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Employing Transformative Learning Theory in the Design and Implementation of a Curriculum for Court-Ordered Participants in a Parent Education Class


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This study sought to analyze the experiences of participants in court-ordered parent education with the ultimate goal to identify a framework, which promotes learning that is transformative. Participants included 11 parents court ordered to attend parent education classes through the Department of Human Services. A basic qualitative design, which was comprised of a before-training interview, training, after-training interview, and follow-up interview, was used. Analysis of data, which included transcribed interviews, field notes, journal postings, and observations of parent–child interactions, revealed that most of the participants experienced a transformation of parenting style. Transformation was fostered through self-reflection and rational discourse in the form of journal writings, guided class discussions, and critical questioning. Findings suggest that transformative learning can occur in a mandated setting providing that the incentive is powerful enough and that transformative learning can be lasting in non-life-threatening situations, such as the potential loss of custody of one’s children.
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Transformative Learning
Theory in the Design
and Implementation of
a Curriculum for Court-
Ordered Participants in
a Parent Education Class
Mariann B. Taylor
and Lilian H. Hill
This study sought to analyze the experiences of participants in court-ordered parent
education with the ultimate goal to identify a framework, which promotes learning
that is transformative. Participants included 11 parents court ordered to attend
parent education classes through the Department of Human Services. A basic
qualitative design, which was comprised of a before-training interview, training,
after-training interview, and follow-up interview, was used. Analysis of data, which
included transcribed interviews, field notes, journal postings, and observations of
parent–child interactions, revealed that most of the participants experienced a
transformation of parenting style. Transformation was fostered through self-
reflection and rational discourse in the form of journal writings, guided class dis-
cussions, and critical questioning. Findings suggest that transformative learning can
occur in a mandated setting providing that the incentive is powerful enough and that
transformative learning can be lasting in non-life-threatening situations, such as the
potential loss of custody of one’s children.
Ellisville, MS, USA
University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS, USA
Corresponding Author:
Mariann B. Taylor, P.O. Box 204, Ellisville, MS 39437, USA.
Journal of Transformative Education
2016, Vol. 14(3) 254-271
ªThe Author(s) 2016
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/1541344616644685
adult learning, critical reflection, transformative learning
Parenting, considered to be one of the most difficult tasks of adulthood, is a complex
process (Heath, 2006) and is an experience that affects everyone, parents and chil-
dren alike. Although parenting is so significant and ubiquitous that it is almost
considered a public activity (Miller & Sambell, 2002), it remains a fairly private
matter for most parents. When a family is under investigation by the Department of
Human Services (DHS), familial behaviors and parenting practices become exposed
to intense scrutiny. DHS investigation is designed to identify areas of concern and to
procure appropriate services/interventions so that the family can become a healthier,
more functional unit. When the results of investigation determine that parents are
abusing and/or neglecting their children, a common intervention is mandated parent
education classes. Failure to comply can result in loss of custody and placement of
children in the state system.
Court-ordered parent education requires more than gaining new knowledge and
skills. It has to be about changes in the attitudes and behaviors of its participants.
Although the efficacy of parenting education is well documented (Heath, 2006;
Marienau & Segal, 2006; Miller & Sambell, 2002), there appears to be little infor-
mation concerning either the learning experiences of participants or the efficacy of
mandated parent education to foster transformative learning. Parents enrolled in
parent education classes, voluntary or court-ordered, must be viewed as adults with
the potential to be lifelong learners. Marienau and Segal (2006) suggest that parents,
as adult learners, can learn from their experiences, provided the environment is
supportive and the parents have some motivation to learn. Therefore, the purpose
of this study was to identify and compare the parenting styles of court-ordered
participants assessed before and after completion of a parent education class and
to identify instructional elements that might foster transformative learning in court-
ordered parent education classes.
Conceptual Framework
The parent education program used in this study is based on adult education prin-
ciples, specifically those that are grounded in transformative learning theory. Trans-
formative learning is most associated with Mezirow (1991) who originally viewed
transformation, or change, from an individual perspective in his psychocritical
approach. Mezirow drew from a variety of sources, but ‘‘transformative learning
theory is based on constructivist assumptions, and the roots of theory are based in
humanism and critical social theory’’ (Taylor & Cranton, 2012, p. 5). A person’s
perspectives are derived from experience, and these perspectives further influence
his or her understanding of new experiences. When beliefs are challenged by expe-
rience or alternate perspectives, individuals may undergo ‘‘a deep shift in
Taylor and Hill 255
perspective, leading to more open, permeable, or better-justified meaning perspec-
tives’’ (Taylor & Cranton, 2012, p. 3).
Meaning perspectives are developed through socialization, and over time they
become an intrinsic part of the psyche (Baumgartner, 2012). When adults encoun-
ter a contradictory experience their current meaning schemes are inadequate to
explain, and they either reject the experience or transform their meaning perspec-
tive. This shift in meaning perspective is central to perspective transformation, a
process that Mezirow (2000) proposed begins with a disorienting dilemma,
defined as a life crises or major life transition. Mezirow (2000) stated that a
transformation can be sudden and dramatic, even epic, or more incremental where
slow and steady changes in meaning schemes result in eventual change in mean-
ing perspective.
At the core of the transformative learning process are three major themes:
(1) experience, (2) critical reflection, and (3) rational discourse (Taylor & Cranton,
2012). The transformative process begins with an actual experience; however, expe-
rience alone is not enough to set the process in motion. Only through critical reflec-
tion, in which the adult learner questions assumptions and beliefs that have been
used to interpret the meaning of past experiences, can experience become transfor-
mative. This questioning process often occurs in response to a contradiction, which
exposes distorted assumptions among thoughts, feelings, and actions. Experience
and critical reflection are put into action through rational discourse, the crucial
element in promoting transformation (Baumgartner, 2012). Dialogue can foster
connection with others in similar circumstances through storytelling and reflective
sense making. Talking with others, in one-to-one relationships, in small groups, or in
educational settings, initiates a ‘‘better understanding of self through engagement
with others’’ (Taylor & Cranton, 2012, p. 8), which may ultimately lead to a trans-
formed meaning perspective. While transformative learning has been explored with
different populations in varied settings, little work has been conducted in regard to
parenting education.
Transformative Learning in Parent Education
Ireland (1992) was the first to examine the use of critical self-reflection as a
learning tool in parent education programs. Ireland’s criticism of the predominant
behavioral and information-based approaches to parent education was that they
failed to engage parents in critical assessment of their assumptions concerning
parenting. Ireland developed a research-based handbook for use in parent educa-
tion programs to encourage critical reflection related to flawed assumptions about
parenting (Ireland, 1992).
To make participation in parent education a more meaningful experience, First
and Way (1995) recommended that educators incorporate critical thinking skills and
transformative learning into their programs. Marienau and Segal (2006) also recog-
nized the importance of critical reflection in the learning process. They used
256 Journal of Transformative Education 14(3)
principles of adult learning and development to portray parents as continuous
learners with a rich reservoir of experiences. Unless parent education classes offer
opportunities for discovery of personal meaning, the application of new skills
is unlikely.
We were interested in individuals who had experienced significant challenge to their
meaning perspectives and reasoned that the threat of losing custody of one’s children
to social service placement constituted such a challenge. This study was aimed at
capturing the participants’ assessment of their experiences with DHS, mandatory
parent education, the critical reflection process, and the implications of DHS invol-
vement. We employed a practitioner–researcher model in which our aim was to
facilitate transformative learning about parenting practices through a parenting edu-
cation program (Estefan, Coulter, VandeWeerd, Armstrong, & Gorski, 2013;
McWey, Holtrop, Wojciak, & Claridge, 2015).
Two researchers were involved with this study. The first, hereafter referred to as the
researcher-facilitator, is a certified family life educator (CFLE) with the expertise to
conduct parenting classes. The second author assisted with the design of the study and
served as a peer reviewer throughout the research process. Our goal was to gain
understanding of the experience of court-ordered parent education for participants.
Research Participants
Purposive sampling identified 10 parents who were under court order to attend
parenting classes. The participants were referred to the researcher-facilitator by DHS
for a 6-week parent education class. One additional parent, who was accompanying
her sister, asked to join the class so she was included for comparative purposes. The
class was diverse in gender, race, age, and number and age of children (Table 1).
Most of the research participants lived in generational poverty. The remainder were
classified as working poor (living paycheck to paycheck) or working class (with
more stable employment). Two participants were an engaged couple, two of the
females were married, and the remaining seven participants were single parents. The
husband of one participant had recently been incarcerated. In order to ensure con-
fidentiality, pseudonyms were provided for each participant.
The Parenting Education Program
With a dearth of curricula available to meet the needs of court-ordered parents, the
researcher-facilitator wrote a curriculum designed specifically for this population
and focused on fostering transformative learning in participants. Although the
researcher-facilitator is typically paid for her services as a CFLE, she taught this
class for research purposes and was therefore not paid to facilitate.
Taylor and Hill 257
The class met weekly for 2 hours for a period of 6 weeks. The program focused on
parenting style and its corresponding characteristics. Baumrind’s (1966) typology of
parenting styles provided a clear description of child outcome in relation to specific
parenting styles. Using the facets of parental responsiveness (warmth) and parental
demandingness (control) as critical elements, Baumrind identified three parenting
styles —authoritarian (strict), permissive (indulgent), and authoritative (a balance of
kindness and firmness). Research on parenting style and child outcome consistently
indicates that the authoritative style of parenting is the optimal approach to rearing
children (Gunty & Buri, 2008; King, Kraemer, Bernard, & Vidourek, 2007; Steinberg,
2001; Wintre & Gates, 2006).
The focus of each week’s class discussion and homework assignments included
different topics related to parenting. The program included discussions of commu-
nication, self-esteem, and discipline because these domains are related to parenting
style. Interview questions and the journal protocol were designed to elicit responses
related to these topics. As homework, the participants were asked to reflect on the
weekly topic and their interactions with their children and then to discuss those
experiences during the following class session. Participants were provided with a
small journal and discussion questions designed to promote self-reflection. Although
the questions corresponded to that week’s class discussion, their purpose was to
serve as a catalyst for self-reflection. Examples include:
1. Describe a behavior of one or more of your children that you find particularly
challenging. Describe a time that you handled the behavior in a way that
produced a positive outcome.
2. Describe a time that you handled the same behavior in a way that you wish
you could change.
Table 1. Demographic Characteristics of the Research Participants.
