Updated: Jan 7
Education is a tough field these days. Educators at every level are faced with a constant barrage of new challenges, contrasting opinions, limited resources, and high-need kiddos. Luckily, education is supported by a highly networked field of researchers who study the various challenges and propose evidence-based solutions. For a wide variety of reasons – that are better left for a future article – accessing and applying the results of education research is challenging for practitioners seeking to balance the daily needs of running a school or classroom with their own professional learning. In this post, I will provide ten simple habits that educators everywhere can adopt to help increase their education research fluency.
1. Deploy the “Who’s Research” rule.
The first habit on my list is the “Who’s Research” rule. Have you ever been in a meeting where a well-meaning colleague has assured you that “research says” that their solution is the right solution? Enter: the “Who’s Research” rule. In my organization, you are not allowed to say “research says” without telling me who said it. Bonus points if you can actually share the article with the team. By elevating research use to this level, we can make sure that the whole team is on the same page before a decision is reached. It also prevents us from allowing “research says” to be our go-to response whenever we just want to win an argument. Force yourself, and your team, to go deeper.
2. Explore the ERIC database.
The ERIC database is a free database maintained by the US Department of Education. They archive research articles from hundreds of education research journals across the globe. It should be your first stop when faced with a new challenge that you are struggling to make sense of. It is incredibly user friendly, and did I mention free? You can find a quick tutorial video on the ERIC database in The Repository.
3. Participate in action research.
If you really want to learn about research, try participating in some! Action research is a great way to promote research use and drive continuous improvement. I have written about it before in this post. In short, action research is research conducted by an organization to better understand a phenomenon they are experiencing and to test a potential solution. It is by and for the organization which makes it incredibly meaningful. Simply apply the scientific method to your problem of practice, design a simple study, and see what happens.
4. Access and read systematic reviews.
Systematic reviews are a type of robust literature review where a team of researchers gather a wide range of articles on a topic and work to synthesize them into a meaningful final product that can guide practitioners. My go-to source for these is The Campbell Collaboration. They archive hundreds of systematic reviews on education topics and can really give you a jump start on understanding your problem of practice.
5. Subscribe to open-access journals.
Open access journals are academic journals that provide access to their articles to the general public for free. There are many open access journals in education. I suggest that you find one on a topic that interests you and subscribe to it. Every month or quarter you will receive an email with a list of newly published articles that are relevant to your specific interest. Take time to read these articles and internalize them. Reading research is a skill, and just like any other skill, it must be regularly practices in order to maintain it. The Directory of Open Access Journals is a great place to find a journal to subscribe to.
6. Form a study group.
Learning is always more fun if you can do it as part of a team! Gather a group of colleagues together and review research articles together. For a good model, check out my post called “Research Review as a PLC Activity.” Your team can help you truly unpack the elements of a research article and ensure that everyone deeply understands the impacts of a study. Think of it like a book club – but for research! Bundt cakes are highly recommended.
7. Attend a research conference.
Educators attend lots of conferences, but research conferences are a whole other world. During a research conference, you will hear researcher discuss their in-progress or recently completed work. They usually speak for 10-15 minutes and then have time for the audience to ask clarifying questions. This can be an incredibly valuable learning experience for an education practitioner who is seeking to grow in their research fluency skills. My favorite research conference is hosted by the Association of Education Finance and Policy (AEFP). They welcome practitioners and create a very emotionally safe space for professional growth.
8. Follow researchers on Twitter.
Another great way to learn more about research is to connect with researchers on Twitter. This is a hugely popular platform for research folks housed at universities and think-tanks alike. You can learn a lot by reading their posts, hearing about their successes and challenges, and checking out their newly published work. I have made many professional connections on Twitter, and I have a great team of colleagues there who I can reach out to when I get stuck on a research problem.
9. Make friends with full-time researchers.
This one can be a little tricky, but if you’ve taken steps seven and eight seriously it is possible! Making real-life friends with full-time researchers is a valuable activity for education practitioners. It can often feel like researchers live in a whole other world from those of us on the ground. It often feels as though our two world cannot, or should not collide. Guess what – that’s total malarkey! Its all made up. Full-time researchers are real people with similar interests to you. They just chose to pursue their interests in a different venue. Connect with them, build meaningful relationships with them, and watch your own research fluency skills soar.
10. Take a course.
Finally, consider taking a research theory course. Your local university certainly offers them, but there are tons of courses online that can help you dig deeper into these skills. I really like Coursera for courses on theory and Data Camp when I need to learn new data analysis skills. Both are relatively cost effective and allow you to study on your own time. Sometimes, a good-old-fashioned course is just what you need to jumpstart your professional learning.
I hope that this post has give you some food for thought as you pursue deeper education research fluency. Remember that research fluency is within your grasp, and by adopting a few simple habits and taking a couple of easy steps, you can begin to naturally build research into your decision making process. For more information about how you can grow as a research-driven practitioner, check out the free resources available in The Repository. I update it regularly with new videos, tools, and e-books to guide your learning. Good luck on your journey friends and let me know how I can help!