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  • Writer's pictureclairevharley

What am I doing?!

I use this blog to unpick the research I’m doing whilst studying for my EdD. As I prepare for an important meeting at university this week, I’ve realised that whilst I use this blog as an outlet, unpicking concepts as I work through key themes linked to my thesis, I have never actually shared what my research is about.

As a new teacher I was placed onto an action research project linked to the then National College based in Nottingham. This project was a transformative process for me as I learnt how to think critically and evaluatively about my practice in a way I hadn’t before. At the end of the programme, we shared our action research projects at a local school with an audience of teachers and school leaders from the area.

It was the first time in my life that I felt like an expert in something.

I had taken an idea that I thought would benefit my class and demonstrated the impact of my actions to my peers. This phenomenal experience felt like the start of a wider interest, and I signed up for my MA in Educational Leadership and Management not long afterwards.

It's a common for PhD/EdD students to feel as though the more you study, the more questions you have, and this is very true for me! I started my MA to become and ‘expert’ in my field, but the more I learnt, the wider the domain appeared. I realised that my real state is one of constant learner. The more I learnt, the more I wanted to listen. I saw research as a way to empower teachers and decided to throw myself into the growing movement of teachers getting involved in debates online and through organizations such as the Chartered College of Teaching.

Coming into it rather naively and normatively, I worked with the underlying assumption that research was a positive thing for teachers and so should become more widespread. As I started my EdD, however, I started to realized that the application of policy and decision-making with organizations (schools) and wider social structures (education) lead to imbalances of power (Foucault, 1975). Additionally, the current climate in education in England does not always enable the use of research by teachers and school leaders  (Ball, 2003, 2016).

Now as I’ve reached the midway point in my doctorate (!) I feel I have a more nuanced understanding of what engagement in education really is and what it means for teachers in a system of high accountability. Much of my work is based on Cain’s research which explores the methods, motivations and actions of teachers engaging with educational research (Cain, 2015, 2016 ; Cain et al., 2019).

I better understand how the rocky ground the discourse on teacher professionalism and research engagement is

(Hammersley, 1993, 1997; Hargreaves, 2000; Hargreaves & Fullan, 2012; Hargreaves, 1996, 1999) and seek out understanding and codify what we (and by ‘we’ I mean those working in schools) mean when we say we engage with research. Ultimately my EdD thesis will seek to better understanding of if/how teachers see themselves as part of the knowledge generation process in education.

I am a qualitative researcher. In the UK, we have placed value on large scale studies that look at the impact of interventions on large numbers of children in schools. These are not without merit. I use a lot of these studies as part of my day job and can find value in any research that aims to improve the education of children. However, if all we have are macro studies, if all we value are things that we can measured, we miss out on the true nature and complexity of education (Biesta, 2015). Small scale does not mean unimportant, and my research focuses on participatory, emancipatory research with teachers at the centre of knowledge generation.

I am not a teacher or a researcher. I am both.

Whilst there are many teachers who are research engaged and there are academics who used to work in schools, being both simultaneously gives me relatively a unique insight into the supposed chasm between schools and universities in the UK. Ideologically I find myself in an interesting position as I align myself with the more to the traditional (or “trad”) school of thought which is not usually associated with academics.

At this stage I have defined the different forms of engagement with research teachers can experiences by adapting existing thinking around teacher development and tweaking definitions to be about this specifically. I have also explored and codified the different types of literature available to teachers. The next thing (all going well) is to start gathering data!


Ball, S., J. (2003). The teacher's soul and the terrors of performativity. Journal of Education Policy, 18, 215-228.

Ball, S., J. (2016). Neoliberal education? Confronting the slouching beast. Policy Futures in Education, 14, 1046-1059.

Biesta, G. (2015). What is education for? On good education, teacher judgement, and educational professionalism. European Journal of Education 50, 75-81.

Cain, T. (2015). Teachers' engagement with published research: addressing the knowledge problem. The Curriculum Journal, 26, 488-508.

Cain, T. (2016 ). Research utilisation and the struggle for the teacher’s soul: a narrative review. European Journal of Teacher Education, 39, 616-629.

Cain, T., Brindley, S., Brown, C., Jones, G., & Riga, F. (2019). Bounded decision-making, teachers reflection and organisational learning: How research can inform teachers and teaching British Educational Research Journal, 45(5), 1072-1087.

Foucault, M. (1975). Discipline and Punish; The Birth of the Prison (A. Sheridan, Trans.). Penguin. (1977)

Hammersley, M. (1993). On teacher as researcher. Educational  Action Research, 1, 425-445.

Hammersley, M. (1997). Educational Research and Teaching: a response to David Hargreaves' TTA Lecture. British Educational Research Journal, 23, 141-161.

Hargreaves, A. (2000). Four Ages of Professionalism and Professional Learning

Hargreaves, Andy. Teachers and teaching, theory and practice, 6, 151-182.

Hargreaves, A., & Fullan, M. (2012). The power of professional capital Learning Forward, 34, 36-39.

Hargreaves, D. (1996). Teaching as a Research-Based Profession: Possibilities and Prospects The Teacher Training Agency Annual Lecture

Hargreaves, D. (1999, 1999/06/01). Revitalising Educational Research: lessons from the past and proposals for the future. Cambridge Journal of Education, 29(2), 239-249.


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