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Teacher and Parent Expectations of Preschoolers’ Behavior: Social Skills Necessary for Success

November 9, 2007

By Lane, Kathleen Lynne Stanton-Chapman, Tina; Jamison, Kristen Roorbach; Phillips, Andrea

This study examined teachers’ and parents’ expectations of preschool age students’ behavior to determine how teacher and parent views of “importance” converge and diverge. Teachers (n = 35) and parents (n = 124) rated the extent to which social skills were critical for school success. Results suggest that while teachers and parents share similar expectations in the value paced on cooperation skills, they diverge in the importance placed on self-control and assertion skills. Implications for early intervention and strengthening home-school partnerships are discussed. An increasing body of research suggests that children’s social competence provides the necessary foundation for school readiness and academic achievement (Blair, 2002; Denham & Weissberg, 2004; Raver, 2004, Smith, 2003; Zins, Bloodworth, Weissberg, & Walberg, 2004). For example, Raver and Knitzer (2002) suggested that children’s social competence is a better predictor of academic competence in first grade than are cognitive skills or family background. This powerful and persuasive body of research highlights the importance of supporting young children’s social, behavioral, and academic adjustment.

Significant consequences may occur for preschoolage children as a result of delays in social competence. Researchers have shown that many children experience failure in preschool due to difficulties in their social skills and behavior (Center for Evidence-Based Practice, 2003; Gilliam, 2005). For example, the results from a national prekindergarten study that randomly sampled prekindergarten programs from 40 states found that children attending preschool were being expelled for problem behavior at three times the rate of older students. More specifically, 7 preschool children per 1,000 were being expelled from state-funded programs, compared to 2.1 per 1,000 elementary, middle, and high school students. Preschool boys were expelled at a rate of 4.1 times more often than girls, 4-year-olds at a rate of 1.5 more times than 3-year-olds, and African American children twice as often as Caucasian or Latino children (Gilliam, 2005).

Given such statistics, an important area of research is the study of teacher and parent expectations of young children’s behavior in the classroom. If children are to become socially competent, it is important that teachers and parents establish and communicate their expectations for children’s behavior in the school setting. Without clear expectations, children may not know how they are expected to behave and, thus, may behave inappropriately because they are unaware of their teacher’s and parents’ behavioral expectations. Researchers are now discovering that when teachers and parents come together and agree on just a few classroom behavioral expectations, children are more likely to follow those expectations (Turnbull et al., 2002). This strategy leads to a more proactive approach to reducing problem behavior exhibited by young children. Unfortunately, interventions targeting children who have disabilities or are at risk for problem behavior tend to be reactive in nature and are narrowly centered on behavior reduction and punitive consequences, such as “time out,” sending children to the principal’s office, or expulsion from school (Sugai et al., 2000). This reactive approach violates what is known about best practices to address problem behavior and promote social competence (Sandall, Hemmeter, Smith, & McLean, 2004).

TEACHER EXPECTATIONS OF BEHAVIOR

Research suggests that the extent to which a student is able to meet his or her teacher’s expectations in the classroom influences the student’s school experiences both academically and socially. Children who are ready to perform well academically and meet the demands of school are more capable of establishing a close relationship with their teacher (Birch & Ladd, 1997). These relationships that children form with their teachers subsequently affect their behavioral adjustment and are associated with a range of child outcomes, including the competence of children’s behavior in relationships with peers and their relationships with current and future teachers (Birch & Ladd, 1998; Howes & Hamilton, 1993; Howes, Matheson, & Hamilton, 1994).

Given the associations between teacher-child relationships and children’s social adjustment, it is of particular importance to identify the social skills that teachers view as necessary for students to perform successfully in the classroom. Studies of teacher expectations at the elementary and secondary levels indicated that teachers view self-control and cooperation skills as equally important for success but perceive assertion skills as less important (Gresham, Dolstra, Lambros, McLaughlin, & Lane, 2000; Hersh & Walker, 1983; Kerr & Zigmond, 1986). Specifically, teachers expect children to follow directions, attend to instructions, control their temper with adults and peers, and manage conflict (Gresham et al., 2000; Hersh & Walker, 1983; Kerr & Zigmond, 1986; Lane, Givner, & Pierson, 2004; Lane, Pierson, & Givner, 2004).

