It’s been wonderful and fascinating–and frustrating–to be based out of the globally-recognized research facility, Utrecht University.
I’m positioned in the Martinus J. Langeveldgebouw (The Langeveld Building) which houses CAS (Child and Adolescent Studies); in less than a month I’ll be giving a keynote address to the professors, PhD candidates and more about the work I’ve been doing. It’s an intimidating audience. Here’s why:
I’ve been walking this new line between researcher and practitioner since I’ve been here in Utrecht. Mostly, people have been confused: researchers in the halls have asked how my numbers and data sets are coming along (I don’t have them–except the numbers of listeners of the podcast) and teachers I’ve visited wonder how my classes are going (which is when I tell them that I’m just trying to interview individual students). I admire both points of view. The researcher, the people with whom I share the Langeveldgebouw, studies the data and reports on it. That’s all. She will write what the numbers tell her. Often, they are inconclusive. Even seemingly concrete findings, they are forced to admit, depend on many variables. So, if a practitioner reads a research report, it will certainly read that while one researched idea seems to be true, it also depends on a number of variables. Research, it seems, rarely ends in friendly and easy how-to instructions.
The practitioner is stuck in the trenches, too-often ignoring the new research. Sure, the practitioner claims there is no time (and, perhaps, that’s true–perhaps a systemic change is needed to allow [or force] the practitioner to keep reading research), but reading the researcher’s work is vital to the growth of our profession–and, of course, benefits the students. I know this problem very well. Since finishing my Master’s degree in education ten years ago, my attention to research has had to be very intentional. I could go my entire career–easily–without paying attention to new research, only accept the district-provided professional development.
So, the aim of my upcoming keynote is to communicate what both sides need.
- The researcher must aim toward clear and concise recommendations. The practitioner, I think, will only pay attention if it’s practical and if it’s direct. It’s fine to admit that the recommendation has flaws, but it’s important to be clear when there is enough research to call it a recommendation. Sitting on the fence, to point out that there are many disadvantages as well as advantages to a decision, doesn’t end up getting us much practical change. It makes the practitioner hesitant to adapt.
- The practitioner must be ready to change and review. It’s critical to consider that all of our choices are temporary, that best practice is always changing based on the evidence and recommendations found by the researcher. Then, after implementing a new idea, we must be open to rigorous review. We must constantly ask this: “Is it working?” And, if it’s not, we must change again. If it is, we must share our successes with other practitioners.
Here’s the crux: time.
I know teachers. I know they’re already swamped with planning/teaching/assessing curriculum and running extracurriculars groups.
I know researchers. They’re conducting research and writing grants and supervising PhD candidates.
Time stands in the way. It’s grants like this Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching that allows me, I hope, to be a bridge–through the upcoming keynote–where I will have the opportunity to tell researchers what practitioners need. Then, when I get back to West Michigan, I’ll look to share with teachers the need to keep reading research to hone our practice.
Both researchers and practitioners are critical: without the other, neither can be effective.