Mason faculty authors book on the importance of families in early childhood education

September 12, 2023

Dr. Bweikia Steen, Associate Professor and Academic Program Co-Coordinator (Undergraduate) in the Early Childhood Education program at George Mason University’s School of Education within the College of Education and Human Development, has authored a new book titled Hear Our Voices! Engaging in Partnerships that Honor Families. The book highlights the voices of diverse families as they navigate the school system with their young children and establishes why reciprocal family partnerships are essential to child development and learning. The families share their perspectives on school and classroom policies and practices and how their children’s teachers, school leaders, and early learning programs could partner with them.

Dr. Bweikia Steen
Dr. Bweikia Steen

Dr. Steen’s book is drawn from her more than two decades of research as an early childhood educator. She writes that during this time, she worked with over one hundred families, including linguistically and culturally diverse families, families from one- and two-parent households, adoptive families, military families, families from low-income households, and families of children with special needs.

In her book, Dr. Steen discusses the importance of engaging the family in collaboration and goal setting and the need for educators to ask the family about their experiences and the strategies they use with their child. “Recognizing that the voices of those who have been silenced are powerful is the important first step of meeting the developmental and learning needs of the whole child,” she writes. “This belief recognizes that a family has ownership over how best to support their child and acknowledges that without their partnership, fundamental insight into the individual development and identity of their child is missing.”

Hear Our Voices book cover

“Through dialogue and intentional active listening, stories are shared, experiences are valued, and connections are made,” Dr. Steen continues. “By actively listening to the children and families’ voices and stories, educators learn about the diverse contexts, stories, cultures, languages, and experiences each brings into the school and classroom environment. Active listening requires engagement, curiosity, and understanding. Educators listen to learn, and then they take what they have learned and build from it. In this way, educators start to build relationships with families, which ultimately lead to partnerships.”

When asked about why she decided to author this book, Dr. Steen explained, “As an early childhood educator of color, I would have families approach me desiring to voice their experiences with their child’s school and share their child’s successes and challenges. They had questions they needed answers to, they had suggestions, and were eager to advocate for their child and for others who were in their predicament. When I began to listen and reflect, my teaching practices changed in impactful ways.”

The book provides strategies that administrators and early childhood educators can use to help build reciprocal partnerships with the families served. In her book, Dr. Steen describes how the commitment of early childhood educators to the development and success of these reciprocal partnerships helps build trust and nurtures the family’s sense of belonging and inclusion in their child’s program at school.

Dr. Steen emphasizes, “Families have voices, they want to be heard.... it's time to listen.”

The book is available in both print and eBook format and may be ordered from the National Association for the Education of Young Children by clicking here.

For information on the degree offerings in Mason’s Early Childhood Education program, please visit our website.