Researchers have consistently shown that there is not just one factor that guarantees student achievement, appropriate and constructive student behavior, and teacher satisfaction (Goertz, Floden, & O'Day, 1995). Gaining success in each of these areas with students with learning and behavior problems requires implementing complex instructional and management programs. However, to be successful, particularly with students with significant learning and behavior problems, teachers must also plan strategies for collaborating with families. As we argue in this article, although some working parents and those from single parent families may be unable to be involved with schools because of work and other outside commitments and time limitations, educators must be innovative and find ways to include them in their child's school program. If this is done, research evidence shows (e.g., Trusty, 1998) that everyone benefits from effective parent-teacher collaboration--families, schools, and students. Teachers must design a communication system to provide parents with information necessary for supporting school programs. Teacher communication with parents should not occur only when the behavior of a student is unresponsive to classroom-based intervention strategies and teachers are soliciting support from the child's parents. Instead, parent involvement must begin at the beginning of the school year to help prevent behavior. problems, before the problems become chronic.
The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of strategies that help teachers develop positive, productive relationships with parents. As schools become more inclusive and professional roles and responsibilities expand, especially when planning programs for students with learning and behavior problems, effective collaboration with other teachers, parents and families, and professional agencies is a crucial factor in successful schooling.
What is Parent Involvement and Why Plan for it?
Researchers indicate that family involvement in schools increases student academic achievement (e.g., Walker, Colvin, & Ramsey, 1995). The benefits of parent involvement include higher test scores, better grades, better attendance, higher levels of completion of homework, and more positive student motivation and attitudes about schoolwork. To achieve these positive outcomes, teachers can adjust to parents' work schedules, interests, and special abilities to involve them in their child's education. Most parents are not invited to participate in their child's school program. When teachers do ask parents to give their support the invitation is often in response to a student's behavior problem. Parents will often be asked by teachers to come to school for a conference in response to their child's behavior or learning problem. Or the teacher calls the parent to discuss a behavior problem and the teacher asks the parent to discuss the incident with their child. For some parents, this is the only time they are asked by teachers to be involved in their child's schooling. As some researchers suggested (e.g., Walther-Thomas, Korinek, McLaughlin, & Williams, 2000), teachers wait for parents and families to take the first step in becoming involved in their child's education. This is a flaw in the approach of many schools.
Unfortunately some parents will not initiate involvement. For example, the time constraints for working parents often prevent them from being actively involved. Also, many families with children with behavior problems feel disenfranchised from schools and are not receptive to parent-school partnerships. To develop beneficial family-school partnerships, we recommend a proactive out reach program organized around five specific teacher activities (Brandt, 1989). Teachers can help parents play an active role in their child's schooling. Teachers can (a) help parents improve parenting techniques, (b) encourage parents to communicate about their children, (c) suggest options for volunteering in the classroom, (d) provide technical assistance on effective teaching at home, and (e) suggest ways parents can be involved in school-wide activities.
Parents can be involved in their child's schooling in many ways. Some parents are unable or not interested in participating in activities at the school. If this is the situation the question teachers can ask is, "What are alternative ways we can include this parent in our school?" One way teachers can get these parents involved is by providing them information about parenting practices. Parents with children with behavior problems are interested in learning about specialized reinforcement and discipline techniques that can be applied in their home. Research has shown that students who are disruptive in schools are also disruptive at home (Walker et al., 1995). Parents are often interested in helping their child learn social skills. Teachers can be useful by providing suggestions on how to teach specific skills at home. 'Parents who learn new parenting skills and teach their child at home are making positive contributions to their child's education.
Encouraging parents to communicate with the school about important information about their child is another way parents can be involved. We recommend that teachers ask parents to discuss their child's behavior at home, his or her attitudes about school and learning, and whether there are home problems impacting the child's behavior at school. It is helpful if teachers ask parents about their expectations about their child's performance.
One role that some parents can play is to provide instructional or management support in the classroom (see Table 1). For example, parents can be tutors for their own child or other students in the classroom. Also, parents can serve by grading papers, participating in field trips, and reading to groups of students. The advantages of including parents in these activities are many. Parents' visibility in the classroom can be helpful in managing children. Also, if parents can provide instructional support, the improved learning performances of students will have a positive impact on their classroom behavior.
