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The inaugural seminar

of the Wiltshire Research and Development Group

by Sarah Fletcher, Lecturer, University of Bath

There's something exciting happening in Melksham, something that is spreading to the whole of Wiltshire.  It may take a little time and a lot of commitment but it's coming!

On Wednesday 12 June a group of teachers, LEA advisors and a mentor researcher from Bath University came together to celebrate their involvement in school-based research.  There were colleagues from primary and secondary schools all fired with a similar vision that teachers ARE researchers and that by studying what happens in their classroom they can have a direct influence in improving their own teaching and their students' learning.  This is my personal account of what happened at the Professional Development Centre.

The meeting opened with a welcome from Nick Glass who convenes the group.  Nick encouraged us all to say a few words about who we are and there were some very interesting comments (I am still trying to work out about John Bishop's bronze leg)

You could already feel an energy and a commitment to working alongside one another.  I talked about why I am so passionate about teachers being researchers because I think we know our situation so much better then an outside observer can.  I value large research projects too but there has to be a dialogue between these and a process of teacher enquiry.  In my own teaching and in my research mentoring where I am assist others in building a capacity for research I draw on the work of both Jack Whitehead and Jean McNiff.  Do take a good look at their websites at www.actionresearch.net and www.jeanmcniff.com

My own web site www.teacherresearch.net was 'born' two days before our meeting and like a new parent I was feeling apprehensive as well as proud about showing it to others!  My vision is that my site will now excite teachers to become involved in teacher-research and I was asking at the meeting how I can improve it and what kinds of features does it need.  There was so much support and so many good ideas!  The page featuring the 29 successful Best Practice research Scholarships awarded to teachers in this area by the DfES aroused a lot of interest.  We decided that we would encourage each teacher to keep us posted about their enquiries by posting up short progress reports over the coming year.  The other page that really sparked off enthusiasm and interest was 'Teachers as Researchers" that shows the work of classroom teachers already undertaking enquiries. 

Stuart Jones from Westwood St Thomas School talked us through the accounts from his colleagues posted on this part of the site.  You could feel the positive charge as everyone realised the scope and quality of the work depicted there!  Mark Potts, Karen Collins and Simon Riding have written very different accounts of their work and they are at different stages in their enquiries.  Simon, who later spoke so eloquently and had us laughing at his cartoons of what action research can do, is now writing his Master's level Dissertation.  It is the commitment and vision of teachers like Stuart Jones who bring together groups of enquirers and he made the crucial point that enquiry does not have to be for accreditation. On the Teachers as Researchers page there is an account by Emma Kirby about her work with her year 8 tutor group.  She is an NQT - teacher research is not just for the 'oldies'!

That's what struck me about the group at the meeting too we were all working together for teacher research but there was no teacher researcher stereotype except that we were sharing a commitment to bring about improvements in teaching and teachers' and pupils' learning in Wiltshire schools.  David Marriott talked about our plans to create WRASCs (Wiltshire Research and Support Centres) and I could sense a pause as David, Nick, Stuart, Peter Mountstephen and I waited to see how our ideas would be received by colleagues working in schools.  Without the support and enthusiasm of everyone present the project that might enable matched funding for up to 50,000 from the National College of School Leadership would die, right there in Melksham on a summer afternoon.  No need to be worried! The reception was warm and positive and there were nods from Maureen Nitek and others round the room who are keen to become involved. Maureen who teaches at the Clarendon School had been a major force in helping local teachers to get BPRS funds.

Then we came together in groups to talk about the research already underway or being planned in Wiltshire Schools.  Pete convened our group and as I glanced at his face I could see we shared sheer admiration for the projects under discussion; enabling individuated learning programmes at Redland Primary School, video conferenced modern languages lessons from the Clarendon School, raising girls' achievement in science also at The Clarendon School, creating and sustaining nurture groups at Staverton primary School, creating a school-wide ethos of continuing professional development through enquiry at The John of Gaunt School (and I still didn't hear about John's bronze leg!)

In the plenary that followed we shared the discussions from the other two groups like ours.  There was a wonderful feeling of shared purpose and creativity.  How about some video conferencing between schools to disseminate good practice?  How about creating accounts of our research through audio-visual means - not pages of text but photographs?

At the end of the meeting I filled in my evaluation form.  I had one small complaint, there had been no time to get a cup of tea and that was my fault, I was busy talking!

The evaluations were fulsome in their praise for the afternoon's events.  The accounts of the in-house master's level work at Westwood that Stuart had described in his session received widespread praise and I could see colleagues busy networking with one another.  This was just the beginning - perhaps the easy part and now we need to build capacity for sustaining this meeting's momentum.  We need to bring more colleagues to the next seminar, soon!

Something very special is happening in Wiltshire and it's coming to a school like yours!



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