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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