Updated: Aug 27
In 2015, the US Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, better known as ESSA. For the first time in federal education law, the ESSA gave our profession a clear definition of an evidence-based practice and propelled educational research from the hallowed halls of our nation’s research universities into the humble (underfunded) classrooms of our public schools.
In response to this, many policy makers started pushing for ways to protect teachers from the burden of applying research to their professional practice. They developed clearinghouses, new systematic reviews, and publications in which they said, “trust us – we will tell you what the research says – no need to worry your little head.” To that I say – HOGWASH!
Educators are highly trained, highly skilled professionals and they are more than capable of consuming research literature and drawing their own conclusions to inform their classroom practice. I take great offense to those who suggest that research is too difficult for teachers to understand and that they should just blindly trust the word of think tanks and product vendors who spin research to support their own points of view.
I think the real impetus behind this push to water down research and discourage teachers from accessing research directly is rooted in a historical drive to keep teachers in their classrooms and out of the public sphere. You see, an evidence informed educator is an empowered educator! When an educator truly understands the underlying research behind the practices they deploy in their classroom, they not only become better teachers, they become better advocates for their students and for the teaching profession.
We are seeing this play out in real time across the nation as educators in the United States grapple with what many have called “The Reading Wars”. Empowered educators that have steeped themselves in the science of reading are beginning to push back against curriculum publishers, policy makers, and professional development providers who are pushing their own profit-seeking agendas at the expense of a generation of poor readers. These educators have learned to leverage the power of research evidence to inform their argument, shape their teaching practice, and propel their students to greater success.
While the Reading Wars have been well covered in the national media, my work with educators across the nation have uncovered many examples of educators using research evidence to advocate for change. Once, while teaching a workshop on accessing and synthesizing research evidence, a superintendent in attendance uncovered that a vendor he had been working with LIED to him about the proper interpretation of a research outcome. Empowered with this new information, he called and ended his contract negotiations with this vendor during the lunch break.
I recently heard from a teacher who had attended a workshop I presented at a national conference. Her school was undergoing an arduous series of professional development workshops that were simply not translating to greater classroom success. She used the methods she learned in the workshop to challenge the trainer about her theories. The workshop quickly unfolded after the trainer admitted that she had no evidence to support her technique and that she just felt like it was a good idea. Her principal ended the training early.
These empowered educators are just scratching the surface of what an evidence informed teaching profession can accomplish. If educators can embrace the use of research evidence and truly self-actualize as an evidence-informed profession, we can empower the millions of classroom educators across this nation to take hold of the profession and push for meaningful, evidence-based changes for our students.
If you’ve made it this far into the post, you’re probably wondering – where do we begin? That is a great question! There are many things that classroom educators can do to become more empowered through evidence use.
1. Use data to inform classroom decisions.
Educators are expert data collectors. They collect achievement data, behavior data, attendance data, participation data, family engagement data… the list can go on and on. One of the fastest ways that you can become an empowered, evidence-informed educator is to thoughtfully use that data to inform your instructional decisions. Is there something happening in your classroom that isn’t working? Use your data to elevate your voice and advocate for a change in policy or practice in your school!
It can be challenging to get started with data if you aren’t comfortable with it. I think the best way to learn about data use is through the exploratory data analysis process. My book, Exploratory Data Analysis in the classroom was written to guide classroom teachers through the data review process. You may also benefit from watching the videos or deploying the free auto-analysis tools available in The Repository.
2. Participate in action research.
Do you have an innovation that you want to try out in your classroom? Action research is the thing for you! Educational action research is research that is made by and for educators in the classroom. Through this work, you can apply the scientific method to thoughtfully test, document, understand, and share your innovations with the world.
Action research empowers educators by helping them to understand the impact of their home-grown interventions. Teachers across the country are doing remarkable things in their classrooms that nobody knows about. By deploying the action research methodology during the intervention implementation procedures, you can demonstrate and document your success in a meaningful and accepted way. Who knows, maybe one day that intervention will be named after you!
3. Incorporate literature review into your professional learning plan.
The best educators are those who are committed to their own professional learning and growth. Just as new learning can empower our kiddos to reach new heights, professional learning can be incredibly empowering for educators. Unfortunately, many educators are subjected to ineffective professional learning delivered by belittling trainers on topics that aren’t related to their individual needs.
By incorporating literature review into your professional learning plan, educators will be empowered with new knowledge that is rooted in the science of teaching and directly tied to their needs. Research review allows educators to take their learning into their own hands, respond to time sensitive problems, and discover new solutions to persistent problems of practice. I also think that research review can be a powerful component of professional learning communities too! Reading research with your colleagues is an incredibly valuable experience.
4. Share your locally sourced evidence with your colleagues.
Educators are, by their very nature, innovative scientists. They are constantly responding to new problems and testing new solutions and strategies in real time. Unfortunately, nobody knows about the cool stuff that is going on within the four walls of the classroom. Educators can become empowered by collecting their local evidence and sharing it broadly with their peers.
There are many ways to share your work with the world. You could post about it on a blog or invite the local media into your classroom to take pictures and write a story about the cool work you’re doing. You could publish an action research article or present about your work at a professional development or research conference. You could engage in a research-practice partnership and invite a grad student from a local university to come study your intervention and report about it; paying it forward and helping to empower and advance two careers at the same time!
Regardless of the specific steps you take, engaging with research evidence is an incredibly powerful way to empower yourself and your colleagues. When educators can clearly defend the decisions they make, they demand the respect that their profession deserves. Evidence allows educators to better advocate for positive changes that improve teaching and learning conditions in their schools and to fight back against policy decisions that get in the way. I hope that this post has inspired you to engage with the evidence that informs the teaching profession and that it will help you to unlock your power to change the world.
Good luck on your journey friends and let me know how I can help!