Increasing Student Achievement through Teacher and Parent Partnership

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As a beginning teacher, one thinks about all of the things that first year teachers think about. Some of these things are:

How will I set up my classroom to offer the best learning environment for my students?

How successful will the collaboration process be with my co-teacher?

How can I close the achievement gap between the special education students and the general education students?

What environment factors influence students' access to what they need in order to perform and raise their level of achievement?

How can I make sure that I provide students' with the resources and instruction they will need to be successful in school?

How can I create a school environment that cultivates a sense of belonging and success for all types of students, particularly for those at at-risk?

All of the beginning teachers I have interviewed have all pondered the same questions, but have neglected to examine what is the most important factor in laying a proper foundation that will promote student achievement. By foundation, I mean the basis on which something is grounded or the base on which everything else will rest upon.

Being a successful teacher is initially much like being a successful contractor, you want to build on a solid foundation. Any contractor will tell you that in order for a building to withstand heavy winds, torrential rains, heavy weight of snow, varying shifts in temperature, the foundation must be solid. If the foundation is not solid, the smallest disturbance could cause the entire house or building to crumble. Likewise, it is important that teachers lay a proper foundation so that students can achieve success in the classroom.

Research shows that increasing student achievement requires a solid foundation that is able to withstand the test of time, the pressures of daily demands, obstacles, and challenges and changes that occur over the course of time. Therefore, the main focus of this action research project is to evaluate how establishing a successful and healthy teacher and parent foundation is a way of increasing student achievement.

The Problem

Parental involvement in education is widely recognized as important, yet in most communities it is an area that needs to be developed (Chavkin & Williams, 1993; Henderson & Mapp, 2002). During the past several years there has been a growing concern about the effectiveness of parental involvement in the public schools (Carlson, 1991). For example teachers have expressed a tremendous amount of frustration when parents have failed to respond to letters about their children's academic performance. Teachers have also been frustrated when parents failed to keep scheduled conferences. Some observations of parent-teacher conferences by administrators revealed the teachers' inability to interact effectively with the parent as evidenced by the use of poor body language and negative questions. As administrators and teachers attempted to find solutions to this problem, the need for a teacher training model to enhance parental involvement became evident (Carlson).

The implications of the research (Chavkin & Williams, 1985; Epstein, 1987; Greenwood & Hickman, 1991) clearly show that administrators and teachers need to be educated in communicating effectively with parents. It has been established that an effective parent-school partnership is essential in helping students become more successful.

According to Redding (1991) it stands to reason that in the effort to meet the needs of the individual child, it must be remembered that a child's needs are best met by the purposeful collaboration of parents, teachers, administrators, and students. In order to accomplish this, every aspect of the school climate should be "open," and honest. Information should be presented in a professional manner as not to offend papers. Interactions between teachers and parents should frequent, and clear (Carlson, 1991). In attempting to assist educators, training models have been developed and implemented in some public school districts (Greenwood & Hackman, 1991). There is a need to determine if such training programs result in increased parental involvement.

Problem Background

Families and educational systems are the major institutions that influence the development of children, and these institutions are in a crisis. Educational systems are experiencing a decrease in status, increases in student dropout rates, constant battles with drugs, unsafe school environments, decreases in student achievement and reduction in school budgets and parent-school partnerships (Epstein, 1991).

Educators recognize both the need for, and importance of improved teacher-parent interactions. Parental involvement has surfaced as a significant influence in addressing schools in crises. ________________________________ discussed parental involvement as a means for addressing academic failure in public schools (Epstein, 1991). Epstein summarized in a research review how important it is for state departments of education to introduce meaningful parental involvement programs in schools by providing both financial and technical support.

The level and type of parental involvement throughout school districts vary considerably. Educators argue that parental involvement is a useful tool in the prevention of educational problems. Therefore, when some elementary teachers complained to their supervisors, that parents did not show an interest in their children's education, and that inadequate communication was also found during teacher-parent conferences, the researcher felt a need to conduct a study, which could be used to develop a training model for teachers to enhance parental involvement.

