Can teachers engage in research? And if so, should they be supported in doing so?
It has been great to be involved in the launch and running of Scotland's first school-based research centre over the past two years. This work has included running a research conference for our senior pupils with external visiting speakers, establishing an ethics approval procedure for teacher projects, and managing a number of collaborations including a research fellowship for visiting researcher Anna Beck of the University of Strathclyde.
My own experience is that teacher research is valuable but not always valued. Engaging in research is one of the most valuable CPD activities I can think of, boosting my skills while making me more aware of educational debates and evidence. But practical support for teacher research in terms of time or funding depends on it being seen as a priority, and there is an inherent potential conflict with heavy teaching timetables and the need to focus on pupil attainment.
What is the status of teacher research?
The role of research in a school teacher's job is in some ways a philosophical question: we all agree that it is good for students to do research projects, but should teachers, similarly, be researchers? If so, how does that sit alongside their other duties, and is it actually 'research' at all (or 'action research', or 'practitioner enquiry', or... whatever).
Terminology is not central, but it does matter - if we use a word other than 'research', are we effectively saying from the outset that teachers are not 'proper' researchers, and that there is an essential divide between school and university staff? No doubt the quality of any research work will depend on professional abilities, but these can be developed - and already there are many teachers who have attained research degrees, and some who have published in peer-reviewed journals. Others have the potential to do so with the right support.
Regardless of the output in terms of publication, I feel that teacher research can foster curiosity, develop skills and prompt engagement with the current research literature. It can also lead to useful engagement with the broader research community. These have to be good things for a school and for education as a whole.
The Scottish Association for Educational Research has recently launched a network for early career researchers, and I'm really pleased to see that school-based researchers have been included from the start. We have a lot in common with PhD students and postdocs, and face many of the same challenges. It will also be important to engage with the FE sector as time goes on.
If you are interested in teacher research and want to find out more about how to develop a research centre in your school, or are simply looking for some support and advice, please do get in touch.