Preservice teachers’ notions of families and schooling

Preservice teachers’ notions of families and schooling

ARTICLE IN PRESS Teaching and Teacher Education 19 (2003) 719–735 Preservice teachers’ notions of families and schooling Elizabeth Graue*, Christoph...

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Teaching and Teacher Education 19 (2003) 719–735

Preservice teachers’ notions of families and schooling Elizabeth Graue*, Christopher P. Brown Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Wisconsin Madison, 225 N. Mills, Madison, WI 53726, USA Received 25 May 2002; received in revised form 25 April 2003; accepted 23 June 2003

Abstract Although there is widespread support given to the idea of strong home–school relations, little attention is paid to the issue in teacher education programs. To understand the perspectives prospective teachers bring to their professional program about working with families, we surveyed students just beginning elementary and secondary teacher education programs. Results of the survey indicate that teacher education students enter their professional preparation with constructions of family and education that reflect their own experience and that assume that families support teacher work in the classroom. Out of these assumptions, prospective teachers develop strategies for interaction with families in the future. These limited constructions and expectations of families constrain opportunities for support, knowledge, and collaboration by holding parents at a distance. Thus, teacher education programs must provide opportunities for students to expand their theoretical background while gaining experience working with families in a variety of settings. r 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords: Biography; Family; Family school relationship; Home–school relationship; Parent involvement; Preservice teacher education; Preservice teachers; Teacher knowledge

In the United States, many local, state and national initiatives designed to promote quality outcomes for students focus on home–school relationships (Cutler, 2000). Educators, policymakers and the public generally endorse the potential contribution this resource can make to education and to individual student achievement (National Education Goals Panel, 1998). Despite this commitment, the relationship is fraught with tensions. Families and teachers have been described as natural enemies (Waller, 1932), as worlds apart (Lightfoot, 1978), and as working in overlapping spheres of influence (Epstein, 1995). *Corresponding author. Tel.: +1-608-263-4600; fax: +1608-263-9992. E-mail address: [email protected] (E. Graue).

Stories of miscommunication, mistrust, and missed opportunities are inevitable in the faculty lounge, the parent group and the bus stop, illuminating the power that this potential resource has in the educational process. Even with the value placed on home–school relations and its tenuous nature, little attention is paid in US teacher education programs to the process of building and maintaining relationships with parents and families (Broussard, 2000; Chavkin & Williams, 1988; de Acosta, 1996; Morris & Taylor, 1998; Shartrand, Weiss, Kreider, & Lopez, 1997). Given its importance and the inherent tensions in the relationship, scholars have spent much time trying to understand the nature of the home–school relationship, mostly with inservice teachers. We found this work interesting, but it did

0742-051X/$ - see front matter r 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2003.06.002


E. Graue, C.P. Brown / Teaching and Teacher Education 19 (2003) 719–735

not address how to promote inclusive attitudes and practices among preservice teachers. If the home– school relationship is so important, if it is typically a troubled one that is little explored in professional coursework, what do teacher educators need to know about the ideas prospective teachers bring into their education to support interactions with families? It is that question that prompted this study. In this paper, we describe the notions about families and schooling held by a group of preservice teacher education students as they begin their professional sequence at a large Midwestern public university in the United States. Viewing their beliefs as a baseline, we hope to understand how our efforts to help prospective teachers work effectively with families might be mediated by a lifetime of experience of home and school. We begin by briefly reviewing the literatures related to this topic. We examine work on parent involvement and home–school interactions, the relation of belief and practice for educators, and the nature of curriculum content on home–school relations in teacher education programs.

1. Forging links between home and school The scholarship used to justify US policies to strengthen the links between home and school typically focuses on the notion of parent involvement, which describes the various ways that parents and schools can interact to promote learning. Most representative of this genre of inquiry is the work of Joyce Epstein and colleagues who have developed a typology of six types of parent involvement ranging from assistance with parenting to full partnered collaboration between home and school (Epstein, 1995). This typology describes a wide range of involvement and it is expected that communities would have some combination of at least some of the types. The varied actions are described below: Type 1 Parenting: Assistance with parenting skills, development, and educational home environments. Type 2 Communicating: Fostering home-toschool and school-to-home communica-

Type 3

Type 4 Type 5 Type 6

tion about school programs and student progress. Volunteering: Coordinating recruitment, support, and scheduling of families to work at school or other locations to support student learning. Learning at home: Developing activities to promote home-based learning. Decision making: Involving families in school decision making and governance. Collaboration: Coordinating community actors to support school programs and student learning.

Surveys of teachers indicate that elementary schools are more likely to have stronger positive programs of parent involvement than secondary schools. Parent involvement is better predicted by the types of involvement activities promoted by school people than by family characteristics such as family structure or socioeconomic status (Becker & Epstein, 1982; Dauber & Epstein, 1993): Some researchers argue that increasing parent connections to school results in higher academic achievement, improved attendance, and better grades for students, more positive attitudes for parents and students, improved parent and teacher satisfaction, and reduced parental stereotyping by teachers (Foster & Loven, 1992; HooverDempsey & Sandler, 1997). While the bulk of literature on parent involvement asserts positive outcomes, some scholars are more skeptical about the adequacy of our knowledge base. A recent review suggests that the research overstates the benefits of parent involvement given the methodological weaknesses of studies cited (Mattingly, Prislin, McKenzie, Rodriguez, & Kayzar, 2002). This review points to a large gap between beliefs about parent involvement and the empirical evidence about its efficacy. The descriptive work on home–school relations has been very effective in mapping the terrain of what is—it represents current practice within prevalent assumptions of roles and responsibilities of families and educators. It is essentially normative in its framing of the problem reflecting the commitments of schools as the authorities and homes as supporters. What this work does not

