How can researchers encourage teaching professionals to get involved in research?

This blog post is pitched to researchers and how best to encourage teachers and other education professionals to get involved in research. The work described in this post was funded by a Wellcome Trust, University of Edinburgh, Institutional Strategic Support Fund award.

Administering interventions through schools is a promising strategy for improving the wellbeing and learning of children with mental health problems or neurodevelopmental diagnoses, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, dyspraxia/Developmental coordination disorder (DCD), dyslexia or for children who are born preterm. For these interventions to be developed and tested, the involvement of teachers, head teachers, teaching assistants, pupil support officers, guidance counsellors, and other education professionals are essential. Yet, these stakeholders are often stretched thinly and often turn down research as they are worried it will take up too much time with few gains. How can researchers motivate and encourage teachers and other education professionals to get involved in research?

We held a ‘Knowledge Exchange’ workshop with primary school teachers to understand why teachers choose to take part in research and how we can encourage more to do so. The workshop also included an update on our research findings and some myth busting around ADHD, making it a knowledge exchange workshop with mutual benefit. Their insights are organised by theme below:

  1. Pointing out that involvement can be a part of Continued Professional Development

Researchers can remind teaching professionals that their involvement in research can be a part of their continued professional development. For example, the General Teaching Council for Scotland encourages teachers to take part in Professional Learning such as online learning, professional dialogue with colleagues, critical analysis of reading, masters courses, or attending conferences. Research engagement also counts as professional learning.  Researchers can point out that teachers can log their research participation in their professional learning records. Teachers are guided by the Professional Standards when selecting learning opportunities. Researchers can highlight that their research is in line with the professional standards and therefore teachers can appropriately log it as their professional learning. For example, one teacher in our workshop mentioned learning about strategies for helping children with ADHD (the focus of the research project they were involved in with us) was in line with the social justice and professional commitment section of the Professional Standards. For more information see the General Teaching Council for Scotland’s page on Professional Learning.

  • Sharing new strategies for problem solving in the classroom

Teachers mentioned that they were more likely to take part in research if it is likely to directly benefit their classroom, for example in helping them develop new strategies for teaching children.  All teachers mentioned the main reason they took part in our research study was because a child in their class had the developmental diagnosis (ADHD) we were researching in that particular project, and they wanted to improve the strategies they use with them. However, they recognised that the strategies could be used to help children with other neurodevelopmental conditions or children struggling for any reason (e.g. mental health difficulties, problems at home). One in five children have a neurodevelopmental condition and so it is likely that a teacher will have a pupil in their class who needs extra support. Yet, there is little formal training on teaching neurodivergent children. Even in some school communities where there is a focus on improving outcomes for children with neurodevelopmental conditions, they often focus primarily on autism forgetting other disabilities, our workshop teachers pointed out. Therefore our particular focus in the research project we had engaged with them – ADHD, a condition associated with a lot of myths and uncertainties, attracted the teachers to take part. Researchers can remind teachers of the direct impact taking part in research may have on their understanding of their pupils, their teaching practice, or their approach to dealing with problems in the classroom.

  • Being flexible and transparent with timing

Teachers mentioned the main reason they would not take part in future research was being asked during a busy time of the year. Some teachers shared they were initially hesitant to take part because they were worried it would take up too much time. The start and end of term were highlighted as particularly inconvenient times. It is important to point out the teachers are not just concerned about time flexibility for their own schedules but often do not want their pupil’s routine to be disrupted or miss a certain lesson. For example, the idea of a researcher only being available at one time meaning the child missed P.E./gym class was not attractive to participation.

Teachers mentioned it was helpful that our research team was flexible with timing, offered a lot of time slots, and generally worked around the teachers’ schedule. Online meetings and workshops offer convenience in eliminating travel time, but it was also mentioned that face-to-face work is more meaningful. Following completion, teachers said that it was not as time consuming as they thought it would be. Researchers should mention in their initial email to teachers exactly how much time it will take up, offer flexible timing, and aim to contact them at less busy times of the term.

  • Explaining the wider implications of the research

Teachers were pleasantly surprised to learn that this research taking place across schools in Edinburgh would be published in international journals, shared around the world at conferences, and had the potential to help many more children in the future. Researchers can mention the impact of a project and the long-term implications of the teachers’ contributions. In this way, instilling a sense of pride, well-deserved in any case, facilitates motivation to take part. Teachers also mentioned it was empowering to be asked for their view throughout the research as opposed to being a passive party in the process. Explaining to teachers that their contributions will ultimately improve the research (in our case the design of an intervention) by making it more accessible and feasible for other teachers is another point to highlight if applicable.  

At the onset of the recruitment, researchers can cover these points when explaining the project in their initial email or phone call.  We believe that highlighting and considering the above points when developing a partnership with teaching professionals will result in a symbiotic relationship conducive to research.

Visual production credit: Photograph by ALotOfPeople via Getty Images

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