Building Effective Family-Professional Partnerships Begins in the University Classroom

Key Takeaway

Family-Professional Partnerships (FPPs) are a crucial part of empowering a child to reach their full potential. To leverage this trusting relationship, universities should consistently address building FPPs in coursework. Teacher education should include a variety of ways for candidates to interact with and practice nurturing FPPs to make this a reality in all classrooms. —Ashley Parnell

Benefits of & Barriers to Family-Professional Partnerships

“Of all the factors that determine student outcomes, family engagement is at the top of the list.”1 Collaborative partnerships between families and school professionals positively impact: 1) inclusive school culture; 2) effective instructional practices; 3) family well-being and advocacy; and 4) improved student learning and post-school outcomes. 

Although the value of family-professional partnerships (FPPs) has been recognized in both policy and educational research for over four decades, these trusting relationships are more of an exception than a reality.2 One significant barrier to FPP involves limited and inconsistent teacher preparation in university coursework. Moreover, there is a paucity of research identifying both practices to support the development of FFPs and pedagogy aimed at preparing teachers to partner with families. 

In response, this qualitative study builds upon the existing research by exploring special education faculty decision-making regarding designing and delivering FPP content and skills in U.S. institutions of higher education. Researchers conducted individual interviews with 18 participants, all of whom taught FPP strategies in special education teacher preparation courses and/or taught an FPP-specific course in a university special education teacher preparation program. Findings were analyzed according to three key themes present in the interviews. 

Key Themes & Associated Takeaways

Theme 1: FPP definitions and targeted skills

  • FPP was generally defined as educators and families working together to meet student needs. 
  • FPP skills that the participants targeted included communication, perspective-taking, self-awareness, and legally required skills (i.e., procedural safeguards, involving parents in decision-making). 

Theme 2: Rationale for prioritizing FPP skills

  • Participant definitions, perceptions, and personal experiences influenced the FPP skills targeted within their courses.

Theme 3: Strategies for teaching FPP skills

  • Participants used personal experience stories, case studies, parent interviews, class discussions/group work, and communication materials development (i.e., writing a parent letter, creating classroom websites) to teach FPP skills.

Improve Teacher Preparation to Enhance FPPs

Findings from this study align with current research suggesting the following implications for practice:

  • Consider sharing experiences through dynamic storytelling, a useful tool in engaging students and reinforcing key skills. 
  • Infuse FPP throughout coursework.
  • Partner with family systems (e.g., parents, siblings, extended family members), not just parents. 
  • Directly target and teach FPP skills, rather than relying on university students to learn by observing mentor teachers or reflecting on their own experience. 
  • Utilize and incorporate real-life teacher/family stories by inviting guest speakers, building role-play activities, creating case students, and encouraging self-examination (i.e., assumptions, values, biases).
  • Seek to understand and address family needs to better build trusting partnerships rather than spending time determining what constitutes family over- or under- involvement, which is counterproductive to forging FPP. 

Summarized Article:

Francis, G.L., Kilpatrick, A., Haines, S.J., Gershwin, T., Kyzar, K.B., & Hossain, I. (2021). Special education faculty decision-making regarding designing and delivering family-professional partnership content and skills in the U.S. Teaching and Teacher Education, 105, 103419.

Summary by:  Ashley M. Parnell — Ashley strives to apply the MARIO Framework to build evidence-based learning environments that support student engagement, empowerment and passion, and is working with a team of educators to grow and share this framework with other educators.

Additional References:

  1. Kaufman, T. (2019). Family engagement and student success: What the research. Understood. https://www.understood.org/articles/en/family-engagement-and-student-success
  2. Haines, S. J., Francis, G. L., Mueller, T. G., Chiu, C., Burke, M. M., Kyzar, K., ...Turnbull, A. P. (2017). Reconceptualizing family-professional partnership for inclusive schools: A call to action. Inclusion, 5(4), 234e247. https://doi.org/10.1352/2326-6988-5.4.234.
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We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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Join the MARIO Family

We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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