As a newly minted business graduate, Aditi Rajendran envisioned a career helping manage non-profit organizations. After graduation, she landed a job with AmeriCorps and was put in charge of establishing a tutoring program in an urban elementary school. Feeling removed from the inner workings of the school as a tutoring coordinator, the following year she transitioned to a position providing direct reading instruction support to K-3rd grade students.
It was in the middle of working in that complicated environment, however, where Rajendran saw first-hand the need to rethink how families, schools and communities work together to improve student learning.
“There was a lot of talk about accountability without focusing on what it means to be accountable to students, families and communities,” she said.
Motivated by her experiences, Rajendran was drawn to the Educational Policy, Organizations and Leadership doctoral program at the University of Washington College of Education, where she’s working with low-income, historically underserved families to redefine equity in the context of diverse communities.
“For a long time, we have ignored the role of students, families and communities of color in education,” Rajendran said. “I think having this explicit focus on the experiences and inherent value of our communities lifts that space up.”
She currently serves as a researcher with the Family Leadership Design Collaborative, a UW-led national initiative to center racial equity in family engagement and co-create transformative possibilities for family and community wellness and education justice. She previously served on the College’s Equitable Parent-School Collaboration research team, a related effort that brought together families and educators and drew on the knowledge and expertise of families to drive improvements in student learning.
“It has changed what I think it means to be a researcher, about the future of education research and participatory methods,” Rajendran said. “I have learned what it means to do community-based research and how are we working with communities and not doing research on communities. I feel like I have developed a more critical lens on issues of race, equity, power and justice.”
Rajendran is committed to a holistic and systemic approach to education equity and believes that community involvement is critical for creating effective education policies that benefit all students. Understanding the experiences of students and families is key to making progressive changes in education policy, she said, and to be effective, education policy makers must engage with families on multiple levels, using social justice as a tool to achieve reform.
“We need to be thinking beyond simply resisting oppression and fighting injustice, but also dreaming, imagining, co-creating and building the vision for the students, families and communities for the future.”
Learn more about the Family Leadership Design Collaborative be reading "Families in the driver's seat" from the 2016-17 edition of Research That Matters.
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications