Teachers as Researchers

Educating teachers to be researchers: three surprising gaps in what we are doing in Australia

Much is asked of teachers these days. Governments and school systems seem to regularly increase their expectations of how teachers, and their schools and systems, should be operating and accountable.

One development in Australia that may have missed the media spotlight, but is of considerable concern to educators, is how teachers are now expected to incorporate education research into their teaching. Additionally, and most importantly, they are also now asked to continually evaluate how effective this is on their teaching practices and the impact it has on their students.

But how do they do that? What is out there to help them?

Currently we are reviewing the literature about effective ways to improve research and evaluative skills and attitudes in pre-service and in-service teachers. We have made some surprising discoveries.

What is happening with teacher research?

Since the 1980s there has been a heightened focus on teacher research with teachers being encouraged to be active researchers within their own classrooms. The concept of the teacher as researcher is now part of the educational landscape and research units within initial teacher education preparation programs are commonplace.

The introduction of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST) includes a focus on evaluation as part of the professional practice of teachers. In Queensland, Master Teachers are required to contribute research reports to the Department of Education Evidence Hub about what works in school improvement. In initial teacher education programs, the introduction of the Teaching Performance Assessment highlights an emphasis on an evidence-based approach to evaluating teaching performance for pre-service teachers.

But how are pre-service teachers supported to develop and use research and evaluation skills as part of their professional practice? To understand this effectively, the nature of research and evaluation have to be deconstructed.

What is evaluation?

While teacher research is concerned with systematic collection of data to solve a problem or improve practice, evaluation uses the systematic collection of data to investigate the effectiveness of a program, practice or policy. Evaluation makes judgements about what works for whom and why. Evaluation uses a variety of different research methodologies to understand processes, with particular research designs required if robust evidence of effectiveness is to be claimed. The addition of evaluation into the professional standards asks graduate teachers to specifically evaluate the effectiveness of their teaching programs.

This focus raises a number of questions. How are concepts of evaluation taught in initial teacher education? Is there are a focus on capstone evaluation course design, that is, does learning about evaluation happen only late in the program, or is it integrated throughout? How are evaluation skills intentionally taught, as a process approach embedded throughout practice, or is evaluation constructed as a planned end product activity?

What we have found so far

Our literature review has so far identified 16 studies across the last 16 years about building research skills in teachers, but very few have focused specifically on evaluation. The most common documented approach to this work has been planned and enacted support of teachers undertaking small research projects. Support tended to include the formation of collaborative inquiry communities with other teachers undertaking research with supporting and mentoring by peers and university academics. The type of research carried out by teachers was exclusively action research in all except one study. Other approaches have included research courses as part of university programs.

Documented benefits to these approaches to building research skills in teachers have included:

  • benefits for teacher practice including enhanced reflective practice and increased content knowledge
  • benefits for broader aspects of the teaching profession including enhanced teacher identity, collegial networking and relationships, and informal dissemination of research findings
  • benefits for teachers’ understanding of research including increased confidence and knowledge of research processes, an enhanced evaluative stance, and increased use of research literature to inform practice

Studies also document key processes and challenges including the important role of mentoring, collaborative inquiry communities, and the need for more accessible and translatable research for use by teachers.

The 3 surprising gaps

We have noticed three gaps in the literature that raise concerns about the robustness of the evidence base upon which we design future research and evaluation training for teachers.

  1. The area of research and evaluative skills of pre- and in-service teachers is under-researched, with the rigour and quality of studies varying widely and with almost no focus on evaluative thinking or stance in teachers with the exception of one older study from 2003.
  2. The scope of studies analysed to date includes no Australian studies and limited research with pre-service teachers.
  3. There is a predominant focus on teacher-conducted action research projects with the specific aim of encouraging greater reflective practice in educators. There are two related and potentially problematic issues with this. First, the research has not focussed on building research capacity per se, but rather positions action research as a means to a different, yet important, end – increased reflective practice skills. Second, although action research might be considered one methodological choice from a suite of diverse educational research methodologies, a number of the studies appear to adopt a definition of action research that suggests that action research is the ONLY type of research conducted by teachers with the corollary that ALL research conducted by teachers is action research. For example: “the process by which practitioners study problems in a systematic manner for self-improvement and to increase their knowledge of the curriculum, teaching, and learning is called action research”

Is all teacher research action research? Do teachers not have the same wide array of methodological approaches open to them as other researchers? Is this construct of the teacher as researcher as ONLY an action researcher being proliferated in pre-service teacher education?

Leaders in the field have recently noted definitional confusion around action research and the current review thus far suggests that this definitional ambiguity might also extend to teacher research, which is being considered as synonymous with action research. This context narrows the methodological research opportunities available to teachers and by default pre-service teachers.

