Just Schools – a review

A Review – Just Schools:

building equitable collaborations with families and communities

Author: Ann M. Ishimaru, Associate Professor of Educational Policy, Organizations,
and Leadership at the University of Washington College of Education.

Equitable Collaboration

  • To oversimplify, parent collaboration improves school climate, equity, sustainability, and achievement. Chicago schools with high levels of collaboration were 6 to 11 times more likely to improve student learning in reading and math respectively.
  • To be clear, passive “involvement,” or even token “engagement” is not enough. Needed is true partnership, working with parents as leaders, co-designing new ways of working together. Historically we have taken a deficit approach, marginalized non-dominant parents, and simply assumed school professionals knew best.
  • To improve toward more equitable and just schools, collaboration is needed – true co-design collaboration and true partnership.

Four principles

Dr. Ann Ishimaru shows how four big ideas bring education justice – just schools – into being:

  • Begin with family and community priorities, interests, concerns, knowledge, and resources. See parents as experts on their culture and their children. Recognize their funds of knowledge. Honor and privilege their stories.
  • Transform power. Treat parents as equal partners. Instead of “listening to respond,” go above and beyond to create equitable spaces where non-dominant parents are heard, understood, and invited to participate fully as equals. Let parents speak first. Demonstrate understanding and appreciation rather than defensiveness.
  • Build reciprocity and transformative agency. Co-design “meaningful opportunities for families to meet, make connections, share hopes and dreams…common concerns….” Ishimaru demonstrates the agency that comes from parents designing, piloting, and implementing a parent curriculum designed around their interests and needs.
  • Undertake change as collective inquiry. As a result of the co-design examples shared in the book, parents and teachers saw themselves as team players; they took on collective responsibility for school change. Collective efficacy increased. White teachers learned from parent expertise to appreciate cultural identities and improve their teaching

Paradigm Shifts

Ishimaru suggests four shifts in thinking that are needed for equitable collaborations:


Move from seeing parents as clients and beneficiaries…

…to seeing them as experts with funds of knowledge, leaders with agency to be co-collaborators.


Move from a deficit model of remediation, denial, and blame…

…to shared responsibility, thinking together about parent interests and goals.


Move from technical fixes within the existing biased systems…

…to building relationships, partnerships, capacity, and agency.


Move from just focusing at the school and classroom level…

…to working together on district and community understanding and partnerships.


James A. Banks sums up the highlights of Just Schools in the preface.  When we give voice to the myriad parents and families and communities of color that have too long been ignored and silenced in schools:

  • Schools become more affirming and “identity safe” places for students.
  • Learning becomes more culturally sustainable and joyous when we recognize, respect, and adopt elements from homes.
  • We benefit from parents “funds of knowledge” when we move beyond deficit perspectives to see sources of wisdom that can improve education of children.
  • Problem solving improves when we move from “listening to respond” to “listening genuinely to comprehend” and then take work in collaboration with students, families and communities to take meaningful action to solve them.

Building equitable collaborations with parents opens “untapped expertise and leadership for achieving educational equity and justice.”

  • Review by Larry Nyland
  • Resources: Co-designed Parent Curriculum Lessons are downloadable at:
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Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

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