Community, agency, and place: an instrumental case study of a relational partnership between rural museum and school stakeholders
Weikert, Angela Hewitt
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In the discussion about the formation and function of partnerships between community anchor institutions (e.g., schools, communities, and museums), previous studies examining motivating reasons for partnerships have been primarily focused on urban settings. Next to no research has been conducted to understand the unique factors that support partnerships in rural communities. Therefore, the purpose of this instrumental case study was to examine the motivating reasons why stakeholders from community anchor institutions establish and sustain a partnership to design and implement a place-conscious approach to education in a rural context. Data were collected using field notes, documents, audiovisual digital materials, and semi-structured interviews with nine stakeholders representing a museum and a local school district. The findings from this study illuminated the importance of understanding the nature of partnerships in a rural context. They highlight a significant shift away from previous definitions of partnerships as transactional and elevate the importance of both the relational aspects of a partnership and the critical role that relationships play in everyday rural life. The results of this study revealed how rural community members are connected through multiple roles and intentionally build long-standing relationships to support students beyond the classroom. The results also extended the findings of previous studies regarding individuals' motivating reasons for partnerships, through articulating the multidimensional reasons why stakeholders in rural contexts participate in partnership activities. These reasons included: a vision for the whole community, beliefs about personal contributions, and the value of place. Finally, the participants in this study demonstrated solution-focused innovation in their approaches to prioritizing partnership activities. This new finding highlights the shortcomings of previous descriptions of the factors that shape partnership activities which reflect superficial understandings of partnerships through vocabulary choices such as constrain or promote. Notably, this study provided an example of rural education innovation modeling how new ideas developed with rural communities can build on and extend previous positive outcomes (White & Downey, 2021). Recommendations are made for future research to explore relational partnerships and anchor institutions in other communities, as well as studying how these relationships contribute to measures of community well-being, vitality, and student outcomes.