Researchers and Practitioners

Teaching is a field in which one cannot just do whatever they want… actually, they can do what they want, but they shouldn’t. The purpose of teaching is to increase students’ capacity to apply the knowledge, skills, and habits in the curriculum to their lives. Because human brains are the product of nature, there are some “things” teachers can do make learning more efficient or effective.

The purpose of educational research to differentiate those things that “work” from those things that do not.

It seems reasonable, therefore, that we should close collaboration between researchers and teachers, but we do not.

Throughout my career, I have observed there really is a gap between theory and practice in education. Practitioners—teachers, leaders, administrators—are reluctant to consider theory, research findings are rarely analyzed, and the instruments developed for research are rarely applied to classroom design. Researchers look to the literature to find gaps and questions.

As I see it, there are a few reasons that educational practitioners and researchers have so much trouble connecting their work.

1) Researchers are very careful and clear with their definitions in a way practitioners are not.

2) Practitioners seek “what works.” Researchers want to know what practitioners mean by “works.” They want clear definitions of circumstances and outcomes. As I suggest in point 1, practitioners do not have patience for such definitions.

3) Practitioners accept weak constructs. This is also related to unclear definitions. Consider “career and college ready” which was the mantra for a generation of teachers. What exactly does that mean? Is it real? How was it been validated? These are questions researchers insist be measured, but practitioners do not.

4) Research generally seek to define generalizations, practitioners generally seek “recipes.” “Recipes” may seem to have negative connotations, but that is the reality of teaching. “What should I do when I am faced with a room full of students?” is a question that is important and relevant for teachers, especially as they are first attempting strategies. In some cases, curriculum leaders seek to standardize teaching in the same way they standardize curriculum, so a recipe is a valid method. Researchers know recipes are valid for gathering data, but the outcomes of their research are rarely teaching recipes.

Bridging the gap between educational practitioners and educational researchers will benefit both groups, along with the students we serve. I do expect the gap will forever exist, as both groups are so fundamentally different in what they seek, but that does not mean we should not collaborate to define problems and to propose solutions.