Summary:When teacher inquiry groups "get real," there's bound to be some discomfort and challenge, so groups have to consider whether to resist or persist. That might be the time to reach for this piece. In this article originally written for The Quarterly, Susan Lytle advocates that collegial teacher research groups should boldly collaborate in investigating "risky" questions that open up their classroom to closer scrutiny and the possibility of critique. She contrasts these 'risky' groups with other popular forms of teacher research and PLC groups, reflecting on the challenges and opportunities these groups present to participating teachers.
From the opening:
As inquiry becomes almost a buzzword, I find myself increasingly concerned about the risks inherent in teacher research becoming so common that it becomes mainstream, safe, even sanitized. I worry about a new orthodoxy, about invention and experimentation evolving too quickly into reified formats and teacher-proof cookbooks like those that followed upon early writing process research and that currently threaten the whole language initiative as it becomes the playground of publishers. I am also concerned that teacher research could become just another activity or project, an assignment or a topic in a college course, or another series of staff development workshops. It could become a way to create the illusion of support for fundamental change by “keeping the lid on” -by creating contrived contexts for collegiality, as Hargreaves (1989) has warned, without altering the structures that drive images of curriculum as knowledge transmission, that feed individualistic forms of professional development and foster new hierarchies, dividing teachers from one another.
Teaching has long been a private and isolating profession. Yet teachers’ increasingly visible roles in collegial networks and their expanding participation in shaping restructured schools suggest that the mores of teaching are changing. As teachers reconfigure their work to emphasize its fundamentally social and political dimensions and as they struggle collectively to reframe classrooms and schools as sites of inquiry, there is an increasing need, it seems to me, for a critical discourse on how the concept of teacher research is being constructed differently by various teachers, teacher research groups, and university sponsors, and to what ends. To realize the promise of teacher research for dramatically altering practices of teaching and schooling, I think we need to explore in public forums how these differences may inform the ways that “the teacher research movement” gets forwarded, marginalized, critiqued, co-opted, trivialized and/ or strengthened in the coming years.