Supporting practitioner research through initial training and provision of academic critical friends

Year: 2013

Author: Spears, Barbara, Owen, Susanne, Quinn, Sarah

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Teacher practitioner researchers supported in their research work by academics in a partnerships approach has been indicated as highly beneficial. Many teachers are highly skilled practitioners and their skills can be significantly complemented by the research expertise of academic partners/critical friends.

In this practitioner research project for highly innovative schools and preschools in South Australia, a one day initial training program was conducted including a short information update session about research and then involving academics in supporting attendees in developing a research question and fine-tuning their research proposals. The initial training program model included the six steps of: identifying the research problem; reviewing the literature; specifying a research purpose; collecting data; analysing and interpreting the data; and reporting and evaluating the research. Some key considerations for the academics in preparing the training day program were concerned with recognising the diverse research backgrounds of attendees, ensuring sufficient time for school teams to work on their proposals with academic support and building practitioner confidence in their own skills.

A survey of practitioner researcher attendees indicated highly positive responses in regard to the initial training day. Benefits indicated included establishing new directions and possibilities for the action research proposal; having a clear framework for conducting the research and having supportive professional mentors and different perspectives.

Following the training day and submission of finalised proposals, academic critical friends with specialist skills and areas of interest were assigned to each practitioner researcher and academics provided varying levels of support over the 12 month research timeframe. In some cases, the academic critical friend worked closely in helping to implement the research proposal; in other cases the critical friend undertook portions of the research, working closely with a school person or collaboratively undertaking the analysis or report writing.

All practitioner researchers were required to present progress findings at a DECD conference and some academics facilitated discussion sessions at this event.  Practitioner researchers also wrote progress and final reports for DECD. A range of final presentation formats were encouraged including longer reports (with extended academic support) or shorter reports/posters. All formats included information about background, methods, findings, discussion, and references. To support dissemination to a wider audience, an additional requirement from all practitioner researchers was the preparation of a powerpoint presentation.

Practitioner researcher surveys and academic and practitioner researcher discussions at the point of program completion indicated a range of challenges including finding time to meet and acknowledging the respective expertise of those involved. There were also considerable learnings and opportunities in working together, including the opportunity to undertake quality research of relevance to educators in the innovative schooling context.