It’s a pleasure to publish Claire’s blog. She lets us join her in her thoughts as she explores the connections, disconnections and perhaps interchanges between her academic development and her daily practice.
We hope that this will resonate with readers and perhaps they will answer Claire’s invite to join her and others in the Reflective Practice Research Interest group.
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I’ve been contemplating whether it is essential for academic studies to link to the day-to-day working lives of practitioners and this blog explores the idea that a direct link between work and studies is not always necessary to find fulfilment in both.
During my lunch break in the staffroom, I was talking to a colleague and mentioned that I was pursuing a part-time EdD. They were curious and asked me why I decided to do it. It was one of those tough Thursdays, and I was struggling with my writing, so I wasn’t feeling particularly positive at that moment. I replied with a shrug, saying “it seemed like a good idea at the time”. When they asked if it had been beneficial for my job, I hesitated, as at times, I don’t feel a strong correlation.
This brief exchange in the staffroom triggered introspection. I began to think about whether there was truly a disconnect between my research pursuits and my role in the school, or if my negative mood had influenced my perspective after a rough morning. Candidly, I felt that the two facets of my professional identity didn’t align as seamlessly as I had anticipated when I started my course. Several factors might contribute to this, such as rapidly shifting work priorities compared to the slower pace of academic writing, my own compartmentalisation of the two to ensure both aspects get a share of my time, and finally, the specificity of my research now that I am at doctoral level, means that my research is not always relevant to my daily work life.
Ultimately, studying whilst working isn’t for everyone and perhaps not widespread enough in the UK education system that there is a wider process or understanding of how individuals can effectively integrate the two aspects of their working lives. This puts a lot of pressure on the individual to have a laser like focus on their goals in order to continuously remind themselves why they are going through the stress, isolation and financial debts linked to further study. It reminds me of when Seneca said ‘if a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favourable’. I questioned whether success at further study is linked to the way in which an individual can find the balance between work and study. But surely this is easier when we feel a connection between the two? Or does it not matter?
The reason I decided to an EdD is straightforward. I completed an MA but ended my course with more questions than when I started. I wanted to know more about how to develop the climate for greater teacher autonomy and the idea that I could contribute to knowledge remains a tantalising one. The motivations of studying an MA or EdD whilst working in education will be numerous; each individual having their own purpose for undertaking their studies and whilst there is research on students’ perception of their developmental needs (Lindsay, Kerwalla and Floyd, 2017) and the ability of EdD students to link their research to their perceptions of themselves as teachers and leaders (Buss and Avery, 2017).
For those of us who feel like our studies are indirectly linked, I wonder if the link is reflective practice. As Ralph Waldo Emmerson said ‘I no more remember the books I have read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so they have made me’. For many of us, our studies don’t link directly to the decisions we are making daily, but they have formed the process through which we act and reflect. School CPD can be transmissive and studying areas that excite them is a form of transformational professional growth (Taylor, 2017). The confidence to critically evaluate our actions is invaluable (Brown et al., 2018; Cain, 2011, 2016 ; Cain et al., 2019; Cain & Harris, 2013; Chudasama, 2021; Clayton et al., 2008; Cochrane-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Elliott, 1991; Haggarty & Postlethwaite, 2003; Hargreaves, 1996). My EdD explores the extent to which teachers see educational research as part of their identity and I use what I have learnt to plan meetings, conduct line-management and impact my interactions with teachers through my role as Assistant Principal. Whilst I don’t feel it’s always directly linked to my daily practice, both what I do at work and how I study are linked to my sense of self-efficacy and autonomy in my role. Conducting your own research and generating knowledge is an emancipatory activity (Cochrane-Smith & Lytle, 2011)and gives me the power to advocate for what I think is right by combatting institutional knowledge with my own knowledge of the field (Gaventa & Cornwall, 2001).
If you’re interested in joining our BELMAS Research Interest Group (RIG) exploring Reflective Practice please get in touch! You don’t need to be a BELMAS member to attend the RIG meetings and we are actively seeking practicing teachers to join our network.
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