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Families in the Driver’s Seat: Catalyzing Familial Transformative Agency for Equitable Collaboration

by Ann M. Ishimaru, Joe Lott II, Kathryn E. Torres & Karen O’Reilly-Diaz - 2019

Context: An emerging body of research has begun to re-envision how nondominant families and communities might become powerful actors in equity-based educational change when issues of power, race, culture, language, and class are integrated into family engagement efforts. Beyond the commitment to more equitable engagement, the field offers little empirically-grounded evidence with regard to how to shift power and build collective agency, particularly in the moment-to-moment interactions that constitute the ongoing daily practice of family-school relations.

Purpose of Study: We sought to understand how nondominant parents and educators could enact equitable collaboration in the school-based co-design of a parent education curriculum. We sought to better “map” the journey to transformative agency of nondominant parents by asking: What were the turning points in the emergence and evolution of transformative agency amongst nondominant parents from different racial/cultural/linguistic communities?  Within and across these turning points, how did parents narrate and negotiate their roles and evolve their transformative agency?

Setting: The research took place in a suburban school district in the Western United States outside a major urban city, in a region of increasing suburban poverty and marked racial, cultural, and linguistic diversity.

Participants: The design team included nine parents from two schools who identified as African/African American, Latina, Vietnamese, and white; three white teachers, two white principals, two district administrators (African American and multiracial), and five researchers (Asian American, African American, and Latino/a).

Research Design: This study merged a framework of equitable collaborations with expansive learning theory and employed participatory design research (PDR) methodologies to examine 10 design meetings with historically marginalized parents that sought to build authentic relationships, reciprocity, and accountability to one another and the targeted outcome.

Findings/Results: Our findings suggest a series of turning points marked by discursive expansions in which nondominant parents re-envisioned their own and educators’ roles in educational change. Through the design process, parents surfaced and engaged historical contradictions, developed collective understandings, modeled possibilities for collective voice and influence, and enacted their collective influence through the collection of data from other parents, the development and piloting of a lesson on bullying, and the completion of the curriculum.

Conclusions/Recommendations: We argue that these methods and theories offer ways forward from documenting deficit-based processes and historically-rooted power asymmetries in family engagement towards enacting equitable and democratic processes that leverage the expertise of nondominant families in tandem with that of formal educators and researchers.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 11, 2019, p. 1-39
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22819, Date Accessed: 9/16/2021 6:46:55 PM

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About the Author
  • Ann Ishimaru
    University of Washington
    E-mail Author
    ANN M. ISHIMARU is Associate Professor of Educational Policy, Organizations & Leadership at the College of Education at the University of Washington. Her scholarship focuses on the intersection of leadership, school-community relations, and educational equity in P–12 systems. Her research seeks to leverage the expertise of minoritized students, families, and communities, alongside that of educators, towards educational justice and community wellbeing. She is a recipient of the 2017 AERA Exemplary Contributions to Practice-Engaged Research Award and the 2016 UCEA Jack A. Culbertson Award.
  • Joe Lott II
    University of Washington
    E-mail Author
    JOE LOTT II is an associate professor in the College of Education at the University of Washington. He has published articles about and studied racial identity development and civic engagement among Black students in college, the impact of college experiences on civic and political dispositions, how to change the college-going culture through parent-school-community partnerships, and how to leverage university-community partnerships to foster wellness and educational achievement for men and boys of color along the P-20 continuum.
  • Kathryn Torres
    Education Northwest
    E-mail Author
    KATHRYN E. TORRES is a Senior Advisor and Researcher at Education Northwest. Her work focuses on P-20 equity issues for students in the Pacific Northwest, English Learners, data-driven decision making, instructional leadership, and organizational and systems change. She has studied and evaluated national professional development programs aimed to improve instruction for English Learners, collective impact initiatives with a focus on family engagement, consultant-supported professional learning communities for school improvement, and the recruitment, development and retention of STEM K–12 teachers.
  • Karen O’Reilly-Diaz
    University of Washington
    E-mail Author
    KAREN O’REILLY-DIAZ is a doctoral candidate in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Washington. Her research focuses on the relationships between schools and families and communities of color as an essential component in the creation of a more equitable education system. Specifically her dissertation examines how Latinx immigrant families work collectively as a way to leverage their power to bring about change in their students’ schools and communities.
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