University of Vermont

College of Education and Social Sciences

Doctoral Programs in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Colby Kervick: Constructing a Seat at the Table: Parents’ Perceptions of Collaboration with Schools (2013-02-15)

Kervick, Colby | Waterman 427A | 2013-02-15 | 1:00 p.m.

The Education for All Handicapped Children Act (1975), PL-94142, mandated parent participation as a required component of the provision of special education services to children with disabilities.  The law acknowledged that educational outcomes for children with disabilities are strengthened through ensuring that parents meaningfully participate in processes associated with special education (IDEIA, 2004).  Although the law obliged schools to include parents in educational decision-making, facilitating parental participation continues to challenge school teams.  It is widely recognized that a collaborative teaming approach is the most effective strategy to foster parent participation (Friend & Cook, 2010; A. Turnbull, Turnbull, Erwin, Soodak, & Shogren, 2011; R. Turnbull, Turnbull, & Wehmeyer, 2010).  However, fostering effective parent and school partnerships remains a concern as suggested in the literature identifying barriers to collaboration (Blue-Banning, Summers, Frankland, Nelson, & Beegle, 2004; Harry, 2008).   Although laws governing special education practices have been in effect for over 30 years, scholars continue to explore strategies to improve collaboration between families and school professionals (Cheatham, Hart, Malian, & McDonald, 2012; Edwards & Da Fonte, 2012; Lo, 2012; Staples & Diliberto, 2010).  This qualitative research study explored the perspective of twelve Vermont parents about their experiences with collaboration on special education teams and with professional service providers in order to understand: 1) how they acquired and shared knowledge about their child’s disability, 2)how they navigated and negotiated special education processes and 3) how they defined and conceptualized collaboration. 

Utilizing a case study approach, the study recruited 12 parents of children with disabilities from twelve different school districts in the state of Vermont.  Participants included both mothers and fathers of children with a range of disabilities.  Data were collected through individual interviews and one focus forum.  Cross-case analysis techniques (Miles & Huberman, 1994) were used to identify five themes that focused on: 1) the process of diagnosis, 2) descriptions and conceptualizations of parent and professional knowledge, 3) parent definitions of collaboration and strategies parents use to foster collaboration with professionals, 4) systemic roadblocks and 5) new visions for collaborative practice.  Additional analytic approaches included the use of visual representation (Kearney & Hyle, 2004) and poetic transcription (Glesne, 2006).  These findings suggest deeper understandings about the role of parents on special education teams and the strategies parents use to achieve equitable and collaborative partnerships with professionals.  In particular the study’s findings illuminate the role of emotion in the collaborative process and the ways in which parents acquire and use their knowledge about their child’s disability with school professionals.  By exploring the issue of collaborative teaming through the lens of parents of children with disabilities, this study offers insight to professionals about the experiences of parents, the dynamics of collaborative teaming and the multi-faceted nature of the “parental role.”

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