Perspectives of mothers of children with disabilities

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D. Shelden, M. Angell and J. Stoner, and B. Roseland, published an article in the Educational Research in 2010. In their article they examine the features that influence mothers' trust with disabled children towards principals. This paper, based on the results which yielded from a broader study, examined the perspectives of mothers with disabled children on trust in education personnel (Angel et al. 2009). There is clarity in the research focus from the beginning, which is to identify the 'perspectives of mothers of children with disabilities on trust in school principals' (Shelden et al. 2010).

This essay is examining the way the two authors deal with the exiting literature, and then shall attempt to review and criticise the quality and appropriateness of the methods of data collection and analysis, the ethics of the data collection and the accuracy of their conclusions which resulted from their evidences. Finally this paper explains whether they succeed their target through this research.

B. Critical Review

Existing literature

A great amount of scholars deal with parents' trust in schools in general as a supportive element of the smooth operation of the organisations (Adams et al. 2009; Strom and Strom 2002; Tarter et al. 1989), a concept which is so difficult to define and measure. One of the most influential recent discussions of trust comes from the scholar Giddens (1990) who defines it as confidence in the reliability of a person or system and also relates it with concepts like commitments and continuity. Giddens (1990) observes that by the development of basic trust in others people protect themselves from deep-seated anxiety. Furthermore, another one scholar who studied this concept is Luhmann (1979) who saw trust as not a subject or object but a communicative message and one of the most important elements of the systems. Theories and definitions which are not apparent in the literature review of this research.

Firstly, in this article the authors appropriately highlight the importance of the existence of parents' trust in schools as a key element in the children achievement and on the whole in the solution any problems. Secondly, the authors gave some definitions of trust before moving on in a more analytical discussion about the role of leader in school and the significance of parents' trust on it, which are not satisfactory. However, a question is arising from the references which the authors are using in this part. Why they are repeating the same sources? (Hoy and Tcchannen-Moran 1999, Tcchannen-Moran 2003, Tcchannen-Moran 2004) The article might have been more accurate bibliographic if authors do not focus only on those two-three sources. The concept in these references is similar because the main writer is the same and not different opinions are mentioned in the literature review. Conversely, the reader would expect a list of reasons about this lack of sources in this topic which has to do with the trust of parents with disabled children toward principals and not generally schools' staff.

The researchers conclude that Hoy and Tcchannen-Moran's (1999:189) definition is a foundation for their paper because of the facets of trust that the scholars mentioned which were reflected in the principals' attributes and actions of their work's results. It seems to be adhering from the beginning with this definition which helps them to support their results. However, more specific research about the relationships of trust between principals and parents with children with disabilities is missing.

According to Sekaran (2000) 'exploratory study' is appropriate when not much information exist about the specific situation or when no information is available based on similar problems from the past. Moreover, exploratory qualitative methods offer a sensible approach for beginning to understand this phenomenon (Sekaran 2000). This research seems to be an exploratory study because the concept is very specific and not too much work in this specific field was conducted although there is plenty of literature on trust in schools.

Rationale and the research question of the study

In this article, there is no mention of a rational and there is no personal reason explained for choosing this project from the authors. The purpose of a research is the main element which determines the methodology that the authors should use to conduct their survey (Cohen et al. 2000). The purpose and the research question in this study are the same and what the researchers want to do is to identify the "perspectives of mothers of children with disabilities on trust in school principals". However, there are no more specific research questions which according to Cohen et al. (2000) are necessary in order to address effectively the purpose in a research.

Case Study Research

According to Denscombe (1998) we agree that the main benefit of a case study approach is that it gives the opportunity to the researcher to have a clearer view of complex social situations. Specifically, in this article, there takes place a theoretically oriented research which place emphasis on understanding and explaining some aspects of why people behave in the way that they do (Best 2010). Particularly, writers try to identify what are these principals' attributes and actions that increase the parents trust on them.

Furthermore, this type of research which firstly makes an observation, then collects data in order to make generalization and then to conclude in a theory in order to explain the observation is called 'inductive'(Best 2010a; Cohen et al. 2000). The observation that Shelden et al. (2010:159-161) do is that "Trust may influence student achievement… is incumbent on school principals to foster it, maintain it and exemplify trusting relationships with all parents…the importance of trust in establishing effective home-school partnerships…principals can assume in establishing trust". Inductive qualitative research methods are useful when exploring questions that seek to uncover insider views, perceptions, and beliefs about a process or experience (Denzin & Lincoln, 1994).

