Teacher researcher

Teachers! Your Next Big Role! “Research Collaborator”

This post originally appeared on the ETR blog.

By Shannon Campe, ETR

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I’m an educational researcher and a teacher. I recruit and work with teachers for classroom-based and after-school programs that are part of research projects. If you are a teacher, I have something I really want you to do, at least once—collaborate in school-based research when the opportunity arises.

I know, yet another thing to do on top of everything else. Why should you take it on? 

Well, as you’ve likely heard before, research can help advance the field of education. Of course, that can often feel very removed from what you are doing with the students every day. I still struggle myself sometimes, even after years of toggling between being a researcher and being a teacher.

But as I’ve continued my work with youth and technology, I have realized there are a lot of direct benefits for teachers, as well as students and schools, that tend to get overlooked when people think about school-based research. What I am trying to say is…if you’re a teacher, there is something good waiting for you out there in the world of research. Participation can be totally worth it.

Your Role as Research Collaborator: What You Might Do

So when you’re ready to be a Research Collaborator, and join a research project team, here are some of the things we might ask you to do:

  • Just teach! Follow a prescribed curriculum or approach with a high level of fidelity. This allows us to look at genuine impacts of the intervention and compare results across classrooms.
  • Tell us how it worked! Document what you are teaching and observing. This may be done in written or online teacher logs. Sometimes it’s done through face-to-face meetings.
  • Tell us what you think! Interact with research staff who may be present for data collection or classroom observation.
  • Make the connection! Help kids understand the project and why research staff may be present.

You Know the Challenges

Why don’t you want to collaborate on research projects? I’ve heard lots of reasons. For example, you remind us that you are teachers, not researchers. True.

You don’t see how the research will get beyond a journal you won’t read or a conference you won’t go to. Understandable.

You know that better curricula, programs, and/or policies have come out of research, but it’s so removed from your day-to-day work with students. I hear you.

And likely the biggest reason is that you already have too much on your plate—big classes with all different kinds of learners, limited prep time, new Common Core requirements. So where is the time to coordinate with researchers, document what you’re doing, and possibly learn new content for the project?

Yes, these can be reasons not to get involved. But I think you may be missing what’s in it for you if you do take part.

Surprise! What You Can Get Out of It

You already know there's a benefit for students who get to learn something new or innovative. It’s part of the reason you teach at all (and are even reading this). In addition, there may be a new curriculum, materials, software, equipment, and/or financial compensation. These are often offered as incentives for participating in research.

This is all in addition to that great feeling any of us get when we make a meaningful contribution in the work we do! It is a good thing to do good work for your students and school.

But here’s a list my colleagues and I have gathered from the teachers we’ve worked with. These are some of the unexpected things you can get by participating in educational research.

  • A chance to participate in cutting-edge professional development. You can learn new strategies and techniques that are either already backed by some research or being field tested.
  • Opportunities to reflect on your own teaching strategies and the impact you have on your students.
  • Support to carry out a thoughtful examination of how your students are succeeding in learning, as well as where they are challenged.
  • Feedback, coaching, and guidance on adjustments that can make learning more successful for students.
  • A revitalization of your teaching. Bringing new ideas into classroom practice can be exciting and energizing. This reminds you why you went into teaching in the first place.
  • The opportunity to contribute to and even shape research. Because so many administrative and policy decisions are based on research, it is important to have you, as teachers, directly involved to make the research more accurate and relevant.

What Teachers Tell Us

There are multiple teachers from our past projects who not only were excited to learn something new, but have enhanced their classes by integrating the software, curricula, and training that were provided throughout the life of the project.

Some of my favorite experiences in my work are those moments when teachers tell me about an unexpected positive experience they got from collaborating with us on a research project. It happened recently when two teachers on our current pair programming project experienced challenges in an approach to teaching computer game programming that was new to them.

The project observed how student pairs tackled (or didn't tackle) problems while programming, and how they collaborated (or didn't collaborate) with their partners. Students learned how to work with Alice educational software to create their own interactive video game. The teachers’ role involved a coaching approach that was different from the more traditional teaching style they had been using.

These teachers had to practice “stepping off” instead of rescuing students with answers. As newer teachers, discovering how much their students could figure out on their own was a true “ah-ha” experience for them. They both plan to take this hands-off, problem-solving approach into their future teaching.

Participating in our research project gave them the time, support, and opportunity to experience something that will benefit all the students they encounter beyond the life of this project.  This was an unanticipated benefit. The project focus was not on professional development, but clearly both teachers and researchers got something out of it that neither had planned!

Join Us

Most of the teachers I’ve worked with are skilled, committed professionals who chose their field because they love teaching and their students. Participating in a research project can be a great way to supercharge your excitement, refresh your curriculum, and build new connections with your students.

So come on in! Join us next time you’re offered a chance to participate in a classroom or after-school research project.

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Shannon Campe is a Research Associate and Project Coordinator at ETR, a private nonprofit that offers science-based health and education products and programs. Her work focuses on bridging research and practice in K-12 education.

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