The doers should be thinkers

Faculties of education need to be closer to the staffroom and one way is to let teachers take part in research, says Nicholas Woolley

IT seemed like an ordinary professional gathering - a roomful of people drinking coffee from paper cups, gently perspiring and talking in acronyms. But there was something odd about it: this was a university faculty of education - and it was full of teachers.

Every summer in Ontario, we empty our classroom cupboards, break out the comfy sandals and become university students again. We take voluntary professional development courses that qualify us to teach more subjects, become administrators, or - because of the increase in salary that's often involved - buy new pickup trucks.

For the whole of July, we marvel at sophisticated databases and meet top-notch researchers. We read a lot, write a lot and sharpen our intellectual pencils. Most of us consider our $800 (pound;350) well spent.

But once we hand in our assignments, we leave the faculties behind. They do their thing and we do ours. Apart from that month in the summer, our paths never cross.

For two professions with the same fundamental goal - maximising the effectiveness of education - this is ridiculous. We spend the year teaching our students, while the faculties focus on how we might do it better.

Why don't we talk to each other? Where does all this research go? My summer in academe made the answers clear: research at faculties of education ends up in journals edited by people from faculties of education. These journals come to roost in the libraries of . . . faculties of education.

Of course conferences are also used to disseminate knowledge: academics from faculties of education travel the world to share ideas with academics from other faculties of education. Occasionally government agencies attend and use the ideas to decide how we ought to teach.

Are classroom teachers involved? Forget it.

It's no wonder, then, that we get disgruntled and uncooperative when told of super new teaching strategies, or when asked to implement policies and initiatives. We must do what we're told. Faculties and consultants do the thinking, ministries the deciding.

Teachers need to be involved in educational research. A friend of mine who teaches in Toronto's outlying suburbs recently received a huge boost to her professional esteem when she was given money and time to research science issues relating to her elementary school classroom. It made her feel valued, and part of education in a broader sense.

The only problem was, her research was part of a faculty of education project to see how teachers research. Her findings were a sideline - they didn't count. She was there to be watched. Besides, the simple answer to the researcher's question is obvious: teachers generally don't research because there isn't the time.

So give us that time. Put some of us into universities a few days a week. Put faculty members into classrooms and - perhaps more important - staffrooms. Allow us to communicate.

And don't waste money on teacher-testing to appease Daily Mail readers. Instead, pay us to engage in self-directed professional development, and give us the time to share it with our colleagues. We'll be better teachers for it.

Nicholas Woolley teaches in Kingston, Ontario.

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