The two key note speakers at the 2017 University of Sussex research conference were Professor John Pryor and Professor Michael Fielding.
The university used an online polling service to enable participants to post questions that were pertinent to their context and the on-going discussion in the opening session. From those questions the two key note speakers developed an interesting rationale around practitioner research that challenged some of the prevailing narrative about the role of teachers as researchers.
1. It is a strength of teacher research that it can be subversive. In a climate of conformity, teacher research has, if anything, an increased responsibility to question the dominant discourse. Subversion, it was emphasised, can be a creative activity. It stimulates debate, questions norms and may provide evidence for a different paradigm. John Pryor referred to the potential for teacher research to challenge the current practice of state schools ‘aping private schools.’
2. Utility should not be the guiding principle for teacher research. The utility of the content is secondary to the learning that comes from engaging in the research. Also, the value of the findings may alter in different contexts and at different times. An attempt to define the value of teacher research according to its perceived utility automatically constrains its potential.
3. Research that is context specific is not inherently of less value. In order to justify teacher research there is a pressure for it to generate findings that are applicable over a wider context. Research that is context specific is sometimes devalued because it is not believed to deliver a wider understanding. Michael Fielding talked of the power of teacher research to create ‘different certainties’ that spring from enquiries that appear in the first instance to have no relevance beyond their own context.
The opening session was wide ranging and highly discursive. Drawing on these three discussion points it was heartening to understand an alternative appreciation of teacher research.