“In class, on the ground … contextual”: Enhancing teacher agency through practitioner inquiry

    Activity: Talk or presentationPresentation


    In these times of test-based accountability, teachers are expected to be the gatherers and interpreters of school and classroom data and to function as part of larger initiatives to improve school achievement (Cochran-Smith & Lyle, 2009;). Classroom teachers often feel they have limited agency in improvement initiatives and are marginalised by hierarchical decision making (Somekh & Zeichner, 2009), time constraints (White et. al., 2018) or by their poorly developed skills in researching their practice (Ellis & Loughland, 2016). Practitioner inquiry emphasises the significance of teacher agency in bringing about changes to improve teaching and learning for all students. It therefore has the propensity to emancipate at three levels: student, teacher, and school (Hopkins, 2001). Becoming skilled in practitioner inquiry builds teachers’ ability to reflect on and gather evidence about their practice, engages teachers in praxis affording coherence between practice and theory, action and reflection (Freire, 1985) with the resulting potential to improve learning outcomes for all students (James & Augustin, 2018). The research reported in this paper identifies teachers’ prior assumptions about practitioner research. It also explores if a professional learning supported cycle of inquiry might shape transformative changes in teachers’ agency in relation to school improvement initiatives. Five online modules guided teachers through theoretical and practical skills to design and undertake small scale practitioner research to assemble evidence from their own practice and undertake cycles of reflective inquiry (Ellis & Loughland, 2016). The teachers’ research cycle was supported at key junctures through online and in-person dialogue with the researchers. Design Based Research (Gorad, Roberts & Taylor, 2004) was utilised given the project’s concern with developing collaboration among researcher and practitioners in real world settings (Wang & Hannafin, 2005), challenging the ‘academic as expert’ research stance (Groundwater-Smith & Mockler, 2005, 2007) and on theorizing that emerges from both inside and outside the university. Qualitative data was gathered via a series of questionnaires, reflections and interviews prior to, during, and on completion of the Practitioner Inquiry professional learning project from volunteer participants from primary and secondary schools. Analysis of the data revealed context-related patterns relating to teachers’ perceptions of practitioner research, agency and the role of time constraints in teacher practice and research. Shifts were observed in the way teachers viewed their skills in evidence based practice and how they perceived their role as a classroom based researcher. Ultimately teachers felt more empowered to bring about transformative change within the hierarchies of power typical of educational contexts.
    Period4 Dec 2019
    Event titleAARE 2019 Conference: Education for a socially just world
    Event typeConference
    LocationBrisbane, AustraliaShow on map
    Degree of RecognitionInternational