Pseudonym Age Gender* Race** Number of Children Age of Children
Barbara 21 F C 1 8 weeks
Betty 39 F AA 3 18, 16, 13 years
Beverly 31 F C 3 15, 10, 7 years
Ellen 35 F AA 4 19, 14, 9, 7 years
Evelyn 32 F AA 3 12, 11, 6 years
Frank 38 M AA 5 16, 13, 12, 11, 10 years
Mary 25 F C 1 5 years
Nancy 36 F C 3 19, 17, 7 years
Natalie 30 F C 3 10, 9, 5 years
Susan 34 F C 4 13, 12, 9, 5 years
Tom 23 M C 1 8 weeks
*F ¼Female, M ¼Male.
**AA þAfrican American, C ¼Caucasian.
258 Journal of Transformative Education 14(3)
3. Describe the last conversation you had with your child/children. Is there
anything that you find difficult to discuss with your child/children? If so,
how would you change those conversations?
The researcher-facilitator made copies of participants’ journal entries from the
previous week for analysis and returned the journal to them during the
next class.
Leech and Trotter (2006) comment that reflecting on difficult experiences may
release strong emotions. The support of a researcher-facilitator well trained in
therapeutic skills is needed. Learning requires that individuals confront ‘‘gaps or
inaccuracies in their knowledge, before they can take on any new information. Un-
learning and re-learning may take a great deal of emotional effort and time’’ (Leech
& Trotter, 2006, p. 179). As a CFLE with extensive experience in providing parent-
ing education, the researcher-facilitator possessed the expertise to provide sensitive
and confidential support.
Data Collection
Data collection for this study involved (1) before-training interviews and train-
ing, (2) after-training interviews, and (3) follow-up interviews. The after-
training interview was held within 2 days of participants’ completion of the
parent education class. The follow-up interview was held approximately 3
months after its completion and was designed to investigate evidence of the
existence of a lasting perspective transformation, specifically related to parent-
ing style. All interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed. The interviews
ranged in length from 20 to 45 min and were held in the DHS conference room
which was private and familiar to participants because the class had been in the
same room. Other data collection methods included field notes, naturalistic
observations, and participant journals. The researcher-facilitator took descriptive
field notes following each class and included detailed characteristics of the
setting, people, and activities; direct quotes from participants; and the
researcher-facilitator’s comments, related to her feelings, hunches, and interpre-
tation (Merriam, 2009).
We had hoped to observe all participants interacting with their children because
naturalistic observations are considered the ‘‘gold standard in the assessment of
parenting’’ (Hawes & Dadds, 2006, p. 555); however, this proved impractical.
Several children were living in foster homes and one resided in a mental health-
care facility. Some children lived in another county, and lack of transportation was
an issue for others. Visitation rights were temporarily suspended for one parent and
another was a long-haul trucker, meaning he was out of town for days or even weeks.
Nevertheless, the researcher-facilitator was able to conduct parent/child observa-
tions with six participants. These were conducted at the DHS facility which has
visitation rooms with one-way observational mirrors.
Taylor and Hill 259
Data Analysis
The researchers began the process of analyzing the data with reading and rereading
the transcribed interviews. We then coded the data into categories, selected specific
phrases, and began to flesh out a conceptual framework. Through this complex
process of reading and coding the data, we began to see the emergence of broader
themes which we felt summarized the findings of the study. As we reviewed the data,
certain topics emerged that seemed relevant to most participants and also appeared to
be connected to their involvement with DHS. In the before-training interview, most of
the participants discussed problems with their children’s behavior.
We transcribed the first series of interviews prior to the second round so that
issues could be clarified with participants. This strategy, known as member checks
or respondent validation, was also a way for us to solicit feedback on our findings
from the respondents themselves. The researcher-facilitator used this strategy in the
interview itself by repeating back to the participant what she understood them to
have said. Follow-up phone calls were also made to the participants once all tran-
scriptions were completed as an additional interpretative check.
The same process of reading and coding data was used to analyze the partici-
pants’ journals, field notes, and parent/child observations. The constant-comparative
analysis method was used to uncover inconsistencies and discover affirmations so
that our interpretations were accurate (Johnson & Christensen, 2008).
The researcher-facilitator had to be aware of her personal biases and the influence
those biases might have on data collection and interpretation. She reminded herself
throughout the interview process that her role was to be a researcher and not that of
teacher; this role switching proved difficult. As a CFLE, the researcher-facilitator has
taught court-ordered parent education classes for many years. In this role, she fre-
quently became aware of participants’ most personal issues. Although this intimate
knowledge may generate a connection between teacher and student that facilitates the
learning process, it can be problematic when the teacher becomes the researcher. The
researchers stayed focused on the goal of the study and let the interview protocol guide
interactions with participants in the semistructured interviews and class discussions.
These strategies promoted reflexivity and allowed the researchers to collect and ana-
lyze the data from an unbiased perspective (Lambert, Jomeen, & McSherry, 2010).
Data analysis revealed four themes: (1) managing children’s behavior, (2) parenting
style, (3) stress, and (4) reflections.
Managing Children’s Behavior
Children raised by authoritative parents demonstrate low anxiety and depression,
self-reliance, self-confidence, and maturity, while those raised by authoritarian
260 Journal of Transformative Education 14(3)
parents experience vulnerability, depression, low self-esteem, and hostility
(Baumrind, 1966; King et al., 2007; Wintre & Gates, 2006. Topics discussed in
class included communication, self-esteem, household policy, and discipline.
