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Practitioners researching their own practices

As I was presenting today on aspects of my professional development through practitioner research I thought I would take the chance to listen to the practitioner research special interest group. I have spoken to practitioners on Twitter about professional development and the need (or demand) for teachers to 'do' PD. I am an advocate of practitioner research (as you will see from my presentation later) and hoped that this strand of the conference might appeal to teachers and not just my Phys Ed colleagues.

The first paper asked whether teacher education placements should be about creating managerial or pedagogical partnerships between schools and universities. Consideration was given the one-way relationship between universities and schools (i.e. universities need schools for qualified teaching status (QTS) students but school don't need universities) and how this relationship of need created by the requirements of the QTS process for student teachers to gain experience at the point of implementation i.e. classrooms. The study explored the developing relationships, from the perspective of the school teachers, as they worked with students at beginning their profession. The assumptions that these experienced teachers made about their teaching were 'challenged' and they felt that they began to rethink their own pedagogies as they tried to help the student teachers under their care. The teachers began to consider themselves as "sharers" in a process of engagement in pedagogy - both as a student teacher mentor and an experienced teacher - and saw the university-based tutor become a colleague and a critical friend rather than being seen as a dislocated expert. This relationship helped university 'ivory tower' occupants to be seen not as modelers of practice but as exponents of pedagogy who come to be seen as peers were a shared object - teacher knowledge - as a mutual language.

The second paper explored the medium term impact of action research on teachers adoption of an action research methodology. Exploring the new action researchers engagement with action research - all of these individuals were experienced teachers - the investigator felt that his relationship with these teachers played a strong role in their use of action research yet the teachers were more interested in their hobbies rather than their action research roles. Unfortunately it was not a great presentation and I found it difficult to identify my own learning as a result. What I learnt as ideas were not enough and the quality of the presentation and the pedagogical aspirations of the researcher  need to coincide. [It is important to position ourselves as learner so that we can understand the frailty of the learning process and what we need to do to make it better.]

The third paper took the audiences thoughts towards the 'values' teachers hold as people and when they are involved in action research rather than just the epistemological and pedagogical development of teachers. The enthusiasm was evident and they freely used terms like impact of empathetic residence and empathetic validity. They suggested that as teachers we develop creative compliance in schools and institutions where we find our own ways of dealing with personal needs and values which balancing the need to comply with the demands of the workplace. However, while referring to their paper this ‘object’ never became apparent as a body of knowledge and fixed ideas were never used. I left feeling that the substance was lacking and it became a celebration of the presenters’ ideologies rather than a sharing of ideas. It was almost, albeit soft and sympathetic, a hard sell of their ideas and a marketing opportunity for their online action research network. I felt that I gained little from their talk and while the hint of learning was there it was never, even, remotely a chance to share experiences and develop as a teacher. Again, there was a clear gulf between the aspirations around learning by me, as a learner, and the desire by the presenters to work in their own sphere of expertise and in their own style. As educators we need to consider the learner more than we consider our desire to teach.

The final paper was presented by a senior leadership team from a secondary school (a head teacher and his deputies). This was fantastic to see and, as a teacher, it invigorated me after the previous two papers. This was a longitudinal study exploring the second year of a learning revolution (my words). A whole school approach to change their emphasis on teaching and learning that, unfortunately, had lost its momentum from the honeymoon period in year 1 and become quagmired in a technical use of prescribed lesson plans in year 2, rather than developing reflective practitioners. Alas research suggest that innovation in teaching means work-plus-work and teachers in this study, when faced with increased work load, adopted a ‘safe mode’ rather than really pushing the boundaries forwards. Furthermore, teachers became protective of their subject areas and queried the benefit of these learning tools in the delivery of their unique bodies of knowledge.  However, this was a brave and difficult undertaking and tells us more about such top-down approaches and the need to develop sustained and sustainable pedagogical and curricular change.

I will now move on to the afternoon session which I chaired. However, I have posted my presentation online in slideshare and will instead explore my colleagues' presentations. Lori explored the old department for children, schools and families (DCSF) gender agenda and how she approached the underachievement of boys and girls in participation and achievement  (P&A) in Phys Ed. She acknowledged that in this agenda practitioners and practitioner involvement were critical to improvement in P&A and could help with gender reform through the examples that these individuals could provide for students. By creating mock dialogues between academics and practitioners Lori tried to help teachers to explore a 3rd space between the theory found in universities and the practice found in schools. Lori found through these conversations that older secondary schoo, students 'threw away' the subject because of gender differences and the ways in which physical education was packaged. Furthermore, she felt that practitioner research allowed dialogue in this 3rd space but ponder the importance that teachers placed on gender agenda. Practitioner research allowed teachers and academic partners to problematise the gender agenda but without questioning the academic's voice as being authoritative. This positioned academics as knowers and the teachers as receivers of bodies of knowledge. Lori acknowledged this as a mistake and proposed both parties as knowers and learners rather than givers and receivers of knowledge in this 3rd space.

Saul explored his reflections on becoming a dancer in a male dominated 'jock' culture. As footballer at the start of his Phys Ed student teacher in the early 1990s he explored his discovery of dance and the enjoyment he gained from dancing and then the gender/sexuality (heterosexism/homophobia) stigmas  that became attached to being and becoming a dance educator. He questioned the persistent rhetoric which now need to change so that Phys Ed is appropriate for the 21st century. Using video (which I can't show here) Saul interpreted the dance as stories that highlighted the reinforcement of dance as something that 'other men' do. I cannot do justice to this presentation and will ask Saul to write a blog himself on this enlightening ideas - indeed it is easy to get lost in the power of gendered dance story that I see in Saul's work and hope that he can go some way of explaining his ideas and thoughts.

Bringing the three papers together Deborah spoke to each if the authors in turn. I have spoken to her and over the next few days I will place her paper (in full) on the PEPRN website.

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