Less information, however, is known about preschool teachers’ behavioral expectations for children’s success in the preschool classroom. Much of the research in this area has focused on preparing the preschool child for success in the kindergarten environment rather than how to be successful in his or her current environment. For example, Carta, Estes, Schiefelbusch, and Terry (2000) developed the Project SLIDE program to enhance the independent functioning and success of young children in preschool and early elementary classrooms who are at-risk for learning difficulties. The SLIDE assessment strategies can be used for gathering information about teachers’ behavioral expectations in the next setting and for determining individual children’s current level of performance relative to those expectations. The SLIDE intervention strategies help prepare children to meet the expectations in future classroom settings and focus on four areas: fostering smoother within-class transitions, providing opportunities for practicing independent work, facilitating active engagement during group instruction, and teaching children how to self-assess.

Several other major research initiatives have explored how the quality of teacher-child relationships is related concurrently and predictively to children’s scholastic and behavioral competence in the early school years (Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Pianta & Stuhlman, 2004; Saft & Pianta, 2001). Emerging from this research is the notion that children who have highly negative relationships with their teachers are more likely to demonstrate higher levels of behavior problems and lower levels of behavioral competencies not only in the preschool classroom but also in the kindergarten and first-grade classrooms (Pianta, Steinberg, & Rollins, 1995). Thus, it is important for students to understand and adhere to teachers’ expectations and yet, it is possible that teachers’ social and behavioral expectations may be unclear to the children. If teacher expectations are unclear, because the skills are either not explicitly taught or not consistently enforced, it is difficult for young children to meet these expectations (Colvin, 2002); consequently, they may have poorer relationships with their teachers.

PARENT EXPECTATIONS OF CLASSROOM BEHAVIOR

The existent literature on parent expectations of preschool behavior falls into two main schools of thought: (a) successful parenting skills that will shape children’s behaviors in the home setting (e.g., Burke & Herron, 1997; Christophersen & Mortsweet, 2003) and (b) parentteacher collaboration, particularly in the area of positive behavior support (PBS) interventions (e.g., Sugai & Horner, 2002; Sugai et al., 2000; Todd, Horner, Sugai, & Colvin, 1999; Turnbull et al., 2002). To our knowledge, no studies have examined parent expectations of children’s classroom behavior. The PBS literature (see Hawken & Horner, 2003; Todd et al., 1999), with its focus on proactive intervention programs and teacherparent collaboration, is the most similar to our topic. However, while behavioral expectations are discussed in the PBS literature, studies have not been conducted to date to determine the specific student behaviors that parents view as essential for success in school.

TEACHER AND PARENT EXPECTATIONS AT THE PRESCHOOL LEVEL: A SHARED VISION?

In addition to the limited body of knowledge of preschool teachers’ expectations of student behavior, no studies have been conducted that examined explicitly the extent to which parent and teacher expectations converge and diverge. It is possible that a separate set of social skills are associated with functional competence in the home than at school, as evidenced by Cai, Kaiser, and Hancock’s (2004) results when investigating parent and teacher agreement on Child Behavior Checklist items. If the behaviors expected and taught at home converge with the behavioral expectations of the teacher, it is possible that a child will have fewer behavioral adjustments when he or she enters school for the first time. Alternatively, a child may have more behavioral adjustment challenges if the behaviors that are expected and taught in the home setting are different from those expected and taught in the classroom setting, although this statement has not been evaluated in the literature. A lack of continuity for behavioral expectations held by teachers and parents may pose difficulties for some young children as they attempt to negotiate successfully between the varying behavioral expectations of their primary caregivers and classroom teachers. Parents and teachers do not necessarily have to hold similar expectations, but these expectations need to be clear, explicit, and consistently applied in both settings to facilitate a positive educational experience for young children and to foster a strong home-school partnership. This study extends work on teacher expectations by examining the similarities in and differences between the types of social skill expectations of parents and of teachers of preschool children being educated in schools that serve families from at-risk neighborhoods. First, we examined the extent to which teachers and parents viewed preschool students’ cooperation, assertion, and self-control skills, which are important for success in their classrooms. second, we examined specific skills viewed as essential for success from teacher and parent perspectives.

