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December 5, 2013
Professional Development in Family Engagement: A Few Often-Overlooked Strategies for Success
Christine Patton, Shannon Wanless
Using Professional Development to Improve Family and Community Engagement
This webinar examines examples of how states can embed family engagement into their PD systems and how teacher education programs can include family engagement in teaching and learning.
Understanding Family Involvement in the Preparation of Graduate Students
This research report describes a study of family involvement training that graduate students receive during pre-service preparation programs in early childhood intervention and early childhood education.
Teaching the Teachers: Preparing Educators to Engage Families for Student Achievement
This brief describes five core elements necessary for a system of teacher training and PD in support of family engagement, distilled from case studies of teacher preparation programs.
Resources and Research
In this article, Christine Patton and Shannon Wanless discuss the importance of professional development (PD) in the area of family engagement, point out effective professional development strategies, and highlight the changing nature of PD in general.
Most educators are eager to engage families, but they often lack the skills and practice time needed to do so effectively. One recent study shows that a fair number of teachers have rated their pre-service and in-service training as excellent or good in preparing them to effectively engage families;1 however, generally speaking, teachers often do not receive the preparation they need to engage families in ways that support children’s learning and development. Many university teacher-education programs include courses on family engagement, especially in early childhood and special education degree programs. But in addition to reaching only a targeted group of future teachers, these programs often do not fully prepare teachers to engage families in the work of promoting children’s academic success. For example, pre-service teacher placements out in the field usually do not include any direct interactions with families and rarely offer pre-service teachers opportunities to sit in on parent–teacher conferences prior to the start of their teaching careers. These missed opportunities limit the chances for future teachers to practice important relationship-building strategies with families, including two-way communication, active listening, and encouraging families to share their children’s interests and needs. Once teachers do start into their careers, they discover that the family engagement training that they had received early, during the pre-career stage of their training, was often not sufficient to prepare them for real-life conversations with families.
Because family engagement is a significant part of student success; because higher levels of family engagement are associated with higher job satisfaction among teachers;2 and because teachers are more likely to stay in schools where they have good relationships with parents,3 it is important for teachers to continue to learn and practice family engagement skills on an ongoing basis throughout their careers.
EFFECTIVE PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Across fields, including within the education arena, effective professional development is based on many of the same strategies. As the benefits of family engagement are becoming more widely known, it has become increasingly evident that teachers need effective professional development (PD) to learn and practice family engagement techniques. As course developers and trainers/coaches consider the design and execution of family engagement trainings, and as teachers think about participating in a training, they all need to consider several tenets of effective PD. Administrators may oversee such trainings, but they may also participate in them, and need to understand the components of effective professional development trainings as well.
Below, we draw from the larger literature on training and implementation science, and offer insights on implications that these findings might have for PD that is focused on family engagement. The most effective PD strategies take into consideration the following:
Teachers need to be ready to learn new techniques and content.
Teachers need to feel safe taking risks as they learn new techniques.
Teachers need social support as they explore new practices and techniques.
Tracking progress and receiving feedback improve implementation.
THE CHANGING NATURE OF PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
In addition to considering the above tenets, we suggest that course developers and coaches/trainers take new and innovative approaches to designing, offering, and implementing trainings in order to increase the likelihood that teachers will learn new family engagement techniques and implement them effectively. We know from online newspapers, blogs, and forums—with titles such as, “Why Teacher Training Fails Our Teachers,” “Professional-Development Reform: 8 Steps to Make It Happen,” “Six Questions for Better Professional Development,” and “On Flipping the Professional Development Experience”—that there is a need to rethink how educators and future educators are trained. The format, delivery, and duration of the training and availability of time to practice new skills need to be reconsidered.
The good news is that there is momentum in this direction, and things are changing. Professional development course developers and coaches/trainers are approaching their jobs in new ways—relying on technology and the Web to offer on-demand and interactive trainings, and using live cases and teaching cases to highlight real dilemmas of practice. And these new and innovative approaches are proving to be not only engaging but also effective:
As teachers work to partner and interact with families in meaningful ways, they now, more than ever, have a variety of training options to consider as they seek to develop the skills to do so.
Christine Patton is a Senior Research Analyst at Harvard Family Research Project, and Shannon Wanless is Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology in Education in the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh. Shannon and Christine worked together as postdoctoral fellows at the University of Virginia and have co-authored articles in academic journals on teachers’ engagement in training, and influences on implementation of a social-emotional intervention.
1 Harris Interactive. (2011). The MetLife survey of the American teacher: Teachers, parents and the economy. Retrieved from: https://www.metlife.com/assets/cao/contributions/foundation/american-teacher/MetLife-Teacher-Survey-2011.pdf
3 Allensworth, E., Ponisciak, S., & Mazzeo, C. (2009). The schools teachers leave: Teacher mobility in Chicago Public Schools. Chicago: Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute.
4 Wanless, S. B., Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., Abry, T., Larsen, R. A., & Patton, C. L. (2013). Engagement in training as a mechanism to understanding implementation of the responsive classroom approach. Manuscript submitted for publication.
5 Pieri, J. W., Wanless, S. B., Marks, D., & Rimm-Kaufman, S. E. (2013). Individualizing intervention coaching to increase fidelity of implementation. Paper presented at the Society for Prevention Research, San Francisco, CA.
6 Wanless, S. B., Patton, C. L., Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., & Deutsch, N. L. (2012). Setting-level influences on implementation of the Responsive Classroom approach. Prevention Science, 14(1), 40–51.
8 Robinson, E., Higgs, S., Daley, A.J., Jolly, K., Lycett, D., Lewis, A., & Aveyard, P. (2013). Development and feasibility testing of a smart phone based attentive eating intervention. BMC Public Health, 13, 639–646.
9 Herold, B. (2013). Benefits of online, face-to-face professional development similar, study finds. Retrieved from:
10 Carrington, L., Kervin, L., & Ferry, B. (2011). Enhancing the development of pre-service teacher professional identity via an online classroom simulation. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 19(3), 351–368.
11 Brown, K. D., & Kraehe, A. (2010). When you’ve only got one class, one chance: Acquiring sociocultural knowledge using eclectic case pedagogy. Teaching Education, 21(3), 313–328.