The following was submitted as part of my coursework this past Summer. I thought it might be helpful to teachers preparing to head back into the class room.
A Literature Review: Intentional Educational Practice and Connection between Class and Home
Parental involvement has long been recognized as a marker for scholastic success. If a parent or guardian is able to be a partner with the teacher in the educational experience of a student, then that child has a greater probability of achieving academically. Research has confirmed this causal relationship; however, teachers and schools have struggled to find effective methods of enlisting parents, and engaging them in the sort of home-based involvement that can lead to meaningful results. In addition, many teacher leave their formal education saturated with content knowledge, but possessing limited skills in connecting with parents and developing effective collaborative relationships with families in the educational process. The question arises; can teachers be effective in intentional educational practice if they fail to build bridges with the parents of our students? In addition, are there effective ways of developing meaningful communication and collaborative relationships between the classroom and the home? This literature review explores related journal articles, qualitative and quantitative research, and class textbooks in search of answers to these questions, as well as methods that can be employed effectively in the classroom.
Keywords: Teacher Parent Interaction, Involvement, Home Visits, Intentional Strategies, Communication, Newsletters,
Intentional Educational Practice and Connection between Class and Home
How many times have parents experienced this scene: A student arrives home and announces that the following day there is a class project that needs to be completed that night? If those parents are fortunate enough to have the supplies on hand, the next several hours are spent putting together a scale model of a volcano…a steam locomotive…a model of the solar system. Most times, however, parents are sent scrambling to the department store in hopes of locating the needed supplies, seizing them before other desperate parents who are under the same deadline. The teacher sent a note home explaining the project in plenty of time, but it remains hidden in the bottom of the child’s backpack, unfound until the family camping trip in mid-July.
Teachers have more communication tools at their disposal than at any other time in history. The world today is saturated with modes of communication. In moments, an educator can utilize a variety of mediums to get a message across such as, electronic communication, vocal communication, written communication, video communication, and face-to-face communication. The universal problem is that educators have all of these means of getting the message across, but often those messages are not communicated in a bidirectional way between the class and the home. The result is that the rich resource of parental involvement is often nonexistent in the classroom, and parents experience a growing disconnect from the school environment.
This communication disconnect is happening in spite of the current moves in educational reform which include and emphasis on family participation as part of a strategy for school improvement. In fact, federal and professional mandates call for increased family involvement in education (Bartles & Eskow, 2010). The importance of the home-school relationship is understood as it relates to cooperation between teachers and parents (Joshi, Eberly, & Konzal, 2005) in the education of the children. The need for a good relationship and open communication is evident and backed by a multitude of research (Joshi, et al. 2005). It is in the best interest of the students that bridges of communication and collaboration are built between the class and the home.
This literature review examines available articles and research related to, home-school communication and cooperation, difficulties that produce barriers to effective partnerships with families, and methods of overcoming those barriers through training and engaging educators in meaningful collaborative relationships. Quantitative and qualitative research studies, recorded experiences of teachers and parents, and textbooks from the field of education will be referenced. These sources will be synthesized to provide an understanding of intentionality in education, and the significance of the home-school relationship as it relates to the educational practice of intentional teaching.
Defining Intentional Educational Practice
Intentional educational practice is defined by one researcher as, ”educational practice based on knowledge and purpose with the goal of helping students acquire the skills they need in school and beyond.” (Epstein, 2007, p. 1) The syntax of the concept of the intentional teacher identifies this as teaching for a purpose and basing the curriculum on the desired outcomes (Slavin, 2012). A quick perusal of the thesaurus will generate a wide range of synonyms for the word intentional; all could be included to amplify one’s understanding of this term. Words such as; calculated, designed, prearranged, premeditated and willful help further clarify what it means to engage in the practice of intentional teaching. Because intentional educational practice teaches with a purpose and goal in mind, it answers the question “why” for the teaching plan (Epstein, 2007) and serves to keep the teacher on track. In essence, intentional educational practice is setting out on a journey with a destination in mind and the turn-by-turn directions enabling the travelers to arrive at the chosen location.
The Importance of Communication between Class and Home
In a normal school day, there are a multitude of messages being shared and lessons being learned in the classroom. However, ask the average middle school student walking through the front door of the home what they learned in school and the response is, “nothing.” Clearly, this is not the case, but if that exchange is the only interaction the parents have with the educational process it will lead to a major disconnect between their understanding of what takes place in the school, and the reality of the student’s experience. Communication between teachers and families allows parent to be knowledgeable (Schulz & Kantor, 2005) about what the “nothing” really represents in the classroom. The results of a study done by Charlotte Akin (2004) found that even in schools that had good programing, well trained faculty, and parental involvement, focusing on communication enhanced the overall experience of both staff and families.
