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The Teacher-as-Researcher by Dr. Ashley Casey

December 21, 2011

The teacher-as-researcher Written by Doctor Ashley Casey


Expertise is highly valued but more often than not this expertise comes from outside of the classroom; indeed from outside of the school. Curriculum innovation, policy and theory comes from elsewhere and teachers are supposed to passively receive it when it arrives (on at least a yearly basis) and use it in their teaching. The result is that innovation is adopted (to a degree) but on the whole the skill of the teacher is considered enough to ensure that the students learn what they need to learn.


In the 1970s Lawrence Stenhouse proposed the notion of the teacher-as-researcher. Building on the ideas of John Dewey (who suggested that the only way of improving education was to listen to those involved at the heart of it) and Kurt Lewin (who argued that those best positioned to make changes were those who were directly affected by it) Stenhouse suggested that the classroom should be seen as a laboratory where teachers undertake teaching experiments to find the best ways of educating their students. His work was inspired by the divided school system in the UK that saw the academically talented students heading for a post sixteen education in their Grammar Schools through A’Levels and then,having been ear-marked, for University. In contrast their lower ability peers (taught in the secondary modern) headed for the factories when they turned 16. Stenhouse saw a real need to move beyond the idea that a secondary modern school education was a ‘passing of time’ before the student left school and should be instead be educative.


Taking this idea into the 21st century I feel that it is important that we don’t fall into the same trap of assuming that a modern education is modern. Or indeed that it is the best that it can be. Colin Powell, the former US politician, once said “’If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’Is the slogan of the complacent, the arrogant and the scared. It’s an excuse for inaction, a call to non-arms.”I believe that to believe we have ever taught the perfect lesson is naïve. In fact I tell my students that if they ever do teach the perfect lesson then that should be their signal to quit teaching and find another job because, in my opinion, they will never reach that nirvana again. Teaching –in fact any job –should be seen a constant endeavour to become better. It is in becoming that we find new things to improve and so the cycle continues. That might be how we teacher, or how students learn or what student’s learn or what we teach. It might be, as Matthew Pomeroy ( recently suggested, by changing what we do with the spaces in our schools and how we construct physical education with our pupils. That might equally be how Vicky Goodyear (@vgoodyear) is currently exploring the use of Cooperative Learning in physical education with teachers as part of her PhD or how Ben Jones ( or Brendan Jones ( – no relation – are challenge us (and themselves) to reconsider what physical education is and does.


By placing the teacher in the role of teacher-as-researcher and challenging them as individuals or groups to question what occurs in their gyms or on their school fields then we begin to get a sense of what really is “broken” and what does need “fixing.” However, it also allows us to say what “ain’t broken” – not because we think it isn’t but because we have some evidence to begin to prove to ourselves that it isn’t. Anecdotal evidence is OK for the staffroom or the bar but does it really hold any water in the current climate of accountability. By ‘going public’ with our work, our ideas and our findings we are challenged to think outside of ‘our’ box. We are required to see what other people are doing and saying and to expose ourselves to research and ensure that our work is informed by the work and words of others. However, this is not a traditional expectation of teachers. After all who has time to read research?


Yet one of the key ingredients that is missing from research is the teacher. It is great for academics to write about their findings from rigorously examined and conducted research projects – and we are held accountable by our peers to make sure that that happens. But teachers like to read examples from their peers. One of the things I am really keen to see, read and encourage is research that comes from teachers. Therefore, to close this blog, I challenge anyone who reads this to publish from their work. Practitioner journals like:

are all interested in publishing high quality research/advocacy pieces written by teachers. I have recently taken on the role as co-editor of the research matters section of Physical Education Matters and we are actively seeking examples of practitioner research to publish in the journal, as we believe teachers need and want to be able to read about the work of their peers. So please consider telling others about your work and how it had a real impact on students learning in and about physical education.


Ashley Casey, PhD


Author Bio: I began my career as a secondary school physical education teacher and after a fifteen-year career now I work as a course leader, researcher and blogger in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Studies at the University of Bedfordshire. My research interests focus on practitioner research, pedagogical practice and professional learning in Physical Education. I write a regular blog at and can be found expressing my ideas on twitter at @DrAshCasey. See you online sometime.

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  1. jakesprinter permalink

    Great Article very helpful
    HAPPY CHRISTMAS to you 🙂

  2. sharprobinnest permalink

    You blog was like a lavender scented candle after a day of sitting through academic standards training (the first of many). Meaningful professional development today? No, but your blog was, thanks!

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