What’s the Beef with Research?

Research is scary. It’s inaccessible, it’s technical, it’s wordy and jargon-filled, it’s formal, it’s cold. And it has nothing to do with me, a practising teacher at the chalk-face. There is a gaping divide between theory (read: research) and practice (read: my classroom). One does not inform the other, and I don’t need it even if I did have the time to conduct or read some research. Actually, on the whole, education as an academic pursuit is a pretty dubious area.

This has definitely been my attitude towards educational research for quite some time, harking right back to my days as a university student studying towards my DipT and BEd. While some of the papers I did were of academic interest to me, basically I saw them as a necessary evil to complete in order to get into the classroom.

So it came as a little bit of a shock to discover that, as a 2015 eFellow, I was expected to conduct research. The application hinted at it, and I wasn’t put off by pitching a project or an area for inquiry, but conducting research… that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Right?

Right from our first hui I was confronted by language I wasn’t familiar with. Research design, methodology, ethics, qualitative data, action research… everybody else seem to understand these words in context. Not me. I was politely nodding and hoping they’d go away. They were scary and cold. I wanted to change the world, not be herded into scientific boxes of hypothesis, aim and findings. I’d had enough of that during high school science, thank you very much.

But, it was expected, and I’m good at following instructions and doing what I’m told, so here is my research design. And my final reference list.

And then, it just started to flow.

Indulge in the reading I love to do. Listen to the stories of the teachers around me. Think and reflect on my practice. Write blogposts. Talk to colleagues. Wonder. Learn.

This kind of research isn’t cold and clinical. It is very much about people. It doesn’t overwhelm with facts and figures, but engages the heart to engage the mind. I think it’s more transformative because it is a human-centred process.

And this connection for me is key. Research mimics a design thinking process. Immersing yourself in stories (the scary research word is data). Making connections and synthesising wonderings. Considering possible outcomes, what the implications are for other practitioners. Ideating, prototyping, seeking feedback.

I can see now why research is appealing to me. The things that I love about design thinking turn out to be the same things that make me a good researcher: the security and framework of a process, but the flexibility and creativity to go where ever the wonderings take you. It’s messy, but organised. It’s imaginative and constrained. It’s hard fun.

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So I challenge you, if you have thought like me, that research is scary and scientific and irrelevant, to confront those assumptions, and to overlay design thinking mindsets of empathy, of radical collaboration, of prototyping, of bias towards action. The teaching as inquiry cycle in The New Zealand Curriculum is a research design model, and I encourage you to consider it as such and to welcome the process in order to be a creative teacher as researcher.

How might embracing research transform your practice?

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5 thoughts on “What’s the Beef with Research?

  1. tonycairns September 8, 2015 / 7:03 pm

    Thank you for this blog – its awesome to see teachers as students and students as teachers and learn from the voyage of discovery between the two – much appreciated – tony ps the research design doc is very helpful as a guide too

  2. Jo Hall January 17, 2016 / 7:33 pm

    Listen, reflect, talk, wonder, learn. Summed it up for me. It makes the clinical sound of research appealing and natural. Making connections is so important. Thank you for sharing

  3. Matt Eagle January 17, 2016 / 11:46 pm

    Hi Philippa (and a very Happy New Year!). As it is near the end of the school holidays and I am nearly finished yet another assignment for the splendid MindLab course, it was happily coincidental that I found this post, in amongst the others in your archives. SO TRUE! I had studiously avoided doing further tertiary study for pretty much the exact same reasons – NO WAY did I want to have to do boring research. Then the MindLab course appeared, with research mentioned in the outline, but I was swayed by the promise of exciting discoveries in digital education to make any discomfort worthwhile.
    BUT NOW, I have to say that I have, albeit grudgingly, built a healthy respect for the research process and the outcomes. I’ve been delighted to find research which mirrors much of my own discoveries from simply being a reflective teacher over many years, putting fancy labels in place of my hunches. However, I also recognise there IS a difference between the research required at Certificate or Diploma level and what we might expect from classroom teachers as part of their general professional inquiry processes. The stakes are different, hence the extrinsic motivation is powerful. I think this is at the crux of the challenge of creating really meaningful, transformative change in our schools. There’s more to contemplate on this …

  4. robeanne January 18, 2016 / 9:41 am

    Echoed my thoughts when I started my eFellowship too, Philippa! As teachers we are usually good at relationships, observing, reflecting and seeking new and better ways of doing. We then adapt practice based on those observations and stories. That is action research. Like you, it all seemed so much less scary once I took that first step!

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