GROW is the process by which parenting educators become professionals and associate themselves with colleagues through professional development activities.

GROW involves educators learning about themselves and their values while building knowledge, skills, and connections as educators.

GROW recognizes that the parenting educator and his/her personal qualities are a critical part of the educational process.

GROW is used to suggest career-long activities that begin with the earliest preparations for becoming a parenting educator and continue as an ongoing developmental process.

Critical GROW Practices

To GROW, a parenting educator will

  • Identify one’s personal strengths and challenges.
  • Confront personal biases that interfere with one’s ability to educate and support particular individuals and specific populations of families.
  • Develop personal awareness and skills to interact sensitively with parents in order to nurture their growth and development.
  • Set personal and professional goals.
  • Attend seminars and conferences designed to build the knowledge and skills of parenting educators.
  • Continually reflect on one’s behavior and performance and revise goals for improvement.
  • Develop and share personal philosophies of parenting and of education.
  • Learn about and apply ethical principles in all aspects of professional life.
  • Locate and regularly interact with skilled colleagues, mentors, and supervisors.
  • Be an active member and develop leadership skills in professional associations and advocacy groups.
  • Keep current with the trends and issues in the field by participating in formal and informal opportunities for continuing education and professional development.

Examples of Specific Professional Objectives for GROW

The following parenting educator behaviors serve as examples of more specific ojectives based on the critical practices for GROW:

The parenting educator should be able to

  • List personal strengths and challenges in program development and delivery and relate those strengths and challenges to his/her personal, educational, and professional background.
  • Describe personal values and beliefs regarding parenting education.
  • Outline a personal development plan that builds upon strengths, addresses his/her challenges, and cultivates a sense of pride in his/her profession.
  • Join and participate in a professional organization that has both state and national presence.
  • Be familiar with current research literature on parenting, child and family development, and What We Know About GROW.

Self-development and self-examination are critical processes in preparing for a career in parenting education. Parenting educators should continually reflect on their work with families and examine what they are observing, doing, and feeling. “Family life educators need to be in touch with their own feelings or biases” (Powell & Cassidy, 2001, p. 30). Such reflection can help reduce the risks of exhaustion, burnout, and isolation from colleagues (Fenichel, 1992; Carter & Kahn, 1996).

Parenting educators should assess their skills and seek training options that fill identified needs (Braun, Coplon, & Sonnenschein, 1984). In order to be effective, parenting educators must develop a philosophical basis for teaching about families and thoroughly consider where personal beliefs originated (Powell & Cassidy, 2001).

Parenting educators should learn to identify different types of educational approaches and their feelings about each approach. Czaplewski and Jorgensen (1993) listed three major educational approaches in family life education. The first is called the Behavioristic approach. Note that this term is not identical to behaviorism as a parenting style. The Behavioristic approach assumes that the teacher is responsible for providing the student knowledge, skills, and competencies.

Others have called this category the expert approach. The second is the personalistic approach, which portrays the teacher as a role model and emphasizes the development of autonomy, self-direction, and psychological maturity. It uses cooperative techniques between teacher and learner. The third is the inquiry-oriented approach, which recognizes that all members of society have responsibility to contribute in socially productive ways. Here, the teacher needs to support the development of critical thinking skills. Certain situations might call for the use of a fourth approach: eclectic, which uses some elements of the other three approachs. Czaplewski and Jorgensen (1993) state that much of the preparation of family life educators has been done in an eclectic fashion.

Professional development opportunities for parenting educators should take into consideration stages of professional growth. Studies in a related field—early childhood education—identified four stages of professional development. The first stage is characterized by a need for straightforward training that clearly defines work expectations and provides step-by-step instructions or prepared curricula. The subsequent three stages involve increasing amounts of self-reflection, a decreasing dependence on specific knowledge, and an increasing need for interaction with professional colleagues (Katz, 1977). Although research still must be conducted, similar stages may be evident in the field of parenting education.

Even professionals who have completed a number of recognized stages of advanced professional development still need continuing education. As Powell and Cassidy (2001, p. 45) so aptly noted, “qualified professionals must stay current on research and developments in their field.”

Education and training should involve much more than subject matter. To prepare to teach and guide parenting groups, educators need to develop many complex and difficult skills. Parenting educators should seek to build basic knowledge about children, parents, and families, but they should also develop skills in group process, program development, and problem-solving (Cochran, 1997; Rothenberg, 1992). In addition, theory should be a central component in training so that the educators in training can organize their continually shifting knowledge base (Jones, 1993, xiii).

