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Leading teaching and learning across a district through a research-practice partnership

Date: November 13-16, 2018
Author(s): Dr. Sharon Friesen and Dr. Barb Brown
Presented at: Commonwealth Council for Educational Administration and Management (CCEAM) in Malta

In this paper, the authors describe a three-way research-practice partnership (RPP) between a large school district, University researchers and professional learning mentors to conceptualize, design and enact changes towards effective teaching practices. The RPP was initiated by an urban school district in Western Canada serving over 120,000 students with an identified need for developing teacher-leader capacity for enhancing teaching and learning in schools. Building on already established relations with a local post-secondary institution, the school district initiated a collaboration to address this identified problem of practice through an RPP involving professional learning and research. The partnership evolved over eight years beginning with one high school involved in professional learning and research and then amplifying the RPP to a district-wide focus involving teachers and school leaders in K-12. The RPP started with a school improvement initiative and a core group of four teachers in one high school involved in prototyping educational innovations for improving student engagement and achievement. The RPP later evolved into a project involving over 40 schools ranging from K-12 in a high needs area of the district. Currently, the RPP involves professional learning and research involving all schools (over 200) in all areas of the district. The key question guiding this paper is: how do partners work together in a long-term RPP to enhance teaching and learning? Drawing on the following assumptions, the team used a design-based research approach to study the impacts on leaders and teachers engaging in professional learning together (Amiel & Reeves, 2008; Bannan-Ritland, 2008; Dai, 2012; McKenney & Reeves, 2012).

Assumptions guiding the RPP included: · Advancing principled practical knowledge or teachers’ “know-how” and “know-why” through evidence-based practice (Bereiter, 2014) can be developed through design-based approaches for professional learning (Friesen & Jacobsen, 2015) and research-practice partnerships (Coburn & Penuel, 2016).

  • School districts need support in developing the adaptive expertise of teacher-leaders through collaborative inquiry and knowledge-building cycles (Timperley, 2011).
  • Working alongside researchers and using a design-based research approach, school districts can co-design and study adaptive approaches to professional learning for teacher-leaders to support student-centred leadership (Robinson, 2011).
  • Learning networks can be a powerful way to support leadership growth and professional learning (Darling-Hammond, Meyerson, LaPointe & Orr, 2010; DuFour, DuFour, Eaker & Many, 2010) and design-based professional learning can be used to improve student outcomes, including achievement, engagement and well-being through an iterative process (Friesen & Jacobsen, 2015).
  • There is value in forming partnerships between researchers and practitioners to design intellectually engaging, worthwhile tasks with attention to assessment practices rooted in the learning sciences (Sawyer, 2014). Findings suggest this type of three-way RPP positively impacted teacher-leaders’ perceptions of their practice.

Brown, B. & Friesen, S. (2018). Leading Teaching and Learning Across a District through a Research-Practice Partnership. Commonwealth Council for Educational Administration and Management (CCEAM), November 13-16, 2018, Malta.