Recap: Undertaking school based research, and engaging with evidence gathered, supports educators to:
- explore challenges
- inform practice
- drive change
- measure impact
- build research capacity.
Parts 1 and 2 of this series highlighted why educators engage in school based research and the benefits of generating contextually relevant knowledge. Part 3 focuses on the factors that influence success and allow these benefits to be realised.
School based research supports meaningful, ongoing change, often informing educator practice and consequently improving student outcomes. It reflects a long tradition of educators undertaking research in their classrooms, schools and broader learning environments. Conducting school based research can be influenced by a range of factors, and these can affect how successful, impactful and far-reaching insights gained will be 1,2,3.
Engage school leadership
The school’s leadership team play a central role in creating conditions for successful school based research initiatives4. Consequently, it is beneficial to ensure relevant leaders are engaged across the life of the research project. When the focus is aligned with the school’s strategic direction, leaders are more likely to be proactively involved. Clarity about the link between the research and the school’s strategic direction can increase buy-in from the leadership and community. This clear alignment supports leaders when they need to advocate for research and enables an environment where evidence can be gathered in a systematic and embedded way. Leaders can provide support by legitimising activities, championing the research and providing authority to the team.
Managing time pressures, or the ‘busyness’ of educators and schools, is challenging for those undertaking school based research. Providing dedicated time creates space for educators to collectively and individually engage in research, and with insights generated by others.
Providing space for research within the scheduled timetable highlights the value placed by a school community on the research being undertaken. It also demonstrates for staff that their role as ‘researcher’ is recognised and respected. When there is insufficient dedicated time, tensions can arise between doing research well and ‘other’ daily work.3 It can also impact motivation, commitment, and whether research becomes a sustainable part of a school’s core business.
Collaboration between educators is more effective in bridging the research to practice gap when compared to those working individually1. Teams of educators create opportunities to share collective knowledge, and bring multiple points of view to the research process and data interpretation. This can enhance the insights that are generated, leading to a greater likelihood of positive student impacts and whole school adoption. Research activities can be shared among those with time and space to do them, as the demands of busy school life allow. Having a team of educators involved elevates the importance of the research and helps generate a culture of research engagement within the school community.
Connect with external support
Many educators who undertake school based research begin the process with little or no research skills other than those obtained during their undergraduate study3. Engaging trusted support networks can provide encouragement and a way to develop skills important for those new to the research journey.
External experts provide a valuable role in challenging assumptions, formally and informally mentoring researchers, and providing a connection to a wider body of evidence1,4. They can also help provide early intervention for challenges arising and build research capacity through direct learning opportunities and modelling of high quality research approaches. In some cases, the external expert is a respected academic partner, which can result in increased confidence about the research initiative among a school community.
Be agile and realistic
Experiencing detours and challenges are common for those undertaking research of any kind, and it is no different within the school ecosystem. This is often due to the wide range of context specific issues that can arise, and the need to manage day to day roles alongside the research. It is important to design a school based research initiative in an agile and responsive way, while maintaining focus on the central question being explored3. Paying careful consideration to the amount of time and resourcing available to conduct the research can help avoid tensions that result from unfeasible research design. Setting realistic expectations at the outset helps provide space to navigate unexpected challenges and make changes as required.
Plan for longevity
Many school based research projects begin with a small pilot or sample, but aim to have wider impact across the school community and beyond. To do so, scaling up is necessary. This may be as simple as handing the research on to the next team of educators to progress, or as broad as whole school implementation. It is beneficial to consider how research might be scaled up in the early stages of a project’s design, including opportunities for longitudinal evidence collection. Most importantly, there needs to be clear alignment between the rationale for the research, its design, and the purpose for scaling 1.
Embed knowledge sharing
Quality educational research is recognised for its contribution not only to the practice of individual teachers, but for the impact it can have beyond a specific classroom or school context5. Sharing research outcomes and results can be done formally or informally and at any point during the research process. It can also take many forms including reports, peer-reviewed articles, blogs, newsletters, and presentations.
Two strategies in the research design and planning process that can help support the sharing of school based research include:
- Identifying target audiences – The planning process can be used to identify others who would benefit from hearing about the research, and any emerging insights. This approach can provide a roadmap for how the knowledge could be shared, and who, or where the target audiences might be.
- Designing for iterative sharing – Designing knowledge sharing opportunities into the research process allows relevant data or findings to be highlighted as the research progresses. Evidence can then be drawn on to generate preliminary insights, support changes if needed and be considered in any final reporting.
The final part of this series will explore the ways that The Evidence Institute at AISNSW is supporting schools to undertake school based research.
The team at The Evidence Institute undertakes research and shares evidence focusing on a range of areas impacting the education sector. We aim to generate high-quality evidence to transform educational futures for independent school students, staff, and communities. Through a range of initiatives and tailored supports, the team also partners with schools to bridge the research to practice gap, build school-based research capacity, and enhance the evidence-informed nature of the teaching profession. For further information, contact Tiffany Roos, Director: The Evidence Institute.
1. Nelson, J., & O'Beirne, C. (2014). Using evidence in the classroom: What works and why? Retrieved from https://www.nfer.ac.uk/using-evidence-in-the-classroom-what-works-and-why
2. Nichols, S., & Cormack, P. (2017). Impactful practitioner inquiry: The ripple effect on classrooms, schools and teacher professionalism: Teachers College Press.
3. Lambert, P. (2018). School-Based Research Program: Review report. Association of Independent Schools NSW.
4. BERA, & RSA. (2014). The role of research in teacher education: Reviewing the evidence. Retrieved from https://www.bera.ac.uk/project/research-and-teacher-education
5. Bobis, J., & Ewing, R. (2017). Transforming educational practice through action research: Three Australian examples. In L. Rowell, C. Bruce, J. M. Shosh, & M. Riel (Eds.), The Palgrave International Handbook of Action Research. US: Palgrave Macmillan.