METHOD

Participants

Participants were 35 teachers (30 women, 5 did not report gender) of preschool students ages 2 to 6 and 124 parents (23 fathers, 101 mothers) of these students who attended one of three private preschools in Charlottesville, Virginia. Two of the schools were located in at-risk neighborhoods and accept daycare vouchers. Many of the children in these schools come from fami lies whose household income was slightly higher than the poverty threshold. Furthermore, the neighborhood elementary school (where many of the children will attend kindergarten) has a free lunch rate of 62.63%. The third school is located in a rural farming community in a nearby county. This community is less at risk but has a reducedcost lunch rate of 37.27% at its local elementary school. All three schools were culturally and ethnically diverse but served predominantly Caucasian populations. The percentages of Caucasian students ranged from 45% to 63% (M = 28.33, SD = 7.64), of African American students ranged from 34% to 51% (M = 21, SD = 2), and of Hispanic students ranged from 3% to 8% (M = 3, SD = 1.73). The three schools enrolled 45, 56, and 56 students, respectively. Seventy-one (57.72%) children participants were boys. Eight teachers were employed in School 1, whereas School 2 and School 3 each employed 15 teachers (see Table 1). Teachers and parents completed a brief, anonymous questionnaire on the social skills necessary for success in preschool classrooms.

Teacher Characteristics. Approximately 26% (M = 9) of teachers taught 3-year-old students, 43% (n = 15) taught 4-year-old students, 17% (n = 6) taught 5-year-old students, and 14% (n = 5) taught 6- year-old students. Eighty percent (n = 28) of teachers identified themselves as general educators, 3% (n = 1) as special educators, and 17% (n = 6) as “other” (e.g., assistant teachers). Only 17 teachers provided credentialing information. Of those who responded, 94% (n = 16) held teaching certificates. Teaching experience ranged from 1 year to 29 years (M = 8.89, SD = 6.66).

Parent Characteristics. One hundred and one (81.48%) parent participants were women. Sixty (53.57%) parents held high school diplomas and 26 (23.21%) had completed bachelor degrees. Parents held a wide range of jobs, ranging from home decision-maker to factory worker to attorney.

Procedures

After obtaining university permission to conduct the study, directors of three preschools serving families living in at-risk neighborhoods were invited to participate by asking their teachers and parents to complete a brief, anonymous questionnaire examining expectations of preschool students’ behavior in the classroom setting. The second author attended a staff meeting between March and June 2005 at each school to explain the purpose of the study and seek teacher participation. Consenting teachers completed the questionnaire during the same faculty meeting (15-20 min). Completed questionnaires were collected at the end of the staff meeting using a sealed box with a slot in the top, to ensure anonymity. One return trip to the school site was made to collect outstanding questionnaires. Of the 38 invited teachers, 35 (73%) consented and completed the questionnaire.

The parent version of the survey was sent home by the teachers in the students’ daily communication folders. Parents returned completed questionnaires to the teacher in a sealed return envelope. If the parent did not return the survey within 10 calendar days, a second copy was sent home. The second author returned to the school to pick up the parent consent forms after 2 weeks. Of the 157 parents invited to participate, 124 (79%) consented to participate and completed the questionnaire.

A master’s degree-level student in special education entered the data and a second master’s degree-level student assessed accuracy of data entry for 50% of the teacher and parent questionnaires. No errors were detected. The same procedures were employed in other studies of teachers’ expectations at the elementary (Lane, Givner, Sf. Pierson, 2004) and secondary (Lane, Pierson, & Givner, 2004) levels.

Instrumentation

Teachers and parents completed the Social Skills subscale of the preschool version of the Social Skills Rating System (SSRS; Gresham & Elliott, 1990). The teacher version contained 30 items and the parent version contained 39. The directions for administration were consistent with the SSRS manual. For example, Teachers were asked to

Rate how important each of these behaviors is for students to be successful in your classroom by circling the appropriate number. If the behavior is not important for a student to be successful in your classroom, circle O. If the behavior is important for a student to be success in your classroom, circle 2. If the behavior is critical for a student to be successful in your classroom, circle 2.

