A Case Study on the impact of a teacher-research group
at Westwood St Thomas School
on professional knowledge and development
The task of Continuous Professional Development within schools is taking an ever greater role. Schools need to demonstrate that they support staff and very often need to provide professional support that caters more on an individual basis. There is a growing need for teachers to take responsibility for managing their own professional growth as educators and subsequently to enhance their own professional knowledge. The potential to cater for this by developing and supporting a community of teacher-researchers could well bring with it a number of benefits.
Over the past two years I have been working my way through my M.A. in
Education with the University of Bath. Half of this has been completed
through being part of a teacher-research group sited at Westwood St Thomas
School. The school has developed innovative links with the University
of Bath which has enabled modules to be delivered in-house at the school.
Over the past two years twenty four teachers have dipped into this scheme,
both from Westwood and surrounding schools.
On a personal level, I have been involved in the Westwood St Thomas teacher-research group from the start. I have supplemented these in-house units by attending Summer Schools at the University of Bath. This unit is the planning and preparation for my dissertation, which I have both Wiltshire LEA Research and Development Group funding and Best Practice Research Scholarship funding for. My main desire to study the teacher-research group that exists at Westwood St Thomas is because I have a firm belief that for professionals to continue to improve their practice, it is essential that they continue to reflect upon the practice that they do. I firmly believe that through working as part of a community, that teacher-researchers are granted access to others who can support and aid their professional development. For too long it seems that professional development has been something that was completed very often off site and in isolation. I believe that by having access to an established community there is a great deal of professional knowledge that can aid improvements within schools. Over the past two years I have personally learned how to reflect and also how to help others reflect on what they do, in order to improve practice. I learned the value of developing an internal reflective cycle that can be used as a way of planning through areas of concern. I am interested in these interactions between professionals and how they can aid the development of professional knowledge, the development of a framework for improving practice and the impact of this on a school. Additionally to this, Wiltshire LEA is intending to establish a number of Wiltshire Research and Support Centres (WRASCs) around the county to try and promote and support classroom-based action research projects. I believe that there are a number of lessons to be learned from the way that the Westwood St Thomas teacher-research group operates and that by studying it, this information could be useful to others who may intend to develop similar groups.Methodology
The approach that I will take to complete this research is through a
Case Study. This is quite an important change in terms of my own research
as I have predominantly worked through Action Research over the last two
years. However it has become clear to me that the focus of my dissertation
is clearly about focusing on a particular instance and group of individuals.
I am not looking to cause a change at the end of it, but rather felt that
the work I conduct would be useful for others to use before they also
begin work on similar projects. I therefore felt that a case study would
provide me with the most valid conclusions. Additionally to this I was
quite satisfied that approaching this work as a case study would still
allow me to identify with the work that I was doing: I would still be
able to engage with my own personal values and locate myself as the I
within the narrative account that I provide of the instance. The first
thing that I need to do is to ensure that I have the support and authorisation
of the Chair of governors and the Headteacher of my school to carry out
the proposed research activity. I intend to send a letter to seek permission.
I will also need to ensure that others who are involved within the study
are also informed of the activity, for instance the members of the research
group and the tutors involved in delivering the course. I intend to triangulate
the work that I am doing by utilising various methods within my research.
It is essential, once permission for the research has been gained, for
me to consider how I can build in validity and reliability and utilise
triangulation in order to help achieve this.
During the previous unit delivered at Westwood between January and March
2002 I videotaped a number of sessions as preliminary groundwork for this
case study. I was participating in that particular unit so was simply
pointing the video camera and recording what took place. This was the
first and only unit that took place during that academic year. I intend
to review this footage and utilise it as a pilot study of the nature of
the research group to see if there appears to be any generalisations that
I can make about what was taking place during the sessions themselves.
I am also hoping that this would reduce the impact of the Hawthorne
Effect within this study as the group has already experienced having
a video camera present within the sessions. I will also be able compare
how the group would have changed over time.