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address is the way that social, political and economic forces shape interactions between parents and teachers. For that, we must turn to scholarship that takes these forces as a central theme. Interpretive studies have utilized constructs like cultural capital, the role of culture, ethnicity, and gender to illuminate the complex tensions of home–school relations (Biklen, 1995; Brantlinger, 2003; Graue, Kroeger, & Prager, 2001; Heath, 1983; Henry, 1996; Lareau, 1989; Lightfoot, 1978; Valdes, 1996). This genre of inquiry has shown that home–school relations are multidimensional interactions that are situated within the forces of history, power, and culture. From an interpretive perspective, interactions between families and educators are theorized to illuminate the how of these relationships. This work, which is labor intensive and focused on small groups, moves us beyond description of practice to the underlying dynamics that catalyze relations. Interpretive studies rarely find their way into policy frameworks of home–school relations because they are not seen as tying directly to prescriptions for practice. Relating this to our interests, we did not find in the interpretive literature a critical look at how teachers came to the beliefs they hold about parents. Teaching practices (including parental involvement) are shaped by professional experiences and personal beliefs. Individuals come into their professional education with cultural scripts that shape interaction and meaning making (Biklen, 1995; Goldstein & Lake, 2000; Hollingsworth, 1989; Kagan, 1992; van den Berg, 2002). These beliefs, which provide a framework for appropriation of knowledge and values in professional development, are quite stable and form the foundation for the emerging professional identity. Images of education figure prominently in the formation of beliefs, shaped by notions of good teachers, ideas of the self as teacher, and memories of self as student (Kagan, 1992; van den Berg, 2002). We can better understand current practices of home–school relations by examining the beliefs held by prospective teachers as they begin their professional program. The content of teacher education programs is an indication of the importance placed on particular issues and topics. Researchers have examined the


attention paid to home–school relations in teacher education programs—this work is primarily concerned with what is not there, critiquing the conspicuous absence of attention to home–school relations in most teacher education programs. In a sample of US teacher education programs, Chavkin and Williams (1988) found that only 4% of teacher educators reported a self-standing course in parental involvement in their programs and only about 1/3 taught even a single class period on the topic. Family friendly language was found in very few mission statements in a representative sample of teacher education programs, with early childhood programs being more likely to include attention to parents, family, and community than other teacher education programs (Broussard, 2000). Most students in teacher preparation programs do not feel adequately prepared to facilitate interactions with families (Foster & Loven, 1992; McBride, 1991; Tichenor, 1997, 1998). Without content knowledge focused on family school relationships, prospective teachers must rely on what they already know, which is likely to mirror their own experience (Morris & Taylor, 1998). What we know from the literatures cited is that home–school relations are diverse in their content and focus, that they are shaped by social and cultural factors, that the practice of teaching is based on teacher biography and beliefs about the roles of schools, and that teacher education programs largely ignore the issue of families in education in their curricula. With this knowledge in mind, we developed a study that describes the beliefs preservice teachers hold at the start of their professional programs. Recognizing that they bring a lifetime of experience to their professional development, we wondered how this foundation of biography and belief is activated in a teacher education program. The project posed the following questions: 1. What memories do prospective teachers hold of their own family’s school involvement? 2. How do they conceptualize the knowledge and roles of parents and teachers in education? 3. How do they anticipate that they will involve families in their own teaching?


E. Graue, C.P. Brown / Teaching and Teacher Education 19 (2003) 719–735

2. Methods

2.1. Participants

We took up this project for multiple purposes. Empirically, we hoped to describe how teacher education students just entering a professional program thought about home–school relations to better understand the practices in today’s schools. Instructionally, our goal was to make our curriculum more responsive to the experiences and beliefs of our students. With a commitment to supporting more equitable relationships between parents and teachers, we wanted to help prospective teachers see parents as collaborators in education who had much to contribute. To do this we needed to develop a baseline for their knowledge, experience and beliefs; the survey reported here provides this baseline.1 With these dual goals we designed a study that would provide descriptive examination of incoming teacher education students’ conceptions of home– school relations, balancing attention to the large numbers of students in our programs with the complex challenge of understanding belief and experience. We recognize the limitations and resources provided in a short survey of a midsize group of students. The aggregate nature of survey research misses the nuances interpretive work can examine. But at the same time, the survey provides a window on the beliefs and memories of approximately 130 students as they begin their teacher education programs. This glimpse into the tools for understanding they bring to their professional program might be thought of as a snapshot in time that gives information to us locally to help us plan strategies of instruction. But is also a snapshot that is of value to broader audiences interested in understanding home–school relations.

Participants in the study were 130 newly admitted undergraduate teacher education students at a large public university in the Midwestern United States in the fall of 2001. The teacher education programs admit students in their junior year who have completed at least two years of general studies in the university. We surveyed 75 students in the elementary program and 55 students in the secondary program during a core course in the first month of their professional sequence. We chose this time so that we could assess their perspectives before they experienced course content in the program. We explained that participation was voluntary and that the information generated would be used to guide the teacher education program and for research purposes.

1 This survey is part of a broader project examining students’ development of beliefs about home–school relations during a teacher education program. This broader project includes surveys across the five semesters of their professional programs, analyses of course syllabi, interviews with instructors and interviews with a small sample of prospective teachers as they make their way through the program. We report only the results of the first semester survey in this paper.

2.2. Instrument The survey,2 developed by the first author, is designed to assess the beliefs, memories, and proposed practices of prospective teachers to illuminate the social and cultural understandings teachers bring to their professional education. The items were designed to represent all six levels of Epstein’s (1995) typology of parent involvement and to represent a variety of family structures and practices. For example, the items asking participants to describe their own family experience of involvement or to imagine how they will involve families in their own teaching were designed to address activities ranging from schools providing information on parenting to parental participation in school governance. The items on parent and teacher knowledge and ascription of levels of involvement for various cultural and social subgroups of parents were derived from interpretive scholarship. The survey had a total of 90 items (87 ratings and 3 open response) and took an average of 20 min for students to complete. The demographic section provided information about gender, race/ethnicity, date of birth, 2 Individual items are presented in the data displays later in the paper.