Description of the Setting

The research project will take place at Heskett Middle School in Bedford City School District. The Bedford City School District serves individuals in Bedford, Bedford Heights, Oakwood, and Walton Hills. The mission statement for Heskett Middle School is that the faculty, students and support staff will create a positive learning environment to build confidence and self esteem, while continuing to motivate students to achieve to the best of their abilities.

Heskett Middle School is an urban school which has a current student enrollment is approximately six hundred students. The student body is approximately eighty percent African American and fifteen percent white and five percent other ethnicities.

Review of Literature

A thorough review of data bases regarding the related literature on the subject of a teacher training model used to enhance parental involvement will be undertaken covering the following: teacher-training programs, teacher-parent interaction, teacher behaviors, and parental involvement. A more comprehensive review is provided in Chapter Two.

A thorough review of data bases revealed a minimal amount of information directly related to this study. The review of the related literature on the subject of a teacher training model used to enhance parental involvement was undertaken covering the following:

teacher-training programs, teacher-parent interaction, teacher behaviors, and parental involvement.

Teacher Training Programs

Greenwood and Hickman (1991) reported on a teacher training model the finding that teachers interact with parents on many levels. The literature on parent involvement in education contains many implications for teacher education. The teacher's role, particularly in elementary school, it to interact with six types of parent involvement: (1) parent as audience, (2) parent as volunteer, (3) parent as paraprofessional, (4) parent as teacher of own child, (5) parent as learner, and (6) parent as decision maker (Greenwood & Hickman). Unfortunately, the number of courses and professional experiences in parent involvement included in the preservice and in-service preparation of teachers is insufficient (Greenwood & Hickman).

Ten recommendations for teacher education are drawn from the literature (Harris, 1983). The recommendations were:

provide a research and practice based rationale to motivate administrators and teachers to participate in parent involvement activities; (2) teachers could be taught techniques for involving parents; (3) attention be given to educators' attitudes and beliefs; (4) the content of parent involvement courses may need to vary to fit the age/grade level of preservice and in service teachers; (5) move from traditional to less traditional forms of parent involvement; (6) preservice teachers can have field experiences in tutoring, practicums, and working with parents; (7) teacher education programs providing ongoing in-service training and administrative support for establishing viable home/school partnerships within school districts is important; (8) greater proportion of items on state certification exams could reflect such "extra-classroom influences" at least on the professional knowledge subtests of such exams; (9) institutional communication regarding the continuous development, evaluation, and dissemination of involvement programs, courses and techniques is recommended; (10) research can be conducted and conducted and disseminated on a number of issues regarding parent involvement (Harris, pp. 2-5).

While Harris' (1983) module was developed to offer direction and knowledge of resources support to elementary school teachers, others suggested objectives and resources that will enable education students and beginning teachers to achieve competence in communication with parents and other adults. Focus is on communication with the home, parent-teacher conferences, and organization of events such as open house.

Further research by Carlson (1991) supports the fact that teachers behaviors toward the school community should be open, helpful and friendly. Four programs were suggested to accomplish home support: (1) Teachers Involve Parents In Schoolwork (TIPS) is a program used for teachers to develop homework projects for students to do cooperatively with their parents. (2) The Parent and Child Literacy Intervention Program is designed to develop parents' literacy skills so they can interact better with their children. (3) The Family Math Program is an Outreach program designed to promote educational success for minorities and girls. (4) The Chicago Governance Program started there to improve dropout rate and low standardized-test scores.

Teacher-Parent Interaction

A review of the literature concerning teacher-parent interaction yields a number of unfounded assumptions concerning teacher-parent interaction, which may be grouped as six fallacies concerning teachers and the school-community ecology.

