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Me? A Teacher-Researcher?

Voice of ExperienceIn this week's Voice of Experience, educator Brenda Dyck examines the place teacher research has in the classroom and how it can develop into a kind of "dance" between students, teachers, and learning. Included: Web sites to help teachers learn more about becoming teacher-researchers.


Like many teachers, I am finding that I have more questions than answers about my students' learning.

At first, that realization was unsettling since the term teacher is, for me, synonymous with being the ultimate answer-giver and problem-solver. So it was a relief for me to learn that reflective questioning is actually a sign of a teacher leader. It seems that "teacher leaders" everywhere are purposefully seeking out questions about their teaching practices -- and that those questions are becoming the jumping-off point for improvement initiatives and, in some cases, widespread learning reform.

In the past, teachers haven't made it their business to advertise the things that weren't working well in their classroom. Today, however, educators are more willing to be vulnerable in a public way. They are willing to openly question their practices and use their research-based findings to initiate positive change in the classroom and in schools. This new agenda has earned a new breed of educators the uncharacteristic title of teacher-researchers.


"Classroom research" always sounded very clinical to me. It was a practice that -- along with statistical analysis and mice -- belonged in a laboratory, not in my classroom. That was the way I looked at it until I read researcher Charles Kettering's common-sense assessment of what research really is:

"Research is a high-hat word that scares a lot of people. It needn't. It's rather simple. Essentially, research is nothing but a state of minda friendly, welcoming attitude toward changegoing out to look for change instead of waiting for it to come. Research is an effort to do things better and not to be caught asleep at the switch. It is the problem-solving mind as contrasted with the let-well-enough-alone mind. It is the tomorrow mind instead of the yesterday mind."

Kettering's definition inspired me. I too wanted to have a tomorrow mind, not the "yesterday mind" I saw as rampant in so many schools. His explanation described classroom research as a positive motion towards improvement. It legitimatized everyday teaching questions such as

  • Why don't the words from spelling lists transfer into my students' day-to-day work?
  • Why do my students have difficulty retaining their understanding about fractions from grade 5 to 6?
  • Why does "Gary" misbehave in my class and not in science class?
More Voices of Experience!

Have you seen these previously published Voice of Experience essays by Brenda Dyck?
--- Power Words: Using Positive Words to Energize Your Students
--- About Stephen... and Fresh Starts
--- Professional Development: Following Your Own Lead
--- Education Conferences: Goin' It Alone
--- Log On to a Blog
--- Tackling Big Projects: No Wonder Students Get Frustrated!
--- Downshifting: Teaching (for Understanding) in a Lower Gear


Since I was not trained as a researcher, I hardly knew where to start when it came to setting about doing my own classroom research. Living the Questions: A Guide for the Teacher Researcher by Ruth Shagoury Hubbard and Brenda Miller Power proved to be an invaluable resource to me. It helped demystify action research and honored it in a way that made me itchy to begin. Sprinkled throughout the book were classroom anecdotes as well as research and literature quotations that removed some of the clinical glare from this incredible vehicle for implementing change. "Living the Questions" emphasized the practicalities of action research but did so in a way that helped a layman like me to envision using it. The book gave me a starting place by addressing topics such as

  • Why do teacher research.
  • How to determine your question and make a plan
  • Methods for collecting and harvesting data
  • Where to locate research sources
  • How to write and share the research


I'm not ready to publish any significant research about my class yet, but I am learning how to do the research. It's an exciting path; one that is taking me closer to improving the work I do in my classroom. More experienced teacher researchers like Barbara Michalove inspire me to keep going:

"When you teach a lesson and half the class gives you a blank look, you ask yourself, 'How else can I teach this concept?' That's research. You observe and respond to what you have observed. You begin to be aware of the intricate teaching and learning dance with your children. The more I tune in, the better I become at knowing when to lead, when to follow, or when to play a sedate waltz or a lively rap."


Living the Questions: A Guide for the Teacher Researcher
Read the first chapter of this exemplary book on the Stenhouse Publishers Web site. Included is an instructor's guide that can be used during school in-service programs.

League of Teacher Researchers
This Web site provides an online space for sharing voices, perspectives, and knowledge generated by teacher researchers.

Teacher Research
A guide to teacher research from the Graduate School of Education, George Mason University.

Brenda Dyck teaches at Master's Academy and College in Calgary, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching sixth grade social studies, Brenda works with her staff and leads technology integration workshops in the United States and Canada. Her "HotLinks" column is a regular feature in the National Middle School Association's Journal, Middle Ground. Brenda is a teacher-editor for Midlink magazine.


Article by Brenda Dyck
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Updated 11/19/2008