As with all good Twitter conversations, the one I’ve had over the last day or two with @tloughland has sparked yet another area of interest: that of the relationship between teachers and educational research.
As a fulltime teacher, I understand and empathise with all those who have a full load of classes and all the myriad duties and responsibilities that come with it. From marking rolls to writing reports to attending staff meetings, there are many jobs that a current teacher has to complete aside from the actual cultivation of learning that goes on with their students.
Often, we have experts in a particular field visit our staff meetings or run professional development sessions that are relevant, research-based and challenge what we do and how we do it. Even if the result of such an experience is that we reaffirm our position or continue practice as it is, at least we choose to do so. However, sometimes there is an unfortunate disconnect between the day-to-day reality of being a teacher and the educational research that occurs usually beyond the gates of schools.
I’ve dipped my toe in the water of research (and am looking for some way to jump back into it whilst retaining my presence at school) but I struggle to see how, with a fulltime commitment to a teaching position, one could engage in meaningful research that has a measurable impact in the classroom. In Higher Education, the role is clearly defined for a given period and academics balance their duties to teaching and research based on the budgets and foci of the institution and the position they inhabit. There is a presumtion that academics will engage in both areas as universities are places of research as much as places of teaching and learning. This is as it should be, but how do we connect the groundbreaking educational research that occurs in our universities in a systematic and functional way with the daily practice of teachers?
I have a proposal, which I will happily share the mountains of royalties that will cascade from the idea with Mr Tony Loughland of the University of Sydney, that there needs to be a role in schools – on the ground, in the daily life of schools – for “reachers”. Reachers would be teachers who are given time and flexibility to engage in the distillation of current research trends for their school community and who can develop processes and plans for the strategic embedding of research into professional planning and reflection.
Some challenges immediately arise, including:
- the lack of flexibility in current school structures to allow for a more dynamic position
- the lack of understanding of methods for research-based decisions by schools
- striking an appropriate balance between research (and what that means) and teaching (and what that means)
- the need for clear goals and duties for the reacher in terms of individual growth and their participation in the professional development of other staff
- partnerships between universities/higher ed and schools
Despite these challenges, the aim is certainly achieveable but requires some creative thinking, ignoring assumptions and courage to experiment in order to find the right reacher for the right school context. Perhaps an innovative university and a cutting-edge school might blaze a trail for the rest of us. I’ll work on my boss if you work on yours!
For a bit of interesting reading relating to the links between research and teaching (there are plenty of other books and articles available), check out http://ncrtl.msu.edu/http/rreports/html/pdf/rr926.pdf or http://tlu.fbe.unimelb.edu.au/pdfs/Research_Led_teaching_Summary.pdf