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mother’s highest level of education, childhood community, and parental status. Because parent involvement is typically rated by researchers, teachers, and parents most highly in the early years of schooling (Epstein, 2001) and to provide a comparative anchor point across certification programs, the memory section asked them to ‘‘Describe your parents’ activities during your elementary years in terms of the rating scale provided’’ on a 4-point scale from never (0) to always (3). Thirteen items representing a range of potential activities included items like Agreed with the teacher, Attended school events, Helped in the classroom, Supervised homework. Standardized inter-item Cronbach’s alpha reliability for this section was 0.87. They were also asked which parent was most involved in their elementary education. The parent knowledge and teacher knowledge sections each had 17 items and asked participants to rate parent and teacher knowledge on a scale of rarely (1), frequently (2) or always (3) for issues relevant to education such as like Learning goals, Child’s academic strengths, Child’s disposition, How child functions in a group, Families’ cultural practices. Inter-item reliability for these two sections were quite comparable, with parent knowledge section 0.81 and teacher knowledge 0.82. The 16 item expectations section asked participants to rate expectations for parent involvement on a 3-point scale of little (1) to high (3) levels of positive involvement for varied subgroups like Fathers, Gay/lesbian parents, Working parents, Parents with disabilities. Alpha reliability for this section was 0.92. The involvement section asked them to think forward to their own teaching and rate their potential use of 16 strategies for home–school relations on a 3-point scale of no (0), perhaps (1) and yes (2). Examples of items include Ask for parent input on child’s program, Do parent–teacher conferences, Call home, Work with parents on school committees & fund raising, Go on home visits. Inter-item reliability for this section was 0.78. Open-ended items ask them the grade level they hope to teach, to describe appropriate roles for parents in education, biggest worries about working with families, and how they anticipated learning about working with parents.


2.3. Data analysis Our analysis is interpretive, using both descriptive quantitative methods and inductive qualitative inquiry. We use descriptive statistical analyses to depict the range and patterns of participant characteristics and their memories, beliefs, and proposed practices of family involvement. In some cases, indices were created to depict aggregate scales that represented a disposition. Analagous to a scale that would depict those with high interest in sports to those with low interest in sports by summing the ratings of interest in cricket, hockey, ice skating, skiing, and swimming we summed individual ratings of memories of family involvement in education to portray high and low involvement families. The scales are used in conjunction with the individual ratings to show both individual variation and patterns of involvement. Means and comparison of means by subgroup were calculated if the comparison did not violate assumptions of the analysis. We transcribed the written responses to the openended questions and analyzed them using NUD  IST. Both authors coded the open responses, working to develop a joint understanding of the issues presented. This analytical process had both inductive and deductive components. Some codes came directly from the research questions (e.g., memory, parent knowledge) while others were identified through repeated readings of the data (i.e., parent who do not care). Codes were generated by grouping similar responses and looking for patterns by subgroup (Erickson, 1986; Graue & Walsh, 1998). This analysis was then used in conjunction with the quantitative analysis to triangulate interpretations. Our findings are representative of this multimodal process of question generating from constructs in the literature, comparisons of ratings and openended responses, and inductive and deductive coding. In developing a text that presents our results, we provide examples of open-ended responses in conjunction with the quantitative data to provide multiple perspectives on our findings.

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3. Results The sample for this study mirrors the current teaching population in the United States in many ways (Ladson-Billings, 2001). Across the elementary and secondary groups just entering the programs, three quarters were women, they were overwhelmingly white, and had mothers who were likely to have attended college. Over half were raised in the suburbs and about 1/4 were from rural communities. Few of the prospective teachers were parents themselves. True to the gendered pattern of home–school involvement (Smith, 1989), 2/3 of the students noted that mothers were the most likely to be involved in education and 1/4 recognized both parents. Table 1 provides the demographic characteristics of the sample. 3.1. Past as a foundation for the present I came from a home where BOTH my parents were active in the classroom and active at home. I believe if parents can spend time in a classroom they can see how their kids and others socially interact. I also think that parents should ask DAILY how school was, what they learned and what happened (Elementary student 58).3 Working from the assumption that biography shapes present and future practice for teachers, we were interested in the memories of home–school interactions held by prospective teachers. Using Epstein’s notions of levels of interaction ranging from general support to active involvement in the governance of a school, we posed categories of involvement and asked participants to rate their families’ activities on a 4-point scale (0=never, 1=sometimes, 2=frequently, 3=always). We present a sorted display of the responses in Table 2. For these prospective teachers, family involvement in education was more passive than active, with parents responsively involved under 3

Open responses are presented to illuminate the themes from the quantitative data. They came out of questions ‘‘What should parent roles be in education?’’ ‘‘What concerns do you have about working with parents?’’ and ‘‘Where will you learn strategies to work with families?’’

Table 1 Survey sample characteristics Number Gender Female Male


97 33

74.6 25.4

1 3 3 119 3

0.8 2.3 2.3 91.5 2.3

Mother’s highest education Elementary Secondary Some college College graduate

1 28 30 71

0.8 21.5 23.1 54.6

Childhood community Rural Suburban Urban More than one type

29 76 14 11

22.0 58.5 10.8 8.5

120 9

93.0 7.0

Certification program Elementary Secondary

75 55

58.0 42.0

Adult most involved in your education Father Mother Other Both parents

10 86 1 31

7.7 66.2 0.8 23.8

Race/ethnicity African-American Asian Hispanic/Latino White Other

Are they parents currently? No Yes

school direction. Families were respectful and they attended school events. They were less likely to initiate school-based activity, rarely taking the first step in communication or participating in the governance of the school.4 These prospective teachers experienced a particular model of family 4 While acting as decision makers in curriculum and hiring was unlikely in the period these students were in elementary school some parents participated in kind of volunteer decision making that occurs in Parent–Teacher Organizations involving fund raising, allocation of discretionary funding, etc. This type of role is different from the role of classroom volunteer.

