Unwilling to Postpone
The word “research” tends to land with such an authoritative thud that whenever we encounter the phrase “all the research shows . . . ,” we immediately conjure its implicit corollary, “. . . and don’t you even think about raising questions.”
But committed teachers pursue doubts and curiosities all the time—often big, challenging questions demanding multiple minds and means. How to reclaim the notion of research as part and parcel of this process of wondering, as a collaboratively shaped and jointly valued activity and set of resources?
In their aptly titled book Research and Practice in Education: Building Alliances, Bridging the Divide (Rowman and Littlefield, 2010), co-editors Cynthia Coburn and Mary Kay Stein give us some glimpses of this more generative notion of what research can mean and accomplish. For research to inform practice and policy in powerful ways, they argue, we need partnerships and dialog, “interactive spaces” where university- and school-based educators forge relationships and learn from one another.
None of this is easy, of course, requiring trust, shared understandings, and fresh ways of thinking about our roles and relationships. But through the series of exemplars the book presents—alliances that allow teachers to draw from as well as add to research and improvement efforts—they give us vibrant images of the possible.
I don’t know many teachers who’ve had full access to such partnerships, but I know lots who doggedly carve out space for inquiry and seek diverse perspectives on problems of practice. They butt up against obstacles aplenty—lack of time, top-down mandates that ignore the diverse nuances of learners and classrooms, scant opportunity to confer with published researchers. And yet they keep working at it, finding allies in professional organizations and teacher-research networks, reading and wondering and bringing tools of inquiry to their daily work. They welcome new ideas because they’re so darned curious, so intent on stretching and growing and serving students more effectively.
By now, we know quite a lot about what’s involved in coming together across school-university boundaries to support teachers and promote productive change. We know it’s tough, we know it doesn’t happen often enough, and we know it’s possible.
As I listen to the voices here on the Literacy in Learning Exchange, I keep hearing echoes of a certain Bostonian accent from way back in my early childhood. In 1961, just as critics were grousing that the whole pie-in-the-sky idea of going to the moon was a ridiculous pipedream, John F. Kennedy spoke of doing such things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard . . . because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone.”
What a thing to be a kid back then, hearing this surging rhetoric and believing. And what a thing to be us right now, nudging open a door to a space of inquiry, dialogue, and the riches of diversity.
"The best, most sustaining Teacher Research Questions always arise from the true wonderings we have about our classrooms, our teaching, our students’ learning," writes Cathy Fleischer, a member of the Eastern Michigan Writing Project (EMWP) Teacher Researcher Group. Read more about this group's collaborative work as teacher researchers through the blogs on their Exchange group page. To add your comments, you'll need to first use the “Request to Follow” button found on the group’s homepage.
What ways have you found to carve out space for inquiry with your colleagues? Have you started a group space yet on the Literacy in Learning Exchange? Complete this simple registration form to start your group and receive support for the collaborative work you are doing to strengthen literacy teaching and learning.