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Review: ‘Inviting Families Into the Classroom’

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

This piece originally appeared on the Notebook blog.

In my school, I see students’ family members in the hallways and schoolyard; moms and dads on buses for field trips; parent volunteers for our weekly pretzel sale; parents during report card conferences; the auditorium filled with families for the annual talent show; and a standing-room only crowd for our 8th grade graduation.

All of this participation seems natural and encouraging. But if I were to walk into a classroom during instruction and find a parent in the room, I would wonder why.

After reading Lynne Yermanock Strieb’s book called "Inviting Families Into the Classroom: Learning from a Life in Teaching" (National Writing Project and Teachers College Press, 2010), I have a very different perspective on the role of family members in the classroom.

I don’t want to say I never learned the importance of making strong connections to my students’ families. My student teaching experience at C.W. Henry Elementary was fantastic because many parents would help, collecting homework or preparing students to leave for the day.

When I began teaching professionally, I thought I would have family volunteers in my room all the time.

Then, the first day came. I had moms, dads, grandmothers, and uncles wondering what they were getting their kids into. I was absolutely petrified of being judged as an inadequate teacher.

Turning the fear of judgment into humility has become a personal goal.

Reading Strieb’s account of a career’s worth of family involvement was an inspiration for how I hope to teach.

Inviting Families Into the Classroom is a practitioner’s guide on creating an environment where families feel comfortable joining their children.

Strieb begins her story advocating for equitable education at the now defunct Keyser School in Germantown. The campaign she was involved in ruffled the feathers of teachers and administrators but ultimately did lead to sustained improvement in the way students and parents were treated and educated at the John B. Kelly School.

Strieb also lays out how she informed, recruited, and gained the trust of her students’ families. Each chapter is filled with the documentation she accrued over a 30-year teaching career – letters from parents, class newsletters, and detailed accounts of student-family interactions in the classroom and community.

Through her work with the Philadelphia Teachers Learning Cooperative, Strieb gathered and analyzed anecdotal notes and letters home. It is a great insight to see the homework explanations Strieb sent home to parents and to get into her philosophy on why to give homework.

The great value of the book is a playbook as to why and how to bring home cultures into the classroom.

Families were not asked simply to collect homework folders and pass out glue sticks. Families shared what they celebrated, did for a living, and enjoyed in their free time.

Strieb documents the wonderful knowledge gained when parents shared their culture with the class. She also shows us what can go wrong and how to overcome misunderstandings between teachers and families. Especially of value to many Philadelphia educators are these honest and thoughtful depictions of crossing cultural barriers.

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