Behavioral management, grounded in the principles of authoritative parenting,
became a primary focus of the program (Baumrind, 1966). Nine participants
indicated that they had learned and were using techniques for better communica-
tion such as active listening, sitting down at the child’s eye level, taking the time
to talk to each child every day, and using ‘‘I messages.’’ Natalie said, ‘‘I learned
so much, just how to even talk to your kids, like you said the little things make big
differences, and it really does, even the way you speak and the way you use your
voice.’’ Ellen said, ‘‘I used to be like whatever. I don’t be wanting to hear that,
but now since I took the parenting class, I be open-minded about what they done
said, and they come talk to me.’’ Beverly improved her listening skills and
noted, ‘‘Before I would just demand that they do something. I listen to ‘em
now.’’ For several parents, the use of effective communication techniques led to
a better understanding of their children and in some cases, a drastically
improved relationship. Nancy, who had a conflicted relationship with her 17-
year daughter, reported in her final interview that they had reconciled. When she
and her daughter were angry with each other before, they simply stopped talk-
ing. This ‘‘silent treatment’’ would go on for days or weeks. Nancy credited the
communication techniques that she learned in class with the reconciliation: ‘‘me
and her were able to be there all night by ourselves and we actually talked about
everything and, we’re just getting along so much better. We’ve been getting
along good ever since.’’ It should be noted that the two participants who did
not express any changes in communication techniques were first-time parents of
an infant.
As part of the research, we were interested to determine whether parents had
changed the way they offered support or encouragement to their children. In class,
this topic was embedded in a discussion of self-esteem building. The researcher-
facilitator emphasized that effective communication with children, especially
active listening, is itself a self-esteem builder. Therefore, the domains of effective
communication and support/encouragement were intertwined. In the initial inter-
view, some of the participants did not know how to define self-esteem, and
several of them indicated that they had never thought about the process of building
it in their children. Natalie commented, ‘‘It’s not that I didn’t love my children. I just
never thought of it being an issue. You know I tell ‘em I love ‘em. They know I love
‘em. I just never thought nothing further about it.’’ Ellen said that she was encoura-
ging her children more than she did before the class. She cited an example where her
14-year-old daughter was having difficulty with her homework. She worked with her
until the child understood the concept and then told her, ‘Y’all are smart cookies.
Can’t nobody ever tell y’all, y’all ain’t smart cookies. We proud of you. We’re
always proud of you.’’ Susan stated that the topic of self-esteem had the most
significant effect on her parenting. She wrote the following in her journal, ‘‘I have
Taylor and Hill 261
learned that you gotta be patient with your children ... and tell them that you love
them every day.’
We were also interested in examining the process of establishing household
policy. Within this domain, the researcher-facilitator explored issues regarding
whether or not parents let children do things for themselves and allowed them to
make decisions. The researcher-facilitator made an effort to connect the issues of
household policy and self-esteem building and discussed the idea that allowing
children to do tasks for themselves and to make decisions builds independence and
feelings of self-worth. Several participants expressed the difficulty they experienced
in standing back and watching the slow process of letting their children do some-
thing for themselves when it seemed easier and faster to do it for them. Susan
commented during one of the class discussions, ‘‘I never thought of self-esteem
being tied to doing things for kids that they could do for themselves.’’
Nine parents were making changes in this area. Ellen described her 14-year-old
learning to cook. When she asked her daughter if she needed help, she said, ‘‘No,
Mama. I got it by myself.’’ Her mother replied, ‘‘Well, I’m gonna step back and let
you handle it yourself, but if you need me, I’m here.’’ Mary shared that she had
started letting her 6-year son pick out his own clothes, ‘‘You know he’s growing up
and I don’t want him to think that I don’t think that he can do anything on his own.’’
Some of the parents had expanded the individual decision-making process to include
family discussions or family meetings. Susan said that she considered family meet-
ings to be important, elaborating that they, ‘‘sit down at a table or in the living room
and set and talk like a family should.’
Discipline was a topic discussed at length by the participants. Nine participants
reported a change in their discipline practices after program. The researcher-facil-
itator’s primary objective related to discipline was to encourage participants to use
effective, positive discipline techniques and discourage the use of physical punish-
ment. The class itinerary was planned so that participants had the opportunity to
learn and use skills in behavioral management as a preventative measure so that
discipline is needed less often. The parents learned positive techniques that teach
rather than punish for occasions when discipline is warranted.
By the second interview, nine participants were using logical consequences as
their discipline of choice. This technique was discussed in class and involves the
child making a choice which leads to either a consequence or a reward. Nancy said
that she liked the choices ‘‘that you were talking about because I’m bad about
saying turn the TV off if it’s too loud. Now I give him the choice of either turning it
down or turning it off.’’ Beverly said that she liked ‘‘giving ‘em choices, the
option, I think that works better.’’ In Tom’s initial interview, he was clearly in
favor of physical punishment. He stated, ‘‘I mean I was raised by the Bible you
know, ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ so I don’t want him out of hand or
nothing.’’ By the final interview, Tom was no longer a staunch supporter of
physical punishment and had plans to use logical consequences as his primary
discipline technique.
262 Journal of Transformative Education 14(3)
Parenting Style
The researcher-facilitator sought to ensure that participants had a thorough
understanding of parenting style so that they could accurately identify their own
style. Extensive class discussions focused on characteristics of each parenting
style and the effect those aspects have on child outcome (King, Kraemer,
Bernard, & Vidourek, 2007; Wintre & Gates, 2006). Each behavioral manage-
ment component, including communication and discipline, was deliberated in
relation to its corresponding parenting style (Baumrind, 1966). The researcher-
facilitator described parenting style as a continuum where degrees of each style
occur. A clothesline with red, yellow, and greenclothespinswasusedtoillus-
trate the continuum and degrees of parenting style. Red pins depicted extreme
permissive or authoritarian parenting, yellow pins represented a progression
away from the extremes, but still an area of concern, and authoritative parenting
was characterized by green pins. Participants often referred to authoritative
parenting as being ‘‘in the middle.’’
