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Research Mission

Our Mission for Research at Falk:

As a laboratory school, we view research as intertwined with teaching, learning, and educational innovation. Across all of these areas, we aim to engage in research that helps us as a community to:

  • Foster equitable educational opportunities for all children, with curricula and teaching approaches that actively honor all students’ identities, strengths, and areas of growth.
  • Center teachers and students as producers of knowledge and active participants in the development and enactment of school-based research.
  • Connect research and practice in ways that expand beyond the walls of the school and the university to engage with the broader educational community locally, nationally, and internationally.
  • Promote collaborative approaches to research, connecting teachers, university researchers, and others in sustained collaborations.

Research at Falk School

As a university-affiliated laboratory school, one of the Falk School’s core missions is conducting and participating in educational research. We collaborate with departments across the University of Pittsburgh as well as with other partner institutions of higher education. Research projects are generated from individual teachers’ practice, collaborations within the school, broad questions that span the Falk community, and from connections with outside researchers. See examples of some of our current and past research projects.

From a variety of perspectives, research is woven into the experience of both students and teachers during their time at Falk.

By engaging in research studies, both Falk adults and Falk children gain exposure to a broad range of research questions relevant to their own lives, and some of the methods used to answer those questions. For teachers, participating in and/or sponsoring research provides the impetus to engage in regular examination and refinement of their pedagogy and instructional practices. Research helps us to better understand how students learn and aids us immensely in our growth as educators. It also allows us to position teachers as generators of research from their daily work, honoring the deep learning that occurs in classroom contexts. Our view of school-based research is one of collaboration, innovation, and equity-driven praxis.

Broadly, we categorize research into four tiers:

  • Tier 1: Falk-Driven Research
    Research authored, designed, and/or led by Falk faculty (or in direct collaboration with Falk faculty).  This tier requires a Falk teacher as a principal investigator (PI) or co-PI and falls into the natural sequence of the curricular framework.  If the research question is not part of a unit of study, investigators should meet with curricular chairs at the inception of the project’s methodology to ensure minimal disruption to the typical classroom routines and curriculum.

  • Tier 2: University-Falk Collaboration
    Research that is in direct alignment with our interests, values, and philosophy of education and child development. The study is proposed by an outside researcher who looks to develop and sustain a relationship with the school and faculty and who aims to complete the work within the school context.  The participation of Falk faculty is integral to the project and the faculty member is consulted as protocol is developed and piloted, and results and conclusions are shared.

  • Tier 3: Short-Term Externally Driven Research
    Research from outside Falk that is proposed to and vetted by the research committee to be conducted at Falk with the teacher’s permission (and the consent of participating students).  This work needs to be in direct alignment, or not in direct conflict, with the faculty member’s planned progression of curriculum.

  • Tier 4: External Research Shared with Falk Community
    Research that meets our standards for best practices with children but is not sponsored or conducted by the school during regular school hours or as part of any classroom activity.  These protocols must have the approval of the University of Pittsburgh’s Institutional Review Board (IRB)  to be considered.

Considerations Made When Evaluating Proposals for Research Collaboration at Falk

Does the study align with Falk’s educational philosophy?

It is expected that the general research question of a study will be consistent with the principles of Progressive education, and that any interventions and assessment instruments are consistent with our pedagogical approaches.  We are invested in both pursuing novel research and providing the best learning environment for our children, albeit always within the broad framework of Progressivism; we appreciate the flexibility of research partners as we work together to make adjustments to the proposed work, when and where appropriate.

Is the proposed work realistic and achievable?

Falk’s teachers and students are accustomed to and remarkably flexible about trying new approaches and adjusting classroom routines as part of research investigations, and can accommodate studies both on an “opt-out” basis in the classroom and an “opt-in” basis in our after-school program.  There are limitations on the number of classroom hours, educator time, and facility space that may make it impossible to engage in some collaborations.  This can be particularly true toward the end of any given school year.

How will Falk (namely Falk students and teachers) benefit and learn from the collaboration?

The Falk School firmly believes in the value of research in furthering our understanding of teaching and learning.  In our research partnerships, we look for collaborators who will consider classroom teachers to be critical partners in the process. While all studies are different, it is anticipated that collaborations will involve Falk educators to a significant degree or otherwise recognize the school’s contributions to the study.  Falk’s preference is for its educators to serve as co-investigators or senior staff where appropriate.  And because students are a key part of research conducted at Falk, we ask that the study team provide a presentation of the study that can be shared with students and their families—for example, in a poster or flyer.

As the school functions as a department of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education, all research studies conducted at the school must be approved or exempted by the Pitt IRB. Falk can help with this process for studies proposed by researchers without Pitt affiliation.

For questions, to submit a request for research collaboration, or to schedule a research tour, please contact research coordinator Katrina Bartow Jacobs or director Jill Sarada.