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Building Bridges with Families: The Power of Reciprocity . Equity Forum Equity Alliance at ASU Beth Harry Professor, Special Education University of Miami March 1, 2011 (Adapted from Kalyanpur & Harry, Culture in Special Education: Building Reciprocal Relationships with Familie s).

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Building bridges with families the power of reciprocity
Building Bridges with Families: The Power of Reciprocity

Equity Forum

Equity Alliance at ASU

Beth Harry

Professor, Special Education

University of Miami

March 1, 2011

(Adapted from Kalyanpur & Harry, Culture in Special Education: Building Reciprocal Relationships with Families)

Central assumption culture pervades everything we do
Central Assumption: Culture Pervades Everything We Do

  • Cultural beliefs underlie

    • legal requirements (e.g., IDEA built on principles of individualism and equity)

    • knowledge base (e.g., science, not spirituality, explains and treats disability)

    • practice (e.g., goal setting, interaction style, beliefs about “good parenting”

Cultural underpinnings of special education law
Cultural Underpinnings of Special Education Law


    • Individualism: choice, equity

    • Scientific explanations of disability

    • Professional vs. everyday knowledge


    • Collective concepts of self: group needs

    • Spiritual interpretations of disability

    • Conflict: professional/everyday knowledge

Cultural reciprocity
Cultural Reciprocity

  • cultural reciprocity: respecting and learning about other cultures while sharing information with families regarding American culture

  • key is cultural self-awareness

The cultural reciprocity process
The Cultural Reciprocity Process

  • Step 1: Reflect on personal biases and assumptions driving your own recommendations

  • Step 2: Invite, question, listen to parents’ perspective

  • Step 3: Explain service provider’s perspective

  • Step 4: Identify common ground and develop collaborative goals

3 parent professional conflicts resulting from cultural differences
3 Parent-Professional Conflicts Resulting from Cultural Differences

  • parents in denial: won’t face facts!

  • no parent participation: they don’t care about children’s education!

  • problem comes from home: it’s cultural!

Complaint i they re in denial
Complaint # I: “They’re in Denial” Differences

FOUR reasons:

  • more intimate and more nuanced knowledge of the child

  • cultural definitions of what’s “normal”

  • spiritual vs. physical interpretations

  • individual vs. group identity within families

  • “in disagreement” rather than “denial”

Disagreement 1 intimate parental knowledge
Disagreement #1: Intimate Differences Parental Knowledge

  • parents have more intimate and nuanced knowledge of child’s skills than school personnel

  • traits and abilities may not be displayed at school: importance of context

  • professionals often quick to discount parent reports

  • remember parents know child better than you do!

Disagreement 2 cultural definitions of disability
Disagreement # 2: Cultural Definitions of Disability Differences

  • disagreement between parents and professionals related to different cultural definitions of disability

  • different parameters of “normalcy” based on cultural/SES expectations

  • cultural change over time

Disagreement 3 physical vs spiritual definitions
Disagreement # 3: Physical vs. Spiritual Definitions Differences

  • parents may interpret the cause of child’s condition as spiritual rather than physical

  • physical condition reflects spiritual meaning

  • western belief in science emphasizes physical/medical causes and treatments

Disagreement 4 individual vs group constructions of identity
Disagreement # 4: Individual vs. Group Constructions of Identity

  • American individualism leads to interpretation that disability belongs entirely to individual, not family

  • many other groups: a collective sense of identity results in parents seeking explanations of differences within recent or past family history

Complaint 2 they won t come to meetings
Complaint #2: They Won’t Come to Meetings! Identity

Four reasons:

  • built-in conflict between call for collaboration and belief in professional “expertise”

  • histories of alienation

  • alienating professional language

  • alienating interaction processes

Reason 1 role expectations professional family views
Reason #1: Role Expectations – Professional/Family Views Identity

  • professional training reflects belief in expertise in diagnosis and treatment

  • difficult for professionals to recognize parents as experts with their children

  • belief in scientific knowledge vs. everyday knowledge

  • democratic vs. hierarchical expecations

Reason 2 historical issues
Reason #2: Historical Issues Identity

  • history of exclusion of African Americans from mainstream education, and of integration into unwelcoming school systems, resulted in deep mistrust of school authorities

  • school authorities have responsibility of building trust, not assuming that it has been earned

Reason 3 professional spoken language
Reason #3: Professional Spoken Language Identity

  • objectified”: ”service delivery system”

  • medicalized: “auditory, visual, perceptual” (listening, looking, interpreting)

  • abstracted: “manipulatives” (toys, materials)

  • incomprehensible jargon

  • translation issues

Power of the written word
Power of the Written Word Identity

  • reinforces value of professional pronouncements about children

  • written findings in reports reinforce impressions of validity

  • process of reification: profile of deficiency

  • parents with low literacy/limited English proficiency find school letters intimidating

Reason 4 participation structures
Reason #4: Participation Structures Identity

  • manner of conducting conferences often contradicts ideal of participation

  • studies of parent participation at conferences show clear hierarchy:

    • parent vs. professional introductions

    • order, style, and timing of reports

    • parent input limited or not invited till end

    • disrespectful, inattentive interactions

    • no translators or poor translation

Complaint 3 it comes from the home
Complaint # 3: “It Comes from the Home!” Identity

  • Three discrepant views:

    • family structure, roles and authority patterns

    • family interactions: enmeshment vs. disengagement (individuality vs. collectivism)

    • independence, work, and individuality

View 1 family structure roles authority
View #1: Family Structure, Roles, Authority Identity

  • mainstream model of family structure in America not a reality for many

  • nuclear family (“intact” family) increasingly rare in America

  • focus on “risk”

  • little recognition of “resilience”

View 2 family structure and interactions
View #2: Family Structure and Interactions Identity

  • assumption: family interaction style should reflect American ideal of independence and individuality

  • theories of ideal family interaction: balance “enmeshment” and “disengagement”

  • assumptions about authority patterns and discipline practices

View 3 independence
View #3: “Independence” Identity

  • a key goal on IFSP/IEP e.g., breast or bottle feeding

  • transition goals from adolescence to adulthood

  • independence vs. interdependence

  • friends who are not family members

  • training for supported employment


  • does not matter whether we agree with unfamiliar parental views

  • what matters is that we recognize our views are reflections of our culture

  • so are the views of the parents!

  • remembering this, we can listen with respect, without negative judgment that shows on our faces and in our voices

Daily cultural clashes
Daily Cultural Clashes Identity

  • Subtle, implicit, unacknowledged

    • Tone of voice

    • Facial expression

    • Disagreement interpreted as denial

    • Belief that parents don’t care

    • Detrimental home environments

    • No first-hand knowledge of the home

Parents responses
Parents’ Responses Identity

  • refusal to respond to invitations

  • say “yes”

  • silence

Final word

  • Next time you hear yourself or a colleague utter one of these exclamations, STOP and say to yourself or your friend:

    • Denial? Or disagreement?

    • They don’t come because they don’t care? Or because they don’t feel needed or respected?

    • Say, “so their behavior is “cultural?” So is mine!