Effective communication from the class to the home is about more than just what happens in the class. In one study, concerning chronic absenteeism (Sheldon & Epstein, 2004) it was discovered that frequent and positive communication with parents about attendance lead to a reduction in absenteeism. Frequently, however, communication from the class to the home occurs in relation to behavior, poor grades, or attendance (Flanigan, 2007), making positivity in the message difficult.
Communication between the Class and Home Must be Bidirectional
Teaching is primarily about knowledge. The philosophy of most educators would express that the more that is known about a particular subject the better off the student will be. With that thought, the educator would do well to become a student when it comes to the pupils in the classroom and the families represented there. As one educational research project related, in order truly be intentional a teacher should not only understand where students are developmentally, but also have a grasp of the background of the students. Understanding how the students’ socio-economic experiences impact learning (Mogharreban, McIntyre, & Raisor, 2009) will enable to teacher to teach with the whole child in view and accommodate for individual differences in the students. As one research subject stated, “Just knowing children’s development helps you to realize that not everybody’s on the same page. Everybody needs accommodation.” (Mogharreban, et al. 2009 p. 237)
Joshi, Eberly, and Konzal (2005) state that since “it is acknowledged that both parents and teachers are responsible for educating our children, it would seem that it would be in the child’s best interest for us all to be working toward the same goals (p. 1).” The only way to get both parents and teachers working on the same goals is through mutual communication. In developing intentionality in educational practice, it is important to develop and build on a complete knowledge of the students (Mogharreban, McIntyre, & Raisor, 2009) which would include the family background. As one research participant shared, “I know some of these kids’ stories, and they have other issues going on at home. I’m not going to be the mean old teacher who says, ‘you didn’t get your homework done,’ when I don’t know what they heard last night or if they got much sleep…(Mogharreban et al. 2009, p. 237)”
Barriers to Two-Way Communication
Researchers tell us that two-way communication is essential for building mutual trust (Joshi, Eberly, & Knozal, 2005), yet one of the lessons from the research is that what people view as communication is often a unidirectional transfer of information. Parents, who know their child best, have a valuable perspective (Forney, 2009) that can help the teacher who will take time to not only send messages, but receive them as well. This is true of every child, but especially true if the child happens to have special needs or disabilities (Forney, 2009). Such two-way communication on a daily basis is mandated by those special circumstances.
The Problem of Negative Attitudes and Professional Demands
Among the things that result in barriers to effective communication, according to the research results, are; negative attitudes about parents, bias against parents, feelings of inadequacy when dealing with parents, teacher’s historical perspective and experience based on their own childhood (Flanigan, 2007) in addition to time constraints and professional demands. It becomes obvious that these negative feelings coupled with the professional burdens of teaching can effectively derail meaningful communication. Interestingly, among the remedies for those negative feelings towards parents is increased communication and relation with parents. Often, the more a teacher becomes acquainted with parents of students the less powerful those prejudices seem (Eberly, Joshi, & Konzal, 2007). As one article stated, “regardless of educational background, homes of poor families are rich with funds of knowledge which are often unrecognized and untapped by the educational community. When educators recognize the resources or funds of knowledge of all families, communication and trust is improved. (Schulz & Kantor, 2005 p. 63).”
Our Current Methods are Generally Unidirectional Communication
Findings indicate that there is a misunderstanding of the relationship between parental involvement and real communication and relational building. When asked about the most effective means of communication involving parents and teachers, teachers responded that written communication and conferences were most effective. However, do the events that are commonly associated with communication actually result in a meaningful and beneficial interchange? “Are teachers and parents getting to know each other better during these activities (Joshi, et al, 2005 p. 14)?” For example, the common parent-teacher conference has all of the indications of promising communication. There is the potential for a face-to-face exchange of information taking place in a quiet environment over a period of time specifically designated for this purpose. However, most of these meetings dissolve into the teacher transferring copious amounts of information to the parents with little or no opportunity for feedback. If, however, teachers use these meetings to conduct open-ended interviews and allow the parents to tell their relevant stories (Schulz & Kantor, 2005)
Other methods of communication are equally uncommunicative when honestly examined. One research participant listed a number of methods she uses to communicate with parents (Shulz & Kantor, 2005) but when explored giving attention to opportunity for feedback, most of these were found to be unidirectional transfer of information rather than an interchange resulting in communication. If educators are going to be successful in joining intentionality in practice with relevant information about their students (Mogharreban, McIntyre, & Raisor, 2009), then greater attention must be given to developing effective bidirectional communication practices.