Ost (1987) stated:

() Teachers have the skills and techniques to work effectively with parents or the community. Whereas early childhood teacher training programs frequently include specialized training to learn to work with parents, most other teacher education programs limit training to simple teacher-parent conferencing in relation to student problems or success. Teachers are neither hired for their ability to work with adults nor taught how to work with parents in promoting growth and development of the student.

() Teachers-parent interaction is basically the same at all levels of schooling. The school structure, the training of teachers, teacher personalities, and the public expectations are different among elementary and secondary schools. Similarly, the type of teacher-parent interaction changes dramatically from preschool through elementary, middle school, to secondary grades(pp. 165-176).

When parents were asked what they really understand about the roles of teachers, the responses emphasize that a major difference exists between elementary and secondary schools.

() Teacher-parent interaction is the same regardless of the school or community setting. There are distinct differences in styles of teacher-parent involvement practices when urban, suburban, and rural schools are compared. Not only are parental expectations different in each setting but so also the formal relationship of the school to the community varies.

() Teachers are professionally and personally secure to the point that working with parents poses no threat or intimidation. Teachers tend to take defensive to enhance their general image and perceived performance when coming in contact with parents. These counter-defensive attributions may be self-serving, political survival strategies designed to create favorable impressions in others.

() Family structures remain the same throughout the years that a youngster is in school. Parent-child interaction changes dramatically as the child grows. The role of the father takes on increased importance, particularly in terms of attitudes and moral judgment. More information is needed about how teachers can work effectively with differing families, be they single-parent, minority, or classical in structure, to help the student develop positive attitudes about learning.

() Teacher-parent relationships are formed as a result of objective and rational behavior and in isolation of the child's relationships. As teachers work with children, tensions can develop from competition with parents for the children's attention and respect (Ost, 1987, pp. 165-176).

According to McAfee, (1987) teachers and administrators do not have education and training in how to work effectively with parents and the community. A recent survey done by the Appalachia Educational Laboratory (AEL) indicated that only 37% of the professional school personnel in both rural and urban areas of Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia had received such training in their undergraduate work, and only 24% in graduate work. Less than 20% of the teachers said they were unprepared for working with parents, but at the same time less than half said they were adequately prepared, (Spriggs, 1984). In addition, 40% of the certified personnel and 35% of service and support personnel said they would like help in interacting with families, and working with parents in general. This need for more training of school personnel to work effectively with parents has been confirmed by other studies in other parts of the country (e.g., in the Southwest, Williams, 1984).

A parent involvement program was conceived by the Mine Hill School District in New Jersey (Epstein & Dauber, 1991). It follows a simple format, which can be adopted in other school districts to help parents in raising their children. First, it gets parents involved with the school and teacher to assist their child's education and reinforce it at home. Second, it gets parents involved not only in their child's education but in the school as a whole, and the board of education involves parents as decision-makers.

Since most teachers and administrators have no formal training in parent involvement, Mine Hill provides all teachers with formal training. Parents on Your Side: A Comprehensive Parent Involvement Program for Teachers, by Lee Marlene Canter is used. This program focuses on topics educators need to learn about, including why we need parents on our side, starting the school year, positive communication with parents, parents and homework, contacting parents at the first sign of a problem, helping parents support discipline and so on. As a result, the staff feels comfortable working with parents, viewing parents as resources and partners. Parents are kept informed (Epstein & Dauber).

Teachers Behaviors

Chavkin's and Williams' (1985) study assessed teachers behaviors and found that educators should make parents feel welcome and be sensitive to their skill levels and individual preferences. Parents, teachers and administrators strongly all favored parent involvement in education.

Wherry (1992) recognized in his study of teachers behaviors that teachers are more reluctant to contact parents than vice versa. Teachers can work to overcome this by getting to know parents as people.

The implications of research by Epstein (1987) indicate that involving parents in their children's education improves student achievement and behavior. However, parent involvement is most effective when it is well planned and long lasting. To ensure this, educators must do the following: teachers and administrators should take the initiative to get parents involved in education; educators need to develop clear goals of parent involvement in their school; written policy; and a variety of opportunities, based on the interests of parents, should be available for parent involvement in schools. We must communicate to parents that they are as important to children's academic success as teachers are.