Teachers need to be equipped to evaluate their practice

The literature review is not yet complete. As the work continues we will critically analyse the field of research in teacher capacity building in evaluation and research. The findings will inform the development of a framework of evidence-based principles and practices to support future curriculum reform and implementation in initial teacher education and will enable the design of a future program of research aimed at addressing the current gaps in the literature.

If pre-service teachers are required by the graduate level professional standards, and by high stakes capstone assessment pieces to engage in evaluation of their teaching practice, equipping them with the skills to do this is a priority for initial teacher education.


Amanda McFadden is a lecturer in the School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education, QUT and Course Coordinator of the Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood). Amanda works closely with pre-service teachers in their capstone professional experiences. Intentionally building the evaluative capacities of pre-service teachers through effective course design in initial teacher education is an area of interest for Amanda.



Kate Williams is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education, QUT. Her research has a focus on early child development and program evaluation. Kate leads the Evaluation Strand of the Childhoods in Changing Context Research Group at QUT and teaches a research unit in the undergraduate early childhood education course at QUT. Kate is interested in building evaluative capacity in the teaching and education research professions.


Teachers as researchers: what they do, where to find them and how academic researchers can engage with them

Many teachers are making grassroots attempts to read, use, and generate research these days. Educational researchers love this. In turn, they are engaging with teachers, by organising events especially for teachers at educational research conferences and collaborating with teachers in classroom research.

Schools all around Australia are currently hosting research projects involving classroom teachers. But it can be difficult for teachers to engage in research because it takes a lot of time and energy, not just in the classroom but also due to the paperwork and meetings involved.

However, I believe if we don’t work with each other, teachers risk reinventing wheels or becoming trapped within an echo chamber, and researchers risk irrelevance.

There is so much to be gained by collaborating with each other. Together, teachers and researchers can develop a research literate teaching culture. Of course many teachers are already working collectively to improve their access, engagement with, and undertaking of research.

In this post I want to look at what teachers are doing and how researchers might engage with them.

Formal and informal research

Educational researchers are often interested in large-scale research questions involving multiple teachers or schools, whereas classroom teachers are often looking to participate in or conduct informal research that is specific to their own classroom context and practice.

Teachers regularly carry out informal research in their daily work in the classroom.

Informal Research

By the nature of their role, teachers are informal researchers. Every day a teacher enters their classroom with a new lesson to try, a new strategy to test, a new thought about how to manage young Harry’s distractibility or Neville’s anxieties, help Ginny understand a difficult Herbology concept, and develop Hermione’s broomstick flying skills.

However we know that teachers with better research skills, who are critically reflexive, and who look outside their own experience will find and evaluate possible solutions to teaching and classroom issues more quickly and efficiently. This can make their teaching more effective.

Looking outside to what others have done is a central part of this process. However, the constant trial and error teachers undertake to improve their classroom teaching is barely spoken about or shared. Usually, it’s undertaken independently, and the results a quiet accomplishment. Sometimes, it’s done collaboratively, and the results are shared with the community of teachers, students and their families. Occasionally, research is undertaken more formally, purposefully, with a broad goal of improving school or system-wide policies or processes.

Formal Research

Formal research is “hard and it is technical and there are a lot of i’s to dot and t’s to cross” (e.g. ethics applications, access to literature, participant recruitment and informed consent, and the difficult work of analysing and interpreting complicated data). It is rigorous, and accountability for validity and reliability are deeply entrenched within the system. With so many hurdles to jump, it can take a long time to complete a formal research project.

Teachers’ networks and events

While educational researchers investigate policy impacts and teaching methods, individual teachers often seek more definite and immediate resolutions to context-specific issues. Teachers are seeking what they desire through grassroots networks and events, such as Twitter, Teachmeets, and researchED conferences.

Teachers on Twitter

A small but growing group of teachers are flocking to social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest to share their resources, experiences and ideas. In particular, Twitter has become the forum for teachers to discuss what works for them, and what doesn’t. We know that this informal research is a normal part of the everyday work of a teacher, and teachers have found that there is much to be gained through the sharing and discussing of such work through social media.

Researchers should also join Twitter. It is a great place to share research and explore teachers’ responses to and incorporation of both formal and informal research into their daily work.

Twitter-synchronous chats

Regular chats such as the #PSTchat (for pre-service teachers) and #AussieED (for Aussie educators) provide structures for productive synchronous conversations on issues that matter to them, including educational research. Regular discussion topics include homework, behaviour management, myths in education (such as learning styles and Brain Gym), NAPLAN, using data, and subject-specific practices and pedagogies. On March 8, hundreds of Australian teachers took to Twitter to discuss “research in education” with #AussieED; the conversation flew fast.

Researchers are not excluded from such discussions, and some do engage, myself included. I aim to be constructive and contribute thoughtfully; these chats are spaces for teachers to share their experiences and ideas, and when I participate, I ensure my contributions are made in the spirit of collegiality, rather than antagonism or authority. I’m always welcomed!

