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In Event: Special Poster Session 05 with Continental Breakfast Reception
In Poster Session: PS 05 - Policy Section
Using cultural-ecological theory (Tudge, 2008) to conceptualize the importance of family engagement in early childhood education (ECE) and implementation science (Bertram, Blase, & Fixsen, 2015) to frame the supports needed for such work, a focus group (N = 7) from the state’s child care resource and referral (CCR&R) system was convened to discuss how family engagement might be woven into the ECE Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS). Participants included regional technical assistance providers; regional project coordinators; and state-level project managers who selected the session from an array of offerings at a state conference. All participants were female and were involved at the classroom/program level, the regional level, or the state level in work to help ECE providers succeed in the current QRIS and to improve the quality of ECE experiences for the state’s youngest citizens. The opportunity to elicit from the CCR&R community their ideas, comments, and concerns around possible family engagement requirements was the ideal match for the research questions under consideration, namely, whether family engagement should or could be incorporated into the state’s QRIS, and if so, how.
Following a brief overview of the research base on the dimensions or components of family engagement and the many benefits ensuing from successful family engagement, the group was asked to respond to the research questions. The 90-minute focus group discussion was audio recorded and transcribed. Analysis of the complete transcript followed the constant comparative method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) and resulted in 45 initial thematic codes which were reduced and then grouped into four overarching category codes.
The first category, conceptualizing ECE quality at the system-level, incorporates participant observations that requirements drive ECE program/classroom practices and system-level supports for such practices. The current system incentivizes “quality for a day,” and requirements should instead support and reward aspects of process quality and incentivize increased teacher education. The second category, defining family engagement at the system-level, reflects the group’s agreement that family engagement should include strengths-focused, relationship-based teacher-family partnerships, which may require and in some cases support teachers’ cultural competence development. Family engagement should be seen as an avenue for empowering teachers, supporting parent leadership and social capital-building, and preparing families for the expectations of “big school”.
The third category, potential QRIS family engagement requirements, reflects discussions about requirements including the challenge of documentation, the need for flexibility, and a possible avenue for supporting teacher professionalism and parent efficacy. Family engagement requirements should allow for and reward program- and classroom-level individualization. The fourth and final category, professional development supports, incorporates participant ideas about training, coaching, and technical assistance needed to ensure workforce success in a process-focused QRIS and specifically in family engagement work. ECE program administrators need specialized training that supports their mentor/ leader/ business manager roles, and everyone needs cultural competence training. Finally, the value of the focus group format to consider the focal topic was evident in the solutions that emerged, and in participant exhortations for additional focus groups to elicit ideas and feedback from administrators, teachers, and families.