Research Findings That Help Students Succeed

A MiddleWeb Blog

Recently, in his Classroom Q&A column at Education Week, Larry Ferlazzo invited educators and researchers to respond to these two prompts:

►What do you think have been the most important education research findings from the past 10 years? – and

►What areas are you hoping researchers focus on in the next 10 years?

Both are fantastic questions. After all, research is one of the few things that teachers agree is essential to their profession. It’s also the one thing that few – if any – classroom-based educators have time to do. And perusing the latest research of others can be overwhelming.

I suggest that navigating educational research is like canoeing a river. We don’t need to know everything that is going on below the surface; we do, however, need to pay attention to which way(s) the currents are flowing.

In their responses to the questions posed above, Ferlazzo contributors Beth Miller and Jana Echevarria highlighted significant new insights over the past decade in how students learn (e.g., brain research, social-emotional learning) as well as the impact of racism and other forms of marginalization on millions of learners across the country.

In another response, Bryan Goodwin and Meg Riordan underscored research developments in student motivation, learner curiosity, relationships, project-based learning, and inequality in education.

With these topics already mentioned in mind, below are my thoughts on some areas of education research that all of us should be paying attention to…as well as my wish list for future research in the decade to come.

Trauma Informed Pedagogy

Over the past decade educational research has amassed increasing information about the difficulties of students (particularly those living in poverty) who experience trauma and toxic stress.

Trauma negatively impacts young people’s learning, behavior, and ability to develop relationships (Blitz, Yull, & Clauhs, 2020). It also impairs student attention, memory, cognition, focus, organization, grades, attendance, and reading ability (Von Dohlen et al., 2019).

Students who experience trauma often lack a supportive network of adults to help the child make sense of adversity (Shonkoff et al., 2012). As a result, “Trauma Informed Pedagogy” (also referred to as Trauma Responsive Pedagogy) has emerged and started to shift our conversation about a struggling student from “what is wrong with you?” to “what is happening with you?”

Teachers should check out the recent excellent documentary, below, done by Kansas State University’s College of Education, on advice from trauma experts in neuroscience, therapy, and counseling on how to teach kids resilience despite the hardships and traumatic events in their lives.

Research on Trauma Informed Teaching places great importance on creating and maintaining a school environment where students (and everyone) are treated with compassion, understanding, and validation. This includes working to empower students by intentionally building and sustaining meaningful relationships between staff and administrators, staff and students, and among the students themselves.

Collective Teacher Efficacy

Most of us have heard of SELF-efficacy, or the confidence we have in OURSELVES. In contrast, COLLECTIVE efficacy is much more about the confidence we have in OUR GROUP’s ability to overcome obstacles and achieve goals.

In the school setting, Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE) refers to educators’ shared beliefs that their combined efforts can positively influence student outcomes, including learners who are disengaged, unmotivated, and/or disadvantaged (Donohoo, Hattie, Eells, 2018).

Simply put, CTE is when teachers have confidence in – and work strategically with – one another towards shared goals. It has been said that of ALL the elements of education studied over the past decade, CTE has the highest impact on student achievement (Hoogsteen, 2020).

Strong Collective Teacher Efficacy doesn’t simply result from wishful, optimistic thinking. It stems from teachers experiencing success, watching others experience success, feedback from (and collaboration with) colleagues, and a positive emotional tone/climate in schools.

Some (but not all) of the benefits of CTE include…

  • Improved learning outcomes for students
  • More capable, autonomous learners
  • Teachers/students who successfully work through instructional barriers
  • Deeper implementation of evidence-based instructional strategies
  • Better support for multi-lingual learners
  • Increased parental involvement
  • Greater job satisfaction for educators and reduced teacher burnout

My Education Research Wishlist

While much helpful research has emerged over the past ten years, there is still much more that needs to be done. Some of my hopes for education research in the future include the following:

Digital immersion. Digital technologies now provide an endless stream of data and information while providing new, powerful means to make decisions and solve problems. However, new issues have emerged, such as… how schools can help students navigate and deal with abundant, sometimes fake or misleading information in a rapidly changing context.

Continuous learning. It is becoming increasingly necessary for individuals to “upskill” and “reskill” throughout their lives to keep up with the evolving technical and critical thinking skills necessary for employment.

For this reason, future research should work to examine what is the role of education in (a) preparing students for continuous learning beyond the context of formal education and (b) recognizing and building upon what is learnt outside of school?

Preparing for the unexpected. The effects of the pandemic on schools, instruction, students, and everything else related to learning is a reminder that, despite our best laid plans, schools must also prepare for the unexpected.

Open and important questions have emerged. For example…What are the long-term effects of the instructional gaps resulting from the pandemic? and…What curriculum and instruction models best support student learning even when the format of learning (i.e. face-to-face, online, hybrid, etc.) shifts?

Why the Research Matters

When it comes to teaching, good intentions and effort can only take our students so far. To cultivate academic success, educators must carve out (a little) time to check the pulse of education research and reflect on what it means in our daily work.

Doing so helps us ensure that we understand our craft and our students, identify/solve problems, and utilize evidence-based practices.


Blitz, L. V., Yull, D., & Clauhs, M. (2020). Bringing sanctuary to school: Assessing school climate as a foundation for culturally responsive trauma-informed approaches for urban schools. Urban Education, 55(1), 95-124.

Donohoo, J., Hattie, J., & Eells, R. (2018). The power of collective efficacy. Educational Leadership, 75(6), 40-44.

Hoogsteen, T. J. “Collective efficacy: Toward a new narrative of its development and role in achievement.” Palgrave Communications 6.1 (2020): 1-7.

Shonkoff, J. P., Garner, A. S., Siegel, B. S., Dobbins, M. I., Earls, M. F., McGuinn, L., … & Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption, and Dependent Care. (2012). The lifelong effects of early childhood adversity and toxic stress. Pediatrics, 129(1), e232-e246.

Thomas, M. S., Crosby, S., & Vanderhaar, J. (2019). Trauma-informed practices in schools across two decades: An interdisciplinary review of research. Review of Research in Education, 43(1), 422-452.

Von Dohlen, H. B., Pinter, H. H., Winter, K. K., Ward, S., & Cody, C. (2019). Trauma-informed practices in a laboratory middle school. Middle School Journal, 50(4), 6-15.

Curtis Chandler

Dr. Curtis Chandler (@CurtisChandler6) is an education professor at Brigham Young University-Idaho in Rexburg. Curtis has been a Kansas Teacher of the Year and a KS regional instructional tech coach. “I am a middle school teacher through and through,” he says. He enjoys spending time with his wife and his favorite students – his four sons. His two blogs for MiddleWeb include Class Apps (insightful articles about blending tech and teaching strategies) here, and New Teacher Tips, a blog dedicated to preservice and beginning teachers, here.

1 Response

  1. Rusty Earl says:

    Thank you for sharing the video link, Curtis, and the great content in your article. I love the analogy of the canoe in the river. I agree it’s easy to get discouraged with so much happening in education research. It can look like a never ending pool to drink from. However, when we focus on where the current is going we be a lot more proactive in our research. Best wishes!

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