Updated: Jan 7
Every day, education leaders and continuous improvement specialists are exploring and solving major problems in education. They are finding innovative solutions to historical and systemic barriers. They are driving significant academic gains and finding new ways to build lasting relationships with their students. The problem is – nobody knows about it! I am a huge believer in the power of practitioner research, I have seen it lead to positive change countless times. As more and more practitioners begin to enter the research realm, we must make an effort to share our research with the world. In this article, I will explore the most common ways that researchers share their work and give some tips to practitioners seeking to communicate their results.
Let’s start our conversation with the most well-known (and also scariest) method of sharing research, the research journal. A research journal is a professional publication that specializes in sharing recent research on a given topic. There are thousands of research journals and I guarantee you will find a research journal on a topic that interests you. Quality research journals always put their publications through a process called “peer review”. While there are different methods of peer review, this generally means that two or more professionals with a background in your subject area will review your article, give feedback, and recommend that your paper be published or rejected. They can also recommend that your paper be revised and resubmitted if they think there are changes that will make your paper ready for show-time.
While publishing in a research journal is emotionally stressful, the process isn’t really that hard. Usually, the researcher writes a paper (like you did countless times in college), creates an account with their journal of choice, then waits (and waits and waits and waits) for an editorial decision to be made.
In my experience, the biggest barrier to journal publication is your own brain. As a practitioner researcher myself, I often spend a great deal of energy psyching myself up to submit a paper for review. My own self-doubt and imposter syndrome are my greatest barrier. This is especially true if my paper gets rejected (which is totally normal). The trick to successful publication is to take the feedback from a rejection, edit your paper, and submit it somewhere else.
I, personally, would love to see more practitioner researchers overcome their own imposter syndrome and introduce their work into the literature. Being published in a peer-review journal gives you street cred, but it also gives your work staying power. Other practitioners with a similar problem of practice can use your work to inform their own continuous improvement efforts. If you are a practitioner researcher seeking to publish in a journal, just do it already. The worst that can happen is the editor says no. Big whoop.
If journal publication feels outside of your reach (it isn’t) then research conferences are another great way to share your work. Research conferences are great for research that is underway such as multi-phase research projects that are not yet complete, or for research projects that are a little smaller or more limited in scope. Research conferences generally have two types of sessions, paper sessions and poster sessions.
In a paper session, the researcher writes a paper about their project and either reads the paper (boring) or presents a 10-15 minute presentation about the paper (less boring) to the audience. After that, the audience has an opportunity to engage with the researcher on their paper. They often ask probing questions or make suggestions about improvements or next-steps. This is a valuable activity as it allows you to grow your research skills and knowledge while also building your confidence as a researcher.
A poster session is kind of like the middle school science fair. Researchers design posters, like this one, that summarize their work. The posters are displayed in an exhibition hall where the researcher stands next to their poster and discusses their work with program attendees. Sometimes you can find virtual poster sessions where you post your poster and engage with virtual attendees via chat, email, or discussion boards. Poster sessions are great for smaller projects where you’re toying with a new idea or methodology. They allow you to engage in deeper conversations with other researchers – albeit fewer than in a paper session. Poser sessions are great for new practitioner researchers who are just entering the world of research as they are pretty chill, attendees are very polite, and rejection rates are generally super low.
While the two previous options focus on sharing research within the realm of research, professional conferences give you an opportunity to share your research with practitioners directly. Usually, a professional conference allows you to give a longer presentation, 50-60 minutes, on your topic. Unlike a research conference, you won’t have to write a paper or spend too much time on your methodology. Practitioners want to hear what you did and how it worked.
Professional conferences are great locations to build your own reputation as an education practitioner as you will be sharing your work with other practitioners who face similar challenges. You will get to hear about how they tried to solve similar problems and brainstorm new solutions with others in the field. One downside is that you are unlikely to get research-enhancing advice at this type of event.
Practitioner researchers often feel very comfortable in the professional conference setting because you’re surrounded by other practitioners who act and think like you. This is a great venue if you are still bundling up your confidence and aren’t quite ready to share your work in the sometimes judgey research community.
If you still aren’t ready to take your research out to the world, consider sharing your work in small presentations among trusted colleagues. At the very least, the results of your practitioner research should be shared within your professional learning communities, at a faculty meeting, or with your local board of education. As a practitioner researcher, you likely designed your project to examine a hyper localized problem of practice. It truly doesn’t do any good if the findings stay only in your head. You must share your outcomes with your colleagues if you hope to facilitate any kind of positive change or improvement.
I recommend that you stick to a slide deck when leading these short presentations. Get all the main points up on the screen and have a conversation with your peers about how your project may impact teaching and learning in your building. Make sure you archive your work somewhere within your organization. This ensures that future educators have access to your prior knowledge and allows them to build upon it.
Regardless of whichever method you choose, I hope that you will commit to sharing your amazing work with the world. Practitioner researchers have the ability to fill major gaps in the educational literature and empower each other to facilitate lasting change in schools. Good luck on your journey friends and let me know if I can help.