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Visiting Washington, D.C.
In Event: Connecting Research and Practice: Regional Educational Laboratory Partnerships to Improve Data Use in Education
REL Appalachia’s research-based technical support for action research and collaborative inquiry initiatives in Kentucky and Tennessee will illustrate how research-practitioner partnerships can support educators’ efforts to use data and research to improve teaching and learning.
Action research engages practitioners in conducting systematic inquiry to effect change in schools and classrooms (Mills, 2000). Steps in the process include identifying a problem of practice; reviewing evidence; designing, implementing and collecting data on an action plan; reflecting on results; and determining next steps (Arhar, Holly, & Kasten, 2001; Mertler, 2006; Mills, 2000). When conducted by educator teams, the process—known as collaborative inquiry—contributes to increased student achievement, teacher collaboration, and reflection (Love, 2009).
The Kentucky College and Career Readiness Alliance includes a consortium of 19 school districts implementing large-scale improvement—the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative—to create personalized learning environments that reduce achievement gaps and improve student outcomes. A key strategy is to encourage educators to use action research to identify, implement, and evaluate innovative practices. REL Appalachia provides technical support through research-based information, expert consultation, workshops, and long-term plan development.
The Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools Data Use Research Alliance (MNPS) seeks to build educators’ capacity to use collaborative inquiry to inform instruction. REL Appalachia’s technical assistance has included facilitation of (1) root-cause analyses to identify barriers to collaborative data use; (2) logic model development to articulate intended outcomes; and (3) Innovation Configuration Map development to define practices to achieve outcomes.
Data Sources and Materials
In Kentucky, REL Appalachia shared research-based information on action research and used the information to inform technical support. REL researchers conducted systematic observations at an action research summit where teachers shared results of initial attempts at action research. Regular meetings with consortium staff inform ongoing support.
The MNPS Alliance developed an Innovation Configuration Map that teachers and leaders can use to roll-out collaborative inquiry in schools with a common language and shared definitions of practice, reflect on practice, and evaluate implementation and identify areas for support.
In Kentucky, REL Appalachia’s research-based resources informed development of the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative Action Research Cycle and served as the basis for technical support. Observations at the action research summit informed the work and helped identify teachers to co-present at an action research workshop. The consortium subsequently invited the teachers to facilitate an online action research discussion group and to present additional training. The consortium has requested assistance from REL Appalachia to create and support a long-term plan to develop regional capacity for action research.
In Tennessee, the development and implementation of the collaborative inquiry IC Map reflects the need for schools to access tools that promote a common language and clearly defined practices for new innovations. This is a critical component in sustaining effective data use practices in schools.
These projects illustrate how research-practitioner partnerships bring research and data expertise to educators’ work, ultimately building their capacity to conduct systematic research to improve teaching and learning.