What they do, where to find them and how academic researchers can engage with them

Many teachers are making grassroots attempts to read, use, and generate research these days. Educational researchers love this. In turn, they are engaging with teachers, by organising events especially for teachers at educational research conferences and collaborating with teachers in classroom research.

Schools all around Australia are currently hosting research projects involving classroom teachers. But it can be difficult for teachers to engage in research because it takes a lot of time and energy, not just in the classroom, but also due to the paperwork and meetings involved.

However, I believe if we don’t work with each other, teachers risk reinventing wheels or becoming trapped within an echo chamber, and researchers risk irrelevance.

There is so much to be gained by collaborating with each other. Together, teachers and researchers can develop a research literate teaching culture. Of course many teachers are already working collectively to improve their access, engagement with, and undertaking of research.

In this post I want to look at what teachers are doing and how researchers might engage with them.

Formal and informal research

Educational researchers are often interested in large-scale research questions involving multiple teachers or schools, whereas classroom teachers are often looking to participate in or conduct informal research that is specific to their own classroom context and practice.

Teachers regularly carry out informal research in their daily work in the classroom.

Informal Research

By the nature of their role, teachers are informal researchers. Every day a teacher enters their classroom with a new lesson to try, a new strategy to test, a new thought about how to manage young Harry’s distractibility or Neville’s anxieties, help Ginny understand a difficult Herbology concept, and develop Hermione’s broomstick flying skills.

However we know that teachers with better research skills, who are critically reflexive, and who look outside their own experience, will find and evaluate possible solutions to teaching and classroom issues more quickly and efficiently. This can make their teaching more effective.

Looking outside to what others have done is a central part of this process. However, the constant trial and error teachers undertake to improve their classroom teaching is barely spoken about or shared. Usually, it’s undertaken independently, and the results a quiet accomplishment. Sometimes, it’s done collaboratively, and the results are shared with the community of teachers, students and their families. Occasionally, research is undertaken more formally, purposefully, with a broad goal of improving school or system-wide policies or processes.

Formal Research

Formal research is “hard and it is technical and there are a lot of i’s to dot and t’s to cross” (e.g. ethics applications, access to literature, participant recruitment and informed consent, and the difficult work of analysing and interpreting complicated data). It is rigorous, and accountability for validity and reliability are deeply entrenched within the system. With so many hurdles to jump, it can take a long time to complete a formal research project.

Teachers’ networks and events

While educational researchers investigate policy impacts and teaching methods, individual teachers often seek more definite and immediate resolutions to context-specific issues. Teachers are seeking what they desire through grassroots networks and events, such as Twitter, Teachmeets, and researchED conferences.

Teachers on Twitter

A small but growing group of teachers are flocking to social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest to share their resources, experiences and ideas. In particular, Twitter has become the forum for teachers to discuss what works for them, and what doesn’t. We know that this informal research is a normal part of the everyday work of a teacher, and teachers have found that there is much to be gained through the sharing and discussing of such work through social media.

Researchers should also join Twitter. It is a great place to share research and explore teachers’ responses to and incorporation of both formal and informal research into their daily work.

Twitter-synchronous chats

Regular chats such as the #PSTchat (for pre-service teachers) and #AussieED (for Aussie educators) provide structures for productive synchronous conversations on issues that matter to them, including educational research. Regular discussion topics include homework, behaviour management, myths in education (such as learning styles and Brain Gym), NAPLAN, using data, and subject-specific practices and pedagogies. On March 8, hundreds of Australian teachers took to Twitter to discuss “research in education” with #AussieED; the conversation flew fast.

Researchers are not excluded from such discussions, and some do engage, myself included. I aim to be constructive and contribute thoughtfully; these chats are spaces for teachers to share their experiences and ideas, and when I participate, I ensure my contributions are made in the spirit of collegiality, rather than antagonism or assumed authority. I’m always welcomed!

Twitter-curated accounts

Curated accounts such as #EduTweetOz are hosted by a different Aussie educator each week. I was fortunate to be included as a host last year. There are a number of educational researchers on Twitter already.

AARE has an account under @AustAssocResEd. Maybe AARE can curate an account with a different Aussie educational researcher each week?

