In an equitable collaboration framework, we see families and communities positioned as educational leaders.

Ann M. Ishimaru

A new book by University of Washington College of Education Professor Ann M. Ishimaru, “Just Schools: Building Equitable Collaborations with Families and Communities,” examines the challenges and possibilities of creating more equitable forms of collaboration among non-dominant families, communities and schools.

“As we’ve been trying to make changes to the long-standing and persistent racial inequities that exist in our schools and really transform education, my argument is that we’ve overlooked a vital source of expertise and leadership — and that resides in the families and communities of students themselves,” said Ishimaru, principal investigator for the UW-based Family Leadership Design Collaborative.

Ishimaru noted that while many conventional models for involving parents in schools exist, such as parent-teacher associations, “those models can actually reinforce the kinds of inequities that we’re hoping to disrupt.”

Drawing on Ishimaru’s work with the Family Leadership Design Collaborative and Equitable Parent-School Collaboration project over more than a decade, “Just Schools” describes core concepts for equitable collaboration and provides multiple examples of effective practices.

“In an equitable collaboration framework, we see families and communities positioned as educational leaders,” Ishimaru said. “We see approaches that are focused on relationship building and capacity building towards systemic change. We see a recognition of the broader context and the social-political context as being part of the conversation around change. And we see goals that are really focused on systemic change and improvement, rather than fixing individual children or families or communities.”

One of the key principles laid out by Ishimaru is starting with the priorities and agendas of families and communities, particularly those who are marginalized, in any collaborative effort.

“When we begin [there] we open the door to having new kinds of insights and being able to fundamentally shift how the conversation and the kinds of solutions that we are working towards can unfold,” Ishimaru said.

A second key principle explored in the book is the importance of transforming power.

“We can throw a bunch of people around a table and hope that equitable collaboration will proceed,” Ishimaru said, but “we know that even well meaning policy structures often default to the same kind of power dynamics between educators and families, especially mediated by issues of race, class, language and power, in ways that actually reinforce the decision-making processes of the system, that reinforce the status quo.”

Through an exploration of these and other principles for ongoing processes that support equitable collaboration, including practical steps that educators and administrators can take, “Just Schools” offers promising possibilities for improving student learning, transforming educational systems and developing robust partnerships that build on the resources, expertise and cultural practices of nondominant families.

Ishimaru received the American Educational Research Association’s 2017 Exemplary Contributions to Practice-Engaged Research Award in recognition of her work to engage historically marginalized families in the creation of more equitable educational systems, and to help education leaders incorporate a focus on equity and cultural responsiveness in their work. Her article "Beyond Individual Effectiveness: Conceptualizing Organizational Leadership for Equity" was honored as the most read article of 2014 in the journal Leadership & Policy in Schools, and her work has been published widely in journals including the American Educational Research Journal, Journal of Educational Administration and Peabody Journal of Education.

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Ann M. Ishimaru, Professor of Education

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