I attended a lunch a few months ago aimed at improving collaborative research between teachers and researchers. While I appreciate that this distinction may not be helpful - the boundaries between the two are very much blurred (i.e., teachers in schools often engage in research/practitioner led enquiry, similarly University based academic researchers also teach), the principle behind the meeting was to improve the nature and quality of relationships between school based teachers and University based researchers.
This was an exciting event for me as it is something which is very close to my heart. I’ve published quite a bit in the academic literature now, almost all my research being focused on different aspects of children’s learning; however had never truly collaborated with teachers in the research process. In my first post of this Blog, I discussed the challenges involved in this process; on re-reading this post, it is perhaps more negative than I would have wished it to be! However, these challenges do exist, and need to be overcome, to attain, what I think could be substantial benefits (to teachers, researchers, and ultimately students) from research collaboration.
Since the lunch, I have had meetings with a number of Head teachers and teachers, speaking openly and honestly about the research we plan to conduct together and the nature of our working relationship. Teachers main concerns are typically the amount of time they will need to invest in this (given their existing high workloads) and to what extent the research will be truly collaborative. With regard to this last point in particular, we’ve discussed teachers and even students becoming researchers of the topic we plan to study (mental toughness – see earlier blog for more info). To me, this latter suggestion is particularly exciting: engaging students in research from the beginning and allowing them to become active researchers, co-creating knowledge on this topic, has enormous potential (for both the research and the student). As a researcher, regardless of the topic under study, I’m aware of the skills that can be developed from conducting research, as well as the enjoyment and satisfaction (usually!) found in doing so. Developing student’s curiosity and interest in a topic and then allowing them the opportunity to create or further knowledge of that topic has the potential to be both an exciting and rewarding process.
While I appreciate that this ‘student as researchers’ approach will not always be appropriate (i.e., the nature of the research will determine whether this is suitable or even feasible), as a researcher interested in student’s learning and education, I believe that students (and teachers) could have a more substantial role both in the process of research, but also in our research decisions (i.e., the types of research questions we ask, our methods, our understanding of educational implications etc). Indeed, by working more closely with teachers and students, and truly collaborating on research projects, we benefit from both the expertise of a knowledgeable researcher and the educational insights of teachers and students.