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CYFS hosts meeting of prominent family-school minds

The great irony of research on family-school partnerships is that its scholars have yet to fully tap the potential of collaboration.

With this in mind, CYFS recently spearheaded a movement to forge ties and unify research among leaders in the field.

The Center catalyzed these efforts by hosting more than 20 family-school partnership researchers at a national meeting held September 19-21 in Omaha, Neb.

The meeting served as a starting point for synthesizing and reconceptualizing definitions of family-school partnerships, identifying the means by which they function, and pinpointing methods for translating partnerships research into practice. In doing so, participants addressed research gaps that have slowed the discipline’s progress and began mapping directions for future scholarship.

Consisting of 11 presentations and numerous roundtable discussions, the meeting featured researchers from 18 academic institutions. These scholars represented the full spectrum of academic disciplines – including education, psychology, early intervention, prevention, sociology and methodology – that have shaped the course of family-school research over the last 30 years.

“For me, the theme of partnership carried over to what was so great about the meeting: psychologists partnering with scientists from other disciplines, basic researchers partnering with interventionists, family-focused researchers partnering with school-focused researchers,” said Dr. Robert Crosnoe, professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. “These are the kinds of connections that need to be made if we are going to be able to understand family-school partnerships from all angles and then do something with that understanding.”

Broken into three sessions, the meeting’s presentations encompassed a vast array of traditional and uncharted themes. The first session summarized several influential theories and models of family-school partnerships, including the role of teacher and parental efficacy on partnerships’ success. It also touched on approaches for establishing teacher-parent relationships and involving family members in children’s education.

The second round of presentations focused on processes that have been shown to influence family-school partnerships. In addition to addressing parents’ motivations and methods for promoting academic achievement, panelists also considered the psychological, cultural and demographic factors that affect parental engagement and subsequent student performance.

Session three delved into the numerous practical, methodological and statistical challenges – and potential solutions – encountered by scholars attempting to conduct applied research. The panel also provided insight into the documented impact of family-focused programming and school-family partnership approaches on students’ well-being.

The discussions that concluded each session, and the meeting itself, afforded participants the rare opportunity to further explore major questions with fellow leaders of the field.

Multiple researchers suggested developing new models of family-school partnerships, integrating existing models into a comprehensive framework, and investigating key elements that influence partnerships’ impact. Additionally, participants proposed applying underutilized methodologies, including ethnographic and longitudinal studies, to measure and evaluate elusive aspects and outcomes of partnerships. They also discussed future investigations of how contextual factors such as culture, geography and ethnicity influence parent-teacher relationships and program implementation.

This breadth and depth of dialogue gave participants much to ponder as they continue forward with efforts to establish and improve research in the area of family-school partnerships.

“I took 17 pages of notes and had many insights into my own work,” said Dr. Ann Kaiser, professor of special education, psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University. “For me, it was extremely useful. It was a great model of what working meetings should be.”

The meeting concluded with the proposed formation of the Interdisciplinary Alliance for Partnerships Research (IAPR), an academic network aimed at maintaining the collaborative momentum initiated by the research meeting. CYFS Director Dr. Susan Sheridan, the meeting’s lead organizer, believes this momentum has the potential to carry the field forward in profound ways.

“I think we engaged in some really important and exciting and progressive conversations about where we’re at as a field,” Sheridan said, “and what our collective contributions can do to reshape and recreate the reality of research on family-school partnerships.”

For more information and to view presentations from the day, please visit the IAPR website.

This working meeting was sponsored by grants awarded to Drs. Sheridan, Kunz, Nugent, and Bovaird by the National Science Foundation (#0921266) and the Education Research Conferences Program of the American Educational Research Association. The opinions expressed herein belong to the grantees and do not reflect those of the funding agency.