Book review: Families, Schools, and Communities: Building Partnerships for Educating Children, 5th Edition by Chandler H. Barbour, Nita H. Barbour and Patricia A. Scully
Families, Schools, and Communities: Building Partnerships for Educating Children, 5th Edition offers more choices for teachers and students than the previous editions. The authors are all educators and their combined experience easily reaches 100 years. Professor Chandler Barbour has retired from an elementary school teaching career but he is still actively involved as a volunteer to his community’s projects with public schools, church boards, directing a fishing advocacy group and as a member on a hospital board. He has written two books about how teachers can build partnerships and expand their teaching capabilities to enhance child development. Professor Nita H. Barbour has retired after thirty years of university teaching and research curriculum. Her activism after retirement includes leadership in Maine preschool language literacy programs. She has coauthored two books which emphasized continuity for young students between classes during child development. Professor Scully directs the early childhood teacher education program and teaches classes at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UBMC). She is the author of Developmental Continuity across Preschool and Primary Grades, 2nd edition. The collaboration between these three knowledgeable and experienced teachers has created a great resource for teachers.
As noted above this review is for the fifth edition of the book which has been made more readable and easier to use which was the stated goal of the authors. The references and resources have been updated so that new research has been included and the web addresses link to available sites. The section in each chapter titled ‘Implications for teachers’ has a special place in each chapter and offers welcome real-life examples that can be followed.
Chapter 1 Home, School, and Community Influences on Children’s Lives
The main influences on children’s understanding and attitudes towards learning are from the three intersecting societal circles that form their daily lives (a) home, (b) school, and (c) community. The authors maintain that by integrating the three social spheres to fit a child’s development, age and their personal societal context will enhance a child’s learning. This type of integration is complex and therefore the threads are difficult if not impossible to unravel. Difficulties exist but that does not mean that the goal of understanding the relationships and how a child is impacted should be ignored. The authors shared the example of Zach who is influenced by his biological mother and father, his mother’s boy friend and the society of his day care centre. (Barbour, C., Barbour. N. and Scully, 2010, p. 2-3) Zack receives various messages from the adults in his life, something clearly contradictory. A child has only a short amount of experience with relationship and their society so sorting out these messages can be very confusing and even frustrating. Therefore it is reasonable to further explore the authors’ premise that there are many advantages for the three social circles to work together for the sake of children.
A child (and even adults) will be able to find more success when the values and structures of home, school and community complement each other. Belief systems that complement each other are very different than systems that require a rigid consistency. Consistent messages cannot be controlled. “As a teacher you cannot ensure that all the influences impacting children are positive or consistent, so you must be sensitive to the idea that children’s learning will be affected both positively and negatively by many factors beyond your control.” (Barbour, C., Barbour. N. and Scully, 2010, p. 3) The goal is to help a child learn how to best filter the messages and critically chose those that will lead to personal success. A teacher is the focus of school children’s attention for many hours a day five days a week but does that help the children if their family is experiencing economic stress or other serious problems. The authors make a very helpful suggestion when they advise teachers to “think about yourself as a developing professional, keep these qualities in mind and try to cultivate them” (Barbour, C., Barbour, N. and Scully, 2010, p. 5). The qualities are the ability to communicate and connect with people although you may be very different from them.
Chapter 1 covers the different perceptions and attitudes they may demonstrate at different age levels. The amount of influence by different groups can be large. Teachers’ are given information about how children are influenced and how the children might react to the influence from parents and other groups. The authors also share tips on how to understand the community and their students’ parents so collaboration can be made possible.
Chapter 2 Historical and Philosophical Perspectives
An important point found in chapter 2 is that teachers need to become knowledgeable about differences in what students between generations need. For example, a one room school house on an American prairie in the 1800s required one teacher who was capable of working with all ages from a small community with families having similar values. Even though the one room class is equipped with only the bare necessities, the teacher can still educate well so students’ needs are met. (Barbour, C., Barbour, N. and Scully, 2010, p. 25) On the other hand a contemporary school is populated by youngsters from a variety of family cultures with different levels of economic stability. A contemporary classroom must meet the needs of these students so a teacher educating the children has the resources he or she needs. The students have unique aspects in their dress, their culture and their needs. The computer and the world-wide-web have drastically changed the classroom from the time of one room schools and even from three decades into the past. Internet has allowed children to explore any subject that they may find interesting which requires teachers to understand how the world’s communities have become smaller. (Barbour, C., Barbour. N. and Scully, 2010, p. 46)
A contemporary teacher needs to have an understanding of how the modern teaching philosophies evolved throughout history. An understanding of how public policy has helped or hindered the development of successful teaching is also very important. The authors successfully review both the historical philosophical development and public policy implications in Chapter 2. Many teachers have similar experiences in contemporary classrooms especially in public schools. The children with different skin colors and religious backgrounds may work well together in a classroom while their parents on the other hand may not be so accepting. For that reason teachers need to have skills to work with people who are very judgmental as well as people who have similar ideas about how the world works. Understanding the history of education in both the theoretical and political realms can help tremendously.
