Share your findings, learn from others: An appeal to the good people of NTEN!
By James Mannion
In this short post, I would like to do two things:
- Position NTEN within a broader tradition of practitioner-led inquiry;
- Ask the NTEN community to consider sharing your research inquiries / lesson study cycles on praxis-education.com, a new professional development platform for teachers based around practitioner-led inquiry.
The legendary and much-missed Ted Wragg once estimated that teachers make around 1000 evaluative decisions on any given day. The vast majority of these decisions have unseen consequences in terms of student outcomes, ranging from their sense of feeling cared for, to the quality and/or quantity of their learning.
This can be rather overwhelming to think about! In my view, it boils down to a series of questions about professional development:
- How can we get better at making these decisions?
- How can we know if/when we’re getting better?
- How can we know which aspects of our practice are most useful, and which might most usefully be jettisoned?
Like many people before me, I have come to the conclusion that at the answers to at least some of these questions can be found in the pursuit of Praxis. Praxis has been defined as ‘reflection and action upon the world, in order to change it’ (Freire, 197). Essentially, Praxis is a way of describing what Dylan Wiliam refers to as ‘disciplined inquiry’ in more revolutionary clothing… which must be why I like it so much!
Practitioner-led inquiry is not a new idea, and there is lots of excellent practice around. This includes things like the NTEN network, lesson study, action research, coaching triads, teaching and learning communities et al.
Here comes the but…
As I see it, there are two key problems with the field of practitioner-led inquiry, which prevent it from becoming a more powerful force for positive professional development:
- To date, all this activity has resembled a patchwork, rather than a network. Much excellent practice gets carried out and even shared, but in the end it exists only on peoples’ hard drives, or in difficult to access archives.
- Many teachers understandably feel quite daunted by the prospect of undertaking a research inquiry – especially at a time when workload is such a burning issue.
To help overcome these problems, working with colleagues I have recently established Praxis Education, a not-for-profit social enterprise which aims to bring all this activity together on to a shared platform, so that we can share good practice – and thus improve the educational outcomes and life chances of young people – more effectively.
Here comes the ask…
The platform was launched at a Research ED conference last month, and the response so far has been one of overwhelming support, with almost 50 colleagues having signed up to the site in the first month alone.
However, as one extremely astute colleague told me recently – in teaching, timing is everything! With exam season upon us, now is perhaps not the best time to ask people to embark on a systematic inquiry into a chosen aspect of their practice. However, there is much that has already been done, which could be adapted to the Praxis platform fairly easily.
The Praxis inquiry planner follows the following format:
- Research Question(s)
- Brief literature review
- Avenue of inquiry
- Research methods (how are you going to collect data? )
- Findings / analysis
There is no word limit, and pre-existing inquiries can also be uploaded as PDFs, without having to fill in these fields.
If you have previously carried out a research inquiry or lesson study cycle that you think could be easily adapted to this format – or if you have anything that can be uploaded to the site in its existing format – please do so! In so doing, you will be sharing your insights among an interested community of like-minded colleagues, and opening up the possibility that your insights will be beneficial not only for your own practice and the young people you teach, but for others, too.
To get started, all you need to do is visit the Praxis site and register for a new account (it’s free to join).
I would also really like to get your feedback on the site – especially if you have any suggestions for ways in which it can be improved. You can contact me via Twitter, or by email – firstname.lastname@example.org.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts!
James Mannion (@pedagog_machine) has working as a Science Teacher for 10 years. He has an MA in Person-Centred Education from Sussex University, and is currently completing a PhD at Cambridge University. James is a Director of Praxis Education CIC, and recently established praxis-education.com, a professional development platform for teachers based around small-scale research inquiry. You can find James’ blog here.
All views expressed here are solely those of the author.