Research for Professional Development

Those of you who attend the IATEFL conference will know that one of the events there is a debate in which two well-known ELT figures takes sides on a controversial issue. A few years back the theme was teachers and research, and although I was not there I remember being told that some of the arguments made against the value of research for teachers were unfortunately reinforcing unhelpful clichés about the fact that one can be a perfectly competent teacher without any interest in research; I seem to recall too that another argument presented against the relevance of research for teachers was that very often those teachers who are interested in research are actually not very good in the classroom. These are problematic assertions yet ones that still persist, as evidence I quote in my forthcoming book Teacher research in language teaching shows. The book looks at evidence drawn from some 1700 language teachers and managers around the world and through which these individuals’ conceptions of, attitudes towards and engagement in and with research are explored. One chapter examines the relationship, as seen by these professionals, between teaching quality and research engagement, and the two arguments noted above surface again amongst those who were sceptical about the relevance of research to teachers. I will be talking about this issue at IATEFL 2013 in Liverpool and will not elaborate too much here, but what is clear is that such views are often based on particular beliefs about what research is. Most typically, professionals in our field who dismiss research as largely irrelevant to the practice of teaching are entertaining notions of abstract, theoretical, large-scale academic activity, disseminated in dense and lengthy reports published in research journals. This is, though, a very partial and limited view of what research is and can be in the context of professional practice. The key, then, in beginning to appreciate the relevance of research to teachers is not to view it solely as an activity conducted by others (typically others who are not teachers) but to (also) conceptualize it as an aspect of professional practice that all teachers can do themselves. When teachers take ownership (individually and collaboratively) of research as a professional development activity it inevitably becomes central to their work and a tool through which they can develop deeper understandings of what they do and of its effect on their learners; these understandings lead to informed adjustments to practice and through which learning is enhanced. From this perspective, then, research – as systematic inquiry that teachers do in their own contexts to enhance their work – is central to teacher professional development.

I have been lucky enough to see these processes in action in various projects I have been involved in. One example is taking place in Pakistan, where teachers of English at universities and colleges are engaged in classroom research projects through which they are exploring their own contexts. Many of these teachers had experience of research; however, their prior experiences had established the conventional views of research noted above; starting to think about research as a tool for their own professional development was a revelation to many of the teachers on this project and it has been wonderful to support them in putting this new appreciation of research into practice. Similar examples can be cited from elsewhere around the world (for example, the ELTDP project in Malaysia and the English Australia action research program both promote similar ideals). Teacher research, then, has clear potential to be a powerful transformative force in teachers’ lives. It does of course present challenges and the conditions teachers work in are not always favourable, which is why inspired school leadership also has a significant role to play in enabling teacher research to achieve its potential.

My focus here has been on teachers doing research. A separate matter is the role that reading published research can play in teachers’ lives, and that will be the subject of my next blog. This article provides a useful starting point.

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9 Responses to Research for Professional Development

  1. Muhammad Asif says:

    I am part of the research project which Simon has mentioned. It has been really a wonderful experience. Action Research, Teacher Research and Educational Research are new in Pakistan. Simon has made a real difference.His efforts will definitely have a positive impact on both research and teaching in Pakistan.

  2. Kamel Babouche says:

    Dear Simon,
    thank you for sharing with us so many valuable ressources. I think a teacher who is not involved in action research may still devise efficient teaching and learning. But I do think a teacher involved in research is likely to devise an even more efficient teaching/learning.

  3. Imdad says:

    I am part of the research project which Simon is conducting on behalf of the British Council Pakistan.
    Teacher research is not in vogue among language teachers in Pakistan at present. I believe that a reflective teacher who researchers aspects of his/her learning context is in a relatively better position to take measures to solve problems in that learning context. It is also conducive for professional development of the teacher and saves them from getting stuck in a rut of routine of teaching without research and improvement.
    I appreciate the efforts of Simon Borg that he has been putting into our course to encourage us to become teacher researchers ourselves and to encourage our colleagues to do research. He has been a big inspiration for me although I have not been able to manage my time and research so well to be worthy of being his staunch pupil.

  4. Jalal Ali says:

    I think What I see in Libya is a huge gab between what is taught to our future teachers in our universities and what i see at the actual teaching in schools. The only knowledge taught is chosen by academics who are supposed to be the experts in this field without out any consideration of the actual teachers needs and with a complete absence of their voices.
    I do thank Simon Borg for his workshop in Al Hammamat, Tunis; where he shared with us some aspects of CPD.
    Looking forward meeting you in Liverpool.

    Jalal Ali.

  5. Muhammad Asif says:

    Simon Borg has been a real inspiration and influence on my career. As a teacher I never thought that action research could play such an effective role in making me a more focused and interactive teacher.
    Action research as Imdad has mentioned in the comment above is something new Pakistan. The present IRP in RM will definitely turn the things around and serve as a milestone in teacher research.
    Simon expertise in this field are exceptional. I wonder if any one else could have imparted training in Research in the same way. Looking forward to final phase of the IRP.

  6. ghazala tabbasum says:

    doing research methods training with prof. borg was my first orientation into a systematic study. i began with expectations of learning all technical jargan/terms associated with research but found myself actually doing a research and that too about issues of my own teaching career. its a wonderful experience, a feeling that a thousand doors have suddendly opened to improve professionally. research culture can help you improve professionally in less years and in clearer terms and you can transfer your learning to others more confidently. hats off to prof. borg

  7. asma says:

    I agree with what Ghazala said.It opened new vistas for us to explore our real live issues which are our constant constant concerns but previously we never thought of studying them systematically.After this training under the inspiring guidance of Professor Borg we learnt how to research our own issues for better insight and real improvement.

  8. Beenish Asmat Ullah says:

    Teacher research is a new concept in Pakistan introduced by Prof. Simon Borg in a very systematic manner. This idea enabled me to look at my own teaching methodology and come up with a topic from my own classroom practices. It enabled me not only to better understand my students, but also contribute to my own professional development, which is indeed an on going process and should not be stopped at any stage of life. It helped me improve my teaching, and I am very positive of the fact that this innovative idea will bring a change among English language teachers in Pakistan.

  9. Huw Jarvis says:

    See for lots of video talks from researchers with publications in leading TESOL-based journals. Including a good talk from Simon!

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