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Findings from the National Survey of Colleges and Universities Preparing Educators for Family Engagement

Happy family talking with their son's teacher in the office

“Teacher education programs need more guidance on how to include family engagement.” Department Chair, Early Childhood/Elementary Education, Public University

“We have recently hired faculty for whom family engagement is a focus. We will be incorporating more family engagement activities and opportunities for learning more about how to engage families.” Department Chair, General Education, Public University

 “Graduates feel moderately prepared [for family engagement].  They remark that more focus in this area would be useful. Employer surveys confirm this.” Department Chair, Early Childhood and Special Education, Private University

These are just some of the many ideas and insights that higher education faculty and department chairs shared with the National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement (NAFSCE) via its National Survey of Colleges and Universities Preparing Educators for Family Engagement.  Our thanks to everyone who completed the survey, which was designed to understand how educator preparation programs are preparing education candidates to engage and work with families and communities.  The survey was conducted in partnership with AACTE, CAEP (Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation), MAEC (Mid-Atlantic Equity Consortium), NEA (National Education Association), and faculty and state leaders who are part of NAFSCE’s Pre-service Family Engagement Consortium.

Now more than ever, education candidates need opportunities and experiences learning with and from families prior to entering the profession. Exposure to coursework and clinical experiences that address family engagement will enable pre-service teachers to stand in solidarity and build authentic relationships with families, elevate the voices of families and communities who have been historically marginalized, and utilize the strengths and knowledge of families to inform meaningful curriculum and teaching strategies that lead to student success.  This article highlights preliminary findings from the analysis of the survey data and offers initial recommendations for educator preparation programs, and state and local leaders. 

  1. Family and community engagement is being addressed throughout educator preparation, but there is more work ahead. Results of our survey show that 51% of educator preparation programs (EPPs) offer at least one standalone course in family and community engagement. This finding is consistent with earlier national surveys on this topic suggesting little growth in the number of courses offered in the past 20 years (Epstein & Sanders, 2006; Shartrand, et al., 1997). The survey also found that family engagement topics are embedded into a variety of ongoing courses that education candidates take, most frequently teaching children with special needs, classroom management, and culturally sustaining pedagogy.  However, the rates with which family and community engagement topics are embedded into coursework are low.  
  2. There are a variety of competencies in promoting family and community engagement that education programs seek to address. Understanding family diversity, communicating academic progress, and building relationships with families are among the most common family engagement competencies that EPPs address. Among a smaller subset of department chairs reporting that they also prepare education leaders, establishing welcoming climates, building community and family partnerships, and setting a family engagement vision were among the competencies most frequently addressed for school principals and administrators.
  3. A variety of methods are utilized to promote family engagement competencies in coursework and clinical experiences. Department heads report that faculty utilize a variety of methods to promote family engagement competencies, with readings, videos, and the use of case method being the most common.  Simulations and family interviews were used less often to prepare education candidates for effective family engagement. Participating in parent-teacher conferences, communicating academic progress, and reaching out to families were the most used strategies to prepare education candidates to engage with families during clinical experiences. The survey also found that home visits and opportunities to facilitate family workshops were used less often to prepare education candidates for family engagement.
  4. Department heads hold varying beliefs about the role of family and community engagement in educator preparation. Nearly 55% of department heads believe that their education candidates are a little less or much less prepared for family engagement in comparison to other subjects. Moreover, only 31% of department heads believe that family engagement is an essential or high priority for their programs.
  5. Department heads see many barriers to preparing educators for family engagement, but the pandemic might be an opportunity. The biggest challenges to preparing education candidates for family engagement that department chairs noted were: (1) there are too many other required courses for programs to cover, (2) partner schools limit family and community engagement opportunities, and (3) there is minimal focus on family and community engagement in state licensure. Lack of resources to support faculty and lack of familiarity on how to teach and facilitate courses on family engagement were also among the barriers most frequently mentioned.  Yet, many of the respondents viewed the pandemic as an opportunity for institutions to support faculty in developing skills in family and community engagement and improving the ways that aspiring educators are prepared. 

New Directions for Preparing Educators to Engage Families and Communities

Taken together, our survey findings show that while good work is being done in preparing educators to engage families, too many education candidates still receive too few opportunities to meaningfully learn about and practice family engagement in their preparation programs.  With the summer months ahead and revisions to programs and courses underway, faculty, department chairs and leaders in educator preparation programs might consider the following:

  1. Reflect on how family engagement is addressed in stand-alone courses, as well as how family engagement topics are addressed in both scope and sequence throughout program coursework. EPPs might consider how families are invited to learn and share with students during their preparation. They can also explore how family engagement topics can be addressed and embedded into other courses which are required.   
  2. Create opportunities to enhance ways education candidates build relationships with families during clinical experiences. Conducting home visits (either virtually or in-person), participating in family workshops, hosting family focus groups, and working with parent leaders, were among the experiences least frequently offered to candidates. EPPs can engage teacher candidates in family workshops offered by local schools, and establish partnerships with local organizations that work directly with families and communities to expose education candidates to rich field experiences. These partnerships can also help EPPs to find new ways to co-develop programs that speak to and address the needs of local communities. 
  3. Advocate for integration of family and community engagement in policies and standards. Survey respondents reported that excessive program requirements and the minimal focus on family and community engagement in state licensure were among the key barriers to preparing education candidates for effective family engagement. Working with state administrators to address these challenges is a promising new direction.  Recently CAEP put forth a new set of accreditation standards that address families and community engagement that might serve as a template.

Want to Learn More and Get Involved?

Margaret Caspe is the pre-service and credentialing services consultant at the National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement. Weadé James is AACTE’s director of development and research.


Weade James

Vice President, Organizational Advancement