Teachers as researchers

What should inform the decisions made by teachers about how to develop their practice? If teachers are to make informed decisions, we need to ask – informed by whom? How can teachers inform themselves and each other about good ideas for developing teaching, and reflect more critically on the skills they use everyday in their own classrooms?

Why become a teacher-researcher?
Part of the professional role of the teacher involves keeping up to date with developing ideas about learning and teaching and being critically informed about developments in practice. Being a ‘professional’ includes developing the capacity to research for increasing numbers of teachers. This means developing the skills and knowledge to be able to lead the development of their own practice through research. Becoming a teacher-researcher is not something to undertake alone however and this article sets out ways forward for teachers to get started with the support of colleagues.

The idea of doing classroom research can sound extremely daunting to first-time teacher-researchers. With so many demands made on their time, the idea of designing a research project and carrying it out can seem an unnecessary burden – especially when so many initiatives offer ready-made ‘answers’ to improving practice. The effect however of externally provided solutions can be to overload teachers with models of ‘excellence’, handed down by unknown ‘experts’. Slickly produced training packs are frequently left unused in many departments, where teachers feel no particular motivation to work with ideas they do not ‘own’. Is this kind of knowledge really valuable to teachers, coming as it does from outside their own practice and when they have not been party to developing the ideas they are supposed to implement? The problem was summed up by one teacher, on leaving an INSET session at her local Professional Development Centre: “Every course I have been on involves watching a video of an exemplary lesson given by a teacher. I leave feeling both enthused by watching this good practice and also a bit scared – how would I ever use the strategies suggested to us in my classroom?”

Teacher research aims to involve professionals in producing their own knowledge and understanding about teaching and learning by examining what happens in their classroom through careful and systematic investigation of practice. The context of the individual classroom is central to this type of research, which usually starts by focusing on the needs of the students whom the teacher knows well. Through research, teachers can become their own experts and begin to develop and share their own ‘answers’ –particularly when the process is shared with colleagues who can help to build a collaborative approach to professional development that is bottom-up.

How can you get started?
Some teachers will have the support network of a masters degree or other professional development course which includes an element of research training. Even without this, there are things you can put in place to make research a supported professional development activity. Try to get the backing of your Senior Leaders from the start. This is vital to being able to spend professional development time on classroom research.

Peer involvement is important, and your colleagues are more likely to be interested in what you’ve found and try it for themselves if they have been involved in the research along the way. Working with colleagues on a project increases the motivation of the researchers, and means that a range of experience can be pooled as the project develops.

Link to full article

Adapted from an article for the Secondary English Magazine
(Vol 10 No 1 Oct 2006)
Caroline Daly, Institute of Education University of London