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Teachers as researchers?

Before we embark on this course, it's important for us to consider the debate that emerges when we contemplate teachers as researchers.
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© University of Birmingham and Chartered College of Teaching
Before we embark on this course, it’s important for us to consider the debate that emerges when we contemplate teachers as researchers.
Our first course – Education Research That Matters: applying research to your teaching practice – explored how teachers could locate and engage critically with existing research, often conducted by academics.
Beyond such research engagement, the extent to which teachers should conduct their own research in classrooms, as part of a commitment to research engagement, has been widely debated. There are strong views on either side of the argument. Let’s take a look at some of these arguments now before we discuss them together in the next step.

Lawrence Stenhouse

Lawrence Stenhouse is one proponent of teacher research in so much as it encourages development of practice over time, professional collaboration, and useful insight for the local context and community.
‘Our educational realities seldom conform to our educational intentions. We cannot put our policies into practice. We should not regard this as a failure peculiar to schools and teachers. We have only to look around us to confirm that it is part of the human lot. But… improvement is possible if we are secure enough to face and study the nature of our failures. The central problem of evidence-informed practice is the gap between our ideas and our aspirations and our attempts to operationalise them’ (Stenhouse 1975).
‘The gap between aspiration and teaching is a real and frustrating one. The gap can only be closed by adopting a research and development approach to one’s own teaching, whether alone or in a group of cooperating teachers’ (Stenhouse 1975).
He sees the role of teacher research as contributing to:
…the betterment of schools through the improvement of teaching and learning. Its characteristic insistence is that ideas should encounter the discipline of practice and that practice should be encountered by ideas. The teacher research movement is an attack on the separation of theory and practice’ (Stenhouse 1975).
‘What seems to me most important is that research becomes part of a community of critical discourse. But perhaps too much research is published to the world, too little to the village. We need local cooperatives and papers as well as international conferences and journals’ (Stenhouse 1985).

John Hattie

John Hattie suggests that expecting teachers to also conduct research is an additional burden that will create workload without any proof that actually has an impact.
‘Researching is a particular skill, some of us took years to gain that skill. Asking teachers to be researchers? They are not. I want to put the emphasis on teachers as evaluators of their impact. Be skilled at that. Whereas the whole research side, leave that to the academics. I think it’s totally unreasonable to ask teachers to be experts in everything. I don’t have any time for making teachers researchers. We have got no evidence that action researchers make any difference to the quality of teaching’ (TES 2015).

Kevan Collins

Kevan Collins is an advocate of bridging the gap between teachers and researchers so that expertise is brought together.
‘What we need to do is build the bridges and encourage a dialogue, because researchers need teachers and obviously teachers need researchers. We have seen what happens when those two worlds don’t orbit together – basically nobody gets better’ (TES 2015).
‘Although it is right [that] primary research has to be rigorous and well established and it is hard to do that in one school, I actually don’t think that means that teachers shouldn’t be using the literacy and sensibility of research to inform their practice’ (TES 2015).

Vivian Robinson

Vivian Robinson echoes Kevan’s advocation for researchers and teachers working together to avoid an increasing polarity but she also highlights some of the key challenges to be overcome in upskilling teachers to engage in research.
‘The oppositional discourse of practitioners versus researchers is unfortunate, because it emphasises difference and separation, rather than similarity and overlap. It is also unwarranted, because many of the dispositions, skills and understandings required of good research and researchers are the same as those required of good practice and practitioners. Instead of thinking of practitioners and researchers as different categories of person, we should think about them as different roles. This allows us to see the overlap between the two roles, and the possibilities for their integration’ (Robinson 2003).
‘There are at least two main challenges to be met. The first involves providing beginning and experienced teachers with enough high quality opportunities to learn the skills required to collect, interpret, and use evidence about the link between their teaching and the learning of their students. The second challenge is in developing a teacher culture in which evidence-based discussion of the quality of teaching and learning is an expected part of professional life… Many teachers are not used to providing an evidential basis for their claims about their practice, or asking their colleagues to do the same’ (Robinson 2003).
What do you think of these various points of view? Take some time to reflect before the next step. To what extent do you agree with Lawrence that teachers conducting their own research can lead to the development of practice over time? Do you agree with John that research is an additional burden with as yet no evidence of impact? Could there be an answer in collaborative efforts between teachers and researchers as Kevan and Vivian suggest?

References

Rudduck J and Hopkins D (1985) Research as a Basis for Teaching: readings from the work of Lawrence Stenhouse. London: Heinemann
Stenhouse L (1975) An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development. London: Heinemann
TES (2015) Leave research to the academics, John Hattie tells Teachers (accessed on 16 January 2020)
When you are ready, click the ‘Mark as complete’ button below and then select ‘What do you think?’ to share your reflections on this debate with other course participants.
© University of Birmingham and Chartered College of Teaching
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