I’ve often been surprised at how reluctant senior leaders are in schools to engage in a little academic research to improve the provision in their schools and address the ‘in-house’ variation that blights overall performance. There seems to be a feeling that doing ‘research’, using a methodology to test a thesis and come to some reliable conclusion about practice is something arcane and esoteric.
Done well, such as through the methodology of reflective practice, such research can yield insightful data that can improve the learning opportunities of students. What is more, the fact that teachers have helped in the development of the experimental protocols and are intimately involved in data collection means that there is investment and commitment to improving results. It becomes an exercise done with the consent of the teachers, rather than something done to them. They also get to appreciate all the checks and balances on their performances – it gives a SWAT analysis which is meaningful.
Most importantly, over time, it exemplifies your best performances and marginalises your poor performances. This is because when you are applying criteria that you understand in the creation of the experimental approach, it depersonalises the data. It is no longer the teacher whose performance is sub-optimal, but the teaching approach. The teaching approach can be changed without loss of face and all teachers develop a more dynamic view of their role as teachers in improving the learning outcomes of their students. They also have the opportunity to share, on a level playing field, the teaching experience, or rather learning effectiveness of others, receiving praise for their own efforts whilst quietly discarding less effective elements of their practice, now that there are better templates available.
From my time at university, the go-to volume for constructing quantitative or qualitative research was Louis Cohen and Laurence Mannion’s Research Methods in Education. It is now in its 8th edition and is as comprehensive as ever.
More recently I have been much influenced by Readings for Reflective Teaching, edited by Jennifer Colwell and Andrew Pollard, which outlines examples of many qualitative approaches which could have a tremendous impact on practice.
A neat pictorial approach to getting started on academic research in schools was provided by a post by Ross Morrison McGill as part of his Teacher Toolkit. This includes a webinar by way of explanation.