Knowledge Bank - Professional Development

Practitioner Research

The research-driven attitude inspires teachers to take ownership of their classrooms, allowing them to question, explore and develop their own practice. How can you integrate practitioner based research into your teaching?

“The term ‘research’ can have unfortunate connotations – of white coated boffins in laboratories, of ivory tower academics, dusty tomes, unread, impenetrable articles in esoteric journals” (Handscomb and MacBeath, 2003). However, in practice, research-engaged learning proves to be an effective two-way process, benefitting both the practitioner and student. It creates a dynamic environment, which explores multiple lines of enquiry. As the articles in this Knowledge Bank reveal, an investigative outlook is the key ingredient for professional development and the improvement of learning standards. This approach encourages both staff and pupils to reflect, to explore different approaches, and to try new things in the classroom.
Practitioner Research
The research-driven attitude inspires teachers to take ownership of their classrooms, allowing them to question, explore and develop their own practice. Ideas for research tend to be based around practitioner’s individual interests and experiences. This type of exploration increases the ability to solve personal problems and to identify ‘what works’ in a teaching set-up.
On an individual level, staff experience benefits from research-engagement through increased motivation, greater confidence and a sense of pride in professional expertise (just to name a few).
According to a report about Collaborative Research in Practice (Morris and Norman, 2004), research involves three types of skills:
1) Methodological
2) Managerial
3) Interpersonal
Since it is unlikely that one person will display all three, research within a network is deemed more effective. The inclusion of other colleagues creates a system of study, working across the school. This contributes to workforce reform by involving all staff, regardless of their role and status. Having a whole school perspective lifts an institution to a research-engaged status, promoting a collaborative work ethic where learning is shared. Case studies within these articles will show you how developing a communal research culture rather than an individual focus makes practitioner research stronger in every dimension.
A question explored in these articles asks us at what point does school-based activity “count” as research? Heated debates have arisen concerning the relationship between academic research and investigations carried out by a teacher in a classroom. Can we see these institutions as having equivalent level of authority? The credibility of such work is placed at the forefront of these discussions.
Looking to the future, since research engagement is based on self-motivated professionalism rather than the systematic application of “proven practice”, evidence-based reform sits uneasily with teacher-led research. Tensions are apparent due to the nature of an evidence-based policy initiative: they are more likely to involve the control of an external change agent, combined with the following of officially produced materials. If evidence-based reform moves forward, the value ascribed to small-scale practitioners is likely to decrease.
The failure of the Research & Development Toolkit to infiltrate extensively across schools perhaps gives us a clue for the direction of research-based learning. Due to unsuccessful recognition of the importance of research-based engagement, the platform has not moved beyond its somewhat small group of enthusiasts. Whilst several are confident in the Toolkit’s value and efficiency within the education environment, the future is uncertain since no central body is likely to fund it sustainably on a large scale. This presents the question: is the next step towards evidence, rather than research?
These articles show us that the sustainability of research-engagement depends on whether teachers have a full understanding of the underlying theoretical principles and if they learned how to inquire into the impact of their teaching on students. Sources of inspiration and support for continual engagement depend on collegial networks and mediators such as professional associations. Since research is based on reading as well as experience, a need for accessible existing materials is also crucial for continuation of this approach. By creating a solid framework for practitioners, schools will continue to improve standards in the classroom.

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