01 SES 15 A, Research: Evidence and Emancipation
Nowadays, in many educational systems is increasing the interest in using the research findings for improving educational practice. This is the case of Catalonia (Spain), where recently the educational administration and private educational bodies encourage the use of scientifically demonstrated evidence to improve the practice. The argument used is based on the conception according to what is decision-making in education cannot be based solely on the intentions, occurrences, or fashions of the moment (Foreman-Peck & Winch, 2010; Martínez-Celorrio, 2019). Thus, both academia and practitioners are corroborating their efforts to stimulate the use of research evidence to inform practice, referring to this as “evidence-informed practice” (EIP). The EIP approach “involves fostering situations in which teaching practice is consciously informed by knowledge such as (1) formal research produced by researchers; (2) evidence derived from practitioner inquiry; and/or (3) evidence derived from routinely collected school or system-level data” (Brown et al., 2017, p. 155).
The benefits of the use of research evidence to inform practice are clear, as it has positive benefits in improving teaching practice and students’ outcomes (Dimmock, 2016; Martínez-Celorrio, 2019; Slavin & Madden, 2018). The EIP approach contributes to the teachers’ professional development as it allows them to reflect on their teaching practice, increase the knowledge about educational approaches and adjust and self-regulate their practice to students' needs and to the organizational environment at the school.
In the Catalan context, however, the adoption of EIP has not been generalized nor systematized. Despite the efforts from the Catalan Department of Education, and some private institutions in Catalonia, in increasing the access and the implementation of the research evidence to improve educational practice, is not clear what conditions could facilitate or obstruct the adoption of the EIP approach at the school level. The Catalan educational system is highly autonomous, and not all schools have embraced the EIP movement yet. This situation has created differences between schools: those which implement a change, or innovation based on scientifically demonstrated evidence and those that do not (Ion et al., forthcoming).
The communication we present aims to identify and examine the enablers and barriers for the use of EIP in primary schools in Catalonia at the school level. There is no doubt that individual factors, such a teacher’s motivation and his/her initial training are significant to adopt the EIP approach, and the educational system and the school context could be high catalysts in promoting teachers’ engagement with the EIP approach. However, organizational models, theories, and previous studies (Brown, 2020; Cherney et al., 2012; Dagenais et al., 2012; Godfrey, 2016) have shown that school structures and its organization are critical determinants when it comes to implementing new perspectives into teaching practice and is still understudied in the case of the EIP approach. For example, Greany and Brown (2018) agree that the school culture, the learning environment, and the existence of structures, systems and resources that make possible the use of research are four of the three necessary factors to promote the school engagement with the use of research evidence.
In an educational system that is mostly based on school’s autonomy, such as the Catalan one, identifying common institutional enablers and barriers for the use of research evidence on school and teaching daily practice is relevant as it could contribute to developing a global strategy to introduce the EIP approach in the Catalan Educational System.
In this qualitative study, we applied semi-structured interviews following Valles’s (2009) recommendations. We have approached 10 teachers and school leaders from 4 primary schools from Catalonia to know their perceptions about the institutional factors contributing (or impeding) to the use of research evidence in their practice. Specifically, the questions were oriented towards their general understanding of the EIP approach. The interview protocol was comprised by the following topics: Perceptions on the EIP approach; Understanding of the relationship between EIP and research and innovation process in education; Barriers and facilitators for the use of EIP in the teaching practice; Opportunities and barriers to implementing EIP at the school. Specifically, we focus on the institutional factors that could encourage or reduce the opportunities for them to introduce the research evidence into their teaching practice. We sought descriptions, examples, and beliefs from the informants. The sample was comprised by Principals (3), Heads of study (3), Secretary (1) and Teachers (3). The purposed sample (Patton, 2002) met the following criteria: a) to have ten or more years of teaching experience in the Catalan primary school level, b) to hold a leadership role at their institutions, and c) to be implicated in the innovation process at their schools or classrooms. All the informants gave their informed consent to participate in the interviews and to the sessions to be recorded. Interview sessions and their analysis were conducted by research group members’ during the academic course 2018-2019. For the data analysis process, we developed a two-coding cycle process, mixing a deductive and inductive approach (Huberman & Miles, 2000; Miles, Huberman & Saldaña, 2020). Thus, we began the qualitative coding process with a provisional codebook drawn from the literature review in which we added emergent categories. Each interview was codified into our codebook by descriptive and conceptual coding procedures in an Excel document. To make meaning of the findings, we then met and check the categories, codes, and fragments analyzed. As for the trustworthiness, we relied not only on team members' checks but also on theoretical saturation by Denzin & Lincoln (2005). At the end of the codification process we distinguished 9 codes (leadership, board commitment, institutional climate, shared experiences, collaboration, schedule, teaching meetings, lack of space, lack of institutional time) grouped into 3 categories (a) school organizational structure, b) school culture, c) school functioning.
Findings identified a set of institutional factors that promote the use of research evidence in the teaching practice. From the informants’ perspective, a shared leadership, the commitment of the school board, school climate, and an organizational culture oriented towards the use of evidence, could benefit teachers’ engagement with research. Also, sharing experiences among school colleagues is seen as fundamental to favor the use of EIP. The most important factor seems to be a school that collaborates with researchers, as a close collaboration between the school body and researchers is fundamental to introduce and develop EIP. Although participants recognized the usefulness of the research, they highlighted several factors that difficult for their application into teaching practice. Some of the features of the school organizational structure and its general functioning could affect the implementation of EIP. For our informants, the tightness of the school schedule leaves no time to them to introduce it into their daily practice. At the same time, the absence of regular teaching meetings diminishes the opportunities to develop collaborative work to implement the EIP approach. Is not that there are no teaching meetings at the school level, but those are not focalized into the research practice. For this reason, teachers do not have a specific time and space to meet and share their concerns and/or achievements related to the research evidence. Although those interactions happen informally, the lack of school hours to work collaboratively negatively affect the adoption of the EIP approach. Our study has implications for the design of strategies to promote the use of the EIP approach, as there are institutional factors that influence the use of research evidence by teachers and school leaders. Creating opportunities for direct experience with research evidence, could improve teachers’ attitudes toward educational research and increase its use in practice.
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