Contributed by Tan Yen Chuan, Centre for Pedagogical Research and Learning, Raffles Girls’ School
Practitioner inquiry, also known as action research, is essential for effective teaching and meaningful learning. When teaching involves a demanding workload, how do schools encourage teachers to do research? Ms Tan Yen Chuan shares the research findings from a project that aims to increase teacher involvement in practitioner inquiry.
The Ministry of Education in Singapore launched a professional development model called the Teacher Growth Model (TGM) in 2012, with the intent of developing teachers holistically. Singapore schools have also been actively promoting action research for school-based curriculum innovations (Soh, 2006).
In the SingTeach article “Why Should Teachers Do Research”, Dr Hairon Salleh highlighted the advantage of teacher research, which is that it brings teacher learning and teaching really close together.
However, teachers may not see the ability to conduct research as a core competency. There are other limiting conditions such as workload demands, insufficient time, and lack of support and research knowledge. Quality practitioner inquiry seems sporadic among teachers.
Based on the qualitative research project “A Case Study on Factors Influencing Teachers’ Readiness in Embarking on Practitioner Inquiry: Teachers’ Motivation and Challenges”, this article will provide recommendations for schools to strengthen the theory-practice nexus.
Using a qualitative case study research approach, teachers’ readiness towards practitioner inquiry was investigated through focus group interviews, one-to-one interviews and document analysis. 20 teachers from Raffles Girls’ School, who had embarked on practitioner inquiry, participated in discussions to better understand their perceptions on practitioner inquiry.
The uniqueness of the research ecosystem in this case study is that the school did not make practitioner inquiry mandatory. Teachers embark on practitioner inquiry based on their interest and motivation.
The senior management of this school values practitioner inquiry and supports the efforts to engender practitioner inquiry amongst teachers.
This school articulates a shared vision for knowledge creation and sharing. Ongoing professional dialogues are also in place to instil the common belief that practitioner inquiry is valuable. Such vision is reflected in the school’s strategic map for teachers to see its relevance.
Based on the findings from the project, RGS is willing to invest in the infrastructure to build and sustain teacher readiness to embark on practitioner inquiry.
Setting up a Research Centre
The school in this case study set up a research centre to drive an implementation-focused research within the school. The staff members deployed to this centre steer and facilitate the professional development of teachers.
This includes a director, heads of research, consultancy, professional development specialists and senior teachers. Senior teachers and specialists play an important role as mentors and drivers of the school’s initiatives.
The research centre provides support, administers research compliance and oversees the dissemination of the research. It also looks into professional development in terms of research skills and competency, providing consultancy to practitioners.
This school has a support structure that makes practitioner inquiry a collective responsibility.
During departmental reviews, the department can identify the areas of improvements and undertake practitioner inquiry to address the concerns.
Based on the findings, teachers who wish to conduct a practitioner inquiry prefer to work in pairs or in a group. This might address the limiting conditions of heavy workload and lack in research experience.
Teachers are more willing to scale up their practitioner inquiry if their colleagues are involved. The research timeline should be at least 2 years so that they have sufficient time to conduct their research.
Middle Management Support
Findings from this study show that middle-management support is needed to build a culture of practitioner inquiry. They can show their support by recognizing the teachers’ contributions and leading by example.
Teachers feel that it is important that their reporting officers formally recognize their involvement in practitioner inquiry. Hence, the heads should make it explicit to teachers that practitioner inquiry will be acknowledged as an important contribution.
Making practitioner inquiry a teacher’s work target will allow teachers to perceive the time they spent as being worthwhile. Those who are competent in research skills should be encouraged to contribute more towards practitioner inquiry.
Leading by Example
Department heads play an important role as instructional leaders to encourage and support practitioner inquiry amongst the teachers. They should also consciously harness the findings to innovate, design and review the curriculum and pedagogies.
The teachers wanted their findings to be used for curricula and pedagogical improvements beyond their own classrooms.
Teachers’ Perception of Practitioner Inquiry
Findings show that teachers’ perception is a very important factor that influences a teacher’s readiness to embark on a practitioner inquiry. The three key reasons cited by them are: 1) to improve teaching and learning; 2) to advance their professional development; and/or 3) to pursue their own personal interests.
Improve Teaching and Learning
Teachers are motivated to make curriculum changes when findings from the practitioner inquiry can prove that they improve students’ learning.
Advance Professional Development
Some teachers perceived practitioner inquiry as a platform to enhance their career development. Teachers feel a sense of recognition when they share findings within their school, or through external conferences and journals.
Practitioner inquiry also provides an authentic platform to acquire research skills and improve on teaching and learning.
Pursue personal interests
Some teachers are intrinsically motivated to try new things and contribute to the education fraternity. They conduct a practitioner inquiry because of an interest in their discipline or teaching pedagogy.
Building a culture of informed practice has its ambiguities and complexities. Schools will have to continue to modify and adapt new strategies to advocate practitioner inquiry within the school.
Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (1993). Inside/Outside: Teacher research and knowledge. New York: Teachers College Press.
Hoerr, T. R. (2007). The principal connection/What is instructional leadership? Informative Assessment, 65(4), 84–85.
Soh, K. C. (2006). Promoting action research in Singapore schools. New Horizons in Education, 53, 8–21.
The author would like to acknowledge the co-investigators, Ms Masturah Abdul Aziz and Dr Jarina Peer, and the Director of RGS PeRL, Mrs Mary George Cheriyan, for their contributions leading to the completion of this research project.