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Parents, teachers need to be creative in finding ways to interact

ASU program prepares teachers to be part of the community where they teach.
New ASU project to engage parents in culturally relevant way to share knowledge.
Mary Lou Fulton curriculum teaches that parent-teacher communication is two-way.
August 4, 2017

ASU expert on teacher training says every family has something to contribute to school community; it might just take fresh approach

As families send their children back into the classroom, these first weeks of the school year are a critical time for parents and teachers to create connections that will make it easier to address any sticky issues that come up later, according to an expert on teacher training at Arizona State University.

But work and family responsibilities coupled with the demands on teachers’ time can make that difficult.

“It’s about being creative,” said Margarita Jimenez-Silva, an associate professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at ASU. “There are a lot of ways to make families feel like they’re part of the school community.”

Jimenez-Silva researches parent engagement, especially among underserved populations, and was a middle-school teacher in California before she became a professor.

She talked to ASU Now about parent-teacher interactions.

Question: Why is it important for parents to engage with their children’s schools?

Answer: All of the research indicates that parental engagement helps the child feel part of the community, it helps with retention rates, it helps with academic achievement. The research is conclusive that it’s beneficial to both the child and the teacher because communication is easier.

Margarita Jimenez-Silva

For the family, engagement shows that school is a priority and is the important work of the child. And the parents feel like they’re in this journey of education in partnership with the teacher and not working at different purposes. It can be alienating for parents to not feel part of the community.

Q: What are some roadblocks to parent-teacher interaction?

A: There are a lot of cultural differences in how parents engage with schools. For a lot of first-generation parents or parents who are not as familiar with our school system, there are not a lot questions about academics. It’s very much about behavior. I’m a former classroom teacher, and the parents would say, “Is my kid being respectful?” Very rarely would I get questions like, “Is his reading on grade level?” 

That has to do with the teacher being seen as the expert on academics, and it’s disrespectful to ask about that.

Also, a lot of teacher preparation focuses on one-way communication. We prepare our teachers on how to communicate expectations with parents or when there’s discipline problems. There isn’t enough focus on how do you really reach out to parents to find out what their questions and concerns are.

Even with back-to-school night or parent-teacher conferences, it’s very much a delivery of information as opposed to establishing a relationship with the parents.

Q: So how do both sides creatively connect?

A: It’s about cultural community wealth. Every family has a source of wealth to contribute.

Teachers should understand that there are different ways to engage parents, and it’s not just about who can be a room mom or help with the worksheets. And parents must be creative in offering what they can to the classroom and to the school.

I worked at a charter middle school, and every family had to donate a few hours a month. As a teacher, I had to be very creative about how the parents could help me that didn’t involve them coming to the school because they had little ones at home or transportation issues.

I made a list. I need curtains. Is there a parent who can sew? I had a dad who was a semi-professional soccer player. Could he come in and do a clinic? That helps him feel a part of the community and helps other families see his role and say, “Hey, I have something I can contribute that I didn’t realize was valuable.”

My greatest asset were parents who had business connections who could hook us up for the carnival or other things.

I had a parent who could never go on a field trip because she had six kids at home. So she volunteered to call the other parents the night before. She felt like part of the field trip even though she wasn’t actually going.

The other thing that was really successful was having a core group of parents who share the cultural and language backgrounds of the families I was trying to engage. So if I had a family that was not participating, they would be a liaison between me and that other family.

Q: So parents should speak up about what they’re willing to offer?

A: Teachers should know your skills so they can tap into the resources you have.

When I had my doctorate I was teaching five classes, and it took somersaults for me to get the time to go volunteer at my sons’ school. And they would say, “We need you to sharpen pencils.” And not that I think I’m better than sharpening pencils, but I could have helped the kid who needed reading intervention, which I knew how to do.

I know teachers are frantic, but it’s a matter of being organized to make use of the resources they have.

Q: Are teachers being better prepared in how to cultivate parent relationships?

A: At ASU, we have a program that prepares teachers to be a part of the communities where they teach, so it’s not just drive in and drive out. That builds trust with parents.

Wendy OakesWendy Oakes is an assistant professor in Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College who researches practices that improve educational outcomes in children with emotional and behavioral disorders. and I are doing a a cool project in the next few weeks in an early childhood special education setting to engage parents in a culturally relevant way to engage families to share knowledge.

A few years ago we did a systemic review looking at our syllabi and how we prepared teachers and found it was very one-way. Now we are embedding in multiple courses the idea that the communications between parents and teachers has to be two-ways. And we’re seeing our graduates now who have gone through that are now thinking in this way.

Parents should be empowered to say, “These are the skills I have. Can this be of service to you?”

For more information on ASU's program to prepare teachers to better interact with parents, click here.

