The 'teacher researcher' concept

Claire Tyson

Claire is a Science Teacher and Teacher Researcher based at Homewood School and Sixth Form Centre, Tenterden, Kent. She is in her sixth year of teaching science. In the last two years she has been helping the senior leadership team by developing the role of teacher researcher. One of the primary goals of this role is to support the School Improvement Plan.

The focus of her research work at Homewood is in developing methodologies and a research framework to evaluate the complex interventions that occur in schools and classrooms.

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Homewood is a large Secondary academy in rural Kent. The new post of teacher researcher was first created here in 2013, as a part time role, in conjunction with my existing role as Science teacher and PhD student. It has the full support of my principal, Sally Lees, who has a vision of Homewood as a school that has evidence based practice as its foundation, and practitioner led research embedded in its staff development. This article explores the use of methodology and philosophical worldview in shaping the tasks and responsibilities of a teacher researcher.

Methods


This is not a systematic review. Rather, it is a reflective case study of how this role has been implemented at Homewood, linking theory and practice as they has been experienced through the lens of a pragmatist worldview.

What is the purpose of the role?


The role of teacher researcher is built into our school improvement plan as: ‘School improvement underpinned by evidence informed practice and research’.


I have identified 10 responsibilities, described here as the 10 “Findings are shared with staff, students and parents if they are to be meaningful.”‘arches of the bridge’, and the two ends of the bridge represent the need for the role to be supported by senior leadership at one end and academic integrity at the other. You might say that it spans from principal to principle, with eight arches in between. Another ‘keystone’ concept is the need for findings to be shared with staff, students and parents if they are to be meaningful.

Arch 1 – Receiving support from our senior leadership and the precious gift of time


In this time of economic uncertainty it shows a certain faith in the ideals of professional capital (Hargreaves, 2012 ) to commit time and resources to funding a teacher researcher. This needs to be repaid by making sure that these resources are not squandered on detached academic debate, rather that the research conducted in our school feeds back into, and informs classroom practice. In practical terms this means that Homewood has now allocated two days a week to the role, and maintains good boundaries, separating it from my teaching time.


The school is committed to a ‘dynamic homeostatic process of belief, doubt, inquiry, modified belief, new doubt, new inquiry… in an infinite loop, where the person or researcher (and research community) constantly tries to improve upon past understandings in a way that fits and works in the world in which he or she operates.’ (Johnson and Onwuegbuzie, 2004).

Arch 2 – Developing a theoretical foundation and philosophical worldview as a basis for research in school


My pragmatic worldview has four broad features: it is concerned with the consequences of actions; it is problem-centred, it is pluralistic in its approach to methodology and it is orientated towards “what works” and practice (Creswell and Clark, 2007).


This theoretical framework is useful in a school setting where research into a particular class, subject or intervention may yield interesting local knowledge, but may not be easily generalised to fit other contexts. The following year may bring a different set of pupils and challenges and new research questions. The development of Mixed Methods Research and a Pragmatist worldview have been possible due to the diversity of projects undertaken. The writing and publication of articles has encouraged a focus on methodology and philosophy. The one-to-one mentoring opportunities have improved the methodology in our teacher-led research.


Arch 3 – Working ethically with our students and staff


School-based research occupies a grey area that falls between professional development, school improvement and evidence-based practice. Schools need to see students as having a choice to take part in such activities, rather than assuming that belonging to a school means taking part without knowledge or consent. The role has led to a development of an increased awareness of the importance of ethics in schools, the need for ethical review of all projects and the increasing participation of students, staff and parents has been encouraged.

Arch 4 – Supporting staff to become critical and reflective in their practice and/or research


There is an inherent tension between the theory of practice and the practice of theory which can be resolved if we take a pragmatist approach to teacher led action research: ‘Theories are viewed instrumentally (they become true and they are true to different degrees based on how well they currently work; workability is judged especially on the criteria of predictability and applicability).’ (Johnson and Onwuegbuzie, 2004)

Arch 5 – Measuring the impact of what is happening in our school


This aspect of the role is easiest for others to understand and value. Many of the earlier projects were of this type and allowed me to demonstrate the value of having a school researcher. Recent projects have focussed on supporting others in this type of research.

Arch 6 – Supporting our school to build links with academic institutions and our wider community


Opportunities to engage with external partners have been an important part of the researcher role. One of the main obstacles to high-quality research in schools is the restricted access we have to peer-reviewed and published work, and so it is vitally important for us to build relationships with institutions that can provide us with access to data and resources.

Arch 7 - Acknowledging and giving voice to the different perspectives that are operating within our school


Pragmatism endorses eclecticism and pluralism (eg different, even conflicting, theories and perspectives can be useful; observation, experience, and experiments “The teacher researcher brings together staff from different departments.”are all useful ways to gain an understanding of people and the world).’ (Johnson and Onwuegbuzie, 2004). The teacher researcher operates across the curriculum and has can bring together staff from different departments and incorporate the perspective of students, staff and parents.

Arch 8 – Communicating and sharing results with our students, staff and parents


The opportunity to share results will depend upon two main factors: a supportive leadership team and a school culture of constructed shared knowledge generation which views research as co-owned by all the participants including students and their families. Research findings are shared via a wide variety of methods, both in school and outside of school, including social media.

Arch 9 – Sharing my research skills and information with our students and staff


The credibility of the teacher researcher role stems from the reality of working both in the classroom and in an academic arena. This opens a dialogue between practitioners and researchers and it can be argued that induction into research techniques as a means of exploring practical challenges can lead to knowledge production and ownership (Gray, 2013).
Our staff-training strand has allowed me to share research skills with colleagues. Linking up with the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS, 2017) offers potential for us to develop student research skills in the future. Linking up with a library role has provided an opportunity to deliver academic honesty training to staff and students.

Arch 10 – Upholding academic integrity and academic honesty in our research


There are two aspects of this arch that need to be considered. The first and most ‘pragmatic’ is that staff and students are using correct referencing techniques, acknowledging their sources of information and avoiding any charges of plagiarism or collusion.


The second aspect, the more contentious aspect of academic integrity, is the question of when does a researcher stand independently from their school in the investigation of a difficult issue or an issue that shows the school in a negative light? This has not yet been fully explored in our own school but raises some interesting issues for the future of this role. The pragmatic route has been careful consideration of potential pitfalls and choice of research questions that are aligned with school improvement plan.

Summary


In this article I have used the model of a bridge to attempt to characterise the roles and responsibilities of the teacher researcher as I have experienced it. The strong influence of pragmatism as my philosophical worldview is permeating the way the role is defined and delivered. This is an iterative process of reflection, change and delivery, as the role is new and constantly evolving to suit the needs of our school as a community of learners. This model is being written up for peer review and publication and the author welcomes feedback from the teaching community.


BIBLIOGRAPHY


CRESWELL, J. W. & CLARK, V. L. P. 2007. Designing and conducting mixed methods research, Wiley Online Library.
GRAY, C. 2013. Bridging the teacher/researcher divide: Master’s-level work in initial teacher education. European Journal of Teacher Education, 36, 24-38.
HARGREAVES, A. F. 2012 Professional Capital, London and New York, Routeledge Taylor and Francis Group.
IRIS. 2017. Available: http://www.researchinschools.org/ [Accessed 23rd January 2017].
JOHNSON, R. B. & ONWUEGBUZIE, A. J. 2004. Mixed methods research: A research paradigm whose time has come. Educational researcher, 33, 14-26.


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