Conceptualising, measuring and
developing parent-teacher communication
competences: Clinical simulations in
Karen De Coninck & Ruben Vanderlinde
In view of quality teacher preparation, educational policies worldwide encourage a competence-based approach to teacher education. This implies that teacher education programmes offer meaningful learning situations in which competences — i.e. complex combinations of knowledge, skills and attitudes — can develop in an interconnected way. This is intended to achieve a stronger alignment with the demanding needs and the complex nature of the teaching profession today. Despite the great attention for quality teacher preparation and teacher competences, numerous studies and policy papers describe all kinds of difficulties noted during teacher education programmes. One of the major and enduring problems is marked as the ‘theory-practice gap’, referring to the discrepancy novice teachers encounter between the nature of their teacher preparation programme and their experiences as licensed professionals. Research findings indicate that this gap in particular applies to student teachers’ preparation for working and communicating with families or parents. This is, however, an important domain of teacher practice for which student teachers must be prepared during teacher education. To overcome the theory-practice gap, several authors plea to urgently reconsider teacher education models. In this context, clinical simulations are presented as a promising instructional strategy. Clinical simulations are instructional learning contexts that introduce realistic professional situations into the learning environment and, as such, allow student teachers to practice enacting professional knowledge, skills, and attitudes in a realistic but still safe learning environment. This intends to foster the transition of knowledge into professional actions. Two main types of clinical simulations are adopted in teacher education: online clinical simulations that use technology and are integrated in online learning environments, and face-to-face clinical simulations in which student teachers interact in real-time with ‘standardised individuals’ or actors who are trained according to a protocol to enact their role in a consistent and standardised manner. Although clinical simulations are a promising instructional strategy in teacher education, empirical studies that explicitly focus on the mechanisms that explain their efficacy are still lacking. This is especially true when it comes to the development of competences required for working and communicating with parents, or so-called ‘parent-teacher communication competences’ (PTCC). Moreover, research on the nature and development of student teachers’ PTCC is scarce.
The present dissertation aims to contribute to the discussion on the theory-practice gap in teacher education and the need to reconsider teacher education models in order to support the development of student teachers’ competences in an interconnected way. More specifically, the aim is to increase insight into the nature and development of competences required for working and communicating with parents — or so-called parent-teacher communication competences (PTCC) — and the extent to which clinical simulations are an effective instructional strategy to support the development of these competences in teacher education.