I've been taking a lot of new educational risks lately. Being a teacher-researcher feels like the most prominent one. I recently began action research to study my instructional practice leading professional development. I'm recording my teaching, analyzing transcripts and participant commentary, and reflecting on who and what and how I am as a teacher of teachers. This risk, this close look at what I do and how it effects others, seemed a bit scary at first, but then I had a nagging sensation of "I've been here before." Upon further reflection I realized, not only have I been a teacher-researcher before, I was a teacher-researcher from the beginning.
When I was teaching in the public school system, I was given a notebook with a list of learning goals and told "Teach them!" Every day as a new teacher was a risk. Each time I wrote a lesson plan that first year, implemented it, and took notes on how it went I was essentially taking risks in the classroom and doing a form of assessment that could qualify as part of a research cycle, although I certainly wouldn't have called it research at the time. I may not have started with a formal question and finished with a formal writing exercise, but I was assessing what went on in the classroom and looking to make changes to ensure what I was doing was more effective for students and their learning. How helpful would the language of research have been as both a validation of the work process and an encouragement to focus in on particular aspects of teaching/learning/students to effect change! The structure of research would have helped me narrow the focus and more efficiently apply the assessments and reflections I was making.
As I delve deeper into my graduate work and the accompanying action research, I continue to be struck by how much the language of research applies not only to actions that I took in my classroom, but also to what I do now in my role leading professional development. So many of the daily activities of teacher-leaders are also inherently authentic research experiences. I ask myself if an instructional module helped teachers achieve the learning goal. I ask if I met the specific learning needs of a teacher. I look for assessment tools to support each of these prior questions. I narrow my questions: "How can I help Joe feel supported and successful during partner text study sessions?" As I ask questions and seek answers, I am beginning to revel in the process that is making me better at what I do.
Taking a the research risk has led me to deeper thinking and new goals. I'm going to work on incorporating a language of research into instructional coaching times and professional development modules with my teachers as I continue to embrace my own research process. The application of teacher-research language to what many teachers already do, is not only validating to our work, but also adds to the professionalization of our field. This language of "question, data, analysis, research" heightens the already present reflection on and adaptations to teaching. We, as teachers, may come to the field for a variety of reasons, but I aim to see we stay not only because we love it, but also because we continue to work at it and can revel in sharing our learned expertise with others.
Are you currently doing action research in your classroom? Looking to start? Have thoughts on the process? Share comments below to continue the conversation.
My Current Inspiration: The Art of Classroom Inquiry (Hubbard & Power, 2003)
I'm an education consultant, former elementary school teacher turned professional development leader, avid reader, and lifelong learner.
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