One aim of NCRPP is to determine how research can be more useful and relevant to the complex problems that educational leaders face. As long-term, mutually beneficial collaborations between researchers and educators, research-practice partnerships (RPPs), have shown promise in addressing this need. Because RPPs involve new kinds of interactions between researchers and educators, there are unique challenges involved in developing, maintaining, and sustaining partnerships. It is important that people who are interested in this work have opportunities to learn from each others’ experiences.
To foster this conversation, NCRPP Principal Investigator Bill Penuel, in related work with the Research + Practice Collaboratory, is hosting a monthly online Research-Practice Partnerships Forum that brings together researchers and educators involved in partnerships. The first forum featured Angie DiLoreto and Nancy Vye from the Bellevue School District - University of Washington (UW) Partnership, April Luehmann from the Get Real! Science program, and Ritu Khanna, Norma Ming and Laura Wentworth from the Stanford University-San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) Partnership.
Panelists shared several insights about finding partners, getting a partnership off the ground, and becoming effective collaborators:
Partnerships form in a variety of ways
In Bellevue, a district leader reached out directly to UW to form a partnership. Stanford and SFUSD had worked together on a wide variety of projects for decades and saw the need for a more focused, unified model for their work together. The Get Real! Science program, on the other hand, was an after-school program for pre-service teachers that has grown into a collaborative model in which researchers, pre-service teachers, and children co-design the process and products of their approach to hands-on science learning. These very different beginnings lent themselves to different ways of getting their work together off the ground.
It is crucial to develop relationships, trust, and a joint vision
Key to starting a partnership is the development of trusting relationships. One of the first places where partners develop trust and listen to each other is in the development of a joint agenda. University of Washington researcher Nancy Vye reflected on how Bellevue and UW began by co-designing a product and then jointly figured out next steps as they gradually developed a shared vision. Partnership Director Laura Wentworth described how Stanford-SFUSD began by jointly articulating the partnership’s aims in a vision statement. Their shared commitments included processes and aims, such as ensuring two-way dialogue, helping to improve outcomes for students, and serving as a model for RPPs across the nation.
Partnerships require ongoing negotiation centered on mutually beneficial, joint work
New partnerships will need to negotiate a focus of joint work relevant to a district’s goals that brings together mutual interests and complementary types of expertise. While that focus is central to the partnership’s work, it is not static. Rather, it requires ongoing negotiation and discussion of insights and emerging questions as the work progresses. To foster ongoing dialogue, University of Rochester researcher April Luehmann expressed the need for “roles, tools, structures, and spaces.” For example, Laura Wentworth shared a practice that Stanford–SFUSD calls “wedding seating” in which they purposefully seat researchers and educators next to each other in meetings. Researchers and educators then talk about mutual interests and begin to “speak the same language” around the issues they are working on, helping to address a common concern that researchers and educators speak about issues in different ways and with different lingo. Panelists also noted that researchers and educators should take time to reflect on their own perspectives among themselves. In other words, there should be multiple venues for ongoing dialogue.
Researchers and educators need to balance their different needs and approaches
Part of negotiating a partnership from the beginning is figuring out how to balance the length of time needed to conduct research with educators’ pressing needs for findings are relevant, timely, and actionable. To address this issue, Stanford has encouraged interested doctoral students to pursue shorter term, collaborative projects that can serve an immediate need for a district or school. In addition, Laura Wentworth noted that the long-term nature of their partnership has allowed them to bite off one part of an issue at a time, allowing for shorter cycles of research and feedback while working on complex problems.
Whether new to or experienced in RPPs, researchers and educators will find this series invaluable. You can watch an archive of the first forum here, and join the next forum live this Thursday, 2 pm PT/ 3 pm MT/ 4 pm CT/ 5 pm ET at bit.ly/RPPForum. Upcoming forum topics include:
- 11.19.15 Defining the Focus of Partnership Work
- 12.17.15 Negotiating Roles in Partnerships
- 01.21.16 Addressing Challenges in Partnerships
- 02.18.16 Measuring Impacts of Partnerships
- 03.17.16 Sustaining Partnerships
Join the conversation on Twitter at #RPPchat, where you can submit questions for panelists and engage in dialogue before, during, and after each forum. We hope to see you there!
UPDATE: Missed this series? Catch the archived webinars here!