Chapter 2 emphasizes the need for teachers to understand the historical and the contemporary educational philosophies. This chapter reviews these philosophies from the point of view that parents and communities have large roles to play in educating children. Although the school is an institution that has developed to take on education as a priority other inputs are necessary for children to experience a balanced and healthy education.
Chapter 3 Viewing Family Diversity
The chapter 3 begins with a photo of a happy family consisting of two moms, and a young boy with his older sister standing together in front of a bush with flowers. Although the members of the family seem to all be Americans, the sister has dark skin and the brother and the moms have white skin. In the United States there are people who could find many reasons to find the photo offensive. They might complain that the women are lesbians and the children are from two different races but this cannot be a healthy attitude for the children in the family. A mature teacher needs to think first of their students’ needs but by including the families and the community the task may be easier at times but more difficult at other times. The book seems to be all inclusive because not only are families of different composition and different religions included but also homeless families and immigrant families.
An explanation of how children that seem rude or unintelligent may be reacting normally for a person brought up in a culture other than the predominant culture. Historically it was assumed in classrooms that teachers would teach all the children the ‘proper’ behavior. The meaning of ‘proper’ was to act and behave exactly like the dominant culture. Contemporary educational research has demonstrated that children from non-dominant cultures simply have learned different rules. I have found that by respecting all cultures students are able to learn more and apply themselves to their lessons with less stress.
The information in chapter 3 enhances a teacher’s ability to recognize and acknowledge the variety of American family compositions. Family life is affected by the economic and social factors in their communities, especially in times of financial crisis. Teachers are given tips on understanding how children are affected by these concerns. The chapter also reviews the different family structures that can be observed and the variety of way in which they function. Cultural differences, including religion, are addressed in chapter 3.
Chapter 4 Understanding Roles and Experiences of Parents
Chapter 4 addresses “Understanding Roles and Experiences of Parents” with practical advice which includes seriously addressing issues of multiculturalism. The definition shared by the authors is a practical one. “This approach (multiculturalism) refers to the curricular changes made in schools and other social institutions to respond to our diverse society. It has also come to mean a broader school reform effort designed to increase educational equity for various cultural, ethnic, and economic groups.” (Barbour, C., Barbour. N. and Scully, 2010, p. 98) The ‘Implications for Teachers’ section also suggest sending a simple survey home with each child to learn more about the family, welcoming family visits and displaying family portraits on the classroom walls. The methodology for this research paper is a literature review that will bring together information on technologies from all the sciences and engineering fields. As with other projects treating oil waste in all its forms has become a problem best solved by multi-disciplinary collaborations.
Chapter 4 also addresses the how teachers can better understand parents for example their roles and their lifetime experiences. Family components (gender, language and culture) are diverse in hundreds of ways in even one public elementary school. The differences in a family create a “coherence and stability for members in the household” (Heilman, 2008 as cited by Barbour, C., Barbour. N., and Scully, 2010, p. 87). A very good point in the chapter is that although parents come in all varieties, the nurturing relationship between a parent and child is universal. Parents in general take responsibility for providing their children with love, physical security and shelter. Unfortunately contemporary stresses compromise the ability of parents to continually demonstrate and develop good skills. Stressors that a teacher may recognize in the parents of students may be economic problems or even mental illness. The Family Systems Theory offers a framework to enhance teachers’ ability to work in partnership with parents in distress. “Six characteristics of the family as a system are especially relevant for teachers: boundaries, roles, rules, hierarchy, climate and equilibrium” (Barbour, C., Barbour, N., and Scully, 2010, p. 90). A teacher can reflect on their own childhood experiences gain some insight. Also remaining observant and noticing how different parents interact with their children in supermarkets, department stores and at libraries can be a good learning experience.
Chapter 4 takes on a discussion about the nurturing role in families and familial responsibility. The importance of cultural structures in family traditions is reviewed. The authors explain the different parent interaction strategies used with their children. Examples of family experiences are shared and outside influences on parenting are discussed.
