In full disclosure, I was provided with a copy of The Welcoming Classroom in exchange for my honest opinion. An affiliate link is also included.
The right program, great teachers and a structured classroom are all important factors in providing a successful education. This, however, is only half of what is needed for a child to grow and prosper in the educational setting. The engagement and participation of parents is key in fostering healthy development, academically, behaviorally and emotionally.
In the book, The Welcoming Classroom: Building Strong Home-to-School Connections for Early Learning, Dr. Johnna Darragh Ernst emphasizes the importance of effective communication with the families of early learners. In today’s society, each classroom you enter is rich with culture, diversity and varied ability levels. No two students are the same just as no two families are the same. With this amazing book, educators, program directors and parents can learn how to develop and strengthen the home-to-school relationship.
Dr. Johnna Darragh Ernst is a Professor of Early Childhood Education at Heartland Community College in Normal, Illinois. She prides herself on helping early childhood professionals connect with the families they work with in order to create a successful learning environment. Dr. Ernst shares with readers the importance of building a strong foundation that supports family engagement, tips in understanding and defining families, ways to develop effective communication skills, advice in understanding cultural differences, ways to provide an engaging school environment and so much more! Readers will walk away from this book with a wealth of knowledge.
As a school psychologist, I understand very well the importance of strong family connections and the need for parental involvement in the school setting. When families are engaged, children feel supported and learn early on that the educational process is important for a successful life. As a result, it is critical for educators to learn effective strategies to help engage and connect with the families they serve. Understanding your own cultural perspective and the perspective of others helps promote effective communication. It is also important for educators to realize that EVERY family is different so the communication tactics may need to be altered with each new family you approach.
In Chapter 1, Dr. Ernst emphasizes the importance of understanding and defining families. “The first thing to remember about the [typical] family is that is doesn’t exist.” Families vary is size, marital status, race, economic status and more. Understanding that a family does not always consist of two parents, two kids and the family pet, is the first step in creating a foundation for healthy and effective communication. To develop a unique culture that fosters engagement, it is also important to reflect on what your program offers families. The Welcoming Classroom offers a great list of reflection questions within Chapter 1.
Chapter 2 of The Welcoming Classroom focuses on building good communication and collaboration skills. The first step is to set communication goals. This helps provide a focus in your interactions with others. The next step is to develop mindful communication. This means being aware that you are fully present in the conversation, you are attending to what the person is saying and recognize that the outcome of the conversation is impacted by your engagement. Effective communication also consists of using seeking and verifying skills, adopting a clean-slate perspective, using joining and supporting skills and learning to resolve conflicts.
Chapters 3 through 6 focus on the importance of cultural awareness. Communication will not be effective if you do not take the time to understand different social identities and cultural frameworks. Each person is unique which means no two moms feel the same way or have the same perspective even if they are of the same race and cultural background. Educators have to do their best to stay away from stereotypes and defining people only by what they see.
One way to expand your cultural literacy is to recognize your own cultural lens. This means being aware of how we see others based on their culture. We often misinterpret and unfairly judge others based on what we believe to be the “right” thing to do. “Only when we truly understand the lens that we bring to the situation can we hope to effectively partner with families.” Educators must also learn about the cultural lenses of others. This means learning to see life from their perspective. This will help understand how they process information or make certain choices.
Being a culturally competent communicator will help build and strengthen the home-to-school connections. Dr. Ernst explains, in detail, how culture, including cultural scripts, influence communication. She also provides valuable information about using the Balance Approach and the Respect Model. Both strategies are great ways to improve communication with families.
In Chapter 5, Dr. Ernst provides steps to make your organization culturally and linguistically responsive. Early learning organizations need to make information accessible for all families in order for them to be able fully participate. First, organizations need to explore their own identity and culture. Next, they need to develop a diverse leadership team. Third, make sure the hiring policies help form a team that can offer competent communication needed to foster the home-to-school relationship. Conducting effective family conferences, developing community outreach and widening program communication with families also helps a program grow. Lastly, conducting ongoing program assessment is key to developing a culturally responsive program.
The last chapter in The Welcoming Classroom, focuses on creating culturally and linguistically competent classrooms. What I love about this chapter is that it contains 5 tables that offer excellent tips and advice for educators. These charts can be copied and distributed to the entire teaching staff at your organization/school. These checklists can be referred to frequently and assist teachers in offering effective communication which, in turn, leads to success in the classroom. The Appendix also offers an excellent self-reflection checklist that can be completed several times throughout the year.
As you can clearly see, The Welcoming Classroom: Building Strong Home-to-School Connections for Early Learning, is a wonderful resource for parents, educators and school directors. You can purchase your own copy for only $16.95 on the Gryphon House website or on amazon.com.