Bridging the Research-to-Practice Gap: Exploring a Research Community of Practice Model for Supporting Teachers’ Change in Practice

  • Author / Creator
    Andrews, Karen S
  • Teacher professional development is generally supported as a means to improving classroom instruction and thereby improving student learning. Yet there are gaps between providing support for professional development, ensuring that practices are research-based, incorporating the learnings within practice and evaluating effectiveness. Communities of practice are becoming a popular strategy for supporting professional development that fosters changes in teaching practice (Wenger, 1998). However, as Verburg and Andrissen (2006) note, little is known about the way these communities work, whether they spread effective practices and how they measure success. This study explores the potential of Research Communities of Practice (RCOP) as a model of supporting research-grounded professional learning focused on changing classroom practice, while also providing teachers with the opportunity to apply and contribute to research. Multiple cases are used to explore teacher experiences as members of an RCOP focused on implementing technology in inclusive classrooms to meet the unique learning needs of students. Multiple sources of evidence (Yin, 2009) provided important insight into teacher experiences in changing classroom practices and the role of research within RCOPs. Study findings indicated that research-grounded ideas were successfully infused within teaching practice, through a learning community model that provided members with opportunities to interact with relevant, accessible research that was responsive to their needs and goals. This study provides evidence -for policy-makers, post-secondary institutions, PD providers and school leaders- that certain characteristics and elements of collaborative professional learning provided teachers with the impetus, supports and skills that resulted in sustained and measurable changes in practice. Characteristics of the RCOP central to instructional change included: 1) Evidence that the practice is worth changing; 2) Shared, student-centred vision and goals; 3) Involved and supportive leadership; 4) On-going professional learning; 5) Expectations and tracked results; 6) Feedback and results; 7) Time to develop new practices; 8) Collaboration; and 9) Experiencing new models of teaching and learning. The findings have implications for policymakers and program designers as they offer insight into aspects of professional learning that are more likely to produce results. The use and application of research was interwoven within the RCOP model. The results indicated that research played an important role within a sequence of RCOP elements that facilitated teachers’ changes in practice. Evidence indicated that the research component of the RCOP supported: 1) Evidence-informed planning; 2) Knowledge translation and instructional design; 3) Application of new practices in the classroom and tracking results; 4) Reflecting and refining practice and 5) Contributing to the knowledge of others. This study calls for strengthened collaboration between researchers, educators and system leaders as a way to support continuous effective learning within and between educational organizations while also providing opportunities for further research and development.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
    • Department of Educational Psychology
  • Specialization
    • Psychological Studies in Education
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Buck, George (Educational Psychology)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • McInnes, Alison (Educational Psychology)
    • Buck, George (Educational Psychology)
    • Leroy, Carol (Elementary Education)
    • Roland, Karen (Experiential Learning Specialist, University of Windsor, Faculty of Education
    • Boechler, Patricia (Educational Psychology)
    • Smith, Veronica (Educational Psychology)