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Conducting Self-Study Research: The Role of a Critical Friend

Self-study is a genre of research concerned with examining the role of the educator within professional practice settings (Samaras, 2011). An integral component of self study' is having a critical friend to inform the data analysis and interpretation process (Costa & Kallick, 1993; Russell & Schtick, 2004). As noted by McKeown and Diboll (2011), a critical friend “champions the co-construction of knowledge through collegial inquiry, conversation, and collaborative reflection within a climate of mutual vulnerability and risktaking, trust and support” (p. 16). Therefore, I collaborated with Rev. Dr. Jess Bielman, along with a network of other friends and professionals, as part of a process seeking to gain a deeper understanding of the possibilities for the Ministry and Community Engagement Program through the lens of place-based community engagement in higher education. Jess began as a colleague at WP—as a faculty member and Executive Director of Contextualized Ministries—and is now Associate Director of Innovation for the Greater Northwest Area United Methodist Church. Jess’s experience working within the systems at WP as well as within the broader community, along with his shared desire to see our city flourish, has brought significant questions and insights into the continued evolution of Ministry and Community Engagement at WP.

Through a self-study framework (Samaras, 2011), our inquiry looked like this:

What do we wonder about: What does it mean to be a neighbor in our work? And what are the practices that enact that?

Why: We were convinced that it was a significant outgrowth of our theological location and identity. We also recognized that service-based practices, although often a first step, are not sufficient and do not move in the direction of mutuality. We were convinced that for ministers to do ministry in our time and place, they needed to be engaged and lively listeners and contributors to their particular neighborhoods and contexts. And we wondered, what would it look like to build a program that not only explored and taught those concepts, but also modelled it in our own practice? It sounds obvious, but at the time, we realized we had not experienced many models of this.

Who might benefit from exploring this question: We recognized that not only would our students benefit from this kind of embodied inquiry but so would we in our learning, our university could benefit in further expressions of the commitment to engage our city, and we hoped that a network and cycle of relationships between contextual ministries in Portland and our students and us might also find rich, mutual benefit.

In naming these things, we began our inquiry, committed to critically engaging our own work and each others’ toward continuous improvement, to widening the voices of our critical friends and partners (Ritter & Quiñones, in press; Samaras, 2011), and began to shift our practices.

Our department did not come into our integrative community engagement commitments by research initially. We came into them mostly by instincts and listening and longings and the sweat of our problem-solving brows. However, using the principles of place-based community engagement to think about our work has brought both insights and questions to our context and our place within the larger university' and has served as a helpful tool in our own self-study analysis. Below I outline four rounds of “discoveries and adjustments” as thematic findings resulting from our

What Does It Mean to Be a Neighbor? 169 inquiry process determined by leveraging critical lenses toward our program and processes as they existed and through strategic listening to community partners around needs and opportunities.

 
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