Teachers’ Contribution to Educational Inquiry

This past week I (Clive) had intense discussions with students in my Foundations of Curriculum graduate course; the topic was educational research and classroom-based teacher learning. Several were reluctant to accept that teachers are “researchers” and “knowledge generators” in an important sense.

I argued that teachers are in an excellent position to conduct inquiry because they are immersed in the classroom for ten full months, year after year: rarely do academics have such a rich context for educational research. They argued that teachers’ research methodology is not rigorous enough to produce genuine knowledge.

Thinking it over, I’ve decided to offer a compromise. I agree that education academics often have much to contribute because they are aware of other disciplines and other real-world contexts. Although they rarely have the same depth of educational experience as teachers, they often have greater breadth of knowledge in certain areas.

However, I will offer this compromise with three provisos:

(i)    Teachers’ inquiry is just as rigorous as that of academics, since they observe so carefully the processes and outcomes of their teaching: they have a vested interest in doing so.

(ii)  Teachers and academics have equal but somewhat different contributions to make to educational research.

(iii) Accordingly, the relationship between the two must be one of dialogue as equals, rather than “laying down the law” by one party or the other.

Of course, it is true that teachers could enhance their inquiry in certain ways; but the same is true of academics.

Teachers are not always conscious of what they have discovered through experience; it is often “implicit” knowledge. Hence, a major role of education academics is to study teachers and help make their insights explicit and available to others. But it is the teachers who discovered these insights and who must be given the credit.

I’ll try out this compromise on my students next week and see what they think!




2 thoughts on “Teachers’ Contribution to Educational Inquiry

  1. I think your compromise is thoughtful, especially with regards to the idea that we’re all (educators and educational researchers) on the same team, working towards the same goals while contributing different things.

    I would say (noting that I am a teacher) that there far too little time for purposeful reflection and conclusion-drawing given to teachers. I try hard to create a system of data-collection and analysis (through students’ scores and feedback on exit cards, etc.) but it is routinely disrupted over the course of the year because I feel I must attend to things that are more central to my job (whereas “research” seems a secondary, almost independent, pursuit).

    Additionally, while I have the privilege of working with many incredibly thoughtful and purposeful teachers, there are still a few to whom I would never extend the title of “researcher.” …. But maybe that is also true of academics?

    1. Hi placlair. Thanks for your nice response. I agree teachers should be given more time and support for their inquiries. But even with the time they have I think they generate a lot of knowledge for which they don’t get enough credit – even from themselves! I also agree that a few teachers aren’t very interested in inquiry and change, but yes – you called it – some academics also seem to be in the profession mainly for the life-style and/or to shore up their already stated position. Good luck with you teaching – and research! Clive

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