PreK-12 Ed Eval TIG Week: It’s All About Relationships by Lisa M. Jones

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.

Lessons Learned:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Rad Resources:

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.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Ed Eval TIG Week with our colleagues in the PreK-12 Educational Evaluation Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our Ed Eval TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

3 thoughts on “PreK-12 Ed Eval TIG Week: It’s All About Relationships by Lisa M. Jones”

  1. Hello Lisa M. Jones,

    I am a teacher working on completing my PME with Queen’s University. I was immediately drawn to your article by your title, “It’s All About Relationships”. This has been my core philosophy in teaching and all aspects of my life. Your three hot tips are very valuable to so many areas and domains, including evaluation.

    Your comments about understanding the school environment truly resonated with me, especially this year of Covid learning. I came into a Title I school in the middle of the pandemic, jumping into teaching in-person and virtual at the same time. Survival mode did not even begin to cover it. I found that I was drawn to applications that streamlined my practice and had an interface that I could control. I found these applications understood the needs of teachers, including available budgets.

    I agree with you that “it is all about the relationship” and “how we choose to build and sustain those relationships is similar to how we form relationships with those we love.” I feel that more people could apply these tips to so many areas of life. It makes me wonder what society would be like if this was the norm.

    Thank you for your article.

  2. Sheila Robinson,

    I really enjoyed reading your discussion post. I enjoyed how you went into detail about the lessons to take note of such as “relationships are a 2-way street” along with those hot tips as well. You stated that “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.” I think what stood out to me the most was the very last thing you discussed which was how to ask them how they like their eggs because evaluators like to know your preferences.

    1. Sheila Robinson

      Hi Samantha, thanks for your comment. Just to be clear, the author of this post is Lisa M. Jones. ?

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