Following Cohen et al. (2000) there are three approaches to educational research. The first one is based on scientific paradigms, the second is interpretive and subjective and the third is a critical educational research (Cohen et al. 2000:181). What relates more in our case study is the second category because authors are trying to understand and interpret a wider phenomenon of the world based on some behaviour. Stake (1995) called this way of research 'Instrumental'. This research was contacted to gain understanding of a wider phenomenon of trust in schools and not to find out more about the case itself 'Intrinsic Case Study' (Stake 1995:3).

Particularly Shelden et al. (2010) trying to examine what are these features that increase trust of the parents with disabled children towards principals. The research process starts with a given theory, which in our case is that parents should be included in educational organizations and trust between parents and educational professionals has emerged as a critical factor (Shelden et al. 2010:159). After that, correctly the authors try to highlight these characteristics which enhance or decrease parents trust. On the other hand it should be interesting and appropriate to show, prove or disprove what the positive aspects of this trust are and the reasons which make the existence of it so necessary based on more evidence.

Cohen et al. (2000) mentioned that methods are the approaches which researchers use to collect findings in order to shape conclusions drawn for interpretation, forecast and explanation. As regards the method that Shelden et al. (2010) used in their research is a collective case study. This research conducted in a several parents from different schools, different nationalities, with children with different types of disabilities and different grade levels and from several school locations. Each case study is instrumental and also there is coordination between them in order authors draw conclusions based on a considerable amount of findings than from a single one case, something that Stake (1995:4) call as a 'collective case study'.

Qualitative Methods of collecting Data

Properly the authors chose to use a qualitative method to explore and analyse their research question because of its descriptive character (Boulton and Hammersley 1996). Moreover, as Stake (1995), Denzin and Lincoln (1994) and Coffey and Atkinson (1996) argue, through a qualitative research the reader should be able to understand the human actions (in what occasions mothers trust the principals and what are these features that make them not to trust them) which can result from a variety of empirical data, like interview, discussions, personal experiences, case study, life story et cetera.

The use of Semi-Structured Interviews to conduct their findings

Based on the research question that the authors mentioned in their study, we can note that they are looking to explore persons' feelings (trust) in relation to a sensitive topic (disable students). As a result this shows that interview will be an appropriate method to conduct this research and personally thinking correctly the researchers chose this method because it will enable them to collect data in such sensitive area through discussion with the mothers (Robson 2002).

Specifically, a semi-structured interview enables interviewer to give emphasis and probed for further information and clarification and also gives the chance to raise areas or concerns that may have been overlooked by the researcher (Sekaran 2000). That was what the researchers claimed as an argument for choosing this method. Furthermore, I believe that because they had a small number of participants to interview this method was ideal.

Following Cohen (2000:274), the questions asked by the researcher should emerge from the aims and objectives of the research project by "translating the research objectives into the questions that will make up the main body of the schedule". However, in this study the questions were based on the broader research as a result they are very general and the results that the writers present came after a deeper analysis and re-examination of the previous data. Conversely, the questions should reflect the variable, which is what they want to measure, and in our case it is 'trust'. No one question reflects to this variable.

Researchers explained that they did not want to establish extended relations with the participants as a result they interviewed each mother only once (Shelden et al. 2010). Therefore, as Best (2010b) points out, an in-depth interview as an extended conversation would be an appropriate way to make mothers feel more comfortable with them and talk about their feelings and beliefs and express their worries without any concern. Also, more specific questions should be asked in a second meeting with the mothers in order to explore with accuracy this more specific field that they want to address in this research (the Interview Questions appear in the appendix).

However, if they insist not to establish extended relations they can do telephone interview ensuring anonymity and confidentiality to mothers as Lake and Billingsley (2000) did in their research by examining the factors of conflict between parents and school in special education. Moreover, it would be good practice if the researchers are women and if they are relevant with these issues because of a personal experience or based on knowledge. That would make mothers feel that the interviewee share their feelings and completely understand them. Matching the ascribed features of interviewers with respondents is a way to minimize the bias of the responders (Wilson 1996). Additionally, Belenkey et al. (1981-1982 cited in Mishler 1986:127) highlight that a collaborative relationship and interviews which asked from the responders to tell their stories by their own 'voices' are more appropriate when we have to deal with women.

