Research Through Partnerships (2010 PI Meeting Reflection)

Jessica Tybursky, New York University (NYU)

A primary goal of education research is to inform and benefit the everyday work of practitioners, yet often it is hard to establish and maintain partnerships between groups.  What is so difficult about building relationships to bridge this divide?

Teachers and administrators have demanding schedules and responsibilities, so it is hard for schools to take the time and energy to work with researchers.  However, by establishing partnerships, schools can gain invaluable resources that can ultimately help them do their job more effectively. 

Researchers want to be able to control situations as much as possible, except by working completely in context, and thus not having control, researchers are provided the opportunity to situate their problem and come to a realistic understanding of possible solutions. 

Great difficulty in partnerships arises when balance between the parties is lost, or when there was never a chance for balance to exist. What elements are essential to keep in mind before, during, and after a practitioner / researcher partnership?

Before – Take steps to ensure that the relationship and project are feasible and realistic. When writing a proposal, you should essentially already be doing the work.  Consider whether the participants are ready for change, and whether there is infrastructure that has the potential to support and sustain the work. Examine the relationship structures that are established at various levels of the project to determine how durable they are and the extent to which the project can move forward if structures change.

During – Although most partnership research work physically takes place in schools, the onus is not on the schools to drive the project; researchers must take responsibility for adapting to the existing atmosphere.  Furthermore, it is the obligation of the researcher to demystify the research process: to be clear about what the plan is, and what possible outcomes are.  Consequently, practitioners should be able to benefit from their participation, rather than feel as though they are being used by the researcher. Although it is hard work, by being explicit in your communication, by keeping organized documentation of progress, and by avoiding making assumptions, researchers and practitioners can move forward together in a positive light.

After – As the research project comes to a close, the partnership does not similarly dissolve.Practitioners are looking for both closure through reflection, and what the next steps are.  Researchers should be clear in communicating what follow-up they will provide and whether there are future projects for their partnership. Sustainability, scale, and dissemination of the resulting knowledge or product of the project are to be considered at every stage of the research process.

Partnerships must be developed over time, at a local level, through trust in each other. What have you learned from your experiences in partnerships with schools?  Are there components that are necessary in particular conditions?  By purposefully examining the relationships situated within our work, meaningful partnerships can be developed to build the bridge between researchers and practitioners.

This response was informed by the presentations and discussion at the session on “Fostering Knowledge Use in STEM Education through R&D Partnerships with Schools and School Districts” at the DR K-12 PI Meeting on December 2, 2010.