Developing Bidirectional Communication Practices
There is nothing inherently wrong with how teachers communicate. What the research indicates is that a focus on bidirectional communication needs to be added to the current list of methods being employed. The practice of sending home notes, utilizing the “Friday folder,” and comments on report cards and other “send home communications” should simply be supplemented with additional open means of communication. There is great promise among some of these other methods of connecting with parents (Schulz & Kantor, 2005).
The intentional teacher will make efforts to reach out to parents with the goal of learning from them (Eberly, Joshi, Konzal, 2007) and in the hopes of enlisting them and engaging them as partners in the educational enterprise (Sheldon & Epstein, 2004). As teachers work to build these bridges with families through open communication studies indicate there will be measurable increase in the trust, respect, expectations, and meaningful exchange of relevant information as it relates to the students (Eberly, Joshi, & Konzal, 2007).
Is Our Message Getting Through?
In every aspect of life, people face challenges when it comes to communication. Marriages have dissolved over an inability to communicate. Businesses have struggled into bankruptcy because they were unable to articulate their message. Politicians have discovered too late that the message they thought they were delivering to the populace was not actually getting across to them. Teacher, with all good intentions, send out notes to the home that, like the experience in the opening vignette, lie undisturbed and undiscovered in the bottom of a student’s backpack. The question must be asked and answered, “Is the message getting through?”
Eberly, Joshi, and Konzal (2007) explain, in their theoretical framework, that Children are raised with an overlapping set of systems with regard to family and schools. These two elements form a microsystem for the life of the student. I am reminded of the game Jenga in which players take turns removing blocks from a tower until one player or the other remove the block that causes the tower to crumble. This overlapping and interconnected system in the child’s life requires that the parents and educators share responsibility to serve as partners to avoid imbalance and disunity in these microsystems. The authors (Eberly, et al 2007) continue, no one knows everything, therefore everyone needs to work together to help children succeed academically. Everyone has value when it comes to this process.
In recent years, there have been additions to schools of education curricula and professional development programs aimed at helping teachers learn skills and practices of engaging parents as partners. Promising results have come from extended membership in professional networks (Sanders, Sheldon, & Epstein, 2005) in developing effective partnership practices. As the study related to chronic absenteeism (Sheldon & Epstein, 2004) illustrates, the benefits of gaining parents as allies in the enterprise of education are too great to take for granted.
The research points to the benefits of developing effective and meaningful communication in the area of intentionality in educational practice. The educators who were participants in the research come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, but all became more aware of the need for bidirectional connections with the home. The investment of time and energy in the process is great, especially for teachers already burdened with the demands of the educational system. It is understandable that, as in other areas of life, it might be easy to neglect the area of communication to focus time and energy elsewhere.
There are questions and problems that need to be answered. How can a teacher find time to make a home visit to build bridges with parents? Where can an educator squeeze in time to write and respond to parent emails with a pile of papers to grade? What are the most effective proven means of communication between the class and the home?
Akin, C. (2004). Messages for Parents and Teachers. Waco, TX. Prufrock Press.
Bartels, S. Eskow, K. (2010). Training school professionals to engage families: A pilot university/state department of education partnership. Lincoln, IL. Academic Development Inst.
Eberly, J. Joshi, A. Knozal, J. (2007). Communicating with families across cultures: and investigation of teacher perceptions and practices. Lincoln, IL. Academic Development Institute.
Epstein, A. (2007) The intentional teacher: Choosing the best strategies for young children’s learning. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Flanigan, C. (2007). Preparing preservice teachers to partner with parents and communities: An analysis of college of education faculty focus groups. Lincoln, IL. Academic Development Inst.
Forney, J. (2009). Partnering: Teachers and parents design a plan for student success. Washington, DC. Odyssey.
Joshi, A., Eberly, J., Konzal, J. (2005). Dialogue across cultures: Teachers’ perception about communication with diverse families. San Francisco, CA. Caddo Gap Press.
Mogharreban, C. McIntyre, C. Raisor, J. (2009). Early childhood preservice teacher’s constructions of becoming an intentional teacher. Denver, CO: National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators.
Sanders, M. Sheldon, S, Epstein, J. (2005). Improving schools’ partnership programs in the national network of partnership schools. Fayetteville, AR. National Office for Research on Measurement and Evaluation Systems. University of Arkansas.
Schulz, M. Kantor, R. (2005). Understanding the home-school interface in a culturally diverse family. Worthington. Reading Recovery Council of North America.
Sheldon, S. Epstein, J. (2004). Getting students to school: Using family and community involvement to reduce chronic absenteeism. Lincoln, IL. Academic Development Inst.
Slavin, R. (2012). Educational psychology: Theory and practice. Boston, MA: Pearson