Parents can also be involved in their child's school program by providing instructional and management support in their homes. Parents can tutor their children in homework assignments and provide practice on social skills they are learning in school. Teachers may ask parents to allocate time for their child's homework, provide instructional support for academic assignments, and carry out home-based reinforcement programs. For parents to effectively take this role, they must be willing to participate and must have skills to implement home-based programs. However, as Hoover-Demsey and Sandler (1997) point out, many parents do not see the importance of taking an active role in their child's education. Thus, teachers must provide parents with clear guidelines on how they can be helpful at home and, if necessary, information on how to implement instructional and management strategies at home. An advantage of these activities is that the child is provided extra instruction at home that leads to more successful learning and motivation in the classroom.
Teachers can suggest to parents that they be involved in school-wide activities. The goal is to link parents to activities beyond their child's classroom. As Table 1 shows, parents can be involved in PTA meetings, school-wide parent advisory councils, volunteer to work in the school office, and participate on a school-wide discipline committee. The advantages of linking parents into school wide activities are obvious. The presence of parents throughout the school is related to higher levels of student achievement and decreases school-wide disruptive behaviors. Parents involved with school-wide activities become more supportive of teachers and school policy.
Characteristics of Families With Children With Behavior Problems
Walker et al. (1995) discuss problems that many parents of children with behavior problems exhibit in their parenting practices. Teachers develop an understanding of a student's disruptive behavior when they are knowledgeable about parenting practices. These parenting practices sometimes present obstacles to being involved in their child's school program. The five parenting practices of families with children with behavior problems are (a) lack of family problem solving skills, (b) noncontingent positive reinforcement, (c) physical or harsh punishment practices, (d) minimal supervision, and (e) inconsistent discipline. Knowledge of these practices is important since this information gives insights into why some students with learning and behavior problems act out in school.
Many children with behavior problems come from family circumstances where unemployment, poverty, and single parent family structures are common. These family characteristics carry implications for teachers when they are designing strategies to include families in schools. For example, if parents of a child with behavior problems have a history of inconsistent disciplinary practices, it will be difficult for them to implement a home-based behavior management program without significant support from the school. Likewise, parents who have a history of administering harsh punishment for minor behavior problems will have difficulty following home discipline strategies recommended by the school.
Some parents of children with learning and behavior problems may have difficulty effectively communicating with the school. For example, as Daniels-Mohring and Lambie (1993) point out, when a child has been disruptive and is identified by the school or others, the parents often feel compelled to protect their child from these outside influences. This will often result in parents arguing about their child's responsibility for the behavior. Obviously, this type of parent response makes collaboration difficult. The dilemma for teachers is what to do in these situations. Walker et al. (1995) asked, "Should you give up, decide there is nothing you can do, or simply blame his mother and father?" (p. 272). These authors go on to suggest that if teachers do not intervene the child is doomed to school failure and more severe problems in the future.
The important question facing schools is, "How can families of children with behavior problems be recruited to participate in their child's school program?" Based on the work of several researchers (e.g., Daniels-Mohring & Lambie, 1993; Sprick, Garrision, & Howard 1998), we recommend a procedure for establishing effective communication and collaboration with families of students with significant learning and behavior problems.
- Darch, Craig, Miao, Yu, & Peggy Shippen; A model for involving parents of children with learning and behavior problems in the schools; Preventing School Failure; Spring 2004; Vol. 48; Issue 3.
Reflection Exercise Explanation
Goal of this Home Study Course is to create a learning experience that enhances
your clinical skills. We encourage you to discuss the Personal Reflection
Journaling Activities, found at the end of each Section, with your colleagues.
Thus, you are provided with an opportunity for a Group Discussion experience.
Case Study examples might include: family background, socio-economic status, education,
occupation, social/emotional issues, legal/financial issues, death/dying/health,
home management, parenting, etc. as you deem appropriate. A Case Study is to be
approximately 225 words in length. However, since the content of these Personal
Reflection Journaling Exercises is intended for your future reference, they
may contain confidential information and are to be applied as a work in
progress. You will not
be required to provide us with these Journaling Activities.
Reflection Exercise #1
The preceding section contained information
about parents of children with learning and behavioral problems. Write
three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section
in your practice.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION
According to Darch et al., what are the five parenting practices of families with children with behavior problems? Record the letter of the correct answer