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  • Writer's pictureMatthew B. Courtney, Ed.D.

Seven Ways to Build a Research Habit in the Classroom

Updated: Jan 7, 2023

Welcome to #BeyondTheMean! Check out this post to see what this blog is all about.

Incorporating research use into classroom level decision making takes a concerted, focused, and consistent effort. It requires teachers and leaders to develop an intentional habit of research use. In this post, I will give you seven methods that you can easily deploy to build a research habit in your classroom.

1. Include research review in your professional reading.

Most teachers are avid readers who read for both pleasure and learning. Every teacher I know has a stack of to-be-read professional books on their nightstand. Those books are incredibly valuable and I am a big believer in reading as a professional learning activity – my nightstand has nine books stacked up as I write this. One great way to build a research habit is to incorporate research into your professional reading. Start by looking at books that review existing research – like John Hattie’s Visible Learning – and then drill down into research articles.

Adding research articles into your professional reading is really easy. One way to do so is to subscribe to open access journals in education. They will send you an email any time new articles are available. Download them and add them to you reading pile. Another great method is to use the ERIC database to access articles on a current theme or problem of practice. I hold myself accountable to this by tweeting out a daily research article that is relevant to projects I am working on. I use the hashtags #eduevidence and #whatimreading to help my followers hold me accountable.

2. Participate in action research.

Action research is a practitioner research method that is focused on testing solutions to the problems you face in your classroom. Most teachers do action research every day without thinking about it. When they have a sticky problem, they test various solutions to see what works. Take your informal tests to the next level by intentionally creating a data collection method and trying out different solutions with different groups.

Action research is great fun, especially when you do it with your team. Consider attacking a system wide problem with your team. Use the research literature to carefully design a solution and test it out. If you find something that works but needs refinement, you can apply continuous improvement tools to the mix, like the Plan-Do-Study-Act protocol. This can lead to lasting change in your school and classroom.

3. Be curious.

Curiosity is at the heart of research use. Next time you find yourself asking “Why does that kid do that?” turn to the research literature. I am always fascinated by the behavior of our students – looking back I probably should have studied child psychology. The truth is, unique behaviors aren’t really all that unique when you consider that there are more than 50 million public school students in the United States. The research literature can help you understand why kids behave the way they do and can expose you to new solutions that you had not yet considered.

4. Become an advocate.

Teachers are vocal advocates for their students. Stepping out of your classroom and becoming a vocal advocate for the profession can help you build a research use habit as well. Good policy advocacy requires a mix of storytelling and data. Do you have strong feelings about an education policy issue? Check out the research literature on that issue before you head over to the state capital. By grounding yourself in a theoretical framework, you can give your stories more life and appeal to both qualitative and quantitative thinkers.

Here’s another way to frame it. If you feel particularly strongly about a policy issue, consider the research and data that the other side is using to frame their argument. By understanding the research that frames their opinions, you can better inform your own opinion and engage more deeply in a conversation about the topic.

5. Engage students in research.

Adolescence is all about learning to understand and engage with the world around you. Coincidentally, so is research! Build a thoughtful research use habit by encouraging your students to engage in research projects in their school or community. Help guide them as they seek answers to the big questions that they ask. Once their work is done, encourage them to share their work with their peers and with leaders and policy makers.

In my home state of Kentucky, the Kentucky Student Voice Team does an amazing job at modeling this approach. This group of students have taken on complex policy issues and have performed thoughtful studies of publishable quality. I have no doubt that this experience will lead to a new generation of evidence-informed policy makers and leaders in the future.

6. Check out the What Works Clearinghouse

The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) is kind of like the Consumer Reports of education. They spend time rigorously reviewing research on a wide range of education topics so that you don’t have to. Their work exists in two primary spaces – Intervention Reports and Practice Guides. Intervention Reports focus on the impact of specific, usually branded, interventions on student outcomes. They are great tools if you are looking at adopting a new curriculum, purchasing a new software, or implementing a targeted behavior intervention in your classroom.

A Practice Guide, by comparison, consolidates research on a variety of teaching strategies to help classroom educators learn how to implement evidence-based practices in their classrooms with fidelity. These guides are incredibly well sourced and detailed and can help educators at every level of experience hone their craft.

7. Experiment with Non-education Research

When I first started learning about research use, I was a little intimidated to apply it to my education decision making. It just felt so out of my comfort zone and I was plagued with feelings of insecurity and “What if I mess it up?”. So, I started by tapping into research in another field that I am also passionate about – mental health and substance use. I teamed up with nonprofits that worked in this area and practiced my research application skills in this space.

Here’s why this worked for me. I am a passionate advocate on mental health and substance use issues, and I was able to lend my policy-making expertise to the nonprofits. In return, they taught me about the issues from a theoretical space. As experts in their field, they redirected me when I mis-interpreted a study or found myself out of alignment with an established best practice. I became well versed in the nuances of Naloxone and needle exchange policy. I crafted the messaging and policy documents and the experts checked my theoretical work for accuracy. This provided a safe space for me to explore the merging of policy making and research use. Your local nonprofits want and need your help! By teaming up with them, you can greatly expand your own skill sets while working to support your community.

I hope this post has given you some new ideas as you seek to build a research use habit in your classroom. When you’re ready to continue to expand your skillset, check out the free resources I have in The Repository. This member only space includes tools to help you analyze your data, skill building videos, and eBooks to help you get started on your path towards research application stardom. Good luck on your journey friends, and let me know if I can help.


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