Parents were asked to

Rate how important each of these behaviors is for students to be successful at school by circling the appropriate number. If the behavior is not important for a student to be successful in your child’s classroom, circle O. If the behavior is important for a student to be successful in your child’s classroom, circle 1. If the behavior is critical for a student to be successful in your child’s classroom, circle 2.

As illustrated above, teachers and parents evaluated the degree to which each skill was important for preschool students to succeed in the classroom setting. Each item was rated on a 3-point Likert- type scale ranging from not important (0), to important (1), to critical (2) to obtain estimates of importance. Typically, these items are rated by teachers and parents on two Likert-type scales, with the first evaluating the frequency with which these skills are demonstrated by a student and the second evaluating the relative importance of the skill with respect to successful classroom performance. The frequency items on the teacher version of the SSRS (SSRS-T) constitute three factor analytically derived subscales: Cooperation (e.g., follows your directions), Assertion (e.g., gives compliments to peers), and Self-Control (e.g., control’s temper in conflict situation with peers). The SSRS-T has adequate psychometric properties, with alpha coefficients as follows: Cooperation, .89 for males and .88 for females; Assertion, .90 for males and .89 for females; and Self-Control, .91 for males and .88 for females. Coefficient alpha reliabilities computed on the current sample were comparable: Cooperation, .86; Assertion, .92; and Self-Control, .87. Validity studies conducted for the SSRS-T, compared to the Child Behavior Checklist-Teacher Report Form (Achenbach & Edelbrock, 1983), the Harter Teacher Rating Scale (Harter, 1985), and the Social Behavior Assessment (Stephens, 1978), produced estimates ranging between -.64 and .70 for the Social Skills subscale.

The frequency items on the parent version of the SSRS (SSRS-P) constitute four factor analytically derived subscales: Cooperation (e.g., follow your instructions), Assertion (e.g., gives compliments to friends or other children in the family), Responsibility (e.g., answer the phone appropriately), and Self-Control (e.g., controls temper in conflict situations with you). The SSRS-P has adequate psychometric properties, with alpha coefficients as follows: Cooperation, .79 for males and .82 for females; Assertion, .73 for males and .78 for females; Self-Control, .83 for males and .81 for females; and Responsibility, .70 for males and .78 for females. Composite scores for were created for each domain on the teacher and parent scales by summing the raw scores of the items constituting each domain. For this article, the Responsibility subscale was not examined in the multivariate analyses because a parallel domain is not found in the SSRS-T. Coefficient alpha reliabilities computed on the current sample were comparable: Cooperation, .76; Assertion, .89; and Self-Control, .80. A validity studies conducted for the SSRS-P as compared to the Child Behavior Checklist-Parent Report Form (Achenbach & Edelbrock, 1983) yielded a correlation of .58 between the total Social Competence Scale (CBCL-PRF) and the Social Skills Scale (SSRS-SS; Gresham & Elliott, 1990).

The teacher and parent items constituting each domain (cooperation, assertion, and self-control) were comparable-although not exact-as illustrated in the sample items named previously. Yet, had wording been altered to make items identical, the established psychometric properties of the parent rating scale would have been lost. The intent was to use the composite scores to determine the extent to which the Cooperation, Assertion, and Self-Control skill sets were important for success in the classroom. In the second section, teachers provided general demographic information, including the age level they currently taught (e.g., age 3,4,5, or 6), the program type (e.g., general or special education), years of teaching experience, gender, and credentials held (e.g., early childhood, elementary, special education, emergency, or substitute). Teaching experience was converted to a categorical variable to differentiate between experienced (5 or more years) and novice (fewer than 5 years) teachers.

Parents also provided general demographic information, including their child’s grade level, type of program, parent’s gender, child’s gender, parent’s occupation and highest degree obtained (e.g., high school diploma; vocational degree; bachelor’s degree; master’s degree; or doctorate, medical, or law degree). In terms of parent occupation, parents wrote in their job title. Each occupation was coded by the first and fourth author using the 23 major standard occupational classifications of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Bureau of Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/soc/home.htm). The classification codes are consistent with those used on the 2000 Census Reports, and major occupational classifications have not changed since 2000. Two codes, unemployed and home decision-maker, were added to the DOL classifications, to classify the entire parent sample.

