A Contribution to the British Council Seminar on the Training and Development of School Teachers: new approaches on 6th December 2005 in Bath

Jack Whitehead's Notes on  'Teachers' Professional Development Through Research'
(see http://www.jackwhitehead.com/monday/jwbritishcouncil.htm )



 There is an increasing interest and support being shown by policy makers for teachers researching their educational influence in their students' learning in order to improve it,  individually and collectively. There is a more recent interest in supporting students in researching their own learning. This can be seen in the Department for Education and Skills and the General Teaching Councils and from web-sites such as http://www.teachernet.gov.uk  and  www.gtce.org.uk  . This interest and support could be due to a recognition of the role of evidence informed and evidenced based practice in enhancing research-based professionalism in education. Jane Davidson the Welsh Minister of Education stressed the importance of this in her recent address to the 2005 British Educational Research Association (BERA) Annual Conference. The BERA Special Interest Group on Practitioner-Research was formed in 2004 and you can access the BERA website at http://www.bera.ac.uk


Supporting a research-based approach to professional development

My own work on enhancing research-based professionalism in education has focused on action research as an approach to exploring the implications of asking, researching and answering questions of the kind, 'How do I improve what I am doing?' in educational contexts. Action research involves action reflection cycles in which individuals: express their desire to improve something; construct an action plan from ideas they believe will improve matters; act and gather data to make a judgement on their effectiveness; evaluate their actions; modify their concerns, plans and actions in the light of their evaluations.  The explanations produced by educators from their action research are focused on their educational influences in their own learning, in the learning of their students and in the learning of the social formations in which they live and work. I call these explanations living educational theories to distinguish them from explanations generated from disciplines such as philosophy, psychology, sociology, history, economics, theology, politics, management or leadership.


You can judge the effectiveness of this work from the living theories of educators and other practitioner-researchers, that are flowing through web-space from http://www.actionresearch.net . I particularly want to draw your attention to how you can access from this web-site the living educational theories from pre-service teachers and teacher educators in China working with Moira Laidlaw from masters and doctoral enquiries in the UK and from masters and non-accredited work in Canada. I also want to draw your attention to the teacher-research group at Bitterne Park School supported by Simon Riding and to the work of Karen Riding and Branko Bognar (from Croatia) on emphasising the importance of the pupil's own voice and accounts of their learning in judging an educator's educational influence. Supporting such enquiry learning requires enquiry advocates and James Payn has been providing this support for local teachers in the enquiry networks around Bath. Jean McNiff is the most influential advocate for the generative and transformatory potential of action research on the global stage and you can access her work at http://www.jeanmcniff.com.


Successes and challenges

You can judge the success of this work from the living theory accounts at http://www.actionresearch.net . The accounts include influences on individual learners, whole classes, schools and school boards. They include the use of e-media in visual narratives that include transformations in the standards of professional practice and judgement in the Academy. One of the greatest influences of policy makers in extending this approach is in the sharing of their living theories explanations of their own educational influences in the lives of teachers and their pupils. The most radical implication of this approach is that it costs very little money because most professionals are already reflecting on the meaning and purpose they give to their lives in terms of their values and educational influences. The learning resources flowing freely through web-space are now widely accessible in different countries and reaching areas of great poverty. They show how living educational theories can enhance the flow of inclusional values and understandings that carry hope for the future of humanity. Some of the most recent contributions are focusing on the evolution of postcolonial social formations.

You might like to look at the quality of this evidence on educational influences in learning in relation to the evidence from the 30 million pounds already spent on the ESRC Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP). As I view all the project titles from the TLRP I am struck by the omission of any 'I' enquiries of the kind, How do I improve what I am doing?

See http://www.tlrp.org/

View all the projects at:


TLRP is directed by Professor Andrew Pollard, Institute of Education, University of London. It is managed by the Economic and Social Research Council on behalf its funders. To date, it has received some 30m from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Scottish Executive, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Department for Education and Skills.

For an action research approach to improving education that is being used by both teachers and pupils see the TASC (Thinking Actively in a Social Context) Wheel developed by Belle Wallace.

Chandler, S. & Wallace, B. (2004) How TASC (Thinking Actively in a Social Context) led to rapid school improvement. Retrieved 6 December 2005 from