Appropriate Practice

Assignment due June 5th – Written Assignment #1 – Parent interview paper

Required readings:

  • Harner & Davis
  • Margolis
  • Moles
  • Readdick
  • Epstein
  • National PTA Standards

Session 5

Topic: Special Education and Inclusion

Guest Presenters: Two BSC graduates – an advocate for families of children with special needs and a parent of a child with special needs

Understanding the laws and the system and helping parents advocate for their children:

  • Identifying children with special needs
  • Making referrals
  • The teacher's role in planning, implementation, and advocacy
  • Developing an IEP
  • Working with parents
  • Inclusion classrooms

Required readings:

  • Brantlinger
  • Swap – Chapter 4

Sessions 6 and 7

Topics: Diverse Family Structures and Challenges Facing Families, Schools, and Communities

Using a series of vignettes depicting various contemporary family structures and societal challenges, students will discuss how teachers, schools, and society may respond to families' needs.

Video: “Is Mommy Alright?”: Mothers, Drugs and Children

Assignments due:

Vignettes recounting the real-life experience of a family are posted. Prior to the class, students will select an issue to research. In preparation for small-group class discussions and presentations, read a total of two articles (from within the last five years) on the family structure and/or challenge depicted in the vignette you choose. Please choose your articles from a research database.

Post the complete citation and a brief annotation of the article you found under the discussion topic headings, Family Diversity Annotated Bibliography, and/or Societal Challenges Annotated Bibliography.

Find a children's book on the topic(s) of your choice. Post the complete citation, the age group it is intended for, and a brief annotation under the discussion topic heading, Annotated Bibliography of Children's Books.

Required readings:

  • Cook & Fine
  • Casper & Schultz – Chapters 6 and 7, Appendices A and B

Recommended reading:

  • Casper & Schultz – Chapters 2 and 3

Assignments due:

Find two resources for families relating to the family structure and/or challenge you chose to discuss Session 6.

The first should be a local not-for-profit community organization. Find the following information: name of agency, address, phone, contact person, hours of operation, services provided, eligibility requirements, languages spoken, fees (if any).

Post this information under the discussion topic heading, Community Resource Guide.

The second should be the website of a national or regional organization for the family structure and/or challenge you chose to research.

Post the website URL (address) with a brief annotation, under the discussion topic heading, Family Resource Webliography.

Important note: Post the entire URL as it then becomes a “hot link” from the discussion page.

Required readings:

  • Rockwell et al. – Chapters 10 and 12

Session 8

Topic: Family as Educator

  • The family support movement: history, philosophy, practices, programs
  • Schools as community centers – the role of family support in school reform
  • Small group activity – designing a school for the Twenty-First Century

Assignment due: Critical analysis of a school and plan for family involvement – Parts A & B (Written Assignment #2 – Parts A & B)

Required readings:

  • Bowman

Web-Based Assignments

Each student will be required to post one message per week on the discussion board. You may either initiate a new topic or respond to an existing one. It would be appreciated if you post more than the required minimum.

The first posting for everyone is a response to the Helpful Tips topic that I initiated (first discussion).

Please post at least one message for each of the remaining three weeks of class.

Additional web assignments are indicated on the session outline for the session at which they are due.

Written Assignments

Please note: Papers should be paginated (numbered) in the upper right-hand corner and double-spaced with one-inch margins. Please follow APA style. (See Bank Street Writers Handbook and Webliography for information.)

Assignment #1: Parent Interview – 5 pages (maximum 7)

Interview a parent or set of parents (not related to or well-known by you) who are currently parenting a child between the ages of one and twelve. If possible, try to choose a family from a different cultural and/or socioeconomic background from your own, and/or the parent(s) of a special needs child. Please collect the following data:

  • Description of parent(s) and affect during interview (include ethnicity and socioeconomic status)
  • Number, sex, and age of children in the family
  • Language(s) spoken at home
  • Parental employment outside the home and work distribution within the family
  • Support system for family (e.g., grandparents, friends, other relatives)
  • Child care arrangements or school attended
  • Age and educational background of parents (ask at end of interview if you feel it is appropriate)

Here are some sample interview questions:

1. Tell me about your child.

(Note: If there is more than one child in the family, focus on a target child of the age you work with or would like to work with.)

2. How has your child impacted on your life (lives)?

3. What are the most positive aspects of parenting this child? The most challenging?

4. What are some of the activities you do with your child?

5. What types of behavior would cause you to discipline your child? How do you discipline him/her?

6. If the child has siblings, what is the nature of their relationship?

7. What are your strengths and weaknesses as a parent?

8. What are some of your concerns or questions about your child and his/her development? What do you worry about?

9. If your child is currently in child care or school, what is your relationship with the child care provider or teacher? What is the nature and extent of your involvement with the school or program? What do you like about the school or child care? Any concerns or problems?

Directions: In your paper, identify the child and briefly describe the background information. Briefly summarize the parent's or parents' responses. In narrative form, discuss two or three salient issues that arise from the interview. Use direct quotations to support your discussion. Then, discuss the implications of these issues for your own practice, and for teachers and schools in general.

Citing references is not required for this paper, but may enhance your work if used effectively.

Assignment #2: Critical Analysis of a School Setting and Plan for Family Involvement – 10 pages

1. Describe the demographics of the setting in which you work or have worked: nature of the community, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds of the families, languages represented, special needs children, etc.

2. Describe the administrative structure of your school. Describe the role of parents, if any, in the governance of the school.

3. Using Swap's typology, which type is your school? Support your analysis with examples. Note: Most schools fall mostly into one of the categories, but have elements of some of the others. If this describes your school, please explain how.

4. Choose one of the National PTA standards that best relates to your school, whether in a positive or negative way. State the standard you have chosen in full. With regard to this standard, assess the patterns of interaction between family and school, as well as expectations, attitudes, and policies (written and unwritten, explicit or implicit) which encourage or inhibit family-school collaboration. How do the demographics of the school influence patterns of family involvement? How are your school and you as a teacher meeting the standards? In what areas is there room for growth? What would you change, and how, in order to improve family-school interaction?

5. Briefly describe a curriculum study you are planning or might plan. Looking at it through the lens of family involvement, discuss how you would include families in this study. Please do not give a detailed description of the curriculum; highlight those areas that pertain to family involvement. Try to be creative and original. Remember that not all parents are able to be physically present in your classroom, and that involvement should be bidirectional.

7. At the end of your paper, append the text of the following letters to parents:

a. Welcome letter
b. Parent questionnaire
c. Letter announcing first parent/teacher conferences
d. Letter introducing the curriculum study you describe in your paper and communicating to parents about their involvement

Important note: Be sure to include well-integrated references to the readings that support your ideas and analysis. Your reference list should include at lease five of the required readings.

Method of Assessment

Students will be assessed on the quality of written work, Web assignments, and classroom participation.

Papers should demonstrate: thoughtful discussion of salient issues; clarity; good organization; integrated use of references to support your ideas; synthesis of theory and practice; good writing style (including grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, spelling, etc.); accurate use of APA reference style.

If you have any difficulty with writing or any questions about papers, please phone or email me to request an individual meeting.

Grades reflect the quality of work as follows:

A = excellent
A- = very good
B+ = good
B = satisfactory graduate level work
B- and below = does not meet graduate level standards

Students who receive a course grade below B will have the opportunity to redo their paper(s) after consulting with instructor. A change of grade will be made if the work shows significant improvement. Please note that redoing a paper does not automatically guarantee a higher grade.

Free. Available online only.

© 2016 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project