$1M Grant from Hewlett Foundation Funds Research-Practice Partnership

March 8, 2018

GSE Professor Rick Mintrop, in partnership with Hayward Unified School District, and the Reach Institute for School Leadership, have received a $1M grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to move a whole school district toward deeper learning practices in the district’s classrooms. The grant allows the team to work on all levels of the system simultaneously, with the goal of enabling and strengthening teacher professional learning around instruction.

  “We are excited to see what Dr. Mintrop’s partnership with Hayward schools and the Reach Institute can teach us about removing systemic barriers in K-12 public schools, so that all students have equitable access to the kind of learning that is necessary for career and civic success in this rapidly changing world,” said Marc Chun, a program officer at the Hewlett Foundation.

The 3-year grant will fund the continuation and expansion of a partnership Mintrop began a few years ago with Hayward schools. The Hayward superintendent and assistant superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, as well as the Chief Academic Officer of the Reach Institute are graduates of Berkeley’s Ed.D. program (Leadership for Educational Equity) where the foundation of the current research-practice partnership (RPP) was laid. Methods of continuous quality improvement and design-based school improvement research guide the work.

“I am thankful to the Hewlett Foundation and its Deeper Learning program for investing in our RPP,” Mintrop said. “The foundation has long supported many different types of educational endeavors, and I appreciate that they are willing to support an experimental approach to school and classroom improvement. RPPs are an innovative approach that the grant will help make a reality.”

The partnership aims at professional learning at all levels of the system. District administrators, principals, instructional coaches and teachers explore through Learning Walks how students actually learn and teachers teach in Hayward schools. For observations, they use the TRU tool (Teaching for Robust Understanding), developed by Berkeley GSE Professor Alan Schoenfeld. The researchers work with lab teachers and instructional coaches to produce learning artifacts and guidance for instructional leadership teams and professional learning communities. Principal and principal supervisor learning academies enhance instructional leadership capacity.

The RPP does not aim at a curriculum or program, Mintrop said, but rather at a framework for teacher learning around the lessons they ordinarily teach every day. Districts, such as the partner district, usually have a surfeit of programs that come and go.

“We explore with teachers and administrators what urgent problems of practice are widely shared in a given school, and we build on existing assets and passions for change,” he said. “We ask: how can we deepen students’ engagement in learning? And how could teachers tweak their lessons in order to foster better academic outcomes?”  

“Tweaks” may occur around four instructional moves: creating curiosity for the new content of a lesson; co-constructing new insights in a dialogue with students; setting up an independent student conversation around a substantive idea; and giving feedback that enables students to learn from their misconceptions.

For Berkeley’s part, an RPP requires rethinking how research is conducted. The researchers identify with the urgent problems that districts and schools articulate, they help find remedies through co-design and iterative trial and error, and accompany the effort with data streams embedded in the flow of daily practice.


Editor's note: We invite you to come hear more about research-practice partnerships at the Dean's Forum on Tues., April 24, 2018, Transformation + Innovation in Education: The Power of Research-Practice Partnerships. In addition to Rick Mintrop, panelists are: Vivian Tseng, Senior Vice President, Programs at the William T. Grant Foundation; Caitlin C. Farrell, Director of the National Center for Research in Policy and Practice (NCRPP) at the University of Colorado Boulder; and Ritu Khanna,  Chief of Research, Planning, and Assessment at the San Francisco Unified School District.