Negotiation a ‘treacherous’ path in search of shared understandings: The joys of collaborative practitioner research

Year: 2014

Author: Kirsten, Petrie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In order to undertake collaborative practitioner research and to genuinely engage in the process of  “collaborative knowledge building” (Groundwater-Smith, Mitchell, Mockler, Ponte, & Ronnerman, 2012 p.1) when exploring practice in schools, requires university-based researchers to negotiate a range of competing demands. Juggling the expectations of schools and universities, funding bodies, professional communities, the dedicated time needed, and the interpersonal encounters inherent in undertaking collaborative research in a manner that is honest, emergent and iterative in nature (Paulus, Woodside, and Ziegler, 2008) makes such work challenging. To do such work requires a commitment to “rethinking and realigning relationships of power and knowledge between practitioners and university-based researchers” (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009, p. 139) and amongst the wider research community. This paper examines the realities of endeavouring to achieve the lofty ideals of collaborative practitioner research whilst simultaneously negotiating dual roles within a collaborative and ethnographic research project (Petrie, Burrows, Cosgriff, Keown, Naera, Duggan & Devcich, 2013). As the project director, lead researcher, and university-based practitioner, this research experience challenged me to (re)consider what it takes to be ‘truly’ collaborative, create space for rich and challenging inquiry, and allow for different perspectives, while constantly negotiating the interpersonal relations, institutional expectations, and my own sense of self as a researcher. Upon reflection and distance from the project I will share some musings about how school-based (teachers) and university-based researchers can work collaboratively to answer complex questions of practice, in ways that legitimise the voice of teachers as researchers, and challenge notions that practitioner-based work is non-theoretical work. In doing so I will examine how the appreciation of shared expertise (school and university-based researchers) blurred who played what role and challenged me as a researcher to live with discomfort and vulnerability, and to embrace the fluidity of a research process that was responsive, honest and ethical. All the while negotiating pathways where we could collectively learn, theorise, and meet the demands of our institutions and the funders.