According to Wolf (1989) by communicating with parents, teachers may be able to save some students from failure. School personnel want parents to be involved, but their procedures often alienate them. For example, he recommends that if parents are invited to school by letter make sure that the letter is written in plain language, free from educational jargon, and worded in a way that is positive and inviting.

Cenedella (1989) gives several tips to parents to help a parent/teacher conference to succeed. The best method for a conference to succeed is for both parent and teacher to think in four categories: decide on what is to be told about the child, be sure the teacher know what the parent is saying about the child, give priority to areas most important to the parent, and finally find out from the teachers what the parent can do to help the child meet the school's expectations and goals. For the conference to be just as productive for the teacher, the same tips can be followed, but from the teacher's perspective.

Researchers at the Center on families, communities, schools and children's learning have found that knowledgeable, encouraging and involved parents have children with more positive behavior, attitudes and higher aspirations. Their study also revealed that many parents want to be involved with their children's learning but receive very little support form schools. The researchers identified five levels of parent involvement and are currently studying a sixth level. These are parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, and representing other parents and community.

Results from the Arizona At-Risk Pilot Project suggest that the most effective means to involve parents are ones that (1) establish a personal rapport between someone from school and the parent, and do not initially require high levels of commitment or participation. Something as simple as a friendly conversation with the classroom teacher can go a long way toward building parent support.

Wolf and Stephens (1989) findings on parent/teacher conferences are that most conferences take place in the school, on the professional turf, and some parents may feel threatened by the setting. Teachers should hold the conferences in a comfortable private place. If teachers use their classrooms they should provide adult-sized chairs that are not separated by the teacher's desk.

Teachers should avoid negative or emotionally laden questions, such as, "Does Sammy still refuse to do his homework?" This type of question elicits little information and may cause the parent to feel defensive. Questions need to require more than a "yes" or a "no" response, allowing parents to share perceptions about the topic, and possibly leading the teacher to provide suggestions (Wolf & Stephen, 1989).

A study by Epstein and Dauber (1991) used data from 171 teachers in 8 inner-city elementary and middle schools to examine the connections between school progress, parent involvement, teachers' attitudes, and the practices that teachers use to involve parents of their own students. Patterns were examined at 2 levels of schooling (elementary and middle), in different academic subjects, under various classroom organizations (self-contained, semi-departmentalized, departmentalized), and under different levels of shared support for parent involvement by the teachers and significant other groups. Findings demonstrated that each of these variables had important implications for the types and strengths of school programs and teachers' practices of parent involvement.

Parental Involvement

Solomon's (1991) finding on the benefits of parental involvement was that effective family/school partnerships may very well be essential for helping more students reach the ambitious educational goals that the nation has set for the year 2000. A parent involvement initiative should be an integral but clearly defined part of every state's school improvement. The parent involvement initiative in California links parent involvement to children's academic learning; it is not involvement merely for involvement sake (Solomon's, 1991). The California policy stresses the importance of involving families at all grade levels, K-12. Any school can be more successful if parents are productively involved in their children's education. Any student can be more successful if schools link comprehensive parent involvement programs to curricula and to teaching and learning.

Further research by Redding (1991) indicates that we sometimes forget that a child's needs are best met by enhancing the sense of community-the purposeful association of parents, teachers, administrators and students.

Flaxman's and Inger's (1992) research suggests that all studies of parental involvement show that the more parents participate in a sustained way, the more positive the effect on their children's educational achievement. The question remains, "Participation in What?" There are three basic ways that parents can become involved in schooling: (1) direct parental involvement in the school; 2) Parenting training programs; and (3) Family resource and support programs (Flaxman & Inger, 1992, p. 1).

In Lindle's (1989) study she interviewed parents, principals, and teachers. She found it's not "professionalism" that parents want but rather the "personal touch." Parents reported a personal touch as the most enhancing factor in school relations.

