Let's be curious

Let's be curious
Date27th Sep 2021AuthorJo Fletcher-SaxonCategoriesTeaching

Lawrence Stenhouse was a British educational thinker who sought to promote an active role for teachers in educational research and curriculum development.  He declared, ‘It is not enough that teachers’ work should be studied: they need to study it themselves’, (Stenhouse,1975).  He said that in the mid 1970s … is anyone saying it now? At Ashton Sixth Form College, we are entering a new phase in our professional development via an exciting new programme that we hope will bring that aspiration to life today.

Pre pandemic in the year 2018/2019, when life was quite different, we tentatively launched a new dimension within our professional development programme. Amongst the range of subject based training, leadership programmes, and workshops for colleagues, we introduced an action research opportunity.  We’d launched with a big bang, having held a Research Meet in the summer before the launch, which had garnered the enthusiasm of some colleagues to pursue a small scale research project over the academic year. That year brought us a variety of ‘results’ and findings, with colleagues presenting their work and going on to lead cross college changes or improvements to their own practice.  That year’s cohort of teacher-researchers led us to pursing new models of cross college coaching, changes in approaches to student feedback, and altered arrangements for one to ones in some science subjects. But most of all, that year taught us that an opportunity for some self-directed, research informed professional learning had potential. In the subsequent two years, others signed up to engage in their own projects, but pandemic disruption meant some of this had to be put aside. 

It’s 2021/2022 and time to reset. So this year, we have launched with a refreshed professional learning programme with a revised action research strand within it. There’s a new ethics and approval process, support from a new Teaching and Learning Mentor for Research, and buddying with other teacher researchers in other SFCs. The whole programme also now includes a number of different modalities for engaging in research, in addition to the research-intensive action research pathway, so that colleagues can participate in and learn from research even if they don’t (yet!) feel able to launch a practitioner research project of their own.

Our programme is called Be Curious. We invited colleagues to indicate their area of curiosity, something in their practice they were curious about.  Once that was established, we then invited colleagues to indicate the pathway through which they wish to pursue that curiosity.  So this year we have the following pathways:

  • Enquiry: We call our research pathway ‘Enquiry’.  16 colleagues have chosen individual practitioner research.  We have projects relating to moving to T levels, problem based learning in IT, vocational colleagues looking at best practice for new examined units, a study of the impact on student outcomes of a motivational programme delivered by an external organisation, exploration of the most impactful online platforms for art students, building a sense of belonging in college, asking just what engagement means in the criminology classroom, and also of course colleagues digging into the thorny issues of teaching and assessment following ‘learning loss’ and ‘grade inflation’. We also have an ‘enquiry circle’; this is a group of colleagues looking at issues around mental health and wellbeing from a range of angles.  Our year 2 Early Career Teachers (ECT) are undertaking action research as part of their ECT programme. 
  • Journal Club: This pathway is all about reading and asking, ‘so what?’.  Colleagues have selected a bookshelf of reading for the year from the themes of social justice, anti-racist practice, leadership, diversity, and pedagogy. Crucially here, the focus is critical reading, reflection, and examining what the material means for their teaching or leadership roles.  
  • Coaching: Some colleagues have chosen to work one to one with a coach and others have opted to attend group sessions to develop their own coaching skills, the latter being there to support those who are working with trainees or early career teachers.
  • Workshops: We have two workshops this year responding to colleague requests. One is digital pedagogy, the other is working with the most able students. Our lead on working with the most able is drawing from contemporary academic research to focus on practical techniques for the classroom.
  • The Be Curious programme is infused with opportunities to engage with pedagogical or subject based research and evidence at a variety of different levels. We are keen to see what impact Be Curious has on students, on staff, on classroom practice and on college wide issues. To that end, it’s the focus of my own post graduate research, the title of which is: ‘What’s the story? A narrative inquiry approach to exploring and (re)presenting teacher-researcher stories within a sixth form college’.  

In the book ‘Caliban’s Dance: FE after the Tempest’ (2020), I wrote about a teacher-researcher culture in SFCs being difficult to see, even when it exists.  Over the last few years we have been delighted to build connections with Bilborough SFC and Suffolk One on teacher research and professional learning. However, in the main within the SFCA community, we are not all aware of what each other may be doing as far as research engagement goes.  We would love to build more connections across the SFCA community around both teacher-research and strategies for research engagement and dissemination. If that’s you, please can we connect? 

SFCA plans to co-ordinate an action research/practitioner research network across sixth form colleges if there is an appetite for it from members. It would be open to staff and colleges at all stages in their research journeys, from those seeking inspiration to start for the first time to accomplished researchers with a long history of using learning to inform college practice. If this is something you would be interested in, let Noni know.

Jo Fletcher-Saxon is an Assistant Principal at Ashton Sixth Form College, a convenor for the Learning and Skills Research Network and on the steering committee of the Research College Group. She can be contacted here. She hopes to share more of the results of her own and other colleagues’ research here as the year progresses.

Your browser is out-of-date!

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