Finally, I strongly believe that their data could be more complete and with higher quality if they use a variation of data collection methods like a narrative approach, on-line or telephone interviews. Also they could use questionnaires, which may not be the most appropriate method in sensitive issues like disabilities, but by using questionnaires parents may feel that their anonymity is ensured and larger sample could be available for the researchers. That could lead them to more accurate and reliable results.

Selecting Sample

It is interesting to note that for better understanding of the sample selection part, it was necessary to read the main research from Angell et al. (2009) due to the lack of information which would help the reader to understand better their method and reasons of choosing that. The researchers argued that used a snowballing method to recruit their sample in order to have heterogeneous group of mothers from different regions, different children disabilities and grade levels (Shelden et al. 2010). However, we can notice from their sample (table in the appendix) that they did not succeed to have such as heterogeneous sample, as they had 12 Caucasian mothers, 1 African/American and 3 Hispanic. Also the reason that they gave in order to support the fact that they recruited only mothers and they did not include fathers in their sample was not convincing. I personally think that they had to interview both mothers and fathers who have contact with educational professionals because in some cases fathers are more involved than mothers. Also including fathers would make their sample more diverse something that they wanted from the beginning of their research as they chose a snowball sampling method for that reason.

Additionally, snowballing method is often used in in-depth interviews which we suggested as an additional research method for this project. We agree with Best (2010b), that this method can be much more effective if the researchers can enlist a sponsor who can confirm to the participants that the research is legitimate, something that Angell et al. (2009) apply in their research. They note that Angell et al. (2009:162) "participants volunteered to distribute recruitment materials to other mothers who might express different perspectives or have had different experiences with education professionals", as a result in the second phase from 2 participants increased to 16.

Drawing inference

Shelden et al. (2010) in the description of the results they presented the answers of the mothers based on the literature review. Particularly, as it noted before they categorized the data based on Tschannen-Moran (2004) five facets of trust and functions of leadership and they adjust the findings by choosing some answers from the interviews in these categories confirming the literature review.

The most common technique used for drawing an inference in social research is to classify observations or data into categories and this is called 'Pattern Matching' (Best 2010c). This approach from the case is relevant to theoretical positions which were found in the literature. Shelden et al., looks that they knew from the beginning of conducting this research what their results such look like (Best 2010c) and no gaps or differences to what they expected to find emerged. However, if they had more specific questions about their research, if they interview mothers for second time, and if they try to have a discussion more like an extended conversation, then maybe they would reach different conclusions that they were expecting and gain more knowledge about this situation and make real contribution in this field. Schuman (1982:22-23 cited in Mishler 1986:2) argues that "too much can be inferred from answers taken at face value to questions of dubious merit…all answers depend upon the way a question is formulated" and in our case the questions were not appropriate for the investigation of this research.

As a result, we can say that this research is a good example of a 'standpoint research' because it includes what a standpoint research is. This paper gives us the sense from the beginning that the researchers had a theory in their mind, based on the study of Hoy and Tcchannen-Moran (1999, 2003, 2004) which they tried to justify it through the answers of the interview process. This is exactly what a 'standpoint research' does. Best (2010a) argues that in this kind of projects the researchers collect data and present them in a specific way in order to support an argument or a theory that they want to advance, something that is obvious in Shelden's e al. paper. Also this kind of research is appropriate and correctly the researchers chose it for their work because it is found frequently in studies about disability. Consequently, they apply this model of research appropriately and this can be a good example of standpoint research to be followed.

Based on the above observation, we can say that this survey is objective and value free. Although validity and reliability are important for ensuring the objectivity of the research (Cohen et al. 2000; Perakyla 1997), the conclusions of this survey were influenced based on their personal beliefs and the literature. Conversely, the method that they used for recording the answers, following Perakyla (1997), can provide validity.

C. Conclusion

In sum, this article can be used as a primary study and a beginning to other writers and scholars who want to examine this situation in depth and draw more accurate inference. The definitions and the elements that they present are limited and a more extensive search can be attempted in the future. However, the table analyzes the features of the participants giving a clear picture of the sample and also figure one summarizes the results of their findings making it easier for the reader to identify the categories and relates to the findings with the data (both of them appear in the appendix). Furthermore, the abstract, the keywords integrate the readers to the context, guide them to focus in the main concepts and clarify the structure of the article. Additionally, they were correct in the limitation that they present in their study, the authors highlight that this research can be a basis for further research and the results cannot be generalized (Sapsford and Jupp 1996; Coffey and Atkinson 1996). Finally, the language and the vocabulary are not very difficult to grasp and the article can be easily observed from people overseas who are not native English speakers.


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