ARTICLE IN PRESS E. Graue, C.P. Brown / Teaching and Teacher Education 19 (2003) 719–735 Table 2 Prospective teachers’ memories of family involvement in educationa

Show respect for school Respond to school Discuss school with child Attend school events Read to child Agreed with teacher Supervise homework Discuss student with teacher Sought advice on school issues Called school to monitor Helped in class Participate in school governance Suggest strategies to teacher



2.75 2.50 2.32 2.26 2.20 2.12 1.72 1.52 1.26 1.15 1.03 0.74 0.48

0.48 0.70 0.81 0.82 0.85 0.54 0.92 0.76 0.82 0.87 0.83 0.92 0.67

a Question framing: Listed are some activities parents can do related to schooling. Describe your parents’ activities during your elementary years in terms of the rating scale provided.

involvement, with teachers/schoolpeople as professionals and families as clients. Their biography does not include home–school collaboration; instead, they saw support at a distance. Mapping to Epstein’s six-level typology, these students had seen involvement in levels 2 and 3, communicating and volunteering at school. We were interested in a more global notion of family involvement and how that might differ by certification level. To make this possible, we created an index of family involvement by summing the ratings of the categories in the memory section. Using this strategy, we could portray memories of highly involved families (larger index) in relation to memories of those who were less involved (smaller index). This approach is logical given that all the items are ways that families might be involved in schooling. Cases were excluded if they had missing values on any of the 13 items in this section, a total of 119 out of 130 cases were complete. If all items were rated never, the index would be 0, if all were rated sometimes it would be 13, if all were frequently the index would be 26 and if each was rated always, the index would be 39. The index had a range of 4 (primarily ratings of never) to 34 (primarily ratings of always) and a mean of 19. One in four respondents had indices of 15 or less (an average item rating of


rarely); another 25% had ratings over 23 (average ratings between sometimes and frequently). This indicates that the majority of these prospective teachers had experiences of moderate involvement (providing responses in the sometimes to frequently range) in their own families. A comparison of students coming into the elementary and secondary certification programs found slight but statistically significant differences between the composite involvement indices F =4.938 (1,117) po0:05: Elementary program students had memories of slightly greater family involvement than students who had just come into the secondary group. Interestingly, this follows the pattern of less involvement with families in secondary programs. 3.2. Who knows what Parents should know what is going on in the school—how their child is doing socially and academically, what homework has been assigned each day, how their child gets along with their teacher, etc. They should be supportive of their child’s involvement in school programs and encourage good study skills. Parents should also be advocates for their child’s education and well being in the school system without being over-protective or unrealistic (Elementary student 31). The roles developed in education could be seen as related to the knowledge ascribed to various actors. This is especially true for prospective teachers developing professional expertise that gives them the authority to be decision makers. We asked our participants to conceptualize knowledge about schooling and students for both parents and teachers to assess how they attributed expertise and authority. Using a 3-point rating scale (rarely, frequently, always), participants provided insight into the types of knowledge they assumed individuals brought to the practice of schooling. The average ratings for these items are presented in Table 3, which is sorted by parent knowledge. Despite the fact that both teachers and parents have relationships with the same child, participants found expertise to be specialized. Parents

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Table 3 Ascribing knowledge to parents and teachersa Knowledge

Curriculum Achievement compared to others Ways to deal learning problems Child functioning in group Best strategies to support learning Way child learns best Social relationships Learning goals School expectations Social development Academic strengths Socio-emotional needs Disposition Physical skills Developmental history Family cultural practices







1.56 1.71 1.77 1.86 1.90 2.02 2.03 2.06 2.08 2.16 2.22 2.42 2.64 2.65 2.77 2.81

0.57 0.56 0.55 0.56 0.47 0.56 0.50 0.49 0.58 0.51 0.47 0.58 0.53 0.51 0.44 0.48

2.84 2.64 2.25 2.39 2.12 2.05 2.04 2.35 2.75 2.02 2.26 1.87 2.06 1.91 1.59 1.39

0.36 0.56 0.55 0.52 0.35 0.47 0.61 0.51 0.52 0.57 0.47 0.52 0.45 0.52 0.57 0.49


Question framing: Parents and teachers each have unique expertise about children. Please rate the knowledge that parents and teachers have.

were seen as having highly local, historical and individual knowledge about the family and child, while teachers’ knowledge was professional, school-based, and normative. Shared knowledge was either individual to the child in school (ways a child learns best) or was generic to the workings of schooling (school expectations). This allocation of expertise could be seen as complementary, a depiction which is certainly congruent with the calculated correlation of the means for each category r ¼ 0:82 (po0:05). The key to understanding this rating probably lies in the degree to which this ascription of knowledge is seen as a foundation for collaboration rather than specialization that is alienating. I think it is not only appropriate but NECESSARY for parents to have an open relationship with teachers. Parents and teachers should be able to express concerns or desires regarding the student; parents should help in classrooms. The line should be drawn so that teacher or parents do not disrespect each other’s roles by inserting themselves too much in the other’s sphere (Elementary student 33).

