Delale-O'Connor, L. & Milner, H.R. (2016) Centers at the center: Engagement and collaboration for educator development and student growth. Presidential Session. American Educational Research Association Meeting, Washington, D.C.
This paper focuses on the question, “How can university Centers act in an intermediary capacity to facilitate communication, build relationships, and foster change within the PK-20 environment?” Centers often operate both outside of and within the community, allowing them to engage and connect with a variety of individuals and organizations. Because of this unique placement and due to the types of activities in which they engage (e.g. direct service, evaluation, research, sponsoring events), Centers have the opportunity to focus explicitly on facilitating meaningful communication and connections across PK-20 stakeholders. This paper focuses on the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Urban Education (CUE) and its approaches to building relationships and facilitating communication across stakeholders to affect change in the Pittsburgh PK-20 landscape. Using CUE as a model, we discuss the potential for other Centers to engage in similar processes to address issues of educational equity on both a local and national level.
CUE is a research and service center with the mission of researching and disseminating evidence-based methods for improving education in the Pittsburgh region and nationally. We work to achieve this mission by engaging and partnering with the community to advance educator preparation and development and improve student academic and social development from pre-K through the doctorate. In particular, we do this in a variety of ways, including conducting research; running direct service programs; hosting events that connect community members; and leading evaluation work with local districts and education-focused non-profits.
Theoretical Framework and Methods: A key component of CUE’s work focuses on community collaboration and engagement—the success of our findings, products and progress in influencing practice is largely dependent on the quality of community partnership and engagement. Part of this role includes the coordination of different stakeholders ideas and needs, including University faculty, school leadership, staff, students and parents, community leaders, local non-profits, and local school districts. While the insights of these different stakeholders are valuable for our work, and their “buy-in” is often critical to programmatic success, further opportunity to address issues in educational equity comes from connecting individuals or groups doing this work and contributing to their capacity (through funding opportunities, research, outside support and training). We have built our products, projects, and events in such a way to maximize impact and facilitate these connections.
Results and Significance: To date, the work that CUE has done engages a variety of stakeholders to foster relationships and enhance their work. Some critical examples of this work include our Ready to Learn program—a tutoring and mentoring program that connects Pitt undergraduates, students in under-served public school, and other community organizations and providers to enhance student academic and social development; and our current research and evaluation with local districts and community non-profits, including a collective impact initiative with the local school district focused explicitly on fostering connections. We argue that such work is not unique to CUE and can be translated into the local contexts of similarly operating Centers.