Education: defining both a meaning and purpose of education that embraces a consensus is arguably difficult enough. Add the word research into the mix and we widen reflection to the many different and divergent beliefs, attitudes, and ideological perspectives around what really “matters” in UK and International Education.
So how comfortable do the terms education and research sit beside each other? Is it dependent on syntax? For example, does the term “Teacher Researchers” sound more abstract and less real than the term “Educational Researchers”? In a world of ever increasing layers of ‘teachers need to’, why is a research aware teaching profession a phrase that seems to be growing in traction and popularity?
As ever in teaching, are ‘my needs’ the same as ‘your needs’? Blanket and school wide CPD is rightly under a microscope of gain and benefit but beyond this, when we not only inquire around terms and constructs such as ‘research literate and research engaged’, do these terms partly inform and construct teacher standards, teacher performance management processes and the overarching schema of what being a professional has come to mean?
Do we fight the distorting ‘war of the ghosts’ between those who advocate a research aware profession and how these wishes are interpreted and translated? Through a law of unintended consequences, can being ‘research illiterate and unaware’ be used as an esoteric, in-group stick to beat those who do not endorse the value? or does ‘research aware’ represent an emancipatory advance, empowering teachers to question previously unchallenged prescription and orthodoxy?
Isolating the term research itself may only help to a point. It’s a process of inquiry and investigation that exists across many diverse academic fields. Enter the world of biases and world views, and we may be exposed to the following: Often considered the gold standard of clinical trials, are Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) a necessary starting point in education, and should they act as a stage 1 process of inquiry, with other methods and methodologies only being used thereafter? How valid and rich is Action Research as a process of inquiry that teachers embark upon to better understand the immediacy of their own classrooms, own schools and own contexts?
The point in asking these provocations is that research is not a GPS that will automatically carry a teaching profession towards a final destination that represents an end point in teacher development. This is perhaps well illustrated in the publication by TNTP, “The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About our Quest for Teacher Development” which reports that a large proportion of teacher professional development is largely a waste of time and money.
As unpalatable as that may be to digest, it does help illustrate the need to critically engage not only with research itself, but to critically engage and reflect on my own practice, in my own classroom, after all my lessons, throughout the whole year. After 25 years in the classroom, I think I am a reasonably skilled and knowledgeable classroom teacher (with the customary, yet zero degree of humility) If colleagues want to observe my teaching, no problem, the door lies always ajar with a metaphorical welcome mat to tread over. But.
I think over the last 5 years, when I have engaged more with Biesta and Priestley and curriculum design, when I have engaged more with Willingham, Bjork, Smith and Firth on memory for learning, when I have engaged more with White and Young on the purposes and whys of education, when I have engaged more with William and assessment and classroom practice, when I have engaged more with the Trivium and Robinson, when I have engaged more with Giroux, Delgado and Halliwell and Identity and Critical Race Theory, when I have engaged with Nueuroscience and Bishop and Walsh, when I have engaged more with Ritchie and Sabisky and the construct of intelligence, and when I have engaged more with Tomsett and the care and empathy of being a leader, when I have engaged more….
For me, I am a better teacher, a richer person, who reflects more, knows more and crucially understands that the more I know, the more I know I don’t. This ‘me’ isn’t to traduce those who do not wish to engage more with the ‘whoevers’. Rather, and in the words of Mr. Tierney, “better never stops” and if better can be achieved down avenues of professional reading, reflection and cultivating a research aware and literate teaching persona, why would we not wish to scaffold support for this at a systems level?
I know I can be a better teacher and senior leader in all of the tomorrows- some days will look better than others, and in these days, I will also be a better teacher and leader than other days. That’s ok when I can accept this and seek to reduce the number of such days. When I leave school, pass my day through my values filters and honestly ask myself, ‘did you do your best today’ and I respond ‘yes’ with honesty, I’ll still be happy. And. What more can someone ask?
This therefore becomes a key merit of a research aware profession to me; that defining both what improvement may look like, and how I can self reflect and evaluate my practices to engender change becomes largely within my own locus of control, within my own disposition and motivation to want to get better, both for me as a professional and for the pupils I teach.
Engaging with concentric circles of research aware, research literate and research engaged, where we can critically evaluate the claims of research and what they mean to my classroom practices and my previously held contentions around effective approaches to learning and teaching, is an emancipatory knowledge and skills base for me.
This by definition may help…
Go beyond the futile and perfunctory culture of top down, and imposed Performance Management targets that merely act as a mirror of SDP priorities, without allowing more esoteric development to occur…
Traduce the nonsense of pseudoscience that is still being peddled as key ‘scientific literature’ which can help promote growth and development. Perhaps its is simply and scientifically uninteresting and we have an ethical responsibility to engage and highlight such nonsense…
Develop a counter story and world view that frames the teaching profession not as a passive that accepts research and inquiry as a ‘done to’ model…
Develop a sense of professionalisation and direction within our locus of self control that views research and inquiry as a ‘done with’ model, engaging with a reciprocity and appreciation of talents, knowledge and skills between Teachers and Higher Education…
In short, help reframe our own tomorrows in schools in ways we want them to look like without defining those tomorrows within the ethnocentricism of an in-group elite and out-group of less able, who know less. Maybe we all just know different, encompassing common threads and the more discreet and individual, so how do we capture this ensemble without disenfranchising?