Among these participants, there was a clear concern about specific knowledge held by families and educators and about border skirmishes between the two. At its most basic level, parental knowledge was not conceptualized as extending beyond the household and family. Parents could not understand how the school context might shape student activity, ‘‘Some parents don’t see their children outside the home setting and often times parents will say, ‘Well, my child would never do that.’’’ (Elementary student 71) This situated view of expertise recognized that parent and teacher action is located within different systems of meanings and value. There was a strong suspicion of parental self-interest, which was not reflected in their views of the teaching staff. Parents were seen as the fly in the ointment, a group that must be managed and brought to understand the problems, rather than competencies, of their children: From talking to teachers, parents can be the biggest challenge. I’m worried about hard-tomanage parents or parents who don’t want to admit that their child can have problems/

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difficulties or families that just don’t care (Elementary student 42). A parent should not influence how a teacher treats other students in comparison to their child. For example, a parent should not demand attention to their child at a cost to the other students. I believe that there will be individual relationships formed that will always be dependent on the amount of input from parents (Elementary student 43). Parents should have a big role. They should always be able to come to me with concerns, but NOT in a negative way. They cannot pretend to know what goes on with each child. Some parents expect special treatment, but I will give EQUAL treatment (Elementary student 70). Suspicion about parent actions relative to their children was fairly prevalent in the open response items on concerns about working with parents. A key teacher skill was to protect the group from the demands of needy parents. Only one respondent worried that her/his knowledge might limit interactions with parents: I’m not a parent. I’m not a single-mother trying to make ends meet. I’m worried about not being respected enough. I know that I will try to do my best to understand where the family is coming from (Elementary student 47). While this prospective teacher was aware of the ways that identity constrained understanding of students’ families, her/his focus was on respect— many of the respondents assumed that their professional status came in part from professional knowledge which brought with it authority. Given teacher knowledge, parents should defer: Providing input yet trusting teachers’ judgments and respecting his/her decisions. Keeping updated with teacher on child progress. Helping with homework, willingness to supplement with additional home support to ensure early start to positive self-esteem (Elementary student 25). Working with parents who think they know more than me and who question the way I do things constantly (Elementary student 48).


Parents should be involved in education through helping with homework, conferences, special activities, etc. They should not try to tell the teacher exactly how to run the classroom, but they should give input as necessary (Elementary student 28). Everyone who does take an interest in the learning process probably has some idea of how they should make it work if THEY were teaching the class. I do not want to compromise my educational beliefs by making everyone happy (Elementary student 30). The ideal parent is someone who is attentive and deferentially responds to teacher requests. This is a parent who knows her place, who is supportive but recognizes that she does not have the professional knowledge held by the teacher. While parents were seen as having knowledge, it was not knowledge that counted in educational decision making. An asymmetrical relationship between home and school, with teachers having the upper hand, is foreshadowed here. 3.3. Expectations of involvement We wanted to get a sense of how prospective teachers thought about various groups of parents, assuming that they brought to their professional education conceptions of families that were sometimes positive and hopeful, and other times negative and pessimistic. In this section, we suggested subgroups of parents who represented diversity in gender, work status, education, sexual identity, culture, family structure, and age that have been suggested in the literature to have specific needs and orientations to working with schools. We recognize that individuals enact hybrid identities, being situated in multiple communities simultaneously. We have found however, that the literature on parent involvement often uses a single-identity approach to suggest culturally appropriate treatment of diverse parents— books have chapters on how to deal with Latino families or families with gay parents (Hamner & Turner, 2001), capitalizing on cultural values identified in relation to white middle-class heterosexual practices (Trumbull, Rothstein-Fisch,


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Greenfield, & Quiroz, 2001). We asked students to estimate the potential involvement that particular groups might have with the schools using a 3-point scale (little positive, moderate positive, and high positive involvement). We report participants’ conceptions of varied subgroups involvement in Table 4. Participant notions of involvement were relatively stereotypical, with patterns of the power of gender and social class written into their interpretations of involvement. Stay-at-home parents and mothers were seen as highly involved as were parents with college education. This is interesting given the 2/3 of respondents remembered their mothers as most involved. At the same time, gay/ lesbian parents and parents of color were seen as potentially highly involved. Lower levels of involvement were expected for parents who were not primary English speakers, others living with the child, parents living in poverty or grandparents. We found the general optimism of the teacher candidates refreshingly positive, with much more support for potential involvement across groups than we would have predicted. While participants were reticent to point to particular groups as less likely to be involved, they

did have a clear image of the type of parent who, as they said, ‘‘just didn’t care.’’ My biggest worry is parents who just don’t care about their child’s school performance or social relationships at school. I would rather work with a parent who disagrees with me or my approach than one who does not have an opinion, doesn’t return phone calls, or just doesn’t think school matters. To me, this type of parent is setting their child up for failure that could impact his/her entire life (Elementary student 37). Parents with no time or no interest in child’s education. There is ALWAYS time to understand and be at least a little involved in a child’s education! (Elementary student 4) Lack of interest in involvement with child’s education. Parents who feel hopeless about changing learning/knowledge of their children or uplifting their situation (Elementary student 25). I’m nervous that parents will not be supportive or helpful with the child’s education. If children aren’t encouraged at home, they won’t want to try hard at school (Elementary student 18).

Table 4 Conceptions of parental involvement for various subgroupsa Parent group

Overall mean (n ¼ 130)

Elementary (n ¼ 75)

Secondary (n ¼ 55)

Stay-at-home parents Mothers Parents w/college educations Gay/lesbian parents Parents w/preschool children Parents of color Fathers Parents under 25 Divorced parents Single parents Working parents Parents w/disabilities 2nd language parents Other adults living w/child Parents living in poverty Grandparents

2.83 2.80 2.79 2.72 2.60 2.54 2.51 2.46 2.46 2.46 2.44 2.40 2.33 2.20 2.06 1.95

2.85 2.89 2.87 2.81 2.74 2.66 2.65 2.57 2.63 2.61 2.57 2.48 2.55 2.39 2.24 2.07

2.80 2.73 2.71 2.60 2.41 2.42 2.37 2.33 2.46 2.24 2.29 2.28 2.00 2.04 1.78 1.73

(0.40) (0.42) (0.41) (0.49) (0.52) (0.56) (0.53) (0.68) (0.59) (0.56) (0.53) (0.61) (0.73) (0.57) (0.77) (0.66)

(0.36) (0.32) (0.34) (0.39) (0.44) (0.52) (0.52) (0.60) (0.52) (0.49) (0.50) (0.54) (0.63) (0.56) (0.78) (0.54)

(0.40) (0.45) (0.46) (0.53) (0.57) (0.57) (0.53) (0.77) (0.59) (0.56) (0.53) (0.67) (0.73) (0.53) (0.68) (0.67)

a Question framing: Parents vary in their involvement practices. Please indicate your expectations for parent involvement for these groups.

