Preparing Pre-Service Special Education Teachers to Facilitate Parent Involvement, Knowledge, and Advocacy: Considerations for Curriculum

November 1, 2019

Source: Teacher Education and Special Education, 42:4, 529-548

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this article is to explore how and why special education teacher preparation programs should help teachers support parent involvement, both in the home–school collaboration process and within the advocacy and conflict resolution process specified by IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), by providing an overview of federally funded supports under IDEA, namely, Parent Training and Information Centers (PTIs), and conflict and mediation resolution options that have been included in recent IDEA reauthorizations.
Finally, this article discusses the necessary future direction for the field of special education teacher preparation related to training pre-service teachers to understand, support, and promote parent involvement.Special Education Teacher Preparation Programs: Implications for Practice

Ultimately, school and district leaders carry the enforcement responsibilities under IDEA to both handle dispute resolution claims brought forth by parents and to ensure that parents and students with disabilities have access to IDEA-mandated supports for mediation and conflict resolution (Lake & Billingsley, 2000; Mueller, 2015).
Nevertheless, teachers are not only required to provide support to parents as they seek resources and advocacy opportunities within the special education system, but they are often the stakeholders mutually selected by school/district leaders and parents to facilitate implementation of new goals, modifications or accommodations, instruction, or other special education service delivery components after a resolution occurs (Mueller, 2015).
Teachers may be tasked with these implementation duties, whether they disagree or concur with decisions made at the school or district level (Lake & Billingsley, 2000).
Therefore, a teacher’s role is a complex one, including responsibilities and obligations to both a school or district and parents, and both parties may have competing interests and goals that a teacher has to manage carefully.
Accordingly, it is imperative to consider the provisions under IDEA that guide parent involvement in special education teacher preparation programs.
Understanding the nature of the legislative provisions and the related federally funded IDEA programs and services provides insight and clarity as to the expectations for teachers, school personnel, or other education professionals.
That is, for special education teacher preparation program faculty, IDEA legislation should serve as a clarion call to train preservice teachers to both value and understand the importance of parent involvement and to also have access to up-to-date relevant and useful IDEA-funded resources, such as those previously outlined, to access themselves (in the event that a teacher needs to) or to refer to parents when they need assistance navigating the special education system.
Within the limited special education teacher preparation research on parent involvement, however, there is evidence that the IDEA mandates on parent involvement have not generally shifted or altered current practices within special education teacher preparation or advocacy training programs (Burke, 2013).
Nor has IDEA always been used to enhance the skill set of novice teachers as they work and collaborate with parents and direct parents to resources that meet their individualized needs (Whitbread, Bruder, Fleming, & Park, 2007).
 To prepare pre-service special education teachers to provide assistance, resources, and information to parents of students with disabilities, faculty should further consider a variety of factors regarding current teacher preparation, curriculum, and related coursework.

Recommendation 1: Further Develop Stand-Alone Courses or Course Sequences in Parent Involvement That Are Aligned With State Certification or Policy Initiatives
It is imperative that teacher preparation program faculty offer, when possible, a stand-alone course or course sequence on parent involvement, particularly because of the wide range of theory, practice, and pedagogical matters that should be addressed to adequately prepare pre-service teachers to provide both academic instruction to students and support to families.

Recommendation 2: Further Incorporate Fieldwork Opportunities Into Parent Involvement Courses
Another curricular change that should be considered is the inclusion of fieldwork opportunities that allow pre-service teachers, when possible, to meaningfully engage with parents and students with disabilities.
In a survey of 20 College Of Education (COE) faculty members and deans, faculty recounted that pre-service teachers “have often led isolated suburban lives with little exposure to other cultures” (Flanigan, 2005, p. 4) and that traditional face-to-face classroom instruction limits an instructor’s ability to extend instruction into real-life settings where pre-service teachers can interact with parents (Flanigan, 2005).
Similarly, surveys of pre-service teachers have found that while pre-service teachers maintain positive dispositions toward parent involvement, they describe having little coursework to prepare them for communicating and developing relationships with parents (Broussard, 2000; Ferrara & Ferrara, 2005).

Recommendation 3: Direct Pre-Service Teachers to Existing IDEA Resources
Finally, special education teacher preparation programs prepare pre-service teachers for the realities of the profession, whereby they will be expected to search for and access resources when there are questions regarding parent involvement, advocacy, or dispute resolutions (Cherng, 2016; Mueller, 2015).
While gaining knowledge of and having access to publicly available resources should not serve as a substantive substitute for a rigorous stand-alone course or course sequence in parent involvement, this knowledge can serve as a reference and foundation for pre-service teachers as they gain ongoing professional development (Whitbread et al., 2007).

Broussard, C. A. (2000). Preparing teachers to work with families: A national survey of teacher education programs. Equity & Excellence in Education, 33, 41-49. doi:10.1080/1066568000330207
Burke, M. M. (2013). Improving parental involvement: Training special education advocates. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 23, 225-234. doi:10.1177/1044207311424910
Cherng, H. S. (2016). Is all classroom conduct equal? Teacher contact with parents of racial/ethnic minority and immigrant adolescent. Teachers College Record, 118(11), 1-35.
Ferrara, M. M., Ferrara, P. J. (2005). Parents as partners: Raising awareness as a teacher preparation program. The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 79, 77-82. doi:10.3200/TCHS.79.2.77-82
Flanigan, C. B. (2005, May). Partnering with parents and communities: Are preservice teachers adequately prepared? Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project. Retrieved from
Lake, J. F., Billingsley, B. S. (2000). An analysis of factors that contribute to parent-school conflict in special education. Remedial and Special Education, 21, 240-251.
Mueller, T. G. (2015). Litigation and special education: The past, present, and future direction for resolving conflicts between parents and school districts. Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 26, 135-143. doi:10.1177/1044207314533382
Whitbread, K. M., Bruder, M. B., Fleming, G., Park, H. J. (2007). Collaboration in special education: Parent—Professional training. Teaching Exceptional Children, 39(4), 6-14. 

Updated: Aug. 17, 2020