In 2007 (I think) I had my first taste of publicly funded FE related training which included an opportunity to apply for some capital funding and a short action research project leading to a level 3 qualification. It was the E-guides training, the resources for which are a little dated (4-5 years old at the time of writing, but with some good ideas – the audit materials would be good with a little updating, for example). It was positive, useful and the money arrived at my old employer just in time for me to order the stuff then hand in my notice. I hope my former colleagues enjoyed the stuff!
This was a good taste of things to come. Before this, my CPD was very much in the traditional “do some training, and, er, that’s it” approach, so this was new and exciting, and people paid you money to do stuff. Hurrah.
A year or two later I have another go at applying for some British Council money – less successful this time, but undaunted in 2010-11 academic year I successfully applied to LSIS for the Research Development Fellowship, which was my first taste of proper big boy grown up research. And damn it tasted good. I discovered a new hero (or rather rediscovered) in Frank Coffield, then met him, several times, got to hang out with interesting people, talk about interesting things, and generally discover that actually there’s a whole universe of interesting out there if you get the chance and/or take the initiative to look up from the day to day stuff.
This was an interesting year. It was the year I found my Twitter & blogging feet, worked out what it was for. It was my first NATECLA conference, my first JISC conference (where I co-presented a workshop). My first real year as an Advanced Teaching and Learning Clever bod: certainly the year I made that job role work properly for me, and for my college. It was the year I think I very much grew up from being an obstreperous and somewhat naive ESOL teacher and trainer of teachers, to becoming a smarter, more measured, if equally obstreperous ESOL teacher and teacher trainer. It was the year I realised that what I do is fantastically interesting. ESOL teaching, teacher training, developing and supporting staff, is all kind of exciting. (I need the “kind of” there. It stops me sounding too excitable)
Research was important here. It was the time and the opportunity to get involved more deeply in my work and in my job role. How I managed this while my second child was a tiny infant, I’m not sure, but the whole research experience (interviewing, analysing, reading, thinking, talking, sharing writing and being generally exposed to ideas and thoughts I would probably not have paid half as much attention to) was highly influential in developing me as a teacher on a day to day basis, but also as a critically reflective teacher. One of the things about research is that it teaches you to look critically at both sides of things. I have Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed for my summer reading (yes, I know), and will read it as critically as I would OFSTED’s latest declaration of “best practice”. I would have done so anyway, but somehow the act of research in a formalised (ish) way shapes your ability to do this, and highlights the importance of critical distance from any viewpoint. A really useful lesson for me has been to challenge my own ideas – “SMART targets are really useful because…” – and to question myself. I’m not brilliant at it: indeed I am still learning about it. Self-criticism is hard on the ego, and my ego is like a big soft Fuji apple* when it comes to being bruised. But it’s been a good experience and I can take criticism far better than I could. The ut bother big impact for me is to become much more a researcher-teacher, that is, learning about my own practice as I go, but being better at changing that practice.
So what would I say to anyone thinking of research? Go do it. Now. There are precious few opportunities for research, so when one comes up there should be fisticuffs and duels at dawn to get the funding. Opportunities in UK FE are exceptionally rare. FE providers have always been unlikely to offer internal opportunities for a bit of research time, and with budgets being squeezed, even less likely to do so any time soon. My advice? Get out there and find some cash. LSIS are a good place to start…
*if you’ve ever had to pick Fuji apples, you’ll understand.