Research Experience and Its Impact on Teaching Practice: Four Charter School Teachers’ Perspectives

-by Kevin Sonico, Grade 9 Math/Science Teacher

In the Inspiring Action on Education document (Alberta Education, 2010a), the Ministry of Education discussed research’s essential role in contributing to student success by informing policy and pedagogy. Charter schools would play an integral role in fulfilling the goal of infusing research into policies and practice by becoming centres for research and innovation (Alberta Education, 2009). In 2011, Connect Charter School instituted the Research and Innovation (RI) to encourage teachers to become researchers in their classrooms. For the past three years, teachers conducted action research projects of varying focus with the ultimate goals of improving practice and student learning.

a9bf8-img_1985When teachers engaged in self-directed research, they performed dual roles: as educators and researchers. Their responsibilities and experiences were distinct from traditional teachers. Because the act of researching became an essential part of their daily experiences, there was an assumed impact on their teaching practice. In order to answer their respective inquiries, teacher-researchers were systematic and purposeful in their collection and analysis of data to answer their respective research questions (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1990). Although intentionality of data collection was a hallmark of the research process, manifestations of action research varied due to the rich contexts of classrooms. They ranged from collecting basic data to inform the success of a lesson (Bracey, 1991), to implementing a teaching strategy taken from a professional journal (Gorlewski & Roberts, 2009), to gathering multiple evidences to inform subsequent teaching strategies (Binder, 2012). Due to their uniqueness of their situations, this study focused on interpreting the experiences of four teacher-researchers and on describing the impact of their research on their practice.

For this research, four participants, who completed action research projects in their classrooms, were interviewed. Prior to conducting action research, however, participants were required to submit research proposals to Connect Charter School’s RI committee. Approved studies investigated elements of teaching and learning practices that addressed one or more of Connect Charter School’s 16 descriptors for exemplary teaching and learning. Inquiry-based practice, authentic assessment, and engagement in learning were a few of these descriptors.

Findings and Discussion

In my individual conversations with the four participants, they described their daily recollections and overall impressions of their experiences as researchers. Because of the interpretive nature of this study, great care was given to assigning meanings and themes expressed by them. Analysis of interview transcripts revealed six main themes on the teacher-researcher experience: professional growth, student focus and voice, entrepreneurial spirit, context in education research, research as an emotional experience, and recognition of work. Further, the first three themes of professional growth, student voice, and entrepreneurial spirit were interpreted as how research impacted teachers’ practice.

Stay tuned for a series of posts on the six main themes that emerged through this research. Up next: Teacher Professional Growth.

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