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Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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Gene editing announcement draws much debate, ASU professor comments.
August 8, 2017

ASU Professor James Collins, part of government advisory panels on CRISPR technology, weighs in on latest experiment

Scientists have for the first time edited genes in human embryos to fix a disease-causing mutation, according to a paper published (ironically) in the journal Nature.

They used a new, cheap and radical tool that enables geneticists and researchers to edit genomes easily by removing, adding or altering sections of DNA.

The technology is known as CRISPRCRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats., and the fears — and there are many — are that it could be used for human enhancement. Think super soldiers, or parents who create super kids to ensure success in life. Or that it could be used to create designer organisms that wreak havoc in nature. Or that it could be used to wipe out all mosquitos, when science does not yet know what function mosquitos perform in the wider ecosystem.

Two government advisory panels came out with dueling recommendations in the past 12 months. James Collins, Virginia M. Ullman Professor of Natural History and the Environment in the School of Life SciencesThe School of Life Sciences is in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. at Arizona State University, sat on one of them.

Collins was co-chair of the National Academy of Sciences' Committee on Gene Drive Research in Non-human Organisms: Recommendations for Responsible Conduct, a panel of 16 experts who released a lengthy report called “Precaution and governance of emerging technologies” in June.

ASU Now sat down to discuss the development with Collins.

“It’s a fascinating step in the use of this new CRISPR technology in terms of gene editing, opening up the possibility of using it in a variety of circumstances, whether it’s non-human animals or human beings,” Collins said. “It’s a fascinating technology that’s raising a lot of questions.

“It was in December of 2016 that the National Academy of Sciences held a meeting of international experts to discuss the possibility of using CRISPR for editing human embryos. It was at that meeting that they adopted a motion that the technology should not be used for editing human embryos, at least at this time. At the same time that meeting was going on, there was a committee of the National Academy of Sciences working on just this issue: Should CRISPR and other gene-editing technologies be used for editing the human germline in particular?”

Question: Changes to the germline are hereditary, correct?

Answer: That’s correct. Changes to the germline would be hereditary. They would go from one generation to the next.

Q: The panel endorsed only alterations designed to prevent babies from acquiring genes known to cause “serious disease and disability” and only when there is no “reasonable alternative.”

A: Exactly. That committee, in their report, came out with that recommendation, which is actually contrary to the recommendation that came out in December 2016. So you had two different opinions on the table.

Q: So there’s no consensus on this?

A: No, certainly in the larger community there would be no consensus. The community would be divided in a number of different ways, with one extreme — “Don’t do any gene editing at all” — and the other would vary gene editing under conditions as were described in that quote — serious, possibly lethal, mutations — that could be corrected, and then it would be appropriate to think about using the gene-editing technology, and not using the editing if it was just a question of enhancement.

Then the question becomes what counts as enhancement and what doesn’t count as enhancement? How do you make that decision? So, no, there’s not a consensus at this point.

Q: Do you think the experiment cited in the Nature paper was a toe dip on a slippery slope?

A: What it is is one more step of modifying human beings. In this case it’s going to be modifying human embryos. As the National Academy of Sciences put it, they open up the door to doing this sort of work in just this sort of circumstances. It’s an ideal case in this regard, where you can just reach in and you have a mutation and major defect and the change can be made and the embryo will develop without the defect, if everything works OK. That’s just the case the National Academy was looking towards. So is it a slippery slope?

The question then becomes — as far as the National Academy is concerned — when are you in a condition such as this where there’s a straightforward need as far as the viability of the embryo is concerned as opposed to just enhancement. Then you’re back to the question of what constitutes enhancement, and who makes that decision. That’s not clear-cut. My recollection is that the National Academy report authors were not clear on that either.

Q: What if a child produced through gene editing were hobbled in some unforeseen way?

A: Presumably that is going to be the kind of possibility that would be taken under consideration before this sort of technology is approved ultimately for use in human beings in a clinical environment. This is an experimental environment at this point. ... It’s just in a laboratory.

The question that you pose — an untoward effect — is something that’s going to have to be taken into consideration by the group that ultimately would approve the first clinical trials with this sort of technology. That would be the sort of consideration that would come into play when any sort of clinical intervention is considered. There’s always a risk associated with it, and the question would be what counts as a tolerable risk?

Q: Clearly there’s a lot more discussion that needs to happen about this technology.

A: There’s a lot more discussion that’s going to have to happen on the side of the ethical, legal and social implications of this sort of work. There’s a lot more discussion that’s going to have to happen on the research side as well.

There’s still a good deal of research to take place in order to fine-tune this technology for the purposes of making this as precise as possible so that the risk is going to be minimized. Which is what you’d want to do with any technology.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now