Another research proposal crosses my desk. It is a good question, interesting, well thought out but I am again reminded about the disconnect that exists between academic research and the practice that happens every day in our schools. Two systems that should work hand in glove but often we miss the mark, each doing our very best but not finding the perfect fit that will ensure the most value for society.
Teachers have little time for “formal” research and are often criticized for not being familiar with research language or failing to use evidence to choose classroom interventions, but I would argue that teachers are constantly gathering evidence, testing hunches and adjusting practice. Every day, teachers co-create rich learning environments with students and have questions themselves about what works and what doesn’t. Yet too often what demands attention comes from outside when someone comes to us with a great idea not thinking perhaps to simply ask the teacher what they would like to see researched instead. This is especially true now when priorities are in flux with new paradigms emerging. Questions are debated, but the K-12 influence on the research agenda seems negligible.
Our practitioners are skilled, knowledgeable and many already have a master’s degree. Once upon a time they did formal research as well but their urgent and immediate task is teaching children and youth and so while pro-d is a hot topic for any teacher, likely it is the small minority that are doing formal research unless they are in progress for a master’s or a doctorate.
I deeply value what formal research brings. Our post-secondary colleagues have the time and desire to do rigourous, peer reviewed quality research. In many cases, they are moving on and devoting their career to their studies. Groups like CSSE and AERA contribute a great deal to the profession. However, I sometimes feel that we are missing the insights from the huge base of questions that already exist in the hands of classroom teachers as a starting point for research rather than questions arriving from outside with ready-made methodology and a request to start right away in classrooms already burdened with demands. The strengths of links to practice are being recognized and in the January/February 2014 edition of Educational Researcher, there is an article published that attempts to redefine rigour in research by the strength of connections to practice.
Teachers are, and should be, inquirers. It’s a natural evolution of their work. In many of our schools and in many classrooms, inquiry is alive and well. Teachers work collaboratively, shape questions, look at their own evidence of student achievement, adjust practice and, yes, they wonder what they can do differently to achieve improved results.
In our district, almost 20% of our teachers have a master’s degree. For us, that’s over 1000 teachers. No matter how you slice and dice the research pie that means that is a lot of people with higher degrees working in any school. I don’t think these people did their master’s just for the pay. They are inquisitive, they wanted to know, they wanted to further their skills and they will do it all their lives in their career.
So the next time a researcher knocks on your door, or the next time you are formulating your question, perhaps you should just ask the classroom teacher – hey, what do you think? What are you curious about? You may be delighted and surprised by their answer and any research that does happen can make a difference for that one teacher and her colleagues. Besides, they’re already researching, you just have to see it…