Chapter 5 Meeting Child-Care Needs from Infancy through School Age
Storytelling has been an important way for me to listen and learn as well as a way to present lessons to children. Storytelling is discussed as an important way to communicate feelings and ideas to children who may be feeling very sensitive because their family has to move around a lot so the parents can find work or someone in the household has a disability. From my experience shared storytelling is one of the best ways to help children deal with the stress of divorcing parents. Meanwhile children living in poverty require special attention in order to “facilitate classroom management” the authors suggest teachers develop “meaningful relationships” (Barbour, C., Barbour, N., and Scully, 2010, p. 115). The authors don’t mean that developing a relationship with a child living in poverty is a calculated means to easier classroom management. They also list other areas where a teacher’s influence can be critical including identifying motivations for the child so he or she will be more likely to become involved in classroom activities. Also by cultivating partnerships with the parents and the community the child will begin to feel the support they need is available. Therefore they will become more successful in meeting learning goals. Importantly “children and families are resilient to some degree” but the teacher is in a position to observe the difference between a child experience everyday stress and one who is being abused or neglected. The last situation is when time spent in the past cultivating community resources becomes very helpful.
In Chapter 5 issues of child care for children from infancy throughout school age are addressed. A discussion of the child care history in the United States helps put into perspective the infrastructure that exists in contemporary times. The lists for qualities one expects from good health care are full of common sense and perhaps they are obvious; still it is good to have the lists organized and in one place. The public policy portion of the chapter seems to be more useful for understanding the government’s expectations on licensing and accreditation. The resources offered in this chapter, such as the web links are very good to have easily available.
A short review of the history of child care is offered in chapter 5. Contemporary child care issues in the US are addressed as well as child care arrangements. A checklist is offered for the features that create a high quality child care facility. Legal requirements and accreditation issues are discussed. The authors also offer some ideas for using collaboration as a tool to meet the challenges of teaching in child care facilities.
Chapter 6 Working with Families of Children with Disabilities
Chapter 6 offers a review of information for teachers on working with students with disabilities and their families. The comment by the authors that “children who are gifted and talented may also benefit from accommodations to the general curriculum in order to achieve their full potential, but such help is not mandated by law at this time” seems wildly out of place in Chapter 6. Gifted and talented is not a disability and all children should be accommodated to the same degree in the goal to reach their full potential. Disabilities are treated very differently now than teachers’ growing up in earlier generations experienced in their schools. Therefore reflecting on how disabled children can be smoothly integrated into the classroom may have some special challenges. But the use of medication for children in school seems to be a problem with a higher generation. The use of pharmaceuticals may help a child fit into the classroom routines better but on the other hand will that child learn how to behave if the medications are discontinued. Many questions arise about the medication of children in schools that may be difficult to discuss with parents. Therefore the cultivation of a relationship over time can certainly be helpful when delicate issues need to be discussed.
The US Federal Special Education laws are reviewed. The issue of children with disabilities is addressed from the perspective of families, schools and communities. Suggestions are made of ways to support disabled children and their families.
Chapter 7 Protecting Children while Fostering Learning
This chapter is one of the most important in the book. The importance lies in the authors’ ability to help teachers consider and deal with the bombardment of information children experience daily. Helping children learning healthy habits is a difficult task because of the conflicting messages about food from the media. A primary importance is helping children learn how to maintain good health and make choices that help them avoid problems such as substance abuse. Consistency in the environments they are in socially and particularly emotionally can be pivotal for a child. The “Implications for Teachers” on pages 184-185 is especially important because the ways to partner with parents are listed. Another reason the lists are helpful is because a teacher has the opportunity to point to pages in a book and show the information to parents who are not impressed by the teacher’s advice alone.
The chapter enhances a teacher’s understanding of the formal and informal rules of family traditions versus societal traditions that foster learning and keep children feeling safe and secure. In order for high quality learning to take place, children must have a safe place to live and a nurturing family. Otherwise the child will be working at a disadvantage and may not reach his or her full potential. A difficult issue that faces teachers in the US is the increasing problem of child obesity. The subject is a very sensitive issue in families and can put teachers in a very challenging position. The medical community has left no doubt though that for children to be healthy certain ranges of body weight are appropriate at different ages. The authors give an example of a young boy who feels rejected because he is overweight. Rejection is only one of the negative feelings that children experience as they try to fit in within their peer group while at the same time feeling overwhelming insecurities because of their body weight.
Chapter 7 addresses at the delicate balance teachers must create between fostering learning and protecting the students. Therefore safeguards are discussed. Collaboration between parents and teachers is further explored. The role of a school in meeting the needs of children for safety and nurturing are discussed. The responsibilities of teachers, parents and communities for safety and fostering learning are discussed. Suggestions for how the three groups can cooperate and collaborate in order to meet responsibilities have been offered.
Barbour, Chandler, Barbour, Nita H. and Patricia A. Scully. Families, Schools, and Communities: Building Partnerships for Educating Children. Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2010. Print.