J Amos Hatch writes that “It has never been more important for teachers of young children to explore ways to examine and improve their own practice. The steady drumbeat from federal, state, and local education officials is to prescribe curriculum, teaching, and evaluation models for early childhood programs [sounds familiar]. This movement assumes that curriculum producers, instruction designers, and test makers know best, even though they are isolated from the day-to-day realities of teaching young children. The professional decision making of classroom teachers under this reform model is reduced significantly. Teachers are often treated as technicians whose competency is measured by how well they match expectations based on narrowly focused criteria. Teacher research. is a way for teachers to systematically examine and improve their own practice. It is a way for members of the early childhood education community to reassert their professional autonomy.
Teacher research is sorely needed in contemporary early childhood classrooms. It provides a means by which teachers can: (1) study the special contexts in which they work, (2) make systematic improvement in their practices, and (3) lay claim to promoting educational change that makes sense in the particular circumstances of their classrooms.
One of the defining characteristics of teacher research is that it is undertaken in context – it is on-the-ground inquiry generating valuable information. Teacher researchers decide what elements of their practice they want to study, what questions they want to answer, and how they will collect and analyze data to find answers that make sense in their immediate surroundings.” (viii)
“All of the processes of teacher research take place in a particular context. Therefore, the outcomes of the inquiry are directly suited to the questions teachers have about their practice. This approach is the opposite of taking findings from large-scale studies and implementing them in prescribed ways that ignore the fact that every teacher, group of children, educational setting, and community is unique. Teacher research is grounded in the contexts that frame what really happens in early childhood classrooms. Instead of assuming that teachers are incapable of shaping their own professional development, teacher research is based on the premise that teachers can figure out what they need.
As a field, we need to assert our professional independence and demonstrate that we have the means to monitor and shape our own improvement. Teacher research provides tools that support our claims that we deserve to shape our own destinies in the classroom. Part of doing high-quality teacher research is examining the professional literature that describes what others have learned about the issues we face as teachers of young children. We want to value and utilize all of the best information available as we design and implement our teacher research projects; this is vastly different from implementing a ‘research-based’ program designed by people who have no knowledge of the particulars of our teaching settings.” (ix)
This argument rang bells for me because of the recent rejection by parents of the National government’s plan to increase class sizes. I couldn’t understand how the argument shifted to ‘teachers losing jobs’ when it was so obviously a bigger problem for the students in such classes – or why the Government would produce a plan like this without consulting the experts – the teachers!!! The whole discussion around this was disturbing, in that teachers were never described as experts in this – they were only ever ‘on the frontline’ and ‘at risk of losing jobs’. It was wierd!
(listen to Morning Report on Radio National, Wed 6th, Friday 8th June 2012, for a sense of what I mean about this discussion: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/morningreport/20120606
Ref: J. Amos Hatch ‘Teacher Research in Early Childhood Settings: Needed now more than ever’ pp.viii-ix in Gail Perry, Barbara Henderson, and Daniel R. Meier (Eds.) Our Inquiry, Our Practice: Undertaking, supporting, and learning from early childhood teacher research(ers). National Association for the Education of Young Children: Washington, DC
Ref also: www.naeyc.org/publications/vop.