It Takes a Village: Reimagining Traditional Public School Family Outreach Approaches by Dismantling Antiquated Power Structures through Relational Trust Building in School Communities of Color

This March, Alder affiliate professor Troya Ellis had the honor of presenting at the 16th annual Alumni of Color Conference (AOCC) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education alongside Harvard Divinity graduate student Britney Foster and Special Education Instructional Coach Allison Brown. Organized exclusively by HGSE students, the 2018 AOCC brought together a diverse body of undergraduate and graduate students, teachers, instructional leaders, professors, and nonprofit executives to explore the theme of Radicalize, Reimagine, Reconstruct. Their panel, It Takes a Village: Reimagining Traditional Public School Family Outreach, focused on a variety of practice-based approaches to dismantling antiquated power structures through relational trust building in school communities of color.

The presentation engaged participants in critical conversations about the importance of interdisciplinary school teams as the bridge builders for institutional partnerships and community allies. Panelists highlighted the most effective practices of school teams that enable the development of relational trust within educational institutions and build partnerships with Black and Latino families through the reenactment and deconstruction of two alternative approaches—Processing Circles and Structured Family Interviews. This immersive experience allowed the group to collectively shed light upon the often discrete systems of oppression enmeshed in school policy, masked by well-meaning intervention initiatives, and ultimately upheld by implicit bias. Through data-driven debriefing and guided group discussion, educators were able to recognize the use of language as social capital and agency, and intentional, unwavering relational trust building as a tool to engage and empower families of color.

For Dr. Ellis, attending the AOCC provided affirmation of her approach of incorporating family engagement within teaching pedagogy and encouraging Alder residents to consistently consider diversity, equity, and inclusion in their interactions with students and their families. In addition, Dr. Ellis returns to Alder feeling empowered and ignited after hearing the narratives and research of fellow scholars in education, social work, and social justice. The overall experience of attending the AOCC is best summed up by the advice of the closing keynote speaker, Chicago-born writer, scholar, and artist Eve Ewing, encouraging educators to build solidarity and trusting connections within the communities they serve in order to make a positive impact in the lives of their students.