As teachers and leaders, we don’t often think of ourselves as “researchers.” After all, when we think of research, we think of academic outsiders studying borderline interesting topics and writing long, confusing reports about their discoveries. We don’t typically think of practitioners as doing the work of “researchers.”
It shouldn’t be that way. We need to change this mindset because practitioner research is especially valuable in a profession where educator voice needs to be heard. As practitioners, we have a unique insider perspective that strengthens the dialog around the changes our schools so desperately need. Our unique insider voice has not been invited nor heard by leadership and policymakers. We can and must change this.
This past week I experienced two events that reminded me of the value and importance of practitioner research in education:
- the conclusion of the college semester at Moravian College where I taught a graduate course for the third year titled Teacher as Inquirer.
- the presentation of a research project I’m currently involved with in Salisbury around the critical factors that support teachers in designing transformational learning experiences.
In this post, we’ll focus on WHY practitioners should study their work. In a follow-up post, we’ll focus on the HOW, including examples from my own experiences as a superintendent and clinical adjunct professor of education.
Practitioner research doesn’t need to be “academic,” resulting in a journal article or dissertation defense. Our research can be as simple as asking rich questions to identify problems of practice; researching, choosing and implementing an action plan; collecting some form of data and reflecting on and sharing the results. The basic process is then repeated with the same or a new problem. These are the essential components of practitioner research and we should make it a part of our work. Here are four reasons why:
- Improve our practice – By studying our work, we identify in a concrete way what is working and what can be improved.
- Model inquiry – The approach we take to studying our practice is based on inquiry and models the personal ownership we want our students to take with their own learning.
- Model a growth mindset – We live in a world of rapid change, both inside and outside of school, that requires a growth mindset and openness to constant learning. Effective practitioner research is grounded in wanting to grow in understanding and skill for the betterment of learners.
- Share our work with a larger audience – When we improve our practice and share it with our colleagues, school, and the educational world through blogs and social media, we make a contribution to improving education on a scale larger than our classroom or school.
In the follow-up post, look for some specific steps you can follow to become a researcher of your own practice.
Do you take a systematic approach to studying your practice? Why or why not?
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