Strengthening a research-rich teaching profession: an Australian study

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September 2021

Source: Teaching Education, 32:3, 338-352

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The overall objective of the "Strengthening a research-rich teaching profession” study was to understand the contribution that research currently makes to the education profession and to explore the challenges, untapped opportunities and recommendations for the future. The study was framed as a collaborative endeavor that required a ‘systems’ approach’. Unlike the British Educational Research Association (BERA) and Royal Society for the Arts (RSA) project which was a commissioned Inquiry, the "Strengthening a research-rich teaching profession” team identified the importance of the study as a piece of research about research.
Ensuring a national voice from the profession was also a key design feature of the study and as such a reference group as noted earlier was formed drawing from representatives across the thirteen national education professional associations.
Key participants were drawn from across three main components of the education profession as well as different career lifecycle stages.
These participant groups were: preservice teachers and teacher/educators which included early childhood educators and classroom teachers (primary and secondary schools); teacher educators and education academics and leaders (for example Deans and Heads of Schools) who were employed in Faculties and Schools of Education; and systems leaders which included those employed in various education systems from across Catholic and Independent and State Departments of Education, as well as school principals.
Data collection occurred in two stages.
Stage one of the study involved gathering data from various state-based jurisdictions as an attempt to include a number of voices and perspectives from diverse contexts.
A total of 72 participants attended workshops in Brisbane and Toowoomba (Queensland), Adelaide (South Australia), Perth (Western Australia), Darwin (Northern Territory), Sydney (New South Wales) and Launceston (Tasmania).
There were four central questions consistent with the aims of the study asked of the workshop participants, namely:
● How do education professionals encounter research in their professional life?
● What are the barriers to participation and engagement with research for education professionals?
● What unrealised opportunities are there for participation and engagement with research for education professionals?
● What are the recommendations of education professionals for overcoming these barriers and realising these opportunities?

Analysis of field notes taken at these workshops provided the basis for the design of the national on-line survey instrument administered in stage two.
The survey design process involved rigorous consultation with the reference group members as well as trialling and discussion within the research team.
The national survey was administered via peak representative bodies to their members and networks but survey responses themselves were anonymous to the research team.
The survey was designed to gain the perspectives of a wider group of participants to inform recommendations made in the reporting and dissemination phase.
The survey (see White et al., 2018) consisted of three sections.
In the first section a number of demographic details were collected.
In the second section participants were presented with twenty-three statements about research and asked to indicate their level of agreement.
In the third section of the survey, participants were asked to rank their top three recommendations from a list of ten recommendations drafted from data collected during the Roundtable Workshops.
Finally, participants were provided with the opportunity to provide open-ended comments or recommendations for policy and practice.
The survey was administered using Qualtrics online survey software and was open to participants for four weeks.
A total of 389 participants completed the entire survey.
While over 500 participants engaged with the survey, it was decided to include only those who had given permission for their survey to be analysed by fully completing all aspects of the survey.
Data from the workshops and survey were analysed to identify themes for discussion, and these were tested during various opportunities for discussion with the reference group and funding bodies.
In the rest of this paper the authors explore a number of emergent themes from the data and while they do not claim that this is a representative study, they provide a useful framework for further discussion, debate and research.

Key themes
The data collected through the mixed-method survey, including the qualitative comments, are analysed for the purposes of this paper.
Three central themes emerged from this analysis: the value, accessibility and status of research; research literacy/ies; and becoming discerning consumers of research.

Conclusion
The “Strengthening a research-rich teaching profession” study confirmed that Australia has an exceptionally well educated and aspirational education workforce.
Data indicated that across the three stakeholder groups, the profession values research and is eager to access and participate in research-led and research-informed practice at all levels.
The study cautioned against defining research too narrowly, within the challenges of a rapidly changing world.
New approaches and strategies are called for.
The study found consistency with Whitty’s assertion that:
“Some research therefore needs to ask different sorts of questions, including why something works and, equally important, why it works in some contexts and not in others.
And anyway, the professional literacy of teachers surely involves more than purely instrumental knowledge.
It is therefore appropriate that a research-based profession should be informed by research that questions prevailing assumptions - and considers such questions as whether an activity is a worthwhile endeavour in the first place and what constitutes socially-just schooling (Gale & Densmore, 2003). (Whitty, 2006, p.162)”
Self-improving education systems require teachers, educators, academics and system leaders who know how to engage in a variety of research practices with each other.
This type of collaboration should involve ‘much stronger relationships between schools and colleges, and between practitioners in schools and colleges and those in the wider research community’.
This study highlights a future focused roadmap on how across systems within Australia we can build a research-rich teaching profession and strengthen collectively a profession that, as Sachs (2016) notes, ‘engages in systematic inquiry, develops strategies to constantly improve and be innovative in their practice and to share that practice is a good starting point' (p. 424).
The recommendations and suggestions from the study are not meant as a directive; they are offered to all engaged in education to explore and discuss and consider which part they can play in following the signposts provided.
It appears from the data that there is much enthusiasm from within the profession to be actively engaged at all levels with research in its most inclusive definition.
The timing is right for the next waves of research to be initiated building from this foundational work.

References
Gale, T, & Densmore, K. (2003). Engaging teachers towards a radical democratic agenda for schooling. Maidenshead: Open University Press.
Sachs, J. (2016). Teacher professionalism: Why are we still talking about it? Teachers and Teaching, 22 (4), 413–425.
White, S., Nuttall, J., Down, B., Shore, S., Woods, A., Mills, M., & Bussey, K. (2018). Strengthening a research-rich teaching profession for Australia. Canberra: Australian Teacher Education Association (ATEA). Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE), Melbourne; Australian Council of Deans of Education, (ACDE) Canberra
Whitty, G. (2006). Education(al) research and education policy making: Is conflict inevitable? British Educational Research Journal, 32(2), 159–176.

Updated: Jan. 09, 2022
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