Six participants described their parents as authoritarian while two participants
claimed that they were raised in a permissive home. One participant described her
parents as ‘‘inconsistent.’’ Those raised by authoritarian parents used words like
‘harsh,’’ ‘‘mean,’’ ‘‘controlling,’’ and ‘‘critical.’’ Conversely, those raised in
permissive homes described their childhood as ‘‘laid back’’ and their parents as
‘lenient’’ and ‘‘pushovers.’’ The relationship of the parenting people experience
as children to their own parenting behavior is underresearched (Wintre & Gates,
2006); however, our findings indicate that the style of participants’ family of
origin (FOO) appears to have strongly influenced them, leading some of them
to replicate their parents’ style and others to parent their children in the extreme
opposite manner. Eight participants identified themselves as being permissive.
After listening to descriptions of their parenting behaviors, we agree with that
assessment. That determination also makes sense in light of their DHS referrals.
When permissiveness becomes extreme, it can manifest as neglect which was the
underlying cause of several of their DHS referrals. Parenting styles adopted in
participants’ family of procreation (FOP) appear to influence the issues they
identified as being problematic.
As the participants began to identify and understand their parenting style and
its relationship with child outcome, it seemed appropriate to then examine the
parenting style employed in their FOO. Several of the participants began to make
connections between their own parenting styles and that of their parents. Natalie
remarked that ‘‘things that never made sense before, now make sense.’’ We
believe that the meaning perspectives of the participants regarding parenting had
been shaped by their FOO. These perspectives were long lasting and had profound
effects on their FOP. Ten of the eleven participants expressed that they had made
a change in parenting style as a result of the class. However, we felt that there was
sufficient evidence to support the fact that the parent education class fostered
Taylor and Hill 263
transformation in only nine participants. Further, we believe that the extent of the
transformation varied from participant to participant. Some parents had signifi-
cant transformations in one or two components of parenting style (e.g., commu-
nication, discipline), while others experienced changes in all segments. Because
each element was an integral part of overall style, we surmised that a change in
any of those elements signified a shift in parenting style.
The final interview provided an opportunity for participants to reflect on changes
in their attitudes and parenting practices. Beverly’s daughter had been truant from
school and was a runaway. She first described her parenting style as one where she,
‘let ‘em run all over me.’’ When asked in the final interview to describe her
parenting, she noted that the most significant change for her was ‘‘maybe not so
much to be their best friend as to be their Mama first.’’ Mary also expressed that she
was becoming more authoritative with her son, ‘‘before the class, I kind of let him
get away with everything, but now I think I’ve moved more towards the strict, but
not too strict, maybe more towards the middle.’’ The researcher-facilitator had the
opportunity to observe Mary with her child and would concur that she had become
more authoritative.
Most participants were dealing with multiple stressors, including financial strug-
gles, single-parent status, and lack of adequate support systems. The parenting
style individuals experienced as children, including authoritarian and permissive
parenting, may also contribute to adult distress, particularly for women (Wintre
& Gates, 2006). During the before-training interview, eight of nine female
participants reported experiencing moderate to high levels of stress. Nancy even
stated, ‘‘I stay stressed.’’ These high stress levels adversely affected partici-
pants’ parenting and quality of life. Stress management was not the focus of
this class; however, it became evident to the researcher-facilitator that this topic
was of significance to female participants. The two male participants reported
fairly low levels of stress and did not seem to have the same level of interest as
the female participants.
Most of the female participants appeared eager to learn and adopt techniques
that would lower their stress. In response, the researcher-facilitator devoted one
lesson to stress management, identified several positive techniques for stress
management, and discussed its relation to parenting. She challenged the partici-
pants to incorporate one stress management technique during the following week
and discuss their experience at the next class meeting. In the interview held after a
3-months delay, all nine female participants reported that they were still including
stress management techniques, including journaling and deep breathing, in their
daily routine. They also reported that their stress levels were lower than their
initial reports.
264 Journal of Transformative Education 14(3)
In an effort to determine whether the participants had experienced a disorienting
dilemma, we asked them to describe in detail their experience with DHS, including
their feelings and thought processes; these same questions were asked in all three
interviews. They described their feelings as ‘‘sad,’’ ‘‘upset,’’ ‘‘nervous,’’ ‘‘stressed,’
and ‘‘angry.’’ DHS intervention was still fresh for most of the participants in the
initial interview. Thus, their intense feelings were almost palpable. Beverly, for
example, expressed feeling angry and hurt when she said in the initial interview:
I was really mad, well I was hurt and mad both. I was hurt because I thought maybe I
had failed as a Mama and you know, that it was something that I did for her not to want
to come home and then I was mad because she would put me through wondering where
she would be, if she was safe.
Frank noted, ‘‘Ohhhh man, I mean I could have went on a war path you know what
I’m saying. I was mad!’’ When Barbara was reported to DHS immediately follow-
ing the birth of her son, she described her feelings, ‘‘I cried and cried my eyes out. I
was so ashamed. I didn’t know what to do.’’ Those feelings of confusion were
shared by Mary, who said in her initial interview, ‘‘It scared me and I was upset
because you know usually when DHS gets involved. I don’t know, my first thought
was they’re gonna take my son away from me ... I was scared.’’ When the
researcher-facilitator asked participants to describe how much time they had spent
thinking about their involvement with DHS and their situation, several of them
said, ‘‘daily’’ or ‘‘every day.’