The next module for the teacher-research group will be delivered between October 2002 and January 2003. I intend to observe and video these sessions with the aim being to reflect on the knowledge that is created within this group and also to consider how each member of the group develops this knowledge as an aid to improving their professional practice. I want to consider exactly what is happening within these sessions and consider the impact that these sessions have on the practice of teachers. This I feel will allow me to consider in more detail the potential usefulness of a teacher-research group for a school. Throughout the research period I intend to maintain a research journal in which I want to record my own personal thoughts and feelings as I respond to events and circumstances that arise. I feel that this will be a great source of information as the time comes to reflect on the work that I have done and need to write up my account. I feel that being a Head of English that this will allow me access to my own creative narrative that I am looking to create of the circumstances that I encounter. It is important for me to acknowledge that this will be a subjective account of the events and possibly only during the process of evaluation at the end of the period of research will I be able to look more objectively on what I have written.
I intend to find out the thoughts of the members of the teacher-research group at Westwood. Initially I want to survey the group to find out the make up of it. I want to find out the statistical make up of the group: for instance, the number of years in teaching; the subjects taught; the management position within school and so on. I then want to carry out a stratified sampling on the group before interviewing this sample, to find out in more detail what this sample of the group thinks the impact of being a part of the group is having on their professional knowledge and understanding and the impact they feel it is having on their classroom practice. I intend to build in content validity at this point by using a matrix checking system which ensures that the content of the interview schedule covers all appropriate areas of the project. The role of the critical friend will be crucial at this point to ensure that this matrix process is regulated. Prior to the interview I would want to provide the interviewees with an extract of my own journal to consider: I would want them to give me feedback and response to something that I have written in order for me to gauge how in-tune with the group of researchers my own subjective views are. Within the interview itself I would want the interviewees to perhaps respond to some footage from an M.A. session, again to help me gauge this. Reliability will be built in at this point as I will be asking questions within the same area to each person I interview. However, I intend these interviews to be semi-structured as I personally believe that this will allow the interviewee to feel less threatened by intimidating questions and it will also allow me, as interviewer, to be more comfortable and allow the conversation to flow. The semi-structured nature of these interviews could make it problematic to build in reliability.
Each week I will be taking part within the M.A. sessions at Westwood. Although I will not be taking the Masters unit I will still be engaging in the discussions about practice and responding to research assignments. This will place me in a participant-as-observer role within the group. In itself this will grant me the opportunity to both critically engage with the group whilst also distancing myself to allow me to take notes on the events taking place. I intend to conduct a semi-structured interview with the Headteacher, the deputy head responsible for establishing the research community and also a Governor with responsibility for teaching and learning within the school in order to try and ascertain what their different impressions are of the workings of an on-site teacher-research group and the potential impact that they feel the school could benefit from. This triangulation of interviews I feel may also allow me to ascertain any potential criticisms of the research community. One of the major strengths of the teacher-research group at Westwood St Thomas is that it encourages staff to present their research findings to the group on a regular basis as a way of offering opportunities to validate the work that is underway. I intend to utilise this by presenting my own work as my research develops, showing video footage and journal entries
so that I too can test my own hypotheses out. The group in this respect
will be working as a validating group for my work. Ethics
I intend that the data will be presented in three ways. Firstly I will
write up the report in full for my dissertation. Then I will summarise
the report for Wiltshire L.E.A. to satisfy the project that I am working
on for them. I will then produce a shorter summary to satisfy my Best
Practice Research Scholarship funding. Within this I will also be contributing
to the Wiltshire research journal and research websites. It is intended
that the report for this will be expressed in such a way as to engage
the reader and allow them to fully understand my own personal values as
an educator: I want the report to reflect my own creativity as well as
the findings of the research.
The will be a number of strengths that this project has to it. Firstly,
it will allow Westwood St Thomas School to have a study of its existing
teacher-research group, which will provide some evaluation of its impact
on the school. Secondly, it will provide Wiltshire L.E.A. with an evaluation
of one possible model that schools could adopt, based on the Westwood
model, to inform the basis of the WRASCs provision within the county.
Thirdly, it will allow me to try and account for the journey of my own
professional learning that I have undertaken over the last eighteen months
and to consider the potential of this for others to possibly gain some
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