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That parents will be stubborn and inflexible. Also that parents won’t want to get involved therefore be difficult to work with (Elementary student 19). This concern about parents’ care relative to schooling reflects the ideal that home should support school by showing interest, modeling a good attitude, and complementing the work of the teacher. Fairly narrow boundaries were set for acceptable behavior—parents should be neither too passive nor assertive, they should be responsive and responsible: Parents need to establish a rapport with the teacher (and vice versa) so that any problems in the child’s progress which arise can be addressed matter-of-factly and comfortably and a solution can be agreed upon. Also parents need to show that they really care about their child’s schoolwork and that they have high expectations. If a parent models interest in the child’s class work, this interest might rub off and makes the child interested in it as well (Elementary student 64).


Parents need to be a first line for most influence for their children. Many parents may not know how to become involved or may not have time and consequently may send a message to the child that they do not care or that education is not important (Secondary student 31). Possibly if the parents don’t speak English (hard to communicate) (Secondary student 17). Images of parents and their involvement in schooling depicted from the quantitative part of the survey were generally quite positive, with few parents seen as potentially uninvolved. Lower ratings seemed to be related to those parents who with fewer resources (time, economic, language). The open response data were more critical, describing parents who just did not care as the most problematic group. At the other end of the involvement continuum, prospective teachers also worried about pushy parents who would ask for more than was warranted for their child. It seemed to foretell of a love-hate relationship between home and school in the future. 3.4. Into the future

Parents are there to support the child’s education. Whether this means working closely with the student to monitor their progress (and familiarize themselves with the works so that they can help and answer questions) or working closely with the school and educators to support the educational goals and expectations (Elementary student 65). Some participants acknowledged that time was a resource that was variably distributed and that expectations needed to account for this inequity. Other more vague limitations on parental involvement included lack of knowledge and limited English proficiency: Parents should be actively involved in the child’s education. For some parents with busy work schedules, it may include helping with homework and discussing the school day. For parents with more time, it may include volunteering and organizing school events. It is imperative that the child knows that school is important (Elementary student 22).

These prospective teachers came into their professional program with notions of their future home–school activities. Asked to anticipate their professional involvement with families, the participants rated a list of suggested activities on a 3point scale of no, perhaps, and yes. The means for these evaluations are represented in Table 5, sorted by overall average. The activities ranged from traditional parent–teacher conferences (parents come to school) to home visits (teachers come to the home). These two activities in fact anchored the spectrum of preferred interactions. Almost every prospective teacher favored parent–teacher conferences while only one in six anticipated leaving school to meet a family in their home. In between these two poles the options fell in a continuum from individual communication initiated by the teacher to more broad-based community building and collaborative relationships. The anticipated activities are teacher directed and relatively non-collaborative, requiring families to respond to the school’s agenda rather


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Table 5 Anticipated parent involvement in teachinga Involvement activity

Parent–teacher conferences Ask parent to describe student Ask parent input on child’s program Call home Meet with parents to set goals Engage parents in homework Notes to individual parents Committees and fund raising Invite parents to work in classroom Students participate in conferences Provide parenting info Classroom newsletters Home–school journal Family get-togethers outside of school time Ask parent input on curriculum Home visits Anticipated involvement index a

Overall (n ¼ 130)

Elementary (n ¼ 75)

Secondary (n ¼ 55)







1.99 1.81 1.75 1.74 1.74 1.72 1.70 1.70 1.68 1.52 1.47 1.43 1.26 1.14 1.08 0.88 23.68

0.01 0.41 0.45 0.46 0.46 0.47 0.48 0.46 0.55 0.55 0.59 0.58 0.58 0.66 0.60 0.66 3.69

2.00 1.89 1.81 1.82 1.85 1.83 1.79 1.72 1.84 1.54 1.61 1.60 1.44 1.31 1.20 0.97 25.23

0.00 0.31 0.39 0.38 0.39 0.38 0.41 0.45 0.37 0.50 0.54 0.52 0.53 0.61 0.57 0.70 3.61

1.98 1.69 1.67 1.64 1.58 1.58 1.58 1.67 1.45 1.48 1.26 1.20 1.00 0.91 0.93 0.75 21.45

0.13 0.50 0.51 0.52 0.50 0.53 0.53 0.47 0.66 0.61 0.59 0.59 0.54 0.65 0.60 0.58 3.52

Question framing: How do you anticipate working with parents and families in your teaching?

than the teacher responding to the needs and expertise of families (Mattingly et al., 2002). The theme of boundaries was again apparent as participants anticipated how the relative responsibility of education might be parsed. Much like our creation of the index that aggregated items on participants’ memories of family involvement, we developed a composite of anticipated family involvement practices. We felt that composite was particularly important to our analysis because it could indicate a disposition future teachers might take in partnering with families. From this perspective, a future teacher with a larger aggregate score on this scale might reasonably be seen to favor diverse strategies for supporting families in school. This composite summed the ratings of the 16 items related to anticipated practices, which were rated no. (0), perhaps (1), or yes (2). Cases were excluded if they had missing values. Of 130 potential cases, 125 had complete responses. This index is presented in Table 6. The range was from 13 (majority rated perhaps) to 30 (majority rated yes) with an overall mean of 23.68. There were statistically significant differences (F =41.75 (1,123) po0:01) between

Table 6 Anticipated involvement index Group



All participants Elementary Secondary

24.55 26.08 22.47

4.03 3.61 3.64

elementary and secondary students, with elementary program students having higher ratings of anticipated practices (25.22 vs. 21.45, respectively). While orientations to teaching roles are certainly a matter of socialization, the differences in parent involvement practices that exist between elementary and secondary schools (Epstein, 2001) are already evident as prospective teachers begin their professional education.

