COMMUNITIES as RESEARCHERS: Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative Receives Grant to Fund Research by Indigenous Communities

First Light Education Project Starting with What WorksThe Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative (IELC), led by First Light Education Project (Denver, CO) and the Brazelton Touchpoints Center (BTC) (Boston, MA), announces a grant of $573,000 from the Foundation for Child Development for a two-year project starting in March 2022, titled, Indigenous ECD Community-Based Inquiry Project to Strengthen Research to Practice Partnerships, to strengthen the early learning workforce in the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) in Michigan.

The IELC is partnering with the Wiikwedong Early Childhood Development Collaborative, a team of KBIC early childhood teachers, center directors, and providers. These practitioners are the primary researchers on this inquiry project, investigating ways to strengthen the work of current educators in the community, building new pathways to the profession for prospective early childhood educators, and sharing knowledge about practice—in particular, home visitation and engaging families—across community systems. This project is unique in that the community members are the researchers—designing their own research questions and conducting their own inquiry—making the results of the research relevant to the needs of the community, a critical and often missing aspect of research conducted in Native communities.

“This is Community-Based Inquiry (CBI) in its purest form. Community members are the researchers: they know the questions that need to be studied and generate critical ideas on how to implement solutions in practice,” says Dr. Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz, Founder and Principal Consultant of First Light Education Project and Director of the IELC. “CBI is especially important for Native communities, who are often the subjects of research but rarely the beneficiaries.”

The IELC is a national initiative designed for Indigenous communities to strengthen early childhood education by developing their own critical questions and constructing local, relevant, and sustainable solutions.

“For more than 20 years, BTC has served as a partner for tribal nations and Native communities. For Indigenous communities, the goal is self-determination and sovereignty—in culture, language, education. This project is one big step toward self-determination and sovereignty in research and knowledge generation,” says Dr. Joshua Sparrow, Executive Director of BTC.

To learn more about the IELC or this funded project, or to schedule an interview with Drs. Yazzie-Mintz or Sparrow, contact BTC’s Director of Resource Development, Michael Accardi.

Discover the Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative at the BTC National Forum

First Light Education Project Starting with What WorksTogether, First Light Education Project and the Brazelton Touchpoints Center (BTC) lead the Indigenous Early Learning Collaborative (IELC), a new national initiative envisioned and designed in consultation with over 50 different tribal individuals, educators, and representatives from early childhood learning and care organizations and tribal departments of early childhood education. Launched in 2021, Native educators, early learning professionals, and leaders from four tribal/Native partner communities are learning how to generate local solutions to historical and current dilemmas of practice. Community-Based Inquiry (CBI) — a process by which Indigenous communities engage in asking and investigating their own questions about their early childhood practices — is the driver and focal point of this project. Come meet our Indigenous partner communities at BTC’s Virtual National Forum on March 29–31.

First Light Education Project and BTC have created a unique partnership to co-facilitate this work side by side with our early childhood partners. First Light Education Project, led by Dr. Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz (Diné), is a Native-run organization built on Indigenous principles and implementing Indigenous practices, with expertise and experience in early childhood education and building systems of care and learning. BTC is a long-time leader in early childhood learning and development, with a long history of working in and strengthening communities in the United States and around the world. We have created an equitable partnership to conceptualize and operationalize the IELC, bringing together expertise, experience, and community connections to jointly implement the IELC. Come meet Dr. Yazzie-Mintz at BTC’s Virtual National Forum on March 29–31.

Here’s what our first four community partners are saying:

“Great opportunity to create a research question around our community expectations of early childhood education.” – Wiikwedong ECE Collaborative Member, Planning & Visioning Meeting, January 2021

“We survived a genocide; we are coming out. We are still very connected to place. Again, the emotional toll [is there], and how we keep getting up every day and doing the work we do because we also understand what we are doing – the bigger picture – it’s a pathway to recovery for us – so we show up.” – Wicoie Nandagikendan Team Member, Reflective Inquiry Session, December 2021

“We’re calling to our community, calling them into us, we’re not calling them out, we are calling in. And we are calling to our young people our community and letting them know we are here.” – Daybreak Star Team Member, Reflective Inquiry Session, November 2021

“… in order for us to be effective at what we do, from the mindset that we want to approach it, it will come with the grounding of our Indigenous selves first.” – INPEACE / Keiki Steps Team Member, Reflective Inquiry Session, June 2021

Community-Based Inquiry

The unique approach that CBI takes to research and strengthening practices in communities — which originates with and is implemented and sustained by the communities themselves — means that communities are not dependent on either First Light Education Project or BTC to analyze their practices or take action. Instead, we co-design with their approaches and identify methods to answer their questions as, simultaneously, they implement their ideas in practice. Through cycles of inquiry and action, communities ask and answer their own questions, and implement their own solutions.

In CBI, community members are the researchers: they know the context and the questions that need to be studied, have access to relevant data and generate critical ideas on how to implement solutions in practice. In this model, external researchers —from universities, foundations, and organizations — support the work of community-based researchers by helping community members frame their own research questions, design methods that will lead to answers to their questions, and collect and analyze data.

Community-Based Inquiry as an Equitable Practice with Indigenous Early Educational Communities

The implementation of equitable practices is critical in working with communities, particularly Native communities, from which researchers have often taken knowledge for professional gain without valuing community members’ expertise and knowledge. Study findings by researchers building their careers on work in Native communities rarely make it back to the communities and often are of little value to communities making timely practice advances. For too long, Indigenous communities have been over-researched and underserved. In CBI, community members are the center and drivers of the work, as both practitioners and researchers.

