Creating a Healthy Culture for Research Use

Updated: Jul 9

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Continuous improvement decisions should not be made in isolation. Education decision makers should engage a variety of stakeholders as they seek to make informed decisions to remedy long-lasting problems of practice. Unfortunately, the task of reviewing research for decision making is often left to a single leader who performs their review on the couch on a Saturday morning or in the bleachers at their kids soccer game. We can do better! Research use in continuous improvement must become intentional and systematic in our schools. It must become the way we make decisions. It must become part of the school culture.

Here are five steps you can take to start creating a healthy culture that promotes research use in your school.

Create an Expectation

The first step in building a culture that prioritizes research use for decision making is to create a clear expectation. Just like you would for any other new initiative in your school, the leaders in a building or system must clearly state a consistent expectation for research use in decision making. Once that expectation has been set, the leadership team must establish the expectation through their own practice and modeling. Remember, we should never ask anyone to do something that we ourselves are not willing to do.

Consider how you might hold yourself and other accountable to meeting this expectation. It can be beneficial, for example, to include a research item on every faculty or team meeting agenda. You could include links or citations to research when giving presentations to your colleagues. Perhaps you align your professional learning agenda with an action research agenda to help your staff see the connections between research and practice. Regardless of which steps you take, every member of your team must know and be able to explain the expectations for research use in your school.

Establish Protected Time

Listen – educators are busy people! If we don’t establish protected time for research activities, they simply won’t happen. Research will give way to the other required daily tasks of an educator. By establishing protected time for research use activities, education leaders are sending the message that research use is important and valued in the school.

One way that you can build protected time into your schedule is by adding a research day into your professional learning community (PLC) rotation. Many effective PLC groups follow an established routine of planning, collecting data, and discussing outcomes. By adding a research use day into the routine, the PLC group will have protected time to talk about research that can inform their teaching.

Another method is to dedicate one faculty meeting per month to the cause of research use. Select two to three teachers each month to find an interesting article and present it to the faculty. Ask them to summarize the study, discuss the findings, and explain how the findings of that article may impact their professional practice. This method ensures that the work of research use is evenly distributed across the faculty and that no single faculty member consistently bares the burden of searching for and reviewing new studies.

Whichever method you choose, please do not ask your educators to use their own time to perform research use tasks to benefit the school. There are enough hours in the day – you just have find them.

Provide Necessary Training

Training is a key element of any new program implementation. Clear expectations and protected time won’t get you where you want to be if the people on your team don’t have the skills necessary to perform the tasks. Most educators receive very little formal training in research use and interpretation during their formal preparation. We must supplement with high quality professional learning designed to get them where they need to be.

When designing training for your team there are a few topics you should consider. First, review basic research methodologies and concepts. Your team will have a hard time making good use of research if they don’t understand the difference between a randomized control trial and an interview-based case study. Next, you want to empower your team by giving them some light training in education statistics. I’m a big believer in prioritizing interpretation over theory when it comes to this topic. In my view, it doesn’t matter if your team understands the underlying theory of a t-test or even how to perform one. Rather, they should be able to read and interpret the results of a t-test and describe how the results may impact their instruction. Finally, consider sending members of your team to actual research conferences so that they can learn how to communicate about research effectively. Research use isn’t helpful if you cannot adequately explain the research in front of you. Give them exposure to actual researchers so that they can listen and learn about how to communicate about research.

Give Access to Resour