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An investigation of the impact that engaging teachers in research activity has for teacher voice, identity and empowerment

Darwish, Usama (2020) An investigation of the impact that engaging teachers in research activity has for teacher voice, identity and empowerment. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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This thesis examines the engagement in research development activity of teachers from two multi-school groups, with particular regard to the impacts that this had for teacher voice, their reflective capacities and their sense of empowerment. Moreover, where such impacts were noted, this also had implications for teacher identity and teachers developing a sense of themselves as ‘teacher researchers’. The thesis is the product of a two-year ethnographic study where I attended the facilitated research development activities alongside the teachers. I was researching, acting as observer, holding focus groups, undertaking interviews, holding formal and informal conversations with teachers and gathering field notes (Madden, 2010). One research site was a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) made up of twelve schools, ten of which were primary schools and two high schools, and that stretched across a 200 mile range from the South to the Midlands of England. The other site was a Teaching School Alliance (TSA) of nine schools including eight primary schools and one high school in the North of England. In addition, while both groups were involved in an informal yet academically led research development programme, the MAT was also engaged with additional Master’s accredited programmes. This research outlines the contexts in which these school groupings were operating, tracing the increasing measures used to control and scrutinise the work of teachers (Ball, 2013; Evans, 2011). The thesis considers the development of teacher researchers drawing from the ideas of Lewin and Stenhouse. It utilises Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory, drawing on issues around communities of practice, figured worlds and understandings of teacher identity (Holland et al, 1998; Lave and Wenger, 1991). In this way, a case is developed that increasing innovation and creative thinking in teaching can be facilitated where teachers engage with research activity. As Lave (1991) argued, situated learning happens as a consequence of the activity, the culture and context where this takes place. Undertaking ethnographic study facilitates the researcher in considering a range of cultural artefacts together with taking into consideration the thoughts and feelings of the actors involved and unpacking the connections between these elements (O’Reilly, 2012). This thesis provides the reader with a unique insight into the journey of the teachers undertaking research, illustrating their constructs of research and of teacher researchers including the emotional and ethical investments in their roles. Its novelty lies both in relation to its examination of teachers’ responses to this programme of activity and with regard to the insights that this offers around new organisational forms in respect of the MAT and TSA involved. Using an inductive rationale, data were categorised using a thematic approach, data were clustered, and then linked back to the literature to enrich and extend understandings of the data (Lingard et al, 2008). The thesis demonstrated how teacher researcher communities of practice formed organically and how these communities had a significant impact on xi developing critical thinking and in sustaining teachers’ engagement with research. Moreover, as the research journey progressed, there was evidence that teacher identity, agency and their sense of power were shifting, moving teachers towards ‘refiguring’ their world where they embodied deeper understandings of what it was to be teacher researchers. As teacher morale and confidence grew, teachers were feeling empowered to make decisions and offer advice demonstrating the process of figuring a new identity as ‘teacher researcher’. Nonetheless, the demands of assessment were high, and indeed led to some withdrawals from the programme in the MAT, whilst the TSA enjoyed the freedoms offered by a programme devoid of such constraints. Indeed, one teacher in each setting reported their intention of leaving the profession because they became uncomfortable with the status quo in their schools, which they felt was hampering their ability to grow as a practitioner. Nonetheless, all of the teachers, without exception, valued their research journey as something that had made a considerable impact on them, both as teachers and at a more personal level.

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