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Research-Practitioner Partnerships: the ‘best’ educational research?

 In August I was lucky enough to attend the conference of the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (https://www.earli.org/). One of the most thought-provoking presentations was given by Judy Parr and Rebecca Jesson from the University of Auckland, who were reflecting on the lessons they’ve learned from fifteen years of research. The focus was on how to create research-practitioner partnerships between universities and schools which made the most of the different experience held by researchers and teachers, and they placed particular emphasis on the trust that needs to be built between the different partners.

There is a strong DfE drive at the moment to ensure that teaching is ‘evidence informed’ (see this report from 2017). There is a plethora of labels for how teachers might engage with evidence and research: evidence-based, research-led, research-informed, research-inspired – all with individual nuances but all getting at the idea that as teachers we should be drawing on, selecting from and using available evidence to support and develop our teaching. Parr and Jesson’s work takes this notion of the evidence or research-engaged teacher further, highlighting that research should take place with schools not just in schools.

Their projects have all placed teachers at the heart of the research process – not seeing them as just research participants, but as true partners in the research, involved at all stages. They have identified seven key ‘decision points’ for such partnerships:

  1. Negotiating a shared focus – deriving research questions that identify common concerns and address the needs of both partners
  2. Devising pragmatic yet robust research designs to answer those questions
  3. Selecting or designing ‘smart’ data collection tools and processes particularly for assessment of student learning and classroom practice
  4. Analysing and interpreting findings of initial and ongoing data, engaging with teacher’s theories and interpretations
  5. Deciding on the focus of interventions or changes of practice
  6. Monitoring outcomes
  7. Sustaining widespread adoption – ensuring understanding of the essence of effective practices.

Of course, this approach to research in education has major practical implications in terms of teacher time. Few teachers currently have the space and energy to learn about and develop research projects alongside the intensive everyday demands of teaching. Parr & Jesson benefitted from generous national funding which provided release time for teachers, as well as payments to allow travel, conferences and events which brought teachers together to explore these issues. This is all at the polar end of the spectrum of research-engagement to the front piece of the EEF Toolkit with it’s completely decontextualized, unnuanced summary of evidence (which is not to say that the more detailed EEF reports aren’t useful). It’s also fundamentally opposed to the preferred ‘Randomised Control Trial’ approach, which requires teachers to be ‘blind’ participants rather than active partners. However, if we agree that ‘evidence-informed’ or ‘research-inspired’ teaching is important, and that teachers should engage with research deeply and critically, I think I would be hard pressed to define a better model than that offered by Parr and Jesson. The problem now is finding funding which will allow us to do it!

But what do you think?

  • Should this kind of research participation be a priority for schools?
  • If so, which teachers or school leaders should be involved?
  • Is this requiring too much of teachers, expecting them to go beyond their core remit?
  • Have you benefitted as a teacher from conducting your own research?


See more about Parr and Jesson.

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