Educators need to understand the critical components of a program approach in order to maintain program quality. The highest quality programs have been said to be those that are flexible in their delivery and are adapted to the needs and wishes of program participants (Schorr, 1988). Yet, other authors have noted that adjustments to a program increase the risk that its theoretical underpinnings and conceptual framework will be compromised (Carter & Kahn, 1996). Professional development activities combined with continuing education and appropriate supervision can help ensure that a program’s integrity will not be compromised when the program is adapted to changing circumstances and audiences.

A large portion of parenting educator preparation is done on the job, making mentoring and supervision critical. Traditionally, field experiences have played a key role in the preparation for all family-life-education positions (Cochran, 1997). Field experiences that include learning-by-doing, in-service guidance, and supervision have been viewed as critical elements in preparing to lead a parenting group (Kawin, 1963). Because of the emphasis on in-service training and the focus on process skills, in addition to mastering basic content, educators need to connect with mentors and supervisors as critical elements of an educator’s training process.

Beginning parenting educators need to seek out, and become comfortable with, supervision. They should take advantage of opportunities to reflect upon their experiences with a more experienced colleague. Similarly, more experienced parenting educators who work with other educators need support and training for the role of supervisor (Carter & Kahn, 1996).

Professional organizations support knowledge and skills development and reduce isolation. Parenting education has roots in many disciplines. Consequently, it is difficult to identify just one professional organization with which the majority of parenting educators are affiliated. The issue of differing and sometimes competing professional organizations in the field of family life education has a long documented history (Kerckhoff, 1964; Somerville, 1971).

A recent survey found that parenting educators belong to a variety of organizations and that most of these educators felt that their organizations did not fully understand their positions (Carter & Kahn, 1996). Many believe that the development of a professional organization is a necessary first step in “professionalizing” a field. Given current circumstances and history, it will be interesting to watch whether one umbrella organization will emerge for parenting educators or whether several organizations will agree upon an established set of principles and practices.

A parenting educator is respectful of all individuals with whom he/she works and is sensitive to his/her unique role as an educator. This requires maintaining high personal standards. As the profession grows, ethical principles must be developed and accepted in the educator’s various roles: parent educator, researcher, and community partner. The current guidelines for Ethical Thinking and Practice for Family and Parent Educators (National Council in Family Relations, 1999) provides a basis for parenting educators to begin their personal growth.

Year published or updated
References & Resources

Braun, L. A., Coplon, J. K., & Sonnenschein, P. C. (1984). Helping parents in groups: A leader’s handbook. Boston: Wheelock Center for Parenting Studies.

Carter, N., & Kahn, L. (1996). See how we grow: A report on the status of parenting education in the U.S. Philadelphia: Pew Charitable Trusts.

Cochran, M. (1997). Training and education for family support workers: Issues for the future. Family Resource Coalition Report, 15, 2 (Guidelines for family support practice: Companion guide), 23-25.

Czaplewski, M. J., & Jorgensen, S. R. (1993). The professionalization of family life education. In M. E. Arcus, J. D. Schvaneveldt, and J. J. Moss (Eds.), Handbook on family life education: Foundations of family life education (pp. 51-75). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Fenichel, E. (ed.) (1992). Learning through supervision and mentorship to support the development of infants, toddlers, and their families: A sourcebook. Arlington, VA: Zero to Three/National Center for Clinical Infant Programs.

Jones, E. (1993). Growing teachers. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Katz, L. G. (1977). The nature of professions: Where is early childhood education? Montessori Life, 5 (2), 31-35.

Kawin, E. (1963). Parenthood in a free nation: Manual for group leaders and participants. West Lafayette, IN. Purdue University Press.

Kerckhoff, R. K. (1964). Family life education in America. In H. T. Christiansen (ed.), Handbook of marriage and the family, (pp. 881-911). Chicago: Rand McNally.

National Commission on Family Life Education – Task Force of the National Council on Family Relations (1968). Family life education programs: Principles, plans, procedures. The Family Coordinator, 17, 211-214.

National Council on Family Relations (1999). Tools for ethical thinking and practice in family life education. Minneapolis: National Council on Family Relations.

Powell, L. H., & Cassidy, D. (2001). Family life education: An introduction. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield.

Rothenberg, B. A. (1992). Parentmaking educators training programs: A comprehensive skills development course to train early childhood parent educators. Menlo Park, CA: Banster Press.

Schorr, L. B. (1988). Within our reach. New York: Doubleday.

Somerville, R. M. (1971). Family life and sex education in the turbulent ’60s. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 33, 11–35.

Author(s), Presenter(s)
DeBord, K., Bower, D., Goddard, W. H., Kirby, J., Kobbe, A. M., Myers-Walls, J. A., Mulroy, M., and Ozretich, R. A.