Why Aren’t Teachers Research Active?

Some teachers are engaged in research and that’s a good thing.

Many are involved in action research projects and that’s even better.

The explosion of interest in evidence-led teaching is making waves and at last teachers are asking what works and what doesn’t.

But surely every teacher needs to be actively engaging with research in order to be well-informed?

I take my inspiration from Derek Stewart who writes eloquently and intelligently about being ‘research active’ in the medical world.

Being active obviously implies that you are ‘doing’ and your efforts are ongoing rather than intermittent. It also implies that you have a serious interest in sorting the wheat from the chaff.

Teachers who Twitter are a good example of active pedagogues because they are dipping their toes in various blogs and conversations and getting involved. Some seem to spend so much time Tweeting you wonder whether they do anything else. But edu-Twitter also shows you who the engaged and bothered are eager to enter into debates and discussions to improve teaching, learning and assessment.

Finding high quality evidence to support what we do is a full-time engagement that is part and parcel of being a professional teacher. If you aren’t actively researching then you might be ‘that’ teacher who still believes in learning styles and Brain Gym. Don’t worry, you won’t be alone.

Parents need to be asking for evidence too. They need to know what we are doing is in the best interests of their children and our efforts aren’t just us following a fad. If their child gets a VAK questionnaire sent home then they need to question it!

Just as Derek says, “A research active patient might be described as purposely enquiring about evidence to support their own health” then a research active parent might be described as purposely enquiring about evidence to support their own child’s education.

Of course teachers will say that they need to be trusted but that shouldn’t stop parents challenging and entering into conversations and asking lots of questions – it’s their child!

Sometimes the research won’t be the way to go and what to follow. Sometimes teachers will carefully consider the child and context above what research is saying, ask questions and go with their own experience instead. Approaches and strategies that are effective elsewhere may not yield similar results when applied locally.

Schools have an obligation to be research active and making sure that every member of staff is engaged in educational research. If you want to appoint a research lead then go ahead but every teacher should have their nose in a book, a Tweet, an article, a paper, a blog, a something – as long as it is feeding positively into the system.

Research doesn’t takes us away from good teaching, it leads us to more effective decision making and makes us better teachers.

We get “research hospitals” but Derek says he doesn’t want that he wants “a good hospital that is active in research”. We can say the same for schools.

Schools in the Research Schools Network should drop the title ‘research school‘ – this is misleading as they “aren’t primarily dedicated to conducting research.”

What these 23 schools do is act as regional hubs sharing “what they know about putting research into practice, and support schools to make better use of evidence to inform their teaching and learning so that they really make a difference in the classroom.”

But passively consuming research and adopting practices that others suggest isn’t enough.

All schools need to engage in active research themselves and that means every teacher doing research in their own black boxes and reflecting and refining their own practices.

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