So I went back to the drawing board to rethink my research. Once again, I turned to my trusty Thomas (How to do your Research Project, 2013) to help me think through the choices I needed to make. I thought through my journey and the decisions I had made and why and what decisions I would make now and why.
As Head of Teaching and Learning in my previous post, I had noticed that my vision of professional learning seemed not to match with reality. My reaction was a desire to find out a) is that actually the case? b) if so, why might that be and c) if it is the case, what could I do about it?
My situation changed a little when, due to unforeseen circumstances, I had to leave that school. Still, I was plagued by the same questions and when I did a short term maternity cover in another, very different school, professional learning seemed to offer as intriguing a picture, in particular the many ways in which professional learning happened, how that can be harnessed to contribute to whole school improvement and how hard it was to create the right conditions and overcome the many challenges to achieving that.
So, thinking about the broad purposes of my research, I want to find out what there is/ what exists; and to try to understand it - however I do not want to evaluate. I do still want to improve practice - but my own as researcher (and, in the long run, practitioner). Two kinds of prima facie questions emerge: what's the situation?; What's going on here?
My literature review will focus on types of professional learning known to contribute to school improvement (i.e. improved student learning outcomes); the conditions that support these types of professional learning and the challenges encountered. It will draw on literature from around the world in order to better understand how context affects school improvement and professional learning.
My first question (what types of professional learning are taking place at X School) calls for data gathering designed to describe the situation. The second (what conditions support professional learning at the school) will involve some description but will also involve some interpretation with regards to those conditions that do support it and why they might be seen to support it. This will involve data collection through observation (both structured and unstructured) and through asking participants about their experiences and what they experience as supportive conditions and why (further interpretation). The third questions (what challenges are encountered to and within professional learning?) is similar to the second in that it requires both a descriptive and interpretative approach, again through observation (my own) and through opinions (of others).