4. Discussion and implications From our analysis of student responses to a survey about home–school relations, we conclude that prospective teachers come to their professional education with well-developed notions of

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the interactions that families should have with schools. Even before they experience coursework in a teacher education program or work in supervised field placements, they have lived a life that included family interactions with educators and have a developing conceptualization of how home and school might productively interact. In this group at least, personal understandings of potential roles for parents were quite traditional, with moderate support of school agendas and limited collaboration. Their ascription of parent and teacher knowledge could be described as either complementary or conflicting, with very little overlap for the two groups. Parent knowledge was long term, individual, biased and familial while teacher knowledge was professional, unbiased and based on experience with large numbers of children. Few parents were seen as likely to be uninvolved, primarily those who lacked the resources of time, money, or language. Respondents worried about two kinds of parents—those who cared too much and asked for more attention than was equitable for their child and those who cared too little, refusing to provide support. Anticipating their own teaching, prospective teachers were much more likely to do schoolbased activities such as holding parent–teacher conferences or calling home than they were to reach out into the community by holding out-ofschool family get-togethers or do home visits. Comparing the elementary students to the secondary students as separate groups, elementary students had memories of more involved parents and also had higher ratings of anticipated family involvement than those who were working toward secondary certification. What does all this mean for the practice of teacher education? And what does it mean for the relationship between teachers and families? It makes much more understandable this contentious relationship. If prospective teachers come into a teacher education program with family experience of involvement that is reactive rather than collaborative, with expectations of practice that follow the same model, and images of problem parents that are either in their face or out of the picture, parents start with one strike against them.


Because teacher attitudes are strongly related to teacher activity with families, these orientations do not promise inclusive collaboration (Epstein, 1986, 2001). Coupled with the lack of attention to issues of home–school relations in most teacher education curricula, we can only expect that these dispositions will not be disrupted. Without frameworks for re-imagining the possibilities of relationships with families, professional education can only hope to reinscribe existing relations. It is little wonder that Mattingly et al. (2002) found limited efficacy for parent involvement programs—they are built on a shaky, contentious foundations. What do we miss by giving lip service to parental roles in education but not working systematically to foster those roles in teacher education? Teachers are losing key opportunities for support, knowledge, and collaboration by holding parents at arms’ length. We complete this paper by making suggestions for ways we might help prospective teachers find a place for families in their practice. We approach this task, not from the typical ‘‘teach teachers how to teach parents’’ viewpoint. Instead, we advocate greater attention to families in teacher education because it is the only way we can see to make the relationships more equitable. Capitalizing on the interpretive scholarship that shows that opportunities for mutually profitable home–school interaction are available to only certain groups, we focus on teaching as a responsive act, one that requires knowledge and respect for the skills and competencies of those being taught. If students are located within key family relationships, responding to families is part of teaching. Given the lack of attention to issues of working with families in most teacher education programs, we focus in this final section on strategies for helping prospective teachers understand the rich potentials inherent in home–school relations. The suggestions are based on both the results of the survey and previous scholarship. 4.1. Critical reflection on views about education and parents Coming into their professional education program, these prospective teachers already had


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interpretive frameworks that reflected their biography and understandings of teacher roles. Biography provided a perspective—a starting point for learning in their professional education. As a first step, we argue that prospective teachers should have experience reflecting on how their views toward education and particularly about home–school relations, are shaped by their past experience, their privilege, and their need to establish authority as a professional. Particularly salient to this point is the recognition that beliefs about roles and responsibilities are culturally and socially constructed reflecting our status and position in a society (Brantlinger, Majd-Jabbari, & Guskin, 1996; Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998; Lareau, 1989). If status is reflected in orientations of good parents and good teachers, we must recognize how advocacy of certain positions and how attribution of authority to certain groups typically furthers particular cultural and social positions rather than those of others. Given that virtually all of the prospective teachers we worked with represented mainstream, white middle-class America, their advocacy for teacherdriven relationships implies an asymmetrical relationship. There is a growing literature in teacher education that focuses on reflection on identity (Gomez, Walker, & Page, 2000; Kagan, 1992) and this work notes that prospective teachers’ appropriation of knowledge in a teacher education program is shaped by their prior experience, their beliefs about education, and the nature of the content and experiences in the professional program. For this reason, it is not enough to mandate courses or even parts of courses on parent involvement or to specify particular field experiences that allow access to families and schools. Because the meaning that teacher candidates make of coursework and experience is generated out of what they bring to their professional education, a generic approach to program design will not promote positive relations. Instead, teacher education’s focus on home–school relations should begin with what the preservice teacher knows, thinks, and feels about working with families. This knowing must be critically reflective, identifying the assumptions that they bring to relations, the bias these