Minimal demographic information was requested, and data were not linked between the teacher and parent surveys to (a) increase the probability of participation and questionnaire completion and (b) ensure participants’ anonymity. Completion time for each questionnaire was approximately 15 to 20 min.

Data Analysis

Data were analyzed using descriptive and univariate procedures. Frequency scores were examined to identify which specific skills were rated as critical for success by the majority of respondents. A 2 x 3 repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) with Tukey multiple comparisons was conducted. Rater (teacher vs. parent) served as a between-subjects factor and scale (cooperation vs. assertion vs. self-control) served as the within-subjects factor (Kleinbaum, Kupper, Muller, & Nizam, 1998). (Responsibility scores were not compared because the teacher version does not contain a Responsibility subscale.) Significant interactions were followed by a series of three t tests to examine differences between raters on each of the three scales. Finally, effect sizes (ES) were computed using the pooled standard deviation in the denominator to examine the magnitude of differences (Busk & Serlin, 1992).

RESULTS

Skills Critical for Success: Item Level Analyses

Examination of frequency tables indicated that the majority (> 50%) of preschool teachers rated three skills as critical for success in school: follows your directions, controls temper in conflict situations with adults, and controls temper in conflict situations with peers (see Table 2). Parents of preschoolers also rated these three skills as critical for success, in addition to five other items (attends to instructions, puts away toys or other household property, follows household rules, ends disagreements with you calmly, and speaks in an appropriate tone of voice at home; see Table 3). “Critical” was operationalized as an importance score of 2.

Results also indicated that even more skills were rated as not important for school success as defined by an importance score of zero. The majority (> 50%) of teachers rated eight skills as not important for success, six of which constituted the assertion domain. Parents rated eight skills as not important, with only two skills in the assertion domain. Teachers and parents agreed on

two items (e.g., introduces himself or herself to new people without being told, appropriately questions rules that may be unfair).

Comparison of Teachers’ and Parents’ Views

Results of the two-way ANOVA produced a significant Rater x Scale interaction effect, F(2, 157) = 14.93, p = .0001. Follow-up tests revealed no significant differences between teacher and parent ratings of the importance of cooperation skills, t(148) = -1.46, p = .1465 (E5 = -0.18; see Table 4). By contrast, there was a significant difference between teacher and parent ratings of the importance of assertion, t(150) = -4.28, p = .0001 (ES = -0.51) and self-control skills, t(138) = -8.91, p = .0001, (ES = -1.15), with parents rating both domains significantly higher as compared to teacher ratings.

DISCUSSION

Earlier research indicated that the degree to which a student is able to meet a teacher’s expectations influences the student’s school experiences academically and socially (Pianta et al., 1995; Walker, Cheney, Stage, & Blum, 2005). This study extends work on teacher expectations by examining the similarities and differences in the types of social skill expectations held by parents and teachers of preschool children who were being educated in schools that served families from at-risk neighborhoods. Given the negative outcomes experienced by children who fail to meet teachers’ expectations in the preschool setting (Gilliam, 2005) and the trend toward inclusive programming (Fuchs & Fuchs, 1994; MacMillan, Gresham, & Forness, 1996), it is important to understand how parents and teachers converge and diverge in their expectations of children’s behavioral performance in the preschool setting. This information has implications for supporting all preschool students as they attempt to negotiate the preschool setting. Again, we are not suggesting that parents and teachers must hold the same expectations. Rather, the existing classroom expectations need to be clear, explicit, taught, and reinforced to facilitate a positive educational experience for young children-particularly for students with and at-risk for special needs-and to foster a strong home- school partnership.

To this end, we examined (a) the extent to which teachers and parents viewed preschool students’ cooperation, assertion, and self- control as skills important for success in preschool classrooms and (b) the specific skills viewed as essential for success from the teacher and parent perspectives. The overall pattern of results in the present study provides preliminary guidance for future investigations of social skills expectations of parents and teachers of preschool children and offers one approach for practitioners to improve home-school collaborations and to inform instruction to support all students, including those with special needs and/or who are at risk for requiring support services, as well as children with typical social skills profiles.

