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Posted: September 7th, 2023

Preparing Early Special Education Teachers to Partner With Families

Preparing Early Special Education Teachers to Partner With Families
Effective family-school partnerships are crucial for children with disabilities or developmental delays to receive appropriate support and achieve positive educational outcomes. Research shows that family involvement contributes significantly to a child’s academic performance, behavior, and social skills (Baker et al., 2016). However, many general and special education teachers receive little preparation on how to collaborate successfully with families during their pre-service training (Galindo & Sheldon, 2012). This article examines strategies for enhancing special education teacher preparation programs to equip future teachers with the knowledge and skills needed to form productive partnerships with the families of young children with special needs.
Partnering with Families Benefits Students and Schools
When families and schools work together as a team, it benefits students both academically and socially-emotionally. Children whose parents are involved in their education tend to have higher grades and test scores, better attendance, higher graduation rates, and greater enrollment in postsecondary education (Sheldon & Jung, 2018). Effective family-school collaboration also leads to improved behavior and social skills, as well as increased motivation and self-esteem (Baker et al., 2016).
Schools benefit from strong family involvement as well. When families feel welcomed and respected by school staff, they are more likely to be engaged in their child’s learning. This can translate to increased academic achievement across entire grade levels and schools (Sheldon & Epstein, 2020). Partnering with families also helps schools gain a deeper understanding of each student’s unique needs, strengths, and home life circumstances (Galindo & Sheldon, 2012).
Barriers to Collaboration in Special Education
While the benefits of family-school partnerships are well-established, collaboration can be challenging in special education for several reasons. First, many general and special education teachers receive little or no pre-service training on effective strategies for engaging families (Galindo & Sheldon, 2012). They may lack confidence in their ability to communicate successfully with families or address sensitive issues (Baker et al., 2016).
Cultural and linguistic differences between home and school also present barriers, as do logistical challenges like parents’ work schedules or lack of transportation (Sheldon & Jung, 2018). Families of children with disabilities sometimes feel marginalized or that their perspectives are not valued by school staff as well (Sheldon & Epstein, 2020). Finally, special education laws and procedures can seem complex and intimidating to parents (Baker et al., 2016).
Preparing Teachers to Partner with Families
To help future teachers overcome these barriers, special education teacher preparation programs must provide targeted training and field experiences focused on collaborating with families. Some effective strategies include (Baker et al., 2016; Galindo & Sheldon, 2012; Sheldon & Jung, 2018; Sheldon & Epstein, 2020):
Courses on family systems theory, diversity, communication strategies, and special education law/procedures.
Role-playing activities to practice difficult conversations and address cultural/linguistic differences.
Assignments requiring teacher candidates to interview families and incorporate family perspectives into lesson plans.
Field experiences partnering with families of children with disabilities from diverse backgrounds.
Modeling of family engagement strategies by university supervisors during student teaching.
With comprehensive preparation, new special educators can enter the field confident in their ability to form the collaborative partnerships essential for student success (Baker et al., 2016).
In summary, effective family-school collaboration leads to improved outcomes for children with special needs. However, many teachers lack training in this area. By providing targeted coursework and field experiences focused on partnering with families, teacher preparation programs can equip future special educators with the skills and dispositions needed to engage families as educational team members.
Baker, T. L., Wise, J., Kelley, G., & Skiba, R. J. (2016). Identifying barriers: Creating solutions to improve family engagement. School Community Journal, 26(2), 161–184.
Galindo, C., & Sheldon, S. B. (2012). School and home connections and children’s kindergarten achievement gains: The mediating role of family involvement. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27(1), 90–103. dissertation writing assistance.
Sheldon, S. B., & Jung, S. B. (2018). The family engagement partnership: Student outcome evaluation. School Community Journal, 28(1), 173–190.
Sheldon, S. B., & Epstein, J. L. (2020). Improving student outcomes with school-family-community partnerships. In S. L. Christenson & A. L. Reschly (Eds.), Handbook of school-family partnerships (pp. 43–58). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

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