assumptions represent, and the constraints and opportunities that this potential practice provides. With reflection as a foundation, they can begin to think beyond their biography to imagine new ways of relating. Without it, it is likely that involvement activities will remain in the level 1–3 range (Epstein, 1995), with power residing in the school and activity provided by the home (Mattingly et al., 2002). 4.2. Content that portrays diverse families As is the case in most US teacher education programs, the respondents to our survey represented a particular cultural group—white, middleclass, female. As a starting point, prospective teachers, who tend to be young, single, and without children could benefit from thinking from a parent’s perspective (Morris & Taylor, 1998). Recognizing the complexity of parenting and the cultural specificity of the role would allow teacher candidates to take a less antagonistic perspective about the motivations and needs of families. The gender issues that come to play between teaching and mothering (Biklen, 1995; Lightfoot, 1978), particularly for elementary teachers, should be recognized and problem solved to head off the tensions inherent in the relationships. Beyond recognition of the role differences, prospective teachers should have a theoretical awareness of the many ways that families can come to the process of schooling and how mismatches in beliefs and practices represent missed opportunities by school people as much as they represent parenting that is limited in its outcomes. The participants in our project were most likely to view certain kinds of difference in terms of lack of involvement—parents of English language learners for example were thought to be less likely to be involved. This orientation was also found by McBride (1991) in his survey of prospective teachers at the end of their program. To build inclusive images of families, it would be important to develop a sense of the multiple ways families can support their children. Understanding how social class, gender, language, and ethnicity shape cultural practices like parenting and teaching is key to developing relations between home

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and school, particularly given the homogeneous nature of the teaching profession and the increasing diversity among families (Morris & Taylor, 1998). There is a growing ethnographic literature that portrays the practices of diverse families, situating behaviors in cultural meaning systems that allow for greater understanding. These understandings are more than cultural relativism; they should include recognition of the ways that power and privilege are enacted in home–school relations. Examples of work that might be used in a teacher education program is Ways with Words (Heath, 1983), Con Respeto (Valdes, 1996), Parentschool Collaboration. Feminist Organizational Structures and School Leadership (Henry, 1996), Including Parents? Education, Citizenship, and Parent Agency (Vincent, 2000), Home Advantage (Lareau, 1989), Dividing Classes. How the Middle Class Negotiates and Rationalizes School Advantage (Brantlinger, 2003), and Bridging Cultures (Trumbull et al., 2001). The first six are ethnographic portraits of culture and practice, while the last uses cultural knowledge to portray differences among groups expressly for teacher education.

4.3. Content that portrays diverse practices of home–school connection The participants in this project anticipated connections between home and school in which families responded to teacher direction. Few considered options in teachers collaborated with or responded to the needs of parents. This pattern was strikingly similar to their childhood memories of family involvement and was narrower than the views cited by McBride (1991) among more senior teacher candidates. To present a sense of the possibilities of connective practice, teacher education programs could provide access to content that portrays families and their experiences with schools (Greenwood & Hickman, 1991). Content of courses should include scholarship that describes the array of home–school relations (Countryman & Elish-Piper, 1998; Edwards & Alldred, 2000; Epstein, 1995; Graue et al., 2001). Without a sense of the possibilities, most of us will fall back on what we know.


Starting with Epstein’s overlapping spheres of influence, prospective teachers can gain much greater awareness of what can be by planning activities across all six levels or by brainstorming packages of involvement activities and then categorizing them by type to assess the strengths and weaknesses of any set of tasks for all relevant stakeholders. Concrete examples of ways to enhance relationships with families can help prospective teachers develop tools for relationship building later in their careers. The reactive approach experienced by most of our participants could be complemented through systematic attention to practices of home–school relations that proactively engage families. This might involve simply bringing in examples of letters, activities, and materials that are used by practicing teachers. Guest speakers like home–school coordinators or teachers who have made these relations a focus of their practice could also add much to broaden the horizons. 4.4. Field-based experiences with families Beyond the classroom, several theorists have suggested that prospective teachers should have more access to families so that parents do not seem like members of an exotic cultural group (de Acosta, 1996; Morris & Taylor, 1998). Fieldwork in teacher education programs is most frequently focused on what is happening within the four walls of a classroom. That approach almost always leaves out opportunities for ongoing interactions with families, unless students are working in a preschool program. Teacher education programs could enrich their students’ experiences by structuring varied experiences with families into coursework (Greenwood & Hickman, 1991). These experiences could include bringing panels of diverse parents into classes to talk about their interactions with schools, being careful not to reinforce pre-existing dispositions by relying only on the easy-to-contact parent. Family based assignments that ask prospective teachers to learn about students by learning about families help develop the tools that will be useful in later practice. A nice support for this type of assignment is A Path to Follow: Learning to Listen to Parents


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(Edwards, Pleasants, & Franklin, 1999) which makes the case for gathering family stories as tools for enhancing literacy development. Placements in less formal educational contexts such as after school programs can often provide opportunities for prospective teachers to see staff and families interacting on a regular basis. In all interactions, family privacy should be a focal point, remembering that there is no entitlement of access to parents or other family members. Case-based teaching allows safe opportunities for prospective teachers to explore both the typical and difficult situations that might come about in teaching practice. The Family Involvement Network of Educators ( Bhfrp/projects/fine.html) has developed a very strong set of teaching cases that highlight key issues in working with families. Key to the use of these and other case-based approaches is mediation by the teacher educator to help discussion move beyond pre-existing viewpoints. Despite the strong value placed on parental involvement in education, the ideas held by this group of preservice teachers indicate that relations with families are built on a rocky foundation. Without more explicit attention paid to building a relationship with families, teachers have little to draw on but their own experiences. And the experiences of white, middle-class women in their early 20s may not extend to diverse ways of understanding the complex relationships between home and school. Recognizing the endemic imbalance of power between parents and teachers, focusing critically on cultural boundaries, and explicitly interrogating the implications of their future practices might be one step to provide more equitable interactions. It is clear that closer attention must be paid to the ‘‘beliefs, attitudes, and emotions of teachers in their working contexts’’ (p. 595) if we are to understand their decision making and action (van den Berg, 2002). It is our hope that teacher educators might use the ideas presented here to develop educational components to their programs that provide broader awareness of the issues families face in schooling, theoretical perspectives with which to understand interaction between home and school, and focused attention to

developing strategies for a range of relationships with families.

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