Community Engaged Scholarship in Family, School and Community Partnerships

Guest Editors: Michael P. Evans

Miami University (Ohio)

In August of 1998 I started my first day as a second grade teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The product of an alternative route to certification program, I was ill-prepared for the challenges that I would encounter in the classroom. Fortunately, I worked at a school that had developed a strong sense of community, and my colleagues and the families of my students would not allow me to fail. This community provided encouragement, support and occasionally constructive criticism as I sought to find my way as a new teacher. I was fortunate to work in such a supportive environment and witness firsthand the power and potential of strong family, school and community partnerships.

Twenty years later as a scholar in the field of family, school, and community partnerships, I remain convinced that investing in the development of strong relationships can yield benefits for students, families, educators and their communities. In doing this work I have also come to realize that in order to achieve strong relationships, there needs to be a foundation of trust and respect for diverse perspectives. Honoring the experiences of others and fostering authentic relationships that are mutually beneficial are essential for sustaining schools that are committed to equity and excellence.

As the field of family, school, and community partnerships continues to evolve in recognition of the important contributions of families and students, the time has come to evaluate the relational dynamics between researchers and communities. In other fields, such as public health, community engaged scholarship (CES) has transformed these relationships and resulted in innovative research the directly benefits the community. Small pockets of CES exist within the broader field of education and there are currently ongoing efforts to expand this work. For example, the Urban Research Based Action Network (URBAN) seeks to provide networking opportunities for scholars and practitioners interested in CES.

It was through my participation in URBAN that I first conceived of the idea to create a special issue focused on the potential of CES within the field of family, school, and community partnerships. This issue builds on the work of other URBAN members who are also committed to raising the profile of CES in education research. For example, in 2016, Sarah Hobson, Samara Foster, Dana Wright, Joy Howard, Bernadette Doykos, and Elizabeth Hudson published a special issue of the International Journal of Qualitative Research (Vol. 29, Issue 10) focused on how CES can serve as a means to challenge dominant neoliberal trends in education. In 2018, Mark Warren served as lead editor for a special issue of Urban Education (Vol. 53, Issue 4) that addresses broader issues in community engaged education research, such as ethical standards, institutional reward structures, and navigating political environments. This issue of The Journal of Family Diversity in Education seeks to extend their work, but also offers an introduction to individuals who are new to this work by providing a diverse set of examples of CES in relation to family, school and community partnership work.

Collectively the articles in this issue offer insights on how burgeoning efforts in CES might contribute to the continued growth and potential impact of strong family, school and community partnerships. The first article, which I authored, provides an overview of community-engaged scholarship. This paper was informed by the existing research literature, ongoing conversations with colleagues in the URBAN network, participation in the 2017 Community Engaged Research Institute at UC Santa Cruz, and my students at Miami University. One goal of this overview is to illuminate the broad spectrum of approaches to CES, while simultaneously highlighting some common challenges that practitioners face (e.g. negotiating the IRB process).

The second article by Ann Ishimaru, Aditi Rajendran, Charlene Montaño Nolan, and Megan Bang introduce readers to community design circles as a means to enact new forms of collaboration with non-dominant families and communities. Drawing from a national network of sites utilizing this approach, the authors detail how the design circles help to provide agency for diverse families and result in situated collaborations that honor the experiences of the participants.

In the third article, Linnea Beckett provides an in-depth exploration of the ethical considerations that face practitioners of CES. Her discussion of digital storytelling as a method and the dilemmas that emerged related to the dissemination of research findings raises important questions about the negotiation of power dynamics in university-community partnerships.

The fourth article offers insights from a participatory action research project in Saskatoon, Canada where families, educators, and district leaders sought to develop a more systemic approach to family engagement that was inclusive of all families. Debbie Pushor provides a detailed case study of various strategies that were employed to achieve this goal including the ongoing evaluation and tweaks that were necessary to address the needs of various constituents.

The fifth and last article by Letica Alvarez Gutiérrez and Patricia Quijada Cerecer speaks to the power of participatory action research as a means to transform communities. The authors highlight the collaborative efforts of educators, immigrant and refugee students, and families to resist racial stigmatization and marginalization while simultaneously offering aspiring teachers the opportunity to learn from the diverse communities where they will eventually work.

Each article offers an example of how CES can be used to further the field of family, school, and community partnerships. It was truly an honor to work with scholars who were so committed to their community partners.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not thank Tammy Turner-Vorbeck and Monica Miller Marsh, the editors of the Journal of Family Diversity in Education, for both their valuable assistance with the publishing process and for their commitment to providing a venue for emerging scholarship in this area. The authors and I hope that readers of JFDE will be inspired to initiate, support or continue this important work in their own communities.

Published: 2018-12-14