Dialogue, Depth and Doing a Master’s? Working with teachers on research

I’m doing a lot of work at the moment working with schools and teachers on engaging with research evidence with colleagues in the SIOE, and it’s made me think about this issue and in particular the crucial importance of collaboration and dialogue.

If I asked you to imagine teachers engaging with research, you’d probably come up with two things. Firstly, teachers working with research evidence to inform their practice, maybe reading articles or reviews, perhaps getting it from their colleagues. Secondly, teachers doing their own research, classically via action research and more recently in collaborative ways, working with colleagues – perhaps in other schools – in ‘Research and Development’ projects.

And, classically, we think of the role of the researcher in all of this on the one hand as helping the teacher work through how to utilise research and, on the other, supporting them doing their own research work.

What I’ve learned is that this way of thinking isn’t quite right. Doubtless I’ll return to this subject in future blogs because there is a lot to say about it, but for now I want just to pick up on two things that need a bit of care.

Firstly, despite all our efforts, it has a bit of a whiff of ‘we as researchers passing on our pearls of wisdom to the grateful, ignorant teachers’. Of course in reality we know that teachers are skilled professionals who will consider research findings in relation to lots of other evidence, much of which they will place a lot more trust in – evidence from other teachers, from their school’s data and from their practice. The task really is to try to make sure that we can make research fit teachers’ needs better. This isn’t just about speaking the language of teachers, but also often needs real engagement, there in the school, or out there in the social media, or even sometimes here in the university. There is a tightrope to walk here of course – we shouldn’t ignore the fact that teachers often find research quality difficult to judge and can be hoodwinked by the latest flashy fad just like anyone else (Visual Audio Kinaestethic Learning Styles? zero evidence for it, but still in use in some schools). But let’s see this as a dialogue.

Secondly – and this is something I think is crucial but very easy to forget – it isn’t necessarily the case that what teachers get out of research is the findings. Engaging with and in research means thinking differently and critically. This can be uncomfortable – I often think that our Doctoral students on the Ed D programme are going through the equivalent of army basic training, having their certainties stripped away and having to build up their understanding of how education works from the ground up. But in the best cases this new way of thinking – of critically judging evidence; of testing and reflecting, challenging; of analysis and data gathering – can have a profound effect on teachers as professionals irrespective of the findings.

This brings me to my final point. Both of these two areas – working with research evidence, and building research habits of mind and skills – can be developed both through using research and doing research. They are two sides of the same coin. So let’s think about them together, rather than as two separated activities. Oh, and one last thing.  Our research projects show that if we really want schools and teachers to engage with research and get the most from it then there is no getting way from deep, extended involvement. And for that there is no real substitute for a well-designed Master’s in Education, or even a doctorate. Teaching as a Master’s level profession – now where have I heard that one before?

Mike Coldwell2






Mike Coldwell is Head of the Centre for Research and Knowledge Exchange in the Sheffield Institute of Education

Want to continue the dialogue? Contact me m.r.coldwell@shu.ac.uk

Want to get into Master’s or doctoral study in the SIoE? Contact sheffieldinstituteofeducation@shu.ac.uk






2 responses to “Dialogue, Depth and Doing a Master’s? Working with teachers on research”

  1. Mike Coldwell Avatar
    Mike Coldwell

    Thanks for the comment and the link to Pete Dudley’s blog, Richard. It is very interesting not only in relation to the potential for Lesson Study but also in its concerns about policy makers misappropriating research! Gary Jones, a teacher blogger, made some similar points about inquiry in email exchange with me. The two exchanges to me together point up that ownership and relevance are really important – teachers can own their inquiry, and connect it to their concerns and passions even in the same way as Pete Dudley suggests happens with Lesson Study to provides strong engagement and motivation.

  2. Richard Pountney Avatar

    Hi Mike
    I take your point about how teachers might respond to the claim that research has a bearing on their practice: the distinction about using research and doing research is crucial here to understanding teachers’ perspectives on the value of enquiry to children’s learning, I feel. I wonder if the Lesson Study approach might go someway to bridging this divide. Pete Dudley writes about this in Can classroom enquiry be sexy and be policy at the same time?


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