One participant had a different experience with DHS intervention. Betty
described feeling relief after years of dealing with her son’s mental health issues.
She described her involvement with DHS: ‘‘To me, it kind of helped me with the
situation that I had to go through with him.’’ We believe that her disorienting
dilemma had been building for years due to the frustration she experienced over the
steady deterioration of her son’s mental health and behavior. By the time DHS
became involved, she realized that her situation needed to change.
Parents encounter difficult circumstances and crises in parenting that may serve
as a disorienting dilemma, and critical reflection can provide powerful opportunities
for learning and development (First & Way, 1995; Marienau & Segal, 2006;
Mezirow, 2000). Because self-reflection and transformative learning were goals
of the parenting class, the researcher-facilitator encouraged participants to engage
in the process through journal postings, guided class discussions, and interviews
(Baumgartner, 2012; Taylor & Cranton, 2012). The self-reflection process was a
new endeavor for several of the participants and one that appeared to be critical in
their transformative learning process. Several of the participants described the jour-
nals and class discussions as being an essential part of their thought process. Tom
said the journal was part of his self-reflection process. ‘‘Some stuff I learned about
myself just thinking about stuff you know and how I want to be as parent.’’ Natalie
Taylor and Hill 265
felt the discussions were crucial to the learning process, ‘‘you can’t learn nothing
unless you get into the conversation.’’ Mary, who was often quiet in class, commen-
ted on how much she had enjoyed the journal.
I like to write. I like having the journal. I can express myself on paper better than I can
in words. I’m not a good talker, but I like to write my thoughts down. I’ve always been
able to write better because I’m a shy person. I like looking back and seeing what I
thought then and what I think now.
In participants who experienced a perspective transformation in regard to parenting,
the process began with a disorienting dilemma that for most featured negative and
traumatic feelings related to the DHS intervention. By the final interview, it appears
that most participants had engaged in self-reflection, specifically related to their
parenting style and their involvement with DHS. Initial feelings of anger, frustration,
and resentment had transformed through the realization that they learned from the
class and that DHS intervention proved valuable. Natalie said:
Cause you know at the time I wouldn’t have ever said this, but good things have come
out of it. I don’t like how it happened, but good things have come out of it. I learned so
much. I have learned more from this six-week class than I have learned from going to
classes for nine months.
Frank had a similar reaction, ‘‘I mean you know at first, I was like man, this is a
waste of my time, but you know, I have learned something. It was good.’’
Transformative Learning
We believe that there is sufficient evidence to support the presence of a disorienting
dilemma in all of the participants. Due to the presence of a disorienting dilemma and
subsequent self-reflection and guided class discussion, we surmised that nine of the
participants experienced a transformation of parenting style.
We noted significant changes in the participants between the first and the second
interviews. During the initial interview, most of the participants were still reeling
from their involvement with DHS. Feelings were raw and ranged from fear to anger
to shame. Participants commented that they had no idea what to expect from a
parenting class but most admitted that they were experiencing behavioral issues
with their children. Most used physical punishment or removal of privileges as their
primary means of behavioral management. The majority of them had no idea how to
build self-esteem in children, and some did not even know what the term meant.
Most participants admitted to having frequent communication difficulties with their
children. All of the females reported high levels of stress. Several participants had
temporarily lost custody of their children.
By the second interview, the majority of participants were using logical conse-
quences as their discipline of choice, with some of them eliminating physical
266 Journal of Transformative Education 14(3)
punishment completely. All participants seemed to understand the meaning of self-
esteem and how to build it in their children and some even expressed a boost in their
own self-esteem after the class. The most significant areas of change occurred in the
area of communication and stress management; all female participants reported
lower stress levels. Most participants admitted to feelings of resentment and anger
about the required training; however, all participants concluded that the class had
been a valuable learning experience and most even said they enjoyed it. All parti-
cipants had regained custody of their children by the second interview.
By the time of the final interview, the participants possessed a self-assurance that
was not present in the second interview, and they were more emphatic about the
changes they were making in their lives. One participant reported that she had
recently found a ‘‘dream job,’’ one she enjoyed and that paid well. Another noted
that she had found a better place to live. Participants reported improved relationships
with their children which seemed to be an affirmation to them that their new skills
were working. This affirmation in turn likely fueled their self-confidence. Based on
comments and journal postings, we believe that the participants gradually began to
view the class from a positive perspective, seeing it not only as a ‘‘class’’ but also as
a support group. The participants appeared to feel comfortable discussing issues with
other parents. The camaraderie that was established through open discussion seemed
to lead to feelings of relief among some of the participants when they realized that
other parents were dealing with similar frustrations. The class became a supportive
learning community.
