Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Becoming Teacher Researchers 

By Jodene Morrell

One of my go-to-quotes when writing grant proposals, conference proposals, or for academic journals is by Dr. Magdalene Lampert (1985) who stated there is a belief that, “The teacher’s work is to find out what researchers and policy makers say should be done with or to students and then do it” (p. 191). 

I used to scan my syllabi and check the publication dates on readings to ensure the content would feel current and relevant to my students. I no longer do that. After 20 years as an educator from K to MA, I recognize that we continue to hash out the same arguments, push back on policies that reduce our teaching to teacher guides, pacing guides, and high-stakes tests, and use all our energy and talents to meet the complex interests and needs of our students. The date on the publication starts to feel less relevant. We strive to teach the whole child while seeking balance in our own lives. Our hearts hurt for students and families that just can't seem to get a break and we celebrate moments when students succeed - in whatever way we define success together. And we do not put the researchers' and policy makers' agendas ahead of our own... unless we are the researchers and in that case, it's quite a different conversation. 

I'm looking at my calendar for the rest of the academic year and my university is more than half way through the semester which already has me thinking about end of year interviews with each of the LTI Teacher Fellows. It's one of our annual rituals. We meet in their classroom, in my office - where ever is most convenient. And we reflect on the year - what went well, what they wished they could have done differently, plans for next year, what it means to be a researcher. I transcribe their responses off my digital recorder, store the files in the Cloud, and reflect. Each year I am astounded by how their discourse around teacher-research has evolved, their insights into action research, and what this means for teacher learning and student growth, and what it means to be part of a community. Mostly, I reflect on our relationships and the organic growth of our community of practice. 

We are building and shaping and reshaping and tweaking our community which is something no researcher or policy maker could have possibly imagined. We do not tell one another what to do. We listen. We suggest. We laugh. We eat. We drink. We support. We are growing together as researchers and as educators. There is no formula. There is no teacher guide. It's a bit of fixing the plane in the air - but there is no high stakes test at the end and we're not competing with one another. 

We will be wrapping up our fourth year as a project at the end of this spring. We have eight Fellows actively engaged in research at this time and a total of fourteen active members and alumni. Four of us are heading to the International Reading Association Conference in July, so we'll turn our attention to that soon enough. Our Fellows take time off from research, maternity leave, time to work on tenure and other life events because we know we are in this for the long run. We have no end date. Fellows are free to come and go without judgment.  

The LTI Project is a community that no policy maker or researcher could have imagined. It is organic and it is all about relationships and support. That is how teachers from nine different schools and two states become researchers, colleagues, and friends. This is what it means to become researchers with the LTI Project.  

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