Partnering to Reduce Disproportionate Exclusionary Discipline in Oregon
This week we are hearing from REL Northwest (@relnw), which is located at Education Northwest (@educationnw). Today's post is written from the researcher perspective. Stay tuned: Thursday we will share the practitioner's perspective on this research.
This post is by Vicki Nishioka (@vnishioka1), Senior Advisor—School Climate and Discipline at Education Northwest and targeted technical assistance lead on school discipline for the Oregon Leadership Network Research Alliance.
Our partnership started with shared concern about the disproportionality and overuse of exclusionary discipline in Oregon schools, as well as the desire to bring together researchers and practitioners so they could draw from each other's strengths and address the aforementioned issues.
The OLN alliance consists of representatives from school districts, the Oregon Department of Education, institutions of higher education, and several professional associations. It wants to change policies, not just practices, to increase equity and improve school climate.
REL Northwest's focus was building the OLN alliance's capacity to use data and providing the members with tools to help inform their decisions.
Results and Lessons Learned
Over the past five years, researchers and practitioners worked together to use data to change policies and practices that decreased rates of suspensions and kept more students in school. Today, the OLN alliance members continue to make strides toward increasing equity for students throughout Oregon.
Here are a few lessons learned from this successful research-practice partnership:
Stay focused on "relevant" rather than "interesting." As researchers, we can get so wrapped up in exploring issues that fascinate us, we lose sight of what practitioners need from us to better serve students. OLN alliance members asked us for a literature summary of evidence-based practices, tools to change policy, and time and space for collaboration—and that's what we delivered.
Ensure messaging is targeted at the right audience. The OLN alliance members were critical in helping us understand when and how to talk about the issues with education leaders and the community. They were reviewers of our presentations and products, helping us identify the appropriate messages for our target audiences and often served as co-presenters for in-person events and webinars. Their expertise enabled us to navigate the politics related to advancing new policies and changing practice.
Emphasize equal partnership. Research-practice partnerships thrive when they are based on mutual respect and cooperation—and when they leverage everyone's expertise. From the beginning, we stressed that researchers and practitioners were equal partners who brought different perspectives and skills to the alliance work. By working together, we were able to complement each other's skills.
Think big but start small. Reducing disproportionate discipline is a complicated, enduring, and often overwhelming challenge. The OLN alliance agreed that the best strategy was to start small but set big goals and that it was important to use a shared process for making data-driven decisions. Each member used their data to select a strategy that addressed the specific needs of their district and tried it out on a small scale to see if it worked. The takeaway: Research-practice partnerships should set short-term goals that are manageable and achievable, but their work should be scalable in the long term.
Have a consistent focus. Sometimes researchers are so busy addressing daily challenges that even though they want to tackle a big issue, it is difficult for them to do so. Research-practice partnerships can provide a vehicle for members to keep an ongoing focus on a problem of practice. By participating in the OLN alliance, members had dedicated time and space to address an issue they had identified. They also kept one another accountable to keeping the overall goal of reducing discipline disparities present in their work.
Relationships matter. A sense of community and collaboration are key elements of all successful research-practice partnerships. To build both, all stakeholders need to be invested in the work—and one another.
The more successful a research-practice partnership is in keeping research questions relevant, addressing audiences, treating researchers and practitioners as equals, setting goals, being focused on the problem of practice and building relationships, the greater its potential to make a real difference.