Lessons Learned from Design-Research Partnership Work
This post features an interview conducted by the National Network of Education Research-Practice Partnerships (NNERPP; @RPP_Network) with Douglas A. Watkins (@douglas_watkins). Douglas Watkins is Elementary and High School Science Curriculum Specialist at Denver Public Schools (@DPSNewsNow) and part of Inquiry Hub, a design research partnership between Denver Public Schools, the University of Colorado Boulder (@CUBoulder), and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (@AtmosNews).
Today's post is the practitioner perspective on the DBIR approach to research-practice partnership work introduced in Monday's post: 5 Questions on Design-Based Research Partnerships, Answered.
NNERPP: What education agency do you work for and what is your role within this agency?
Douglas Watkins: I work for Denver Public Schools and am the science curriculum specialist for kindergarten through second grade, and all of high school. My work consists of supporting teachers with teaching science. That support can take many forms, from helping develop curricular resources to coaching teachers around their pedagogy.
NNERPP: How long have you worked within the partnership?
DW: I joined the Denver Public Schools central office team in November 2015 and have been working within the Inquiry Hub partnership between Denver Public Schools, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research from that moment, joining the work that began in 2007. Attending a professional development session hosted by the Boulder team was my first experience as a curriculum specialist, and occurred prior to my official start date. Therefore, technically, I have been working within the partnership a little longer than I have held the curriculum specialist position!
NNERPP: What do you love most about working in this partnership?
DW: I love so many things about working in this partnership! At the top of my list is the learning experiences I have as we work together. I am constantly improving because of my work within this partnership. For example, my understanding of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), as well as the Framework for K-12 Science Education has increased dramatically. In my previous position, just prior to accepting my current role, I was spearheading the charge to move a charter network toward NGSS-aligned instruction. When I think back now to how I was approaching that work then, I realize I had no idea what I didn't know! I am so grateful for the chance to work within the partnership and learn so much, both from the researchers and from other practitioners.
NNERPP: Are there any lessons learned from participating in this partnership that you think are important to share?
DW: There are many! I think most importantly, I would suggest ensuring clear role expectations, even as they develop throughout the process. At the same time it's important to be open to working outside any "official" role one may have. Even in the short two years I have been working within this partnership, there have been countless times when someone worked beyond his or her official job requirements for the common purpose of our work together. This has become an informal norm within our partnership, and serves to build trust. This behavior is fluid, as each partner assesses the needs of the others. I think this may all stem from the fact that we all believe deeply in the work we are doing together — in fact, that may be the most important takeaway I have had thus far. A shared common purpose amongst all participants is crucial. That, and trust in those on the other side of the work. If I did not have trust in the research team's competence, or in their expertise, our partnership would not be as strong as it is. It is important to have that trust, on both sides.
NNERPP: Has working in this partnership changed the way you think about or use research? How so?
DW: My perception of researchers has definitely shifted. Prior to this experience, I was unaware of any researchers who were doing their work in order to drive educational changes close to their personal beliefs. I thought researchers studied for the sake of research itself, and published work to increase their name recognition. But the Boulder team uses research as a tool to measure and shape the work that is close to their heart — helping teachers provide the best and most equitable science education they can to their students. That is their real mission and they use their expertise in research to learn what strategies work best, and which need altering, to achieve that goal. I cannot claim anything about research in general. I know only that this group of researchers is amazing and working toward the same end as I am. That makes me more likely to use research in the future, whereas in the past, I was more likely to brush away research findings as merely theory, not nearly as relevant as practical experience. Now I see that the two can complement each other and significantly improve student outcomes — together.