An article by Moles (1987) examines attitudes and actions of parents and educators regarding parent involvement. It addresses questions such as, "What kind of involvement do parents and school officials want?" and "What opportunities for interaction are available and would be useful based on the experience of promising program?"

There is no blueprint for "The Partnership School" the school that collaborates effectively with parents. But all schools that work well with parents share a fundamental set of principles (Moles).

If the principal, school staff, and parents do not subscribe to most of these principles, their attempts to increase parent involvement will fall short. Seven principles that are essential to a parent-school partnership are:

. Every aspect of the school climate is open, helpful, and friendly.

. Communications with parents are frequent, clear, and two-way.

. Parents are treated as collaborators in the educational process, with a strong complimentary role to play in their children's school learning and behavior.

. Parents are encouraged, both formally and informally, to comment on school policies and (on some issues) to share in the decision making.

. The school recognizes its responsibilities to forge a partnership with all families in the school, not simply those most easily available.

. The principal and other school administrators actively express and promote the philosophy of partnership with all families.

. The school encourages volunteer participation from parents and the community at large (Mole).

According to Phillips, Smith and Witte (1985), parental involvement is associated with higher school performance regardless of the income level of the parents. The Governor's Task Force on Education in Georgia discussed parental involvement as a means for addressing academic failure in public schools. Additional research on the effects of specific types of parental involvement would serve as a resource for addressing the local and national interest in parental involvement as a deterrent to low student achievement.

Williams' (1984) research conducted by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory as part of the Parent Involvement Education Project revealed that:

. Parents and teachers agreed on the value of providing parents with ideas to help children at home with homework.

. Parents wanted teachers to send more work home related to classroom activities.

. Parents were interested in learning about their role as co-learner and tutor (Williams, 1984).

Chavkin (1989) focused on parent involvement from a multicultural perspective. The current demographic picture indicates that there are a number of barriers hindering or preventing effective communication, collaboration, and partnership between parents and schools. Other barriers include: lack of transportation; lack of time for both parents and teachers; inadequate childcare; inflexible employer-leave policies; skeptical or negative attitudes of teachers and administrators toward parent; lack of materials; lack of knowledge and information about the best practices and lack of funding. The multicultural perspective in parent involvement is a critical step in the linkage between homes and schools; it is time to accept the challenge and follow through on policy and practice implications from research.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the current study is to compare the self-reports of teacher behaviors and parental involvement between teachers participating in a training program and teachers who did not.

Research Questions

This study will be designed to provide answers to the following questions.

To what extent did program participants and non-participants report differences in teacher behaviors?

To what extent did program participants and non-participants report differences in parental involvement?

Definitions

Participants: Participants for this study refers to the second grade teachers participating in the teacher training program.

Non-participants: Non-participants for this study refers to the second grade teachers not participating in the teacher training program.

Teacher Training Program: A specifically developed program used for this study, to help teachers communicate more effectively with their parents.

Teacher Behaviors: For the purposes of this study teacher behaviors are operationally defined as behaviors identified by the Teacher Survey of Parent Involvement of Second Grade Students, Part II.

Parental Involvement: For the purposes of this study parent involvement is operationally defined as behaviors identified by the Teacher Survey of Parent Involvement of Second Grade Students, Part III.

Teacher Survey of Parent Involvement of Second Grade Students: This survey was designed by the experimenter for this study, to assess teacher demographics (Part I), teacher behaviors (Part II), and parental involvement (Part III).

Importance of the Study

The literature emphasizes the importance of getting parents involved in schools. However, not a great deal has been said about the factors that influence parental involvement.

There is no single cause for the lack of parent involvement. However, teachers and administrators have been blamed for not making parents feel welcome when they visit the school. Teachers should be trained to effectively communicate with parents. It is not only professionalism that parents want but also the personal touch (Lindle, 1989). It is important to determine if a parent-involvement training program for teachers will influence the level of involvement.

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