Twitter-curated accounts
Curated accounts such as #EduTweetOz are hosted by a different Aussie educator each week. I was fortunate to be included as a host last year. There are a number of educational researchers on Twitter already.

AARE has an account under @AustAssocResEd . Maybe AARE can curate an account with a different Aussie educational researcher each week?


Many teachers are blogging; sharing their experiences, practices, and interpretations of research with each other and the wider world. Some blogs are highly critical of educational research.

(This AARE blog is for educational researchers. It is widely read by teachers, academics, interested members of the public and politicians. Teachers can co-author blog posts with an educational researcher. -Ed)

Here are a few teacher blogs to visit

About Teaching  by Corinne C. (Australian primary teacher)
Classroom Chronicles by Henrietta M. (Australian primary teacher)
Teaching as Learning by Melissa P. (Australian secondary English and Italian teacher)
Teaching of Science  by Ian H. (British secondary science teacher)


Teachmeets are informal meetings between teachers where they discuss and share practice, insights and innovations for teaching effectively. Teachmeets are organised by interested teachers who simply find a space, make a time, and advertise the event. You will often see them mentioned on Twitter. Educational researchers are most welcome at Teachmeets.

Teachmeets do not charge fees for attendance. Some, not all, participants give short presentations (2-7 minutes) and join in break-out sessions. Sometimes guest speakers are specifically invited. Many teachers who attend maintain a blog or engage via Twitter. Educational researchers have been known to present at Teachmeets, however teachers are given priority.

Matt Esterman, one of the teachers instrumental in the Teachmeet movement in Australia, says “each Teachmeet is unique in focus, attendance, context and purpose, and these are affected by the participants themselves, as they shape the Teachmeets as much as the host!


UK conference series researchED has dipped its toe into Australian waters. The grassroots, teacher-led researchED movement has grown from the dissatisfaction of some teachers in the UK with their access to, engagement with, and inclusion in educational research. Intended aims are to increase teacher engagement with research and research literacy, with the underlying belief that teachers and researchers should collaborate to promote effective practice in education.

Shore School, Sydney, hosted the first Aussie researchED on Saturday 21 February of this year, and the speaker line-up included a wide range of teachers, researchers and policy-makers. The inclusion of Kevin Donnelly in a panel discussion led some teachers and researchers to make the decision to skip the conference. Cognitive psychology researchers are embracing researchED conferences, and are particularly noticeable on the speaker lineups.

Research Leads and teacher research journals

In the UK, researchED and similar movements have led to the establishment of Research Leads in many schools. Research Leads are teachers or administrators who take on the additional role of seeking and disseminating research, delivering ‘evidence-based’ or ‘research-based’ professional development, and guiding UK teachers through action research projects in their schools.

Research Leads meet regularly to share their experiences and learn from the ideas of others. Individual schools around Australia have created similar roles, but these are not yet widespread.

Arising from this, UK teachers have launched a successful Kickstarter fundraiser campaign  to publish their research in a journal, with articles reviewed by a “team of practicing teachers and headteachers”. Glen Gilchrist, the teacher behind this project, is encouraging others to “hacking teacher led research”.

Teacher associations

More established, and most likely to include researchers, teacher associations exist for almost every subject area or teaching community in every state of Australia and at the national level. Associations such as the Science Teachers’ Association of Queensland  (one of eight state members of the Australian Science Teachers’ Association; ASTA) continue to publish a quarterly, non-peer-reviewed journal and host multiple conferences each year.

Conferences are of high quality and include researchers. The journals are excellent channels of communication with teachers, but (in my experience as editor of one such journal) it is difficult to convince researchers to publish in association journals because they are not peer-reviewed or indexed.

Join in, but tread lightly

Teachers have created these networks and events to share, engage, collaborate and direct their own research, as well as the formal research available to them. These networks and events serve teachers’ aspirations for their own and their education systems’ improvements in order to achieve better outcomes for their students. For the most part, teacher activities in these networks are productive, collaborative and progressive.

There is space here for researchers to participate and contribute. The inclination might be to jump in, sage on the (Twitter) stage, and make grand pronouncements about what works and what doesn’t; what teachers should and shouldn’t do, and how. But to do this will surely backfire. Teachers have not created these spaces to be told what they’re doing wrong; they get enough of that in the mainstream media and from politicians.

My advice to researchers is tread lightly; be gentle and kind, encouraging and patient. Ask questions, share and offer help and support when it’s sought. You will surely learn a lot in return and could make some very productive connections.


PEZAROCharlotte is a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland (UQ). Her research looks at the role that science classroom argumentation plays in the development of particular cognitive processes, understandings, and values for making decisions. Before beginning her research, Charlotte was a primary school teacher with Education Queensland, teaching in remote, regional and city schools. She shares her experiences and expertise in primary science education in a number of primary education courses at UQ. Charlotte has a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) and a Graduate Bachelor of Education (Primary).