Training for Family Professional Partnerships (FPP) skills in institutions of higher education is essential to provide special educators with the skills needed in supporting families and fostering an inclusive school culture. The FPP skills taught in universities focus on communication, perspective-taking, self-awareness, and legally required skills through the use of case studies, stories, parent interviews, developing communication materials, and volunteering. —Tanya Farrol
Family Professional Partnerships
Building strong Family Professional Partnerships (FPP) is key to successful students in schools. This article explores ways that special education teacher training can support and develop positive partnerships.
Many special educators have found it challenging to develop positive FPPs, noting that families often feel “devalued and powerless”1 in Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings. While there are many barriers in fostering strong FPPs, most notably is a lack of teacher preparation in universities or higher education. Researchers found that “novice teachers generally feel unprepared to communicate and partner with families, and report that their teacher preparation programs did not address the issue effectively.”2
This study focuses on the decision-making processes of special education faculty in delivering FPP content and skills in higher education. The study collected data using a previous survey where respondents were asked if they would be interested in a follow-up interview study.
Eighteen participants were interviewed over the phone according to the following protocol: a) demographic information; b) definition of FPP; c) skills and activities used in preparing students for building FPP; and d) preparing students for disputes with families. Based on the interviews, the answers were codified using the NVivo qualitative software program and organized into categories as indicated below.
Definition of FPP
FPP was defined as “educators and families working together to determine and meet student needs”. Here, the intention of FPP was to prioritize working with families as partners and capitalizing on the strengths and the expertise that families bring to a partnership.
Communication skills are key in establishing relationships. Teachers should use multiple means of communicating with parents—face to face, emails, phone calls, letters, etc.—and ask parents how they would like to be contacted.
Teachers should not only reach out to parents during IEP times but also when their child has a positive experience in the classroom. Teachers should actively listen to parents and make sure their body language indicates genuine interest in what families are telling them.
Perspective-taking skills focus on understanding the parents’ point of view in order to build relationships and empathy. Teachers may either deem a parent to be over- or under-involved in their child’s education and must learn to look beyond that as many families don’t “have the same tools and resources and knowledge that [they] have.” Also, there may be cultural barriers or other circumstances at home (e.g. additional children with disabilities at home or the parent might have a ‘bad’ experience in a previous IEP meeting) that result in families not being able to work effectively with an educator. Teachers need to make positive assumptions and meet parents where they are to work together.
Self-awareness skills focus on the biases educators have and what cultural beliefs they hold. Teachers need to determine and understand their values and beliefs and how this affects their decision-making processes.
Legal requirement skills focus on understanding the legalities of family involvement in IEP processes under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Teachers need to be trained in knowing the procedural safeguards, legal requirements of parental involvement, and the rights and responsibilities of all people as they relate to the child with learning needs. Additionally, teachers need to know how to mediate if there is conflict between the family and the school or teachers.
Strategies for Teaching FPP Skills
University professors used the following means to support learning FPP skills and building empathy and understanding:
- Stories—to build empathy and develop communication skills with families
- Case Studies—to delve into cultural sensitivities, how to respond to different situations, and how to actively listen to families
- Parent Interviews—determining how parents would like to be contacted and supports they have had in the past
- Class Discussion & Group Work—practice role-playing various situations and determine how to increase parental collaboration
- Developing Communication Materials—providing a list of resources for support or templates for running an IEP meeting
- Volunteering—creating opportunities to work with parents in a different environment (possibly non-academic)
The implications for this study are especially important as many universities need to institute a programmatic focus on teaching FPP skills. This means further research needs to be conducted into evidence-based FPP practices and research into how to enhance FPP in a virtual setting. This virtual perspective has become particularly evident during the pandemic when educators are relying on parents for information about their child and need strong partnerships in order to support the student in their learning.
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, 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2021.103419
Summary by: Tanya Farrol - Tanya believes that the MARIO Framework is a personalized learning experience that develops skills and empowers learners to become an integral part of their learning journey.
- Mueller, T.G. & Vick, A.M. (2019) Rebuilding the family-professional partnerships through facilitated Individualized Education Programs meetings: A conflict prevention and resolution practice. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 111.
- de Bruïne, E.J. et. al. (2014) Preparing teacher candidates for family-school partnerships. European Journal of Teacher Education, 37 (4), 409-425. http://doi.org/10.1080/02619768.2014.912628