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In 2017 group of educators gathered the International School of Geneva (Ecolint) to discuss the possibility of organising a conference to promote Research Informed Practice.
Our first conference was held on June 30th 2018 with 39 participants from schools and universities in Switzerland, France and the UK, all of whom presented their ongoing action research projects. The initial collaborators included Ecolint, the Association Genevoise des Écoles Privées, Evidence Based Education in the UK, Durham University, Université de Genève, The Abbey School (UK) and Wellington College China. The purpose of the conference was to lay the foundation for future events that would also bring together classroom practitioners and university researchers to promote school based research in international schools. Since then, the number of both school based and university based educators who have expressed interest in RIPE has grown.
For those of you who are members of the Principals’ Training Center you know that there are calls all the time requesting information about how other schools are handling particular issues. This seems to me to be indicative of a general tendency toward data driven and research informed decision making amongst school leaders, albeit not systematic. Parenthetically, but not unimportant, is the fact that there may be tensions among understandings of research informed practice and evidence based education. The interpretations of these concepts may overlap, inform one another, or conflict.
Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2009) point to a potential problem whereby evidence based education may “position practitioners as the recipients of other people’s knowledge.” What I am arguing for here is greater learner agency - with the practitioner as learner.
If we consider teachers as learners - then they should have the same complexity, richness and diversity of experience in their own learning process as we offer to students as learners
Plus ça change...
In 1976 Laurence Stenhouse described professionalism among teachers as “a disposition to examine one’s own practice systematically” (Stenhouse, 1976; 156) and referred to teachers as researchers. In 1991 Hargreaves and Hopkins linked teacher research to school improvement. One could go back further - John Dewey, for example, or even further - Rousseau: was Emile’s mentor a teacher researcher?
The terms we use with such frequency today: reflective practitioner, action research, teacher research, practice-led research, mixed mode research, inquiry as stance… are not new and yet one wonders about the degree of progress we have made in this domain, or perhaps coherency.
In any case, there is good reason to focus on the relationship between teachers and educational research
There is an ever-growing body of research in education, cognitive psychology, neurobiology and other disciplines, that contributes to deepening our understanding of how human beings acquire and retain knowledge to make meaning of their world. To recognize the complexity of learning and to develop one’s practice in response to it is no simple task, yet it is only in doing so that we can ensure student wellbeing.
Research informed practice is what allows for this.
Educational research should motivate us to reflect on and modify our practice - especially given the particular challenges associated with teaching to the diverse populations that may be found in both international and state schools:
- Challenges associated with teaching plurilingual children in a multilingual context
- Developing inclusive pedagogical practice
So, I find myself thinking more and more about deliberately building a shared body of knowledge.
If we are thinking about developing the richest possible environment for learning (a community of learners that includes both children and adults) then we might naturally be led to the importance of
- Embraces a willingness to alter both content and practice in the pursuit of individual meaning;
- Focuses on learning theory, cognitive psychology, developments in brain research and special education;
- Provides a powerful framework for ongoing, fault-free assessment of pedagogy;
- Relies upon the teacher developing knowledge about how specific students learn;
- Depends on colleagues giving and receiving professional help; and
- Models the metacognition we would want for our own students.
Teachers as researchers
Educators talk endlessly about testing for prior knowledge, about the importance of formative assessment, etc.
Isn’t continual assessment (practitioner inquiry) a form of research?
How then might we formalize analysis and share our learning?
How might we use case studies to generalize about pedagogy?
How might we consider or reconsider what kind of research “counts”? Consider and reconsider what constitutes a valid source of knowledge?
What does quality practitioner research look like?
As Heikinnen et al (2016) suggest, perhaps we are interpreting reality rather than measuring it... but that does not have to deny rigor.
RIPE: What are the benefits?
Valorizing teachers as professionals, as intellectuals; Reflective practice (and practitioner research) offer an opportunity for potentially “transformative professional development.”. (Constable 2018)
Think of what we know about effective professional development. Like any learning, it is at its best when it is authentic, embedded, relevant, and prolonged.
Visible learning: “All good teachers think about and change their work based on experiences, but teacher research is the act of making that thought visible, documented, systematic.” (Schaenen et al. 2012 p.72) What might this mean for students?
Inclusion: if we are to move away from “deficit” thinking then we need to meet head on the particular challenges of teaching plurilingual children in a multilingual environment and in the development of intercultural competences.
Finally, we may find ways of
Building a shared body of knowledge
When I say this I am thinking in terms of the sociology, or even the geography, of knowledge.
Consider the concept of geography itself; let’s play with the definition:
One might speak of physical geography, political geography, cultural geography etc. One might be making reference to the location of entities in physical space or to the location of ideas in conceptual space - which has implications in terms of knowledge and power and opportunity.
I would like to encourage us to collectively build a shared body of knowledge that challenges notions of traditionally legitimate sources of knowledge about pedagogy. I’m talking about the “epistemological power” of practitioner research, not practitioner researchers as the academic world’s “other”.
Anderson and Herr (1999) spoke of “catalytic validity,” the degree to which the research process reorients, focuses and energizes participants toward knowing reality in order to transform it.” (p.16) We are looking at the space of intersection between theory and practice, about generating knowledge about pedagogical practice in order to improve it.
International education is terribly complex, even difficult to define. At the same time, despite the diversity of specific contexts, we share many of the same challenges. Although questions of equity and inclusion are context-specific and we might learn from one another.
We might learn from approaches like Reggio, from lesson study methods, from colleagues in the public system or from academics collaborating with individual schools from the work of NGOs and international organizations like UNESCO.
The more I talk to people the more I realize how much research is out there and yet it feels as though the results of practitioner research are simply too widely dispersed. I am wondering how we can bring it all together.
Jakson and Temperley (2007) spoke of the need for schools to become “networked learning communities.”
Creating a network of international research schools
Geneva June 27-28, 2020