Navigating Educator-Researcher Collaboration; Understanding and Building Partnerships for Quality Educational Research

The value of educational research has been the source of increasing attention internationally. There has been much debate about how research can and should inform schools (Hargreaves, 1999; Slavin, 2008), yet divergent opinions on the quality, reliability and international relevance of this research can be united by one common issue: the complexity of the researcher-gatekeeper collaboration. Difficulties in conducting studies involving school children have been well-documented (Harrell, et al., 2000; Kennedy-Macfoy, 2013). Research on gatekeeping has tended to be narrow in focus (views of researchers, Heath et al., 2007; descriptive of issues in one research project, Wanat, 2008; Troman, 1996). The current paper explores the relationship between school gatekeepers who find themselves in a position of responsibility, and educational researchers who are responding to the need for evidence-based output. This paper will focus on the perceptions and experiences of gatekeepers in Irish schools with a view to discussing educator-researcher collaboration more generally, and making a case for centralizing collaboration in pursuit of evidence-based educational research.

This qualitative study adopted an exploratory stance (Creswell and Millar, 2000). An invitation to partake in the study was issued to all 128 English-medium primary schools in the county in which our institution is situated. Due to a low response rate, we subsequently employed snowball sampling. This typically involved an educational professional known to the researchers (e.g. a teacher) recommending other potential participants. We will present data gathered from case-study schools which has been analysed thematically. Participants discussed a variety of factors that influence their decisions to grant access to researchers in their schools. While all participants mentioned child protection and allied ethical issues (e.g. confidentiality, anonymity), they expounded on other issues which emphasize the importance of personal relationships and mutual understanding that must take place before collaboration can begin. Specifically, we will present participant’s views on: the importance and presentation of a proposed research topic to educators; the influence of a researcher’s previous relationships and/or professional affiliation; the timing and method of initial contact, and interestingly, the maintenance of the educator-researcher relationship post data-collection. The aim of our paper is to illuminate the needs of educators and researchers in the current educational climate, and ultimately to aid educator-researcher collaboration, an essential tool for conducting quality educational research.