Initiating community engagement for enhancing preservice teacher education
Facilitating community engagement in education is promoted and emphasised in university policies and strategic plans. How can a university facilitate innovations to develop collaborative partnerships with its community? This paper presents leadership processes for initiating community engagement with an Australian university and highlights examples of innovations in Science Education for Sustainable Living (SESL) with preservice teachers’ reflections on their teaching practices. Data collection included observations of practice, interviews, minutes of meetings, and written correspondence with a wide range of participants (i.e., senior QUT staff, lecturers, preservice teachers, principals, school executives and teachers, and other community members). A four-step process for implementing SESL innovations provided an example of university-community engagement, and was used as a catalyst for preservice teachers (n=14) to reflect on SESL, which provided opportunities for enhancing their science teaching practices. Results indicated that connecting the community with preservice teacher education aided in promoting understandings of sustainable living and kept environmental issues on the agenda. The four-step process implemented by the preservice teachers for SESL assisted to conceptually advance understandings of scientific causes and effects in order to propose appropriate solutions. Initiating university-community engagement required articulating visionary directions, understanding change processes, motivating potential key stakeholders, and promoting collaboration and team effort. In addition, distributing leadership aided in facilitating university-community collaboration and allowed for the implementation of a wider range of innovations. It was concluded that distributing leadership will be essential in order to sustain university-community engagement, particularly as key stakeholders in leadership roles can deploy energy and resources at levels required for successful collaborations.