Cultivating curiosity: Ashton's teacher-researcher programme

Cultivating curiosity: Ashton's teacher-researcher programme
Date16th May 2022AuthorDan WilsonCategoriesTeaching

In September 2021, my colleague Jo Fletcher-Saxon wrote a piece about the evolution of teacher CPD at Ashton Sixth Form College and the launch (and pandemic-necessitated relaunch) of our Be Curious programme. This has been our drive to put staff at the centre of their professional development. As we approach our fifth Be Curious session of the academic year, we have some things to celebrate, some things to reflect on and some things to aspire towards, which I hope other colleges will find useful in shaping their own CPD programmes. 

As a Teaching and Learning Mentor for Research, my role within the programme focuses on the delivery of the Enquiry strand, which is our research pathway. Currently, we have 15 members of staff (from early career teachers to senior leaders) undertaking small-scale research projects. The findings from these projects will be disseminated to wider staff in our end of year Festival. This year we have an energised group who are dedicating their CPD hours to innovating, problem solving, reflecting and building on their practice. 

The structure of the Enquiry strand aims to equip our researchers with a research toolkit. Each session we progress through the different elements of conducting successful research, while allowing our researchers to share their wins, reading, queries and thoughts. We’ve incorporated journaling into all of our sessions to allow us time to reflect on achievements, challenges and next steps. This has allowed us a group to clearly visualise progress and maintain motivation through challenging times. For anyone interested in building a research community in their setting, you can find below a brief breakdown of the content of our  Enquiry sessions thus far at the end of this article.

In the group we have some fascinating projects under the teacher-researcher’s microscope which will undoubtedly enhance practice and create improvement opportunities. One of our current projects focuses on introducing problem-based learning to the current IT curriculum. Another project looks at methods for effectively questioning learners who suffer with anxiety. Outside of the curriculum, we also have projects focusing on pastoral care. One of our current researchers is trialling methods of one-to-one discussions with learners. All great work, and even more powerful when our teachers can use a research lens to pin-point what works and why!

As we look at the work undertaken thus far, we have some reflections and aspirations for future Enquiry sessions. 

  • Members of our research group have commented on the benefit of being part of a research group. Our researchers have worked as a supportive sounding board for ideas, a source of motivation and a community. Moving forward, I would love to create links with any similar groups that are operating in the sector to create a larger group to share experience and ideas. 

  • In sessions this year we have often created pockets of quiet time to read and reflect. Moving forward I can see large benefits in creating and circulating a reading list. I believe that this could increase exposure to research practice and help in creating a research culture which develops between CPD sessions. 

  • Our researchers have been completing outstanding work which will be of great importance. To me it is vitally important that this is celebrated. Going forward I aim to create a channel for our researchers to communicate their work further afield within the sector. 

If anyone is interested in the Be Curious CPD programme or in building enquiry groups in their setting, Jo Fletcher-Saxon and I will be facilitating the first meeting of a new Teacher Research Network for sixth form colleges  at 4:30pm on the 15th of June. If you are interested in attending this, please contact Noni.

Dan Wilson is a teacher of digital technologies and multimedia, as well as the teaching and learning mentor for research, at Ashton Sixth Form College.

Enquiry sessions: What did we cover?

In session one of the Enquiry Strand we focused on our research questions. Approaching the question as our lighthouse in the dark, to guide and inform our actions. At this stage it was clear that we needed to sharpen and narrow our project focus. To assist in this, as a group we employed Brownhill’s Ice Cream Cone Model (Brownhill, Ungarova & Bipazhanova 2017). Going through each step in the model helped us to craft valid, focused questions. If anyone feels that their research question needs a workout, I can’t recommend this method highly enough! Most importantly following the drafting of our questions, researchers spent time journaling. By stating goals, next steps and reflections we are aiming to create a culture of CPD which continues to grow between each of our group sessions. 

Session two brought us to research methods. Particularly their relationship with research questions. As professionals in education, we interact with a wide range of data every day. However, we often do so unconsciously. To begin the session we created a mind map of all of the data readily available to us; attendance, progress, achievement, destinations etc. Astonishingly we generated 27 sets of readily available data. Much of which directly related to our proposed projects. When discussing and selecting primary methods, the group looked at Mark Rickinson’s (2017) guide to selecting methods, in which he describes research methods as “horses for courses”. 

The focus of session three was on data analysis tools. Researchers had selected methods and began interacting with respondents. At this stage our researchers had become aware of the ever-changing nature of their projects and the different avenues and tangents that presented themselves. We began our session by reflecting on the changes and new opportunities for enquiry we had created. This impassioned discussion helped me to see the impact of the Enquiry program, as our researchers were energised, enthusiastic and discussed how being given time to conduct research allowed them to cast an introspective eye on their practice. To conclude the session, as a group we read and discussed Braun and Clarke’s practical guide to conducting Thematic Analysis (2006). 

As we move forward to our remaining sessions, researchers are now beginning to frame their project and consider the means through which they will communicate their findings. As we approach the end of the academic year we will be gathering to share our findings and celebrate our work at our festival of practice. Hopefully curiosity has been cultivated and nurtured and will continue to drive the culture at Ashton Sixth Form. 

Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now