Ideally, education research and practice should be in a mutually reinforcing dialogue, with practitioners sharing insights from their experiences to inform research and researchers investigating questions of interest to practitioners and then communicating findings. But the relationship between research and practice does not always play out this way.
This is where Comprehensive Centers (CCs) come in. CCs partner with state, regional, and local education agencies through job-embedded technical assistance to support their educators and students. We spoke with Region 8 CC state coordinators Stephanie Irvine, Beverly Mattson, Kerry Hoffman, and Amy Colton to take a closer look at how CCs can help educators make sense of and apply research findings to their own practice.
Stephanie Irvine: I don’t think the challenge of linking research to practice is unique to education. Practitioners are busy! And research can be complex and/or not quite the right fit for a particular context. As CC staff we are uniquely positioned – with both the time and the expertise – to help folks in the field navigate research and apply it within their unique contexts. Sometimes it’s as straightforward as conducting a scan of the latest research; more often it’s keeping abreast of the latest research to apply it to implementing and improving education initiatives that make a positive difference for students.
Beverly Mattson: I think the primary reason there is a disconnect between education research and practice is the current way we disseminate research findings to teachers to put into practice. Often the research findings are not accessible to teachers in easy formats for them to understand and there is not support to help teachers implement these findings. I think the CCs could help address the issues by summarizing research findings into practical, accessible formats and widely disseminating these with suggestions on how teachers could be supported in applying these practices.
Kerry Hoffman: I think there is a disconnect between education research and practice for a number of reasons. There may not have been sufficient time to not only learn the research, but also to work with those practices, with adequate feedback, in preservice teacher preparation programs. Research is also sometimes disconnected from the reality of education. Teachers are often not afforded the time and support to delve into the research, but are expected to do so on their own time, despite other responsibilities. The Comprehensive Centers have developed and shared new resources that are practitioner-friendly and describe how the research can be implemented in practical, meaningful ways with real students in multifaceted classrooms. For example, the National Center has recently held a series of webinars related to accelerating literacy and math learning, and guides for literacy leaders to provide advice on literacy instruction, and in our own Region 8 CC, we have developed resources for school leaders and teachers to create family-school partnerships to enhance early literacy achievement, and resources for families that bridge literacy learning between school and home.
Amy Colton: In my opinion, there are two interrelated barriers to educators using research to inform their practice. First, the “academic English” researchers use makes it extremely hard for many educators to read and understand. Second, educators aren't willing to invest the time to engage with education research when they have competing priorities placed on them by in their settings and their professional learning isn’t one of them. The Region 8 Comprehensive Center can play a role in converting the research evidence into something educators can use through professional learning, webinars, and briefs.
How CCs can help connect education research and practice:
- Conduct a scan of the most recent research and summarize key findings in plain language and accessible formats for educators.
- Stay up to date on the latest education research to apply and implement in initiatives with state and local education agencies.
- Help educators determine how to implement policies, programs, or practices supported by research.
- Broker relationships between practitioner groups and researchers.
- Convene practitioners and researchers in various formats, such as book studies, meet-the-author discussions, school site visits, or research practice partnerships, among others.
- Educators can use resources provided by the National Comprehensive Center and regional CCs to implement in their states, districts, schools, and classrooms.