Why Practitioner Enquiry?

The most successful education systems …invest in developing their teachers as reflective, accomplished and enquiring professionals who have the capacity to engage fully with the complexities of education and to be key actors in shaping and leading educational change.
Donaldson, 2011:4
Practitioner Enquiry as Professional Learning

Practitioner enquiry is becoming a widely accepted and popular form of teacher professional development and learning, within Scotland.

…if we are to achieve the aspiration of teachers being leaders of educational improvement, they need to develop expertise in using research, inquiry and reflection as part of their daily skill set.’
Donaldson, 2011:4

Curriculum for Excellence, focuses on learners and process-led rather than primarily, content-led learning, the recursive, iterative, learning and feedback processes involved in practitioner enquiry are particularly apt to support pupil learning. The potential of professionals developing and enacting Enquiry as Stance is recognised across the rest of the UK and internationally.

The benefits of this include:

  • To empower teachers and encourage them to challenge and transform education
  • To provide a way for teachers to monitor and develop their own practice
  • To investigate new strategies and initiatives
  • To increase their knowledge of teaching and learning thus enabling them to make more professional and autonomous judgements and to enhance their self-esteem and professional identity
? References
Baumfield et al, 2008; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2004, 2009; Hulme et al, 2011; Noffke, 2009; Kincheloe, 2003; Lankshear & Knobel 2004; Menter et al, 2011; Somekh, 20006, 2009; Zeichner 1993
Benefits of Practitioner Enquiry

The benefits of practitioner enquiry rely on it being carried out in a way that empowers teachers, and other education professionals, it can achieve considerable and far-reaching impact and be ‘practice-changing’.

Elliot and Sarland (1995: 372) suggest that when teachers engage in ongoing professional enquiry, it can:

  • Enable teachers to bring about fundamental changes in pedagogy and curriculum and thereby significantly improves the quality of students’ learning experiences in educational institutions
  • Improve the quality of professional discourse in schools about educational problems and issues
  • Enable teachers collaboratively to develop the curriculum
  • Improve the utilisation of research findings in educational institutions
  • Improve upon the findings of outsider researchers and enables teachers to make an original contribution to the development of educational knowledge
  • Enable teachers to improve the theories which underpin their practices, and thereby to contribute to the development of educational theory
  • Impact upon the longer term professional development and careers of individual practitioners, after their involvement in projects, courses, or research degree supervision has been discontinued
  • Impact upon the development of educational institutions and agencies as learning organisations for the teachers who work in them as well as for their students
  • Improve the capacity of teachers and schools to manage creatively externally driven educational change in ways which are consistent with their professional and personal values
  • Enhance the capacity of teachers to account for their practices in ways which open them up to public scrutiny and debate
I think the teachers involved have seen things they didn’t see before…things they didn’t question before. They have evidenced that. They have got a much more critical eye… I think they are developing a deeper language of learning.
Member of a School Senior Management Team

The potential gains from teachers engaging in practitioner enquiry, as noted above, offer significant value for the wider school improvement agenda. Staff are able to work individually and collectively to investigate, question, consider and plan for change and development. This kind of school improvement is evidence-informed and critically justified.

Enquiry, school improvement and the individual

Teachers engaging in practitioner enquiry offer a number of benefits to the teacher as an individual, the school and wider educational community.

This is about promoting a process-led, capacity building, enquiring approach to professional learning and school development. It advocates practitioner enquiry as a key approach to addressing school, local authority and individuals’ priorities and aims to improve practice and raise attainment.

It impacts on and contributes to:

  • The teachers’ own professional learning and practice
  • The school, school culture and school as a learning community
  • Pupil learning, development, attainment and achievement

Teachers engaging in systematic enquiry is an effective and worthwhile approach to school improvement planning and implementation. It is an approach to school improvement planning that is built on:

  • Collaborative endeavours
  • Collective understandings
  • Individual development
  • Careful, critical interrogation of practices at school and individual level
  • Analysis of evidence of impact
  • Evidence informed planning
Risks, limitations and dangers

It is possible to interpret practitioner enquiry in many ways, with each understanding and interpretation offering very different purposes and outcome.

Notions of enquiry, teacher research, action research, and practitioner research are familiar terms in Scottish education. There are a number of initiatives supporting and promoting ‘teacher research’ in a multitude of ways and with varying success, impact and effectiveness.

It is therefore important to consider the limitations and risks to avoid replication of less effective practice and to promote deep learning and acquisition of knowledge and understanding.

Limitations – enquiry tends to be ‘situationally unique’ (Stoll, 2003) meaning that what works in a particular context and why, can be very specific to that school or place of education. However, this is not to say that there can be lessons learned or some transferable knowledge that would apply in other settings.

Risks – Some enquiries that simply seek to:

  • prove or test out ‘best practices’
  • make claims about ‘what works’
  • test or implement (and evaluate) latest initiatives
  • introduce an ‘intervention’

without probing the deeper questions about the nature and purpose of the enquiry run the risk of being superficial and may become a ‘tick box’ exercise.

Practitioner enquiry should be conducted with an understanding of the nature, purpose and processes involved in enquiry.

? References
Stoll, L. 2003 ‘School Culture and Improvement’ in Preedy, M Glatter, R. and Wise c. (eds) Strategic Leadership and Education Improvement, London, Paul Chapman/Open University Press

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