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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.

Professional Development Opinion

Education Might Be Awash in Jargon, But Don’t Ignore ‘Pracademia’

By Peter DeWitt — February 27, 2022 5 min read
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We have a plethora of words in the field of education. Actually, we have a plethora of both words and acronyms in education. Walk through any hallway in a school, and we will hear words like “fidelity,” “mindset,” “feedback,” “rigor,” “grit,” and a whole host of others. In the same conversations, educators will use acronyms like GRR (gradual release of responsibility), CM (constructing meaning), CSE (committee of special education), IEP (individualized education program), EL (English-learners), and SEL (social-emotional learning).

It’s enough to make anyone outside of education feel as though they should download Rosetta Stone and start learning a new language. And that is a problem. Too often, people outside our educational walls, like parents and guardians, feel as though they don’t understand what is happening within our educational walls because they do not always know what those words and acronyms we use actually mean.

I would argue that people within the walls of education do not have a common understanding of what those words and acronyms mean, either. The research behind those words and acronyms is often lost in translation as they make their way to schools.

That is why a recent post on LinkedIn made me lean in a bit. Deborah Netolicky posted that she was honored (she actually wrote “honoured” because she’s Australian!) that she and two colleagues recently published an article in the Journal of Professional Capital and Community.

The paper they co-authored is called, Defining and exploring pracademia: identity, community, and engagement. When I saw the word “pracademia,” I worried that this was yet another word that separates the haves from the have-nots. The “haves” would be those who are engaged in educational research, and the “have-nots” would be those educators who are not all that interested in reading a paper with too many citations.

We know such academic snobbery exists in education. Just ask some academics who have Ph.D.’s about those individuals with Ed.D.’s. When we consider educational research, we have often thought about the ivory tower syndrome where those at the university level lack a deep understanding of what actually happens in the K-12 world.

Interestingly enough, social media has been one way to flatten those walls. Whether it be good or bad, social media has provided many a voice in education, regardless of the letters they can add to the end of their name. And that is why pracademia is an important term to understand.

An Important Term to Explore

As much as it seems like yet another word in the field of education, this one focuses on trying to bring together research and practice. Hollweck, Netolicky, and Campbell (2022) write, “Pracademia is an embryonic and emerging concept that appears sporadically in literature across multiple fields in which practice and research are intertwined.”

Prac

The authors cite several different research papers to show that the term “pracademia” has been around for nearly 30 years. Hollweck, Netolicky, and Campbell go on to write, “Drawing on our own positionalities, we conceptualize pracademia as the dynamic connecting or liminal space between educational research and the classroom, school, and policymaking, and seek to unpack what it means to be a pracademic in educational contexts.” Finally, they write that a pracademic is, “someone simultaneously active as a practice-based professional and an academic, researcher, or scholar.”

And that is why this term is one we should explore more and more.

In a forthcoming book focused on implementation, Hamilton, Reeves, Clinton, and Hattie write (2022), “We seem to know so much about effective practices but this has translated into so little impact in standardized measures of student achievement.”

Hamilton, Reeves, Clinton, and Hattie go on to write (2022), “There is, it seems, a profound gap between the empirical wisdom locked in the research and the translation of those pearls into impact in schools and classrooms at scale.”

What we need in education are those individuals within a school organization who can read the research and understand how to implement it within the school setting. This individual can be a part of the school-based instructional-leadership team where they have the role of researcher (DeWitt. 2021).

In developing collective leader efficacy, which is a shared conviction that a school-based team can have a positive impact on student achievement, the role of researcher on the team is key, because they are the educators who can walk the line between research and practice. In fact, not only are they taking time to understand the research, but they are also engaging in their own research and writing about it in blogs and journals.

After all, Hollweck, Netolicky, and Campbell (2022) write that “teachers and school leaders regularly engage with research, analyze data, and evaluate impact and outcomes; and academics regularly engage with communities, schools, leaders, and learners through scholarship.”

We often see schoolteachers, school psychologists, counselors, and school leaders writing for Education Week, Educational Leadership, PDK, and Learning Forward. Those educators are examples of pracademia at work.

The pracademic are those people who engage with the researcher and understand their research, as well as engage with their colleagues and help them understand the sometimes-complicated language behind the research. There is a reciprocal benefit to this because the pracademic not only helps the practitioner understand the research but simultaneously helps the researcher understand the very real world of K-12 education.

In the End

Leaning into Hollweck, Netolicky, and Campbell’s article on pracademia was a worthwhile journey for me, because I often feel marginality in my role. I do not feel like a real authentic researcher, although I have done a great deal of it, and I also don’t feel like the practitioner I once was because I no longer spend full time in a school as a teacher or school-based leader.

The idea of pracademia helps me with my own identity, and perhaps, for those people who often find themselves in both spaces of being a practitioner and researcher, they will feel the same. More importantly, Hollweck, Netolicky, and Campbell argue that this is not just an important role for practitioners and researchers but for policymakers as well because it’s often the policymakers who are behind some of the biggest initiatives that we face in school.

So, the word “pracademia” is not one based in snobbery at all; it’s actually based in a deep hope to bring all those parties together in order to have a much more profound impact on how our students learn.

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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.

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