Blogs

Many teachers are blogging; sharing their experiences, practices, and interpretations of research with each other and the wider world. Some blogs are highly critical of educational research.

(This AARE blog is for educational researchers. It is widely read by teachers, academics, interested members of the public and politicians. Teachers can co-author blog posts with an educational researcher. -Ed)

Here are a few teacher blogs to visit

About Teaching  by Corinne C. (Australian primary teacher)
Classroom Chronicles by Henrietta M. (Australian primary teacher)
Teaching as Learning by Melissa P. (Australian secondary English and Italian teacher)
Teaching of Science  by Ian H. (British secondary science teacher)
Filling the pail  by Greg A. (Australian secondary science teacher)

Teachmeets

Teachmeets are informal meetings between teachers where they discuss and share practice, insights and innovations for teaching effectively. Teachmeets are organised by interested teachers who simply find a space, make a time, and advertise the event. You will often see them mentioned on Twitter. Educational researchers are most welcome at Teachmeets.

Teachmeets do not charge fees for attendance. Some, not all, participants give short presentations (2-7 minutes) and join in break-out sessions. Sometimes guest speakers are specifically invited. Many teachers who attend maintain a blog or engage via Twitter. Educational researchers have been known to present at Teachmeets, however teachers are given priority.

Matt Esterman, one of the teachers instrumental in the Teachmeet movement in Australia, says “each Teachmeet is unique in focus, attendance, context and purpose, and these are affected by the participants themselves, as they shape the Teachmeets as much as the host!”

researchED

UK conference series researchED has dipped its toe into Australian waters. The grassroots, teacher-led researchED movement has grown from the dissatisfaction of some teachers in the UK with their access to, engagement with, and inclusion in educational research. Intended aims are to increase teacher engagement with research and research literacy, with the underlying belief that teachers and researchers should collaborate to promote effective practice in education.

Shore School, Sydney, hosted the first Aussie researchED on Saturday 21 February of this year, and the speaker line-up included a wide range of teachers, researchers and policy-makers. The inclusion of Kevin Donnelly in a panel discussion led some teachers and researchers to make the decision to skip the conference. Cognitive psychology researchers are embracing researchED conferences, and are particularly noticeable on the speaker lineups.

Research Leads and teacher research journals

In the UK, researchED and similar movements have led to the establishment of Research Leads in many schools. Research Leads are teachers or administrators who take on the additional role of seeking and disseminating research, delivering ‘evidence-based’ or ‘research-based’ professional development, and guiding UK teachers through action research projects in their schools.

Research Leads meet regularly to share their experiences and learn from the ideas of others. Individual schools around Australia have created similar roles, but these are not yet widespread.

Arising from this, UK teachers have launched a successful Kickstarter fundraiser campaign to publish their research in a journal, with articles reviewed by a “team of practicing teachers and headteachers”. Glen Gilchrist, the teacher behind this project, is encouraging others to “hack teacher led research”.

Teacher associations

More established, and most likely to include researchers, teacher associations exist for almost every subject area or teaching community in every state of Australia and at the national level. Associations such as the Science Teachers’ Association of Queensland (one of eight state members of the Australian Science Teachers’ Association; ASTA) continue to publish a quarterly, non-peer-reviewed journal and host multiple conferences each year.

Conferences are of high quality and include researchers. The journals are excellent channels of communication with teachers, but (in my experience as editor of one such journal) it is difficult to convince researchers to publish in association journals because they are not peer-reviewed or indexed.

Join in, but tread lightly

Teachers have created these networks and events to share, engage, collaborate and direct their own research, as well as the formal research available to them. These networks and events serve teachers’ aspirations for their own and the education system’s improvements in order to achieve better outcomes for their students. For the most part, teacher activities in these networks are productive, collaborative and progressive.

There is space here for researchers to participate and contribute. The inclination might be to jump in, sage on the (Twitter) stage, and make grand pronouncements about what works and what doesn’t; what teachers should and shouldn’t do, and how. But to do this will surely backfire. Teachers have not created these spaces to be told what they’re doing wrong; they get enough of that in the mainstream media and from politicians.

My advice to researchers is tread lightly; be gentle and kind, encouraging and patient. Ask questions, share and offer help and support when it’s sought. You will surely learn a lot in return and could make some very productive connections.

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