In terms of composite scores, there was a significant interaction between raters (teachers and parents) and the scales (Cooperation, Assertion, and Self-Control). There was no significant difference in the value parents and teachers placed on cooperation skills; however, parents rated assertion and self-control skills as more important than did teachers. To facilitate the transition from home to school, it would be wise to share these differences in expectations with teachers and parents so as to avoid potentially negative consequences (e.g., confusion on the part of the child) associated with divergent expectations held by the significant adults in a child’s life.

Expectations of the environment may provide insight as to why preschool teachers rate assertion skills low. Preschool environments typically are oriented toward social development, with demands such as independence from parents, ability to get along with other children, recognition of and adherence to routine, and ability to stay alert and active for extended periods of time (RimmKaufman & Pianta, 2000). Children in these preschool settings are also expected to learn to regulate their emotions. Preschool children must learn skills such as waiting their turn, when it is appropriate to laugh and when it is necessary to maintain a solemn expression, and how to use verbal skills to modulate emotional responses (Fox, 1998). With these expectations, it is not surprising that assertion skills, such as “appropriately questions rules that may be unfair,” are the last skills preschool teachers would desire in children. Assertion skills are not concerned with the rule-bound behaviors and the delay of gratification associated with the self-control behaviors that were rated as critical.

In contrast, parents appear to place a greater value on assertion skills as compared to teachers. While it is not necessary for parents and teachers to hold identical expectations, students could benefit from explicit instruction on when and how to be assertive. For example, students need specific direction, such as, “When you are at home, Mommy would like you to let me know when you feel like you’ve been treated unfairly.” The goal here is to teach students the context in which various skills are likely to be reinforced and to avoid using skills in situations in which reinforcement is unlikely.

Fortunately, both teachers and parents appear to place a strong, positive value on cooperation skills. This common foundation is a strength from which to build a clear structure for children as they negotiate the preschool setting. For example, teachers and parents can both highlight the shared expectations at home and at school to reinforce the desired behavior patterns.

In terms of item-level responses, both preschool teachers and parents rated three specific social skills as critically important, suggesting the necessity of designing social skills intervention programs that specifically target the skills that parent and teachers value. The three social skills rated “critical” for success in school by preschool parents and teachers were: (a) follows your directions; (b) controls temper in conflict situations with adults; and (c) controls temper in conflict situations with peers. Preschool parents valued five additional skills: (a) attends to instructions; (b) puts away toys or other household property; (c) follows household rules; (d) ends disagreements with you calmly; and (e) speaks in a appropriate tone of voice at home. These skills are consistent with studies on indicators of success in kindergarten classrooms (National Center for Education Statistics, 1993; Rimm- Kaufman, Pianta, & Cox, 2000) and appear to be important for preschool teachers to teach explicitly to children when they enter the preschool classroom. These same skills were also identified as being critically important by elementary and secondary teachers in previous studies (Gresham et al., 2000; Kerr & Zigmond, 1986; Lane, Givner, & Pierson, 2004; Lane, Pierson, & Givner, 2003, 2004). However, preschool teachers and parents rated fewer skills as critical for success as compared to teachers of elementary and secondary students. A particularly interesting finding is the difference in types of behaviors that teachers rated as not important for school success compared to those parents rated as not important for school success. Preschool teachers rated assertion social skills (e.g., helps you without being asked; volunteers to help peers with classroom tasks) almost exclusively as not being critical for success in the classroom. Alternatively, preschool parents rated responsibility social skills (e.g., compromises in conflict situations by changing own ideas to reach agreement; gives compliments to friends or other children in the family; asks sales clerks for information or assistance) as not being important for success in the home.

