14 SES 14 B, Parent Education and Family Involvement with Children with Autism and Disabilities
Despite the complexity of the issues surrounding the factors that influence children’s behaviour and performance, research has shown that parental involvement in the education process is of great importance for children’s learning, tangible academic benefits, improved behaviour and successful inclusion (Reece, Staudt, & Ogle, 2013). Surprisingly, although positive home-school relationships play a significant role not only in children’s well-being and achievement but also in school effectiveness and efficiency, the relationship between home and school still constitutes a contentious issue (Gill, Morgan & Reid, 2013). When the roles of parents and professionals in decision-making and school life are unequal and confused, home-schools relationships grow problematic (Hodge & Runswick-Cole, 2008). Thus, open competition between parents and teachers in the school arena and poor partnership may raise barriers to inclusion and deprive disabled children from equal opportunities in education (Bæck, 2010). In contrast, when teachers develop trusting relationships and partnership working with parents, then allies to the benefit of the children are created (Russell, 2011).
Given that parental involvement in their children’s education is related to fewer behavioural problems and better academic performance (Hill & Tyson, 2009), a trend towards increased parents’ participation in schooling may be observed in many countries in Europe (Zukerberg, 2013). Despite the efforts to involve parents in schooling as a means to increase social cohesion at the local, European and global level, parents of disabled children face a real challenge: disability is related to segregation, low expectations from teachers, disengagement and school failure (Gill, Morgan & Reid, 2013).
In Cyprus, parents constitute a rather active group, which is dedicated in the promotion and development of better education for their children, through Parental Associations. However, apart from typical attendance at meetings with teachers and occasional participation in selected school events, parents seem to be marginalised regarding policy and decision-making (Symeou, 2014; Zaoura & Aubrey, 2011). As a result of the lack of legal and state support, powerless parents seem to have no other option than obeying to school verdicts and conform to what is decided for their own children by others. However, likely disappointment, anger and mismatch of expectations between home and school may constitute a source of conflict (Phtiaka, 2006). Such inequalities find their expression in schools in Europe and worldwide, as well; thus it is time to move beyond causes and shed light upon effective solutions (Zimmer, 2003).
Given that involving parents in decision-making and schooling may improve disabled children’s well-being and performance, teachers ought to listen to the parents and include them in decision-making (Hill & Tyson, 2009). After all, as pointed out by Bæck (2010, p. 323), it is the teachers who actually define the nature of the relation between home and school: “Teachers are in position to either destroy or maintain the traditional barrier that exists between home and school, and teachers’ interest, attitudes and competence regarding home-school cooperation is crucial for its success”.
Based on the above, our research questions were the following:
- How can we encourage parents of disabled children to participate in schooling and decision-making regarding the education of their children?
- What are the effects of parental involvement in schooling and decision-making on the well-being and performance of disabled children?
Based on the observation that some parents of disabled children in the school, where one of us was working, seemed unhappy and frustrated, as well as our firm belief regarding the importance of positive home-school relationships and partnership with parents, we decided to conduct action research so as to find a solution to the above problem. Within this framework, we followed Sagor’s (2000) seven-step process. We began with serious reflection about the topic of our research. The second step involved identifying the values, beliefs and theoretical perspectives we held. Thus, we decided to frame our research within the social model of disability, according to which disability is socially constructed (Oliver, 1990). The third step was to identify our research questions. Next, we selected our research tools. Since our aim was to involve parents in schooling and explore the effect of parents’ empowerment on well-being and performance of their children, we decided that the most appropriate tool to gather subjective information and dig into the underlying motives, experiences and thoughts was the semi-structured interview. The fifth step was thematic analysis of our data. The next two steps involved reporting our findings and taking informed action, based on the participants’ suggestions and the relevant literature. Finally, our intervention was evaluated through semi-structured interviews with the parents, the children and the teachers, so as to begin a second action research cycle if needed (Sagor, 2000). Eight parents of four disabled children participated in our research. Our interventions included attentive listening with one- to two-hour sessions with the parents, explanation of the legislation and the children’s rights, encouragement to demand equal opportunities in education for their children and continuous support. After several private meetings with the parents we organized official meetings with the head-teacher, the teachers, the school counselor, the educational psychologist and the SENCO, in order to discuss the needs of each disabled child.
During the first interview, before the interventions, the parents expressed their disappointment with the education system and the way their children were treated by some of the teachers. They also expressed their frustration because they felt that they were not listened to. During the interventions the parents experienced a different attitude towards them, which included respect, attentive listening and support; hence, they began to feel relieved and less stressed. Moreover, they felt that school might be an ally. As soon as the parents understood their children’s right and the extent of their power to reassure equal opportunities in education and treatment with respect for their children, they felt more self-confident, less intimidated by the authorities and they were eager to firmly demand their children’s rights. As a result, during the meetings with the stakeholders the parents not only participated, but also were self-confident enough to raise their voice and demand equal opportunities in education for their children, thereby playing a principal role in decision-making. Since their main arguments were legally underpinned, the school authorities eventually agreed to conform to their demands and make the necessary adjustments so as to satisfy their children’s particular needs. After the intervention, the parents were interviewed again, as were the children and their teachers. All of them expressed their satisfaction with the way things had turned out. The children had improved in their grades, their self-confidence and their participation in the classroom, while the teachers had started to differentiate their instruction. Hence, it seems that involving parents in schooling and developing working partnerships can help us dismantle the barriers to inclusion and improve disabled children’s performance and well-being (Vincent, 2000).
Bæck, U.-D. K. (2010). We are the professionals: a study of teachers’ views on parental involvement in school. British journal of Sociology of Education, 28(1), 55-68. Gill, E., Morgan, S. & Reid, K. (2013). Better behavior through home-school relations: using values-based education to promote positive learning. Oxon: Routledge. Hill, N. & Tyson, D. F. (2009). Parental involvement in middle school: a meta-analytic assessment of the strategies that promote achievement. Developmental Psychology, 49(3), 740-763. Hodge, N. & Runswick-Cole, K. (2008). Problematising, parent-professional partnerships in England. Disability and Society, 23(6), 637-648. Oliver, M. (1990). The Politics of Disablement. Basingstoke: Macmillan. Phtiaka, H. (2006). From separation to integration: parental assessment of State intervention. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 16(3), 175-189. Reece, C. A., Staudt, M. & Ogle, A. (2013). Lessons learned from a neighborhood-based collaboration to increase parent engagement. School Community Journal, 23(2), 207-225. Russel, P. (2011). Building brighter futures for all children: education, disability, social policy and the family. In S. Haines & D. Ruebain (Eds.), Education, Disability and Social Policy (pp. 105-129). Bristol: Policy Press. Sagor, R. (2000). Guiding School Improvement with Action Research. Virginia: ASCD. Symeonidou, S. (2002). A critical consideration of current values on the education of disabled children. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 6(3), 217-229. Symeou, L. (2014). Present and Future Home-School Relations in Cyprus: An Investigation of Teachers’ and Parents’ Perspectives. The School Community Journal, 1, 7-34. Vincent, C. (2000). Including Parents? Education, citizenship and parental agency. Buckingham: Open University Press.
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