The Learning Initiatives for Families and Educators Project
The Learning Initiatives for Families and Educators (LIFE) Project was developed by a U-M School of Education faculty team to create opportunities for elementary education teacher certification program interns to learn from the families of the children that they teach. Through multiple family home visits, interns learn to build positive, collaborative relationships with diverse families and develop communication skills that allow them to serve a broad range of students. The program takes place at Scarlett Middle School in Ann Arbor and is one of many initiatives of the Mitchell Scarlett Teaching and Learning Collaborative, a partnership between the U-M School of Education and Ann Arbor Public Schools that is entering its fourth year.
Interns in U.S. teacher certification programs are, like the majority of teachers across the U.S., primarily white females from middle- to upper-middle class households. However, the proportion of white K-12 students is dropping as the minority student population, particularly Hispanics, grows. By 2025, more than half of all American school children will be non-white. Teacher education programs need to adopt new pedagogies proactively preparing interns to teach equitably in a rapidly diversifying nation and to grow their understanding of diverse communities. A key strategy for growing understanding involves partnership-building activity between interns and families of their students.
Teacher education programs often assume that prospective teachers learn how to work effectively with multicultural student populations simply by being immersed in field experiences with these populations and/or by reading sociology of education texts cataloguing systemic discrepancies in opportunities to learn and in learning outcomes. However, unless interns are deliberately supported to learn in and from experiences in multicultural settings, negative stereotypes and behaviors can be perpetuated.
The U-M School of Education Teacher Education program is a national leader in ongoing reform efforts to identify and research core teaching practices crucial to becoming successful teachers of children. Learning to recognize and build upon the resources that families of students have is a core skill for all teachers working in diverse settings.
The LIFE Project responds to a unique need in teacher education in its preparation of candidates’ effectiveness with K-12 learners. As teachers must be able to partner with all families in order to serve the needs of diverse students, teacher education programs must provide learning opportunities that develop interns’ progress in this area.
Providing opportunities to interact with students’ families through three home visits and a school-wide event allows interns to pursue two key goals: 1) it helps them learn to mitigate cultural conflicts and misconceptions between home and school; and 2) it helps them recognize the differences in educational outcomes that occur along the lines of race, class, gender, ethnic and linguistic differences that are a function of institutional, social, economic and political forces.
As cultivating connections with students and families both inside and outside of the classroom has been shown to be effective for successful teaching, home visits provide an opportunity for interns to learn how to develop these connections. Through these interactions with families, interns will expand their understanding of the school community and of families’ experiences within the community.
Ultimately, the LIFE Project will develop, study and disseminate a set of interactions specifically designed to enable interns to learn core skills necessary for effective novice teaching in diverse communities.
The LIFE Project design was influenced by the Family Centered Experience, a curricular opportunity offered through the U-M School of Medicine, and supports the work of the Mitchell Scarlett Teaching and Learning Collaborative — a strategic partnership between the U-M School of Education and the Ann Arbor Public Schools.
Debi Khasnabis, Clinical Assistant Professor, School of Education
Simona Goldin, Research Specialist, School of Education
Cathy Reischl, Clinical Associate Professor, School of Education
Carla O’Connor, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, School of Education
Matthew Ronfeldt, Assistant Professor, School of Education
Susan Atkins, Ann Arbor Public Schools