Limitations, Implications, and Future Directions

While these results provide an important initial glimpse into teacher and parent expectations held for preschoolage children, findings must be interpreted as preliminary due to the following limitations. First, the data represent the professional judgment of 35 teachers across three schools. This small sample limits the generalizability of these findings and restricts data analysis. The sampling of more preschool teachers across a larger number of schools would likely result in a stronger, more reliable indicator of preschool teachers’ expectations. Further, obtaining a larger sample size would enable future investigations to examine how expectations vary as a function of the child’s age as well as parent characteristics (e.g., occupation and educational attainment). This is important, given that teacher and parent expectations of the various domains under investigation are apt to vary for 4-, 5-, and 6-year-old children. second, our teacher and parent report data were not confirmed by direct observations (Atwater, Orth-Lopes, Elliott, Carta, Oc Schwartz, 1994; Carta, Atwater, Schwartz, & Miller, 1990; Carta, Greenwood, & Robinson, 1987). Teachers and parents rated the social desirability of various social behaviors. It is possible that they rated these behaviors based on perceived expectations held by the professional or perhaps in such a manner to present themselves in a positive light. Similarly, teachers and parents may report what they view to be critical for success. However, it may be that teachers and parents actually reinforce behaviors in the home and school settings (e.g., assertion) that they do not rate as essential (Lane, Givner, & Pierson, 2004). Third, this study did not examine differences in expectations for teachers and parents of students with exceptionalities and instead focused on an at-risk population. Earlier investigations of school-age students (e.g., Gresham et al., 2000; Hersh & Walker, 1983; Kerr & Zigmond, 1986; Lane, Givner, & Pierson, 2004) indicated that teachers of students with and without exceptionalities do hold divergent expectations. It may be that preschool teachers who work with students with special needs may also diverge in their expectations from teachers who do not. Finally, to increase the likelihood of teacher and parent participation in this study, we assured anonymity by not linking teacher and parent surveys. A logical next step in this line of inquiry would be to examine the relationship between teacher and parent expectations at the child level.

Despite the limitations of this study, several important implications can be inferred from our findings. Because parents and teachers interact with children in different settings and play different roles in children’s lives, it is important for these two informants to identify their disagreements to determine if their ratings are biased by their view of children or if the children behave differently in different settings. Parent training and teacher training programs have been consistently criticized in the literature for failing to produce cross-setting generalization and longterm improvements in children’s behavior (see WebsterStratton, Reid, & Hammond, 2004). Intervention programs that include training for teachers in effective classroom management strategies, as well as methods to promote teacher-parent networks, seem to be the most logical route to improve children’s problem behavior. Additionally, parents and teachers should address the potential causes of problem behavior in the two settings and work together to improve behavior in the school and home.

Future studies verifying the accuracy of self-report data with direct observation data are warranted, as are studies exploring the variation in expected skills associated with children’s developmental levels. Replication of the present findings with a sample of a more diverse preschool population of children, their parents, special education preschool teachers, and general education preschool teachers may not only enhance the generalizability of the findings but also guide early intervention programs for social and emotional development. Further, findings may also help to promote successful inclusive programming at the preschool level (Lane, Givner, & Pierson, 2004).

Summary

Although future research exploring teacher and parent expectations at the preschool level is warranted, our findings provide an initial glimpse into the similarities and differences in teacher and parent expectations for student behavior of preschool students who are at risk. Information on teacher and parent expectations may be used to (a) inform intervention design as well as the teaching of the desired behaviors when the children enter the preschool classroom for the first time; (b) clarify convergent and divergent expectations shared by parents and teachers of varying socioeconomic statuses, cultures, and ethnicities; and (c) strengthen home-school partnerships by clarifying expectations within the classroom setting. The teaching of these shared desired behaviors at the beginning of the school year may reduce problem behavior, assist in children’s emotional regulation, promote positive adult-child relationships and peer relationships, and foster readiness to learn. Further, understanding differences in expectations may also help to foster improved communication and collaboration between parents and teachers that is important to providing a sound educational experience and also a clear framework for social and behavioral decorum.

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Kathleen Lynne Lane

Vanderbilt University

Tina Stanton-Chapman

Kristen Roorbach Jamison

University of Virginia

Andrea Phillips

Vanderbilt University

Address: Kathleen Lynne Lane, Vanderbilt University, Peabody College-328, Department of Special Education, MRL 302A, Nashville, TN 37203; e-mall: kathteen.lane@vanderbilt.edu

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