Teachers as Researchers: Theme 1 – Professional Growth

-by Kevin Sonico, Grade 9 Math/Science Teacher

This blog post is part 2 of a series of blogs Kevin wrote summarizing his Research and Innovation Project on Research Experience and Its Impact on Teaching Practice.

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Teachers undertook an initiative considered to be beyond the responsibilities of a typical classroom teacher. Whether their research experiences were positive or negative, it was assumed that lessons were learned from their experiences. As such, teacher growth was interpreted as part of the research experience and a consequence of the teacher-researcher phenomenon.

As researchers, participants became more reflective in their practice. They re-examined their definition of effective teaching (Leitch & Day, 2006). Questions, such as the value of a strategy or the level of engagement of students, permeated teachers’ reflection. A participant stated, “If you’re doing a research project, you’re automatically reflecting on how you are teaching and educating and interacting with your students and colleagues and parents.” Action research demanded teachers to be reflective of their intentions and actions in the classroom, thus encouraging them to change their practice (Leitch & Day, 2006). This was consistent with the finding that teachers felt empowered as a result of reflective practice (Torres, 2001).

Although the formal research process required participants to submit a final product, they stated that the work was never truly finished. “Is it ever really done? I guess not,” commented a participant. Most expressed how their research helped formulate plans for future improvements to their practice. “You’re never really actually satisfied, so I do think that there were some positive things about it and I was…looking forward to actually doing it again.” Another teacher-researcher expressed motivation to continue improving and said,

I’m constantly being aware of the fact that nothing I do, I’ve never killed it, never like best ever, like “It’s not going to get any better.” So I’m always…thinking of ways to improve what it is that I’m doing… I never came into teaching thinking I was going to…perfect it then stop pushing. I think I came in thinking I was always going to push.

Instead of being pulled in multiple directions, research process helped steer the directions of their professional growth.

Participants’ descriptions of their experiences echoed studies around research experience and the benefits for teachers. Empowerment was a common theme and it was felt in several ways. From previous studies, teacher-researchers were more actively involved in their own professional development (PD), which could have more enduring effects than traditional means of PD (Gennaoui & Kretschmer, 1996). Instead of attending workshops determined by committees that might not recognize teachers’ unique professional needs, teacher-researchers were empowered to improve their practice independently. They sought to answer authentic questions that were respectful of their contexts (Ellis & Castle, 2010; Gennaoui & Kretschmer, 1996). Their sense of purpose as teachers was also renewed (Fleischer, 1990), their confidence in their teaching abilities enhanced (Llewellyn & Van Zee, 2010), and their sense of self-efficacy strengthened (Short & Rinehart, 1992). Self-efficacy referred to teachers’ perceptions of the importance of their efforts (Smeets & Ponte, 2009). Teachers might have also felt empowered for actively contributing knowledge about their profession (Friedrich, 1992) and for participating in democratic social research that was not limited to academic experts (Kincheloe, 2003). Although Peeke (1984) argued that research procedures could detract teachers from more effective fulfillment of their teaching responsibilities, participants in this research did not indicate this from our conversations. Further, inquiry into one’s practice, especially when improving student learning was the ultimate goal, should not perceive teacher-driven research so pessimistically. Although it was time-consuming, procedures such as documenting observations and analyzing data provided teachers with enhanced insight into how their students learned.

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