Nancy experienced one of the deepest transformations of all the participants
through self-reflection, discussion, and action. Nancy was the only participant who
was not court ordered and her disorienting dilemma was the class itself. Her rela-
tionship with her teenage daughter evolved from a lengthy estrangement to a recon-
ciliation grounded in effective communication and a willingness to listen. Raised in
a permissive home, Nancy struggled with assertiveness and often found herself
giving in to her young son’s demands and shutting down when disagreements arose
with her daughter. Nancy was engaged and active in class discussions, was a prolific
journal writer, and actively practiced her new skills at home. She was willing to try
new discipline techniques and stress management ideas. By the final interview, this
single working mom not only reconnected with her daughter but she was also
becoming more ‘‘authoritative’’ with her children and was carving out ‘‘me time’
each day which was lowering her stress level. Her willingness to fully engage in the
transformative process paved the way for her closing statement in the final inter-
view, ‘‘things are good now with my children and with me.’’
The comments were overwhelmingly positive in the second and third interviews.
We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge our awareness that this group of
court-ordered parents might be inclined to give socially appropriate responses. With
that in mind, we looked for consistencies in the data which included lengthy journal
entries, field notes from class discussions, and transcripts from three different inter-
views. Then we looked beyond verbiage in our observations of their interactions
Taylor and Hill 267
with their children. We observed improved communication, an attitude of firmness
balanced with kindness, and a more authoritative approach in each of the follow-up
parent/child observations.
Although all participants experienced a disorienting dilemma, two participants
did not appear to experience a transformation of parenting style. Evelyn claimed that
her parenting style had changed; however, we could not find sufficient evidence of
that in her three- to four-word answers in the interviews, her journal, or the observa-
tion with her child. Her communication style made it difficult to determine whether
or not transformation occurred. Barbara, whose first and only child was an infant at
the time of the class, commented that she had not experienced a change in style
because she intended to be an authoritative parent anyway. We believe that Barbara
lacked the parental experience to fully engage in the self-reflection process, an
element critical to transformative learning.
Implications for Practice
Transformative learning theory seemed to be the appropriate theoretical framework
for a class that was designed to initiate change in the parenting beliefs and practices
of its participants. This court-ordered parent education class appeared to have chan-
ged more in its participants than just their parenting practices. Through the process
of self-awareness and critical reflection, the participants began to question long-held
beliefs and ultimately to think differently about their lives. Transformative learning
theory appears to be appropriate and effective when applied to court-ordered parent
education. When this theoretical foundation is integrated into educational programs,
participants have the opportunity to experience real transformation not only in
regard to parenting but also in other life domains.
High stakes are involved in court-ordered parent education. Most parents required
to attend these classes have been accused of either abusing or neglecting their
children (Rodriguez, 2010; Russa & Rodriguez, 2010). These maladaptive parenting
practices are often deeply ingrained and are therefore not easily amenable to change.
Curricula designed to offer behavioral tips and parenting techniques are insufficient
for court-ordered parents. Curriculum is needed that identifies deep-seated beliefs
that drive maladaptive parenting practices and fosters transformation of those prac-
tices into a style that is both authoritative and functional (Baumgartner, 2012;
Mezirow, 1991).
Practitioners who implement a curriculum based on transformative learning
theory, including opportunities for critical reflection, collaborative inquiry, and
formation of authentic relationship, will have the tools to foster real change
(Taylor & Cranton, 2012). When practitioners understand the way that adults
learn, they can implement teaching that is conducive to that learning. Practitioners
attempting to foster transformative learning need a thorough understanding of the
theory and ways to foster it.
268 Journal of Transformative Education 14(3)
Transformative learning theory could be effectively applied in other types of
family-life education, including marriage education and relationship training. The
same types of dysfunctional patterns that may exist between parents and their chil-
dren are evident in other kinds of relationships. In order for individuals to establish
healthy functional relationships, changes similar to those experienced in the parent
education class are needed. It seems reasonable to suggest that transformative learn-
ing theory could be successfully used in all types of family-life education, including
but not limited to parent education.
Implications for Theory
Transformative learning theory is an appropriate theoretical framework for any type
of educational setting where life change is the objective, including substance abuse
cessation and weight loss. Nevertheless, Gravett (2004) contends that evidence of a
perspective transformation that occurs in a learning context does not guarantee that a
transformation of practice will occur. She indicated that social support is essential
when people are experimenting with new ways of thinking and behaving. A learning
design that employs dialogue, critical reflection, social support, and formation of
authentic relationships is essential to sustaining lasting change.
Mezirow (1991) contends that a perspective transformation is irreversible. Cour-
tenay, Merriam, Reeves, and Baumgartner (2000), whose study of HIV-positive
individuals confirmed Mezirow’s assertion, questioned whether the transformation
would have staying power in the presence of a non-life-threatening disorienting
dilemma. Our study suggests that it does. The disorienting dilemmas in this study
were significant but not life threatening. The perspectives of the participants
remained transformed and they were still experiencing personal growth during the
final interviews, held 3 months after the conclusion of the parent education class.
In this research, we sought to determine whether the use of transformative learning
theory (Mezirow, 2000) within the context of a court-ordered parent education class
could change the parenting style of the participants. We conclude that this transfor-
mation to a more authoritative style of parenting occurred in almost all participants.
We also contend that all participants experienced a disorienting dilemma which
through the process of critical reflection and rational discourse led to a perspective
transformation in most of them. Dialogue, critical reflection, and a supportive learn-
ing community appeared to be critical elements in fostering a transformed parenting
style in the participants. The final participant interview indicated that the perspective
transformation was lasting, at least in 3 months between the second interview and
the follow-up interviews. Transformative learning theory appears to be an appropri-
ate, effective, and essential theoretical foundation for curricula designed for court-
ordered audiences.
