Teachers as Researchers

The findings from the annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher have arrived.  This year's focus speaks to the responsibilities and challenges facing our schools' leaders.  Again this year, teacher satisfaction ratings are declining, and they have been in this state of decline since 2008.  Not surprisingly, less satisfied teachers were more likely to be found in schools where investments in professional learning and time for teacher collaboration had decreased. 

At the same time, Stephanie Hirsch (Executive Director of NCLE Stakeholder Learning Forward) notes in her recent PD Watch blog, "the increase in teachers assuming leadership roles of all kinds tells me we have an opportunity to leverage practitioner expertise and shared responsibility."

Educators hunger for opportunities to learn and grow, and the stories about our own pursuits as lifelong learners rarely get told--particularly when that learning is led by the practitioners. So today, we spotlight one of many great stories of professional learning and collaboration present on the Literacy in Learning Exchange.

What follows is the first of a series of blog entries written and posted by the Eastern Michigan Writing Project's team of teacher researchers where they introduce their plans to document their collaborative learning process over the course of the year through video. 

Introducing Our Year-Long Journey of Teacher Research
Written by Cathy Fleischer and the EMWP Teacher Researchers
Originally posted June 1, 2012

Welcome to the Eastern Michigan Writing Project Teacher Research Group!  We are a group of K-college teachers who are committed to inquiring into our teaching—raising questions that intrigue us as individuals, studying our questions over the course of a year by collecting data (like field notes or interviews or surveys or samples of student work) and analyzing that data, and finding ways to go public with our findings.  Most of all, we are committed to changing our practice:  to puzzling out what we can do better to help our students' learning and putting into action what we discover.

While we pursue individual questions, we come together once a month to talk about our progress.  We meet in the home of one of our members and, over pizza and wine and juice, we talk about our research studies.  Because we come from different schools and districts (more on that in a minute), some of us commute long distances to be a part of the group—over an hour in one case.  But what the group offers us makes it worth it—even in snowy Michigan winters, when, after a long day at school, it seems almost too much to get in the car again and drive to yet another meeting.  But these meetings sustain us in an important way.  Unlike too many of our "regular" school meetings, we gain energy and renewal from these meetings:  sometimes at the end of the night, the host literally has to kick us out, since we could keep talking for hours!group photo

We've made some big changes in our individual teaching over the years, and we know our participation in this group has helped make that possible. Because we teach in different schools and different districts, we approach our conversations and our research projects differently than we would if we were in a school-based Professional Learning Community or another kind of Community of Practice.  This year, through video and written reflections on our meetings, we want to document for ourselves and for you how this group works.

And so, we invite you to follow our journey this year.  Each week or so we’ll share a new blog post that updates you on our progress, links you to some video of our meetings, and refers you to some readings about teacher research.  We hope you’ll ask us questions and let us know what you think.

Going public with our research in this way is something we believe in strongly—but we know it’s not without risks.  As we share our honest reflections on our teaching and our students’ learning, we’re revealing a lot about ourselves as teachers.  We think it’s important to demonstrate to others how we do that, but we also ask that you read these postings and watch these videos in the spirit in which we share:  If we want true change in schools, we have to be honest in our strivings to become better at what we do. 

"Follow" the Eastern Michigan Writing Project Teacher Research Group to read more about their learning journey.  Many teams have joined this NCLE network and are encouraging followers.  Join this network and contribute to this joint learning process by posting comments and questions in relation to the reflections and artifacts shared within the groups.