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Kate Herbert-Smith

Teachers as researchers: 6 ways to encourage action research

Kate Herbert-Smith of IRIS Connect outlines how to encourage an action research culture to make a meaningful impact on pupil outcomes

Teacher research is a powerful tool for professional learning. It has the potential to enhance and improve teaching and learning as well as increase teachers’ motivation and boost confidence. (Read about one teacher's experience here).

It can also give teachers an added feeling of professional autonomy because, unlike conventional training courses, it’s driven and conducted by teachers themselves. The National Education Association list various other benefits.

Teacher research: a collaborative process

Teachers are engaged in informal research on a daily basis by being reflective, trying new things and observing the impact on learning. What separates teacher research from the everyday is a teacher’s intent to improve classroom practice through systematic inquiry.

However, it's important not to see teacher research as an activity to be carried out in isolation. In fact, the process and outcomes are enhanced when teachers collaborate.

When teacher research is carefully planned and based on informed decisions, it can lead to meaningful results that can be confidently used to base future decisions about teaching and learning. It can also be shared with the wider community for greater benefit.

The challenges of teacher research

There are many good reasons why teachers should engage in teacher research, but what are the challenges?

  • Although teacher research can be integrated into regular classroom activities, if it's going to be effective then it needs time to be spent planning, doing, analysing and sharing the research. Teacher workload can make this a challenge.
  • Teachers may not have undertaken research before and may need additional training and support to learn about data collection (e.g. using interviews, self-observation, and simple questionnaires).

6 ways to encourage teachers to become researchers in their classrooms

  1. Through Lesson Study, a popular way to tweak lesson approaches and observe impact on pupils.
  2. Support teachers taking part in action research or teacher triads, and encourage them to share their findings so others benefit as well.
  3. Make it easy for teachers to engage with research evidence and encourage an evidence-informed culture by making research findings accessible; identifying context-specific evidence for teachers; making it a whole school priority; and using appropriate internal and external support.
  4. Keep track of the impact of new strategies implemented in classrooms and across the school, so you know what does and doesn't work.
  5. If teachers have shown interest in or are enrolled on a formal qualification, such as a Master’s degree or diploma, encourage them to share their findings across the school and use their classroom as a place to explore and test ideas and strategies. 
  6. Encourage the use of video, it will save your staff time when working collaboratively and give an objective insight into both learner and teacher behaviours.

But I want more!

Building a research-focused culture is hard and takes time.

So this is why we’re delighted to have launched an Action Research Group in partnership with Optimus Education, focusing on the skills, knowledge and resources teachers will need to make action research successful in their school.

It’s free to access and contains lots of practical advice and examples from teachers to help you make the most of action research approaches.

You can find out more about groups, or immediately access it by using the links below.

Get free access to the Action Research Group in IRIS Connect UK >>

Get free access to the Action Research Group in IRIS Connect USA >>

If you’re not an IRIS Connect member, just create an account for free and then use the links above to join the group.

Post originally shared on the IRIS Connect blog.

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