Teachers’ professional learning needs for working with children experiencing parental separation and divorce

Year: 2021

Author: Mahony, Linda

Type of paper: Individual Paper

The incidence of parental separation and divorce has become a part of social discourse in the developed world, with as many as one in two marriages now ending in divorce. Many of these dissolved relationships involve children. For some children parental separation and divorce may negatively impact their emotional and social wellbeing, and academic outcomes, yet other children make adequate adjustment. While there is much research about the social, emotional and academic effects of separation and divorce, there is a paucity of research focusing on the nexus with education and how teachers work with children and their families to facilitate adjustment to their changed family circumstances. Teachers see children for a greater proportion of time each day than any other person apart from their parents/carers and are in an ideal position to support these children through these challenging times. Very little research has been conducted investigating teachers’ work with these children. It is not surprising, therefore, that teachers report a virtual absence of formal knowledge to inform their day-to-day work. Teachers need to have knowledge that informs their work with these children to avoid, for example, the temptation to jump to judgement, or to make assumptions about what children need at various stages in what can be a protracted period during parental separation and divorce. This paper reports suggestions by teachers about their professional learning needs to support their work with these children and their families.  It is viewed that classroom teachers who have daily contact with these children may be the best informants of their professional learning needs to address the needs of these children and their families. Therefore, teachers’ perspectives are vital to the planning and implementation of professional learning activities. In this study, nineteen Australian early childhood teachers working with young children experiencing parental separation or divorce participated in an individual semi-structured interview. Teachers were asked about any specific training, and the kind of training or professional development that may help them in their teaching. Three broad themes emerged from the data that described teachers’ professional learning needs for working with young children and their parents experiencing parental separation and divorce—(1) the phenomenon of separation and divorce, (2) working with children, and (3) working with parents.Findings are discussed in terms of the implications for teachers’ professional learning to assist them to promote wellbeing and learning of young children experiencing their parents’ separation and divorce.