Book by Weiss, Heather B., Kreider, Holly, Lopez, M. Elena, & Chatman, Celina M.
Review by Nikki Allen Dyer
Director, Student Retention
Wor-Wic Community College, Salisbury, Maryland

Academic advisors who read this casebook may agree that the adage, “people are the products of their environments” may be more accurately stated, “people are the products of their micro, meso, exo, and macrosystems.”  Using Ecological Systems Theory as an overarching framework, Weiss, Kreider, Lopez, and Chatman present a number of child development theories in the interconnected and interdependent contexts of children’s lives. Here they propose practical means by which teachers, administrators, and community members can more effectively involve families in the education of middle childhood-aged students.

Beginning with the innermost ecological context – the microsystem, and concluding with the macrosystem, the editors propose how seven theoretical perspectives and pertinent research can be applied to current practices by teachers, families, school administrators, and members of the community to enhance understanding, involvement, and positive change inside and outside the classroom.  The editors specifically encourage readers to analyze challenges that schools experience when attempting to, “…develop meaningful relationships with low-income families whose racial, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds differ from the school staff” (p. xv).  Such challenges “…center on key issues in family involvement, such as how families and schools construct their roles in children’s learning, how economic and time poverty interfere with involvement wishes, and cultural differences that arise between families and schools”  (p. xvi).  To demonstrate the applicability of such theoretical approaches and suggest opportunities for changes in practice, twelve cases are presented that bring to life the gaps which can exist within and among the Ecosystem of a child’s development.  Families, schools, peers, and communities impact a child’s development in both direct and indirect ways.  It is well known that family involvement is positively correlated to child development and academic success.  While each constituent may share the common goal of understanding, promoting, and supporting child development, how each constituent defines development, the means by which each constituent fosters development (including the roles they assume), and how these constituents assess development may vary in significant ways, ultimately leading to a breakdown in student learning.  

While this text focuses on middle childhood development, academic advisors can gain an enriched perspective into the contexts and the individual and collective constituents that impact student thought, feelings, behaviors, and values as they pertain to education from the onset of formal education to the present day.  Case studies allow advisors to analyze the complex interactions, barriers, inconsistencies, miscommunications, and social challenges that students may face throughout their education; the result of which can cause academic, social, transitional, and cross-cultural difficulties during student pursuance of higher education.  Advisors can begin to see the multi-faceted, highly complex, and infinitely unique nature of student learning, development, retention, and success.  Noting that student development occurs over a lifespan and is influenced by both microcosms and macrocosms in complex ways, it is no wonder that historically defined minority populations continue to struggle to succeed in the modern American higher education system.  Advisors can apply the practical recommendations offered within the text to their student conferences in a number of ways, particularly when working with students who are deemed “at-risk” or who self-identify as experiencing distress within the college environment.  Prompting the advisor to initiate discussion with the advisee about the contexts in which they currently exist in relation to those in which they existed in the past can introduce rich opportunities to uncover dissonance or incongruence within and among the student’s Ecological System.  Particularly eye-opening are the case studies in which the adult’s own culture (values, norms, and beliefs) interferes in the development of the child at hand.  Unless advisors identify, define, and understand their own culture and how that culture impacts their practice and advisee-relations, they run the risk of deterring student learning- just the inverse of their desired outcomes.

While modern college policies and practices in advisement must embrace FERPA and students  are considered successful if they are self-reliant, self-directed, and self-sufficient, (all very Eurocentric values) the reader is left questioning the impact of the current trend that leaves families out of the higher education system and its effect on students.  International and minority student populations may be among those most negatively impacted by such an act of exclusion. Contained in this text are strong recommendations that practitioners in elementary schools and communities explore ways to involve families in their children’s education.  While some American colleges and universities have successfully implemented programs for family involvement in their child’s college education, future research could examine the longitudinal effects of family involvement in the elementary, secondary, and post secondary years of student development.  Such would expand research regarding those impacts (direct and indirect) proposed by those elements of the chronosystem, as related to the Ecological Systems Theory.  Researchers and practitioners should use this text as a starting point for such research.  

Preparing Educators to Involve Families:  From Theory to Practice. (2005). Book by Weiss, Heather B., Kreider, Holly, Lopez, M. Elena, & Chatman, Celina M. (Eds.). Review by Nikki Allen Dyer. Thousand Oaks, California:  Sage Publications, 168 pp., $34.95, ISBN # 1-4129-0910-4
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