Greetings! I am Lisa Jones, a Managing Researcher at McREL International. I joined the field of evaluation with my “tools” that many evaluators hold—our education makes us good technicians. However, technical know-how is not enough.
The “accountability age” opened the market for program evaluators. Title 1-funded schools could only implement evidence-based educational strategies. Likewise, federal and state funds were distributed to schools and districts if they had a robust evaluation plan. For educational evaluators, accountability legislation was akin to striking oil! Schools and districts, however, do not often share in the riches afforded to the evaluation community.
The proliferation of technical tools for data collection (surveys, implementation fidelity records, classroom observations, focus groups, et al.) collectively created an environment where teaching and learning no longer seemed central; the act of measurement assumed center stage. Presto! Enter research-practitioner relationships (RPP), pushing stage left.
- Understand and embrace the school context. Our perfect evaluation plans are not worth the computer they are drafted on if they fail to consider the multiple, daily demands teachers face. Our data collection strategies are the lowest priority on teachers’ daily to-do lists.
- Relationships build buy-in. Research-practice partnerships enable evaluators and educators to collaborate in mutually beneficial ways. Which problems of practice do schools and districts prioritize? How can we use evaluative thinking or other tools to meet their priorities?
- Make our work useful for district and school practice. The most important concept I learned in my training in Minnesota (kudos to Jean King) is our work must be useful to the those we serve. Addressing real-world, daily district and school priorities is not an exercise in academic linguistics. Not only must our language be accessible; as evaluators we need to ensure our work is relevant to educators and feasible for implementation.
- Relationships are two-way streets. Humble expertise is a core McREL value. We recognize that our partners know more about their communities than we do and embrace and harness their expertise to do evaluation. Teachers and school leaders understand that we sit at the table as co-creators and co-learners in the evaluation enterprise, which strengthens relationships focused on mutual learning.
The lessons we learned in our work collectively boils down to one key concept: it’s all about the relationships. How we choose to build and sustain those relationships is similar to how we form relationships with those we love.
Hot Tip #1:
Get to know your people. Chit chat is often viewed as a waste of time. However, asking about your partner’s new puppy or connecting with them on experiences outside of their work life builds trust and camaraderie.
Hot Tip #2:
Listen. People love to talk about their experiences. Be present to what they say without planning what you will say next. Listen to the story they tell because it offers you valuable information about your partner, their needs, and who they are as human beings.
Hot Tip #3:
Ask them if they would like their eggs poached, scrambled, or fried. Evaluators want to know our partners’ preferences. We want to know what they want and how they want it. When we give them what they want, they walk away satisfied and excited about using what we learned together.
National Network of Education Research-Practice Partnerships: https://nnerpp.rice.edu/rpp-knowledge-clearinghouse/
NNERPP offers resources about the basics of RPPs including ways to start and grow the relationships. Check it out!
Research + Practice Collaboratory: http://researchandpractice.org/resources/
A STEM-based organization, you will find reports, white papers, and tools related to RPP in STEM education.
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