The IELC enters and cultivates authentic partnerships with communities, with a balanced approach to who guides, who leads, who learns, and how inquiry happens. We move forward in this work together driven by a collective commitment to answering the community’s questions — not our own. The knowledge of the community partners — of content, context, history, community relationships, and practice — is foundational to this work and their futures. The community teams are composed of members from diverse experiences holding a range of roles in their community to ensure representation of various groups in the communities and opportunities to solve a range of practice dilemmas. The work is focused on learning and process, not conclusion. The knowledge that emerges serves community members immediately. The goal is strengthening practice, not publishing in journals. The community need not wait for peer-reviewed articles or for external researchers to share knowledge before implementing practice changes. Through modeling and practicing authentic, equitable partnerships and centering the work within the community, the IELC is implementing community-based inquiry as an equitable and sustainable practice in Indigenous early educational communities.

Learn more about the IELC from First Light Education Project’s Tarajean Yazzie-Mintz, Ed.D., Brazelton Touchpoints Center’s Joelfre Grant, and our Indigenous partner communities at BTC’s Virtual National Forum on March 29–31.

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Hassan Daniel: Strengthening Fathers and Families through Faith, Fellowship, and Touchpoints

Hassan Daniel

“Touchpoints provides fathers a way into the hearts of our children that interfaces with our babies with intentionality.” — Hassan Daniel

For Hassan Daniel, Brazelton Touchpoints speaks directly to him, opening up the world of fatherhood by facilitating the unique connections that fathers can have with their children, from the very beginning of life. Hassan sees Touchpoints as an equalizer, bringing fathers into focus in a way that fully engages them and invites their strengths, wisdom, courage, and relationship into the child development process. “It doesn’t leave mom out, but it equally includes dads,” says Hassan, a father of two boys, aged 9 and 12, and a devoted husband of 16 years.

As it is for all mothers and fathers, parenting for Hassan is a journey and one that comes with no clear roadmap or instruction manual. Hassan’s experiences have led him to his life’s mission of optimizing affirmative parenting outcomes for fathers and helping them navigate through everyday life despite personal dilemmas.

Like many journeys, Hassan’s path was not entirely linear and involved many steppingstones along the way. Engaging families and working to strengthen communities is part of the fabric of his being, grounded in his faith in God and a desire for justice. As a teenager, Hassan became an ordained minister and by his mid-20s, he was an assistant pastor of a church, providing fellowship and support to families with adversities and struggles. Those formative experiences helped prepare him for his work at the Baby College, a hallmark of the Harlem Children’s Zone’s early childhood initiatives that educates and supports new and expectant parents and other caregivers through the ins and outs of early childhood development.

When he began at the Baby College in 2006, Hassan was a single man without children. Yet he coached expectant parents in the early development of their children and the power of their engagement in their children’s long-term health and success. Brazelton Touchpoints facilitated his work with expectant parents, with the Touchpoints Parent Assumptions an important guide — that “all parents are experts on their children, have strengths, want to do well by their child, have something critical to share at each developmental stage, have ambivalent feelings, and that parenting is a process built on trial and error.”

Later, as Director of the Baby College, Hassan led the integration of key aspects of Touchpoints and its Guiding Principles into the parent program’s multi-week curriculum. The Baby College has now graduated 7,000 parents and caregivers, supporting their knowledge, confidence, and skills since its launch in 2000.

Harnessing the transformative power of storytelling, Hassan authored Where is the Man of the House?, a book arising from his personal experience with fatherhood and his desire for restorative justice for people’s lives — people, he came to realize, who were just like him. Hassan is sought after as a speaker and frequent lecturer for his knowledge and experience, and this coming May will be a featured speaker at the Washington Interagency Fatherhood Council’s upcoming Fatherhood Summit.

Today, Hassan is the Founder and CEO of The Father Factory, a coaching service that addresses the intergenerational impact of childhood trauma, specifically sexual violence experienced by boys. The Father Factory integrates intentional parenting, biblical literacy, and counseling for fathers with a history of childhood sexual trauma to support their healing.  Through a 12-week course, called “The Father Factory Curriculum for Dad’s Surviving Childhood Sexual Abuse,” Hassan provides fathers with a safe place to experience community and restoration. Hassan also reaches fathers through his podcast, “The Father Factory Voice Lessons,” which has featured leading thinkers and practitioners in the field, including BTC’s very own Joshua Sparrow, MD. Hassan’s ability to adopt and adapt the key tenets of Brazelton Touchpoints is both art and science, and he applies these in The Father Factory’s work — his way to finally share his story, and “give fathers back to their families and communities.”

Hassan’s work with BTC has continued and grown in recent years from the seeds cultivated along the way. In 2020, Hassan was featured in an episode of BTC’s Learning to Listen: Conversations for Change series, and recently he joined the BTC National Training Team, which trains providers across the country and the world in the Brazelton Touchpoints approach to family engagement. It’s also personal — in his house, he says, the “Touchpoints books are next to the Bible.” Both serve, he says, as unifying elements of Hassan’s parenting partnership with his wife, bringing them together to raise their children and support and guide their family even as their boys get older. For Hassan, Touchpoints is a way of life that encourages us to be present, to observe and listen to our children, and to work together toward common goals for our families.

Come meet Hassan at the BTC 2022 National Forum on March 29–31, where he will co-facilitate a workshop titled, “Supporting Father Involvement and Co-Parenting Across All Kinds of Differences.” 


Watch Hassan’s Learning to Listen Episode