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.
And then, it just started to flow.
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.
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?