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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

4 Reasons Educators Use Research and 4 Reasons They Don’t

By Peter DeWitt — January 20, 2019 5 min read
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This is a deeply complicated topic with many layers of complexity. It’s easy to judge one of the parties in this topic for living in an ivory tower and the other party for not wanting to develop professionally and remain current by using peer-reviewed research. However, none of that is true. There are some basic reasons why educators and researchers do not always interact, and I’ve recently discovered how sad that is because both parties are really missing out.

Recently, I attended and presented at the ICSEI Conference in Stavanger, Norway. Not only were 45 countries represented, it was also perhaps the most eclectic group I have ever had the pleasure to spend time with over four days.

There were teachers, building, district, regional, and large territory leaders, as well as Ph.D. students, professors, consultants, and researchers. It was a conference filled with opportunities to expand the way we think and practice. Knowing that I was entering into this domain, I was asked to give a preconference keynote to Ph.D. students on the topic of making their research practical.

It’s a topic I care deeply about because I work with researchers and try and help to make their research practical for those who are intended to use it ... teachers and leaders. However, over the time I have been writing this blog, I realized that even the most well-known research used in schools by Dweck, Gardner, and Tomlinson had to be clarified by the authors of that research because many times teachers and leaders were not using it correctly.

What I have also learned is that there is a great deal of research out there that could be so beneficial to teachers, leaders, instructional coaches, special education teachers, school psychologists, counselors, and everyone else who works in a school, but most times they will never come across it. In fact, my Education Week colleague Sarah Sparks over at the Inside School Research blog recently wrote about the fact that the feds spend millions on research, but few educators ever read it, which you can read here in it’s entirety.

Why Educators Use It, and Why They Don’tThere are probably countless reasons why educators use research and just as many reasons to explain why they don’t. So, in an effort to bridge that gap between the two, I wanted to list a few reasons. I usually hear from people who have other reasons I didn’t mention, so please feel free to add those to the comment section down below.

Why Educators Use Research:Fits their context- First and foremost, we use research when it fits our context. If we love an idea and want to get better at it, then we will most likely do action research or some sort of independent research to find something that will help us improve.

Social media- Those educators we follow Tweet about it. My principal is talking about it at the faculty meeting, and my favorite colleague just bought the book. I have major FOMO, so I really need to check this out!

Easy to put into practice- We read about it in a journal that a friend sent, and it seems easy to put into practice.

District makes them- The district says this is extremely important, or they want to “pilot it,” which means we will have to do it next year, so I’m going to jump on board now.

The Reasons We Don’t:Too complicated- Why do researchers have to use so many numbers and educational words? I’m actually not being flippant here. I seriously wonder why researchers do that, because it often means we can’t get past Page 1. I find that there are times that I can’t figure out the point of the study much less use it with my students.

Not relevant- Not sure where this fits in with my reality.

You do it well already- I’ve mastered this already. Time to move on. Sometimes, however, if we don’t collect evidence to actually understand our impact, a confirmation bias may be at play here.

Not enough time- I have PLC meetings, faculty meetings, district-required meetings, and grades to do. I simply don’t have time to take something else on. Plus, the district didn’t say we have to read this, so I’m not sure it’s worth the little time I have.

Why Researchers and Educators Don’t Always Communicate Sometimes it’s hard to communicate when you aren’t in the same venue. Friends who are researchers have said that their universities do not always offer an incentive to publish in teacher and leader education journals like Educational Leadership or Education Week. They say their universities pressure them to publish in peer-reviewed research journals that other researchers read. You know, the ones that make their way around the university-professor crowd.

Unfortunately, that’s like preaching to the choir instead of going to a new church that may do something with the research they read. Researchers, although they may lack the guidance from their universities, need to publish in media that teachers and leaders actually read. After all, if teachers and leaders do not know research exists because they are not reading those journals, what’s the point of doing the research?

It’s the difference between a teacher that expects their students to go to them, as opposed to teachers who know how to go to their students.

In the End Teachers often have most of their day planned for them, as they plan for student learning, PLCs, faculty meetings, and other duties as assigned. It’s not that many do not want to read the latest research, but it’s that they don’t have time to do so. Researchers need to do a better job of making their research practical for those that they hope to use it, regardless of if that’s what their university wants. As we know, the WHY is important. Why did researchers do their research in the first place? Hopefully, because they wanted to get it into the hands of teachers and have an impact on students.

How can researchers go to teachers?

  • Blog about it—blogs are usually short, keep you on task, and allow for teachers and leaders to get a taste of what your research is all about.
  • Get into schools and work with teachers from time to time.
  • Skip the big words and use the practical ones. This is not meant to be flippant. I find the best way to explain something is to keep it simple.

Where can teachers and leaders go to read research?

Research 4 Schools
The Conversation
Regional Education Labs
What Works Clearinghouse

Last but not least, I am starting to take pieces of research like self-efficacy, collective efficacy, and teacher talk and creating five- minute YouTube videos on it. The short video focusing on Collective Efficacy is below.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D., is the author of several books including Coach It Further: Using the Art of Coaching to Improve School Leadership (Corwin Press. 2018). Connect with him on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.