Publishing research is an excellent form of professional development says Stephen Merrill.

Educational research is frequently practised on teachers rather than with teachers. All professions rely upon reflective practice and research if they are to advance, yet in teaching we seem to absolve responsibility for research activity. Research is generally associated with academic institutions.

Ofsted (2003) has ascertained that involvement in research activities raised the profile of professional development and encouraged teachers to think more deeply about effective teaching and learning. However, dissemination of research findings was considered to be weak. Hargreaves (1998) concurred with the Ofsted findings stating that, ‘Teachers are in danger of becoming passive objects of research rather than active partners who contribute to the creation and dissemination of new knowledge’.

Here I want to examine how teachers can be encouraged to participate in research and make a positive contribution to professional knowledge through publication.

Dispelling the myths

Thoughts that prevent teachers from writing may be summarised as follows:

  • ‘I do not have time to write.’
  • ‘I do not have anything worth writing about.’
  • ‘The editor will reject my work because my name is not familiar to them.’
  • ‘My vocabulary and writing skills are too limited.’
  • ‘In my field there are few opportunities to publish.’

These are myths. Teachers by the nature of their work do have a wealth of knowledge and good practice that can be shared.

Why write for publication?

Publication places your work under public and professional scrutiny and facilitates contact with other professionals working in the profession and the sharing of good practice. It is also fun and you can get a lot of personal satisfaction out if it. It is excellent for self-reflection. It provides a unique professional challenge, and it is also good for your CV!

How do I get started?

For people who are not professional writers, writing can be a daunting experience. It is well worth considering co-authorship in the first instance. Consider the great comedy writers of the past few decades (Galton and Simpson, Perry and Croft), who were able to ‘bounce’ ideas off each other.

  • Select a topic that will be informative and relevant.
  • Decide which would be the best journal.
  • Find your best time.
  • Assemble proper tools –  dictionary, sticky notes etc.
  • Keep a highlighter close.
  • Keep files of quotes.
  • Remember that writing the first sentence is the hardest part.
  • Proof read and proof read again –  find a critical friend.
  • Don’t necessarily work alone.

Which journal?

Research papers should be appropriate to the journal’s audience. The following questions are pertinent in deciding where to submit your research. Teachers should be able to identify the needs of different kinds of audience, the needs of different kinds of publication/media and adopt an appropriate style in which to communicate their research by addressing the question: ‘What is the journal’s purpose?’

The following may help in this process:

  • What regular features does the journal include?
  • What seasonal material does it include?
  • What topics and articles have been recently published?
  • What elements and features do the articles include?
  • What writing techniques, structure, and organisation do authors employ?
  • How long are the articles?
  • How deep is the information?
  • How do articles and accompanying graphics appear?

Addressing writer’s block

The following suggestions are not intended to be a prescriptive list for avoiding writer’s block – they are simply suggestions that may be adopted or adapted to address this phenomenon:

  • Take a walk.
  • ‘Bounce’ ideas off someone else.
  • Wait 24 or 48 hours.
  • Write out your objectives.
  • Listen to music.

Why manuscripts are rejected

The usual reasons for non-acceptance of submitted manuscripts are that content is not within the scope of the journal, lack of originality or the lack of a message that is important to the teaching profession. If accepted, your article will appear in the journal – the process can take 12 months from the time submitted to publication.

If it is rejected, you must decide whether to revise and resubmit the article or send it to another journal. Keep trying: do not accept rejection.

The way forward

As a potential contributor to the field of educational research and publication, you may like to consider the following:

  • The work you are currently involved in.
  • Who you could work with.
  • Which journal would be interested in your current work.
  • How you would approach the journal.
  • How you would go about submitting it.

Conclusion

There must be some great ideas out there among members of the teaching profession that have never been written up and disseminated. As Hughes (2004) stated, ‘It is hard to convey the feeling you gain from publication, but once you have experienced being published invariably you will want to repeat the experience, despite difficulties, which are part of the writing for publication process.’ (p25)

Stephen Merrill, senior lecturer,
Edge Hill University, Woodlands Campus, Southport Rd, Chorley, Lancs

References

  • DfEE (2001) Learning and Teaching – A Strategy for Professional Development, ref 0071/2001. London: DfEE.
  • Hargreaves, D (1998), Creative Professionalism: The Role of Teachers in the Knowledge Society. London: Demos.
  • Hughes, M (2003) The Why, When, What, Where and How of Postgraduate Writing for Publication. Brighton: Brighton Business School.
  • Ofsted (2003) An Evaluation of the Training Schools’ Programme.
    London: HMI.
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