Perspectives on communication from teachers and Chinese American families of exceptional students

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Lin, Hsiu-chen

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The purpose of this study was to explore home-school communication from the perspectives of parents of exceptional Chinese American students and teachers involved in the special education process. This naturalistic inquiry was conducted in one suburban school district in the southwestern United States. Over 10 months, four parents and six teachers participated in a series of interviews designed to capture their perspectives about their interactions with each other, including their challenges and successes; and their expectations regarding effective communication related to family participation in the special education process. Other sources of data included observations of parent-teacher conferences and Individualized Education Program meetings, field notes, and email exchanges between teachers and parents. Analysis procedures were guided by the axioms and methods of naturalistic inquiry. Major findings revealed that dissonance rather than congruence dominated the participants’ encounters, particularly in terms of assumptions, expectations, and interpretations. Conflicts further served as the principal motivator for parent-teacher communication. Although parents and teachers identified unity for student success as a major outcome of successful communication, each group defined success in different terms. Parents believed that interactions with teachers promoted the development of personal relationships, which, in turn, facilitated positive school outcomes for their children. In contrast, teachers highlighted the positive outcomes of students’ achievements or behaviors as the evidence of successful parent-teacher communication. Components of effective intercultural parent-teacher communication identified by participants were discussed. The emerging themes and working hypotheses suggested that well-meaning clashes resulting from cultural and linguistic discontinuities characterized interactions between the parents and teachers in this study. Additionally, inadequate cultural knowledge and lack of intercultural communication skills further hindered the attainment of successful parent-teacher interactions. Implications of the study findings for practice and recommendations for future research are offered.