Graduate Students Serving as a Bridge in the Research-to-Practice Gap

Nov 2017

By Casie Peet and Sarah Thoman, School Psychology Graduate Students at the University of South Florida

A common experience among first year graduate students is the realization that the practices utilized in our education system are often discrepant from what is considered best practice. Transitioning between didactic classes and authentic practicum experiences that shed light on the discrepancy of research to practice is an enlightening experience for many graduate students. As students, we wrestle with difficult questions surrounding the need to balance the present roles and responsibilities of school psychologists in order to adhere to national, state, and district policy while desiring to advance the field toward more equitable, comprehensive services provided to all students.

We process these conversations within our graduate courses and during group supervision meetings. However, we must also pose these difficult inquiries with our site supervisors, the practitioners directly impacting students and families. Both practitioners and researchers carry responsibility for this discrepancy. The very nature of a gap suggests that both sides should make progress toward a meeting point. While it may seem easy to place blame on practitioners not adopting new practices, a researcher in the field recently shared the following words of wisdom: "Our response to schools should never be 'well, work harder!' We need to give them the tools to work smarter with what they have available to them." There is a need for practitioner-friendly research to facilitate adoption of evidence-based practices in schools. The opportunity for school psychology graduate students lies in communicating what best practices we learned and what we observe in a way that is accessible to those who are doing the hardest work.  

Graduate students can ideally advocate for or suggest changes in local schools because we constantly engage with the most up-to-date research. As participants in both the research and practice realms, we have the ability to advocate on both sides of the gap. Advocating for more practitioner-friendly research at the university level can increase the acceptability of implementing and sustaining new practices among school personnel. We can also advocate at the school level to demonstrate the advantages of new research and evidence-based practices in a way that facilitates buy-in in the schools.  

Information dissemination across research, policy, and practice in education is a tremendous barrier to providing effective services to students. All NASP members can communicate perceived barriers and become facilitators through advocacy. Advocacy involves speaking publicly regarding a particular issue and is not reserved for leaders and policy makers alone. For example, practitioners can share the importance of access to mental health services in schools locally, as well as raise awareness by calling or writing to state and national representatives who can influence public policy. Advocacy can take many forms, and as graduate students it can be difficult to find our place in advocacy. However, remembering our unique exposure to the most recent research and our frequent contact in the schools, we can serve as a bridge for this gap.

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