Taylor and Hill 269
Policy makers should consider the incorporation of adult learning principles, with
a focus on transformative learning, in mandated parent education classes. Research,
using transformative learning theory as the foundation, could be conducted in other
areas of family-life education and other educational settings where life change is the
objective. Finally, it is recommended that any studies focusing on change, especially
any research using transformative learning theory as a framework, use a methodo-
logical design that includes some type of delayed follow-up to determine whether
individuals’ change is lasting.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of
this article.
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Author Biographies
Mariann B. Taylor is a certified family life educator who has served as executive director of
nonprofit family-life education centers.
Lilian H. Hill is professor and program coordinator at The University of Southern
Taylor and Hill 271
... Secondly, I would not know how to approach such a situation and I would not know what to say to these learners and I would not feel comfortable talking to them about it. (Female student teacher) Taylor and Hill (2016) stated that a person's perspectives are predominantly derived from experience, and these perspectives further influence their understanding of new experiences. Because these student teachers' perspectives and anxiety about the inclusion of diverse gender and sexuality identities needed to change, transformative learning was incorporated into the data-gathering process. ...
... They commented: The above comments show a shift from the student teacher sexual diversity dissonance, found in Phase 1, to a more considerate and supportive positioning towards school youth with same-sex sexuality. Transformation can only happen through critical reflection in which the adult learner questions assumptions and beliefs that have been used to interpret the meaning of past experiences (Taylor & Hill, 2016). ...
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The purpose of this study was to find out whether HIV-positive adults who had participated in a study of the centrality of meaning-making in transformational learning had maintained 2 years later their perspectives of making meaningful contributions through service to others, or if the advent of protease inhibitors would have resulted in their reverting to previously held, self oriented, and materialistic views of the world. Fourteen of the original 18 participants were interviewed. Two major findings emerged: First, for all 14 participants, the perspective transformations that they had undergone 2 years previously had held. Second, there were changes in meaning schemes that included the adoption of a future-oriented perspective, greater attention to care of the self, and an integration of the HIV-positive status into their self-definition. The life-changing nature of transformational learning, the stability of its outcomes, and ongoing changes in meaning schemes suggest implications for adult educators.
Although parenting interventions are among the most commonly required case plan activities for parents involved with child welfare system, a large percentage of families who begin parenting interventions drop out prematurely. The purpose of this concurrent mixed-methods study was to better understand risk factors associated with retention in a 10 week evidence-based parenting intervention. Qualitative interviews and standardized measures were completed with 31 parents who were court ordered to participate in a parenting intervention due to child welfare system involvement. We compared and contrasted patterns across completion and non-completion groups. Results indicated specific similarities and differences in anticipated gains, motivation, and social support among parents who completed the intervention compared to those who did not. Additionally, parents who did not complete the intervention tended to have higher problematic parenting scores and levels of parenting stress, and the least amounts of social support compared to those who successfully completed the intervention. Patterns among three typologies highlighted important differences across groups. Results indicated that in order to promote successful engagement and retention in parenting interventions among parents involved with the child welfare system it may be important to screen for cumulative risks during the early stages of the intervention and to augment services to better meet the needs of this at-risk population.
This study uses a phenomenological approach to investigate the nature of outcomes of a parent education program. Eight female program participants were interviewed using questions designed to elicit stories about the nature of the parent education experience. The data were coded thematically to determine program outcomes as experienced by the participants. Seven categories of outcomes emerged from the data. Transformative learning, as an overriding explanatory theme, encompassed the more specific categories of parent education outcomes.
Families involved with child welfare services often experience a range of stressors in addition to maltreatment, including intimate partner violence, substance abuse, and mental health problems. Children in these families are at risk for developing a myriad of problems. Although parenting education programs are among the most routine interventions for families involved with child welfare services, there is relatively little data available about these programs for families with multiple stressors. This study sought to explore the family stressors in parents involved in the child welfare system who have been referred to an intensive therapeutic parenting program, and the relationship of those stressors to change in parenting attitudes. Quantitative abstraction of parenting program files was conducted. Analyses included descriptive and bivariate statistics, and related samples t tests to examine change in parenting attitudes. Qualitative interviews were conducted with a sub-sample of this population. File abstraction revealed that parents in this population experiencing multiple co-occurring stressors ranged from 23 to 39%. Significant improvements in parenting attitudes were found for most groups of participants, including those with violence, mental health, and substance abuse problems. Qualitative interviews indicated that parents felt that they were learning from the parenting program and were supported by the facilitators. Parents facing multiple stressors are unlikely to be able to parent effectively, and may need significant support and intervention. Additional understanding of the types of issues they face and whether particular interventions are effective for those groups would allow for the development of more targeted interventions.
This paper explores issues around reflective practice and refers to an undergraduate module ‘Understanding and Responding to Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse’, designed for professionally qualified students undertaking various ‘top‐up degrees’ (e.g. nurses, social workers, midwives, health visitors and other health‐care workers). The module incorporated a reflective writing component at the end of each weekly session. In this context we suggest that reflection is an active mulling over of experiences so that difficult thoughts and feelings can be explored and learnt from. Reviewing these writings revealed key personal and emotional experiences, and a number of themes were clearly identified. Although many of the emotions and experiences were recurring, some seemed to be developing over the 10 weeks of the module. We concluded that the group's disparate emotions of denial, fear, disgust and confusion were turned into learning, acceptance and understanding and suggest that these were achieved partly because of the reflective process. This was a crucial factor in the students' learning for themselves and about each other, as well as improving professional practice.