Practitioner Inquiry: bridging the gap between research and pedagogy

Practitioner Inquiry: bridging the gap between research and pedagogy
By Kathleen Tuite.
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Since January 2024 Early Childhood Ireland has been working on developing an exciting practitioner inquiry programme. We developed and refined this programme from the learning we gained from our 2023 pilot programme, and we would like to thank our members who took part and supported us in tailoring and refining our materials and approach.  Our 2024 practitioner inquiry programme is now underway and settings who are engaging with it are working with the tools and resources developed to support their research inquiries. We hope to share the outcomes later. But for now, you may be wondering what practitioner inquiry is.

What is practitioner inquiry?
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There are many definitions of practitioner inquiry as there are many different approaches to it. We have selected this definition; ‘Practitioner inquiry focuses on investigation and problem solving. It prompts practitioners to look deeply at practices, to think critically, to question taken-for-granted assumptions’, Fiorentini and Crecci (2015); Mockler and Casey (2015); McLaren and Kincheloe (2007). Another definition comes from Newman & Leggett (2019, 120) who say that practitioner inquiry ‘provides an evidence-based, and ‘a powerful and useful way for [early years practitioners] to drive improvements to their own practice’.

We know from research that knowledge of practice dominates practitioner inquiry. The practitioner generates knowledge about their own practice; knowledge that is backed up by research evidence, knowledge that can be used to improve not only their own practice but the practice of other early years practitioners. Through this knowledge generation, practitioners can generate credible evidence to back up their practice and use it to advocate for wider change: locally, regionally, and nationally.

All the approaches to practitioner inquiry involve cycles of reflecting, planning, doing, evaluating, and sharing the impacts of the inquiry. Practitioner inquiry can be thought of as a process of individual or collective research led by practitioners within their own work settings. This enables practitioners to better understand what is happening in their setting and ultimately make small or large changes to improve shared practice and the experiences of the children and families they work with.

In previous Scéalta posts, we shared examples of practitioner inquiry, which are also forms of action research. Many of the contributors to these posts, highlight the benefits of practitioner inquiry and Janice Power https://www.earlychildhoodireland.ie/scealta-blog/action-research-a-transformative-experience/, says, that ‘if you allow your observations to highlight what needs to be changed your action research will most likely take you down unexpected paths.’

Sylwia O’Rourke, shared with us her experience of action research saying ‘at the very core of action research is the participatory expert-educator, who is woven into the setting’s social fabric, with its values, beliefs, and philosophies.

https://www.earlychildhoodireland.ie/scealta-blog/first-steps-on-action-research/

We know there are many benefits for practitioners engaging in research inquiries in their settings and the cyclical nature of practitioner inquiry ensures its sustainability.

Benefits of engaging in Practitioner Inquiry
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Regular engagement in practitioner inquiry supports professional growth by challenging or disrupting practitioner’s thinking. It helps practitioners to reconsider ingrained habits and routines. It creates a space for practitioners to stop and look again at existing or comfortable ways of working. In this way practitioner inquiry can be transformative. By developing and deepening practitioners’ knowledge and understanding of practice they can better understand what is happening in their setting, and can make changes to improve practice and the experiences of children and families.

In this way practitioner inquiry can be seen as enabling. It’s strength, and also its challenge, is the close connection between practice and research as the practitioner-researcher belongs to the setting, and knows and understands the practice which is under investigation.

Through engagement in the process of practitioner inquiry, practitioners reflect on their practice, they problem solve and are uniquely placed to bridge the gap between research and pedagogy. What works in practice and what works in research. Doing this through a systematic approach to investigating, collaborating, planning, and implementing.

The research inquiry process also opens the possibility for practitioners to turn the ‘everydayness’ of children’s experiences into insightful learning opportunities (Chaney 2002, p.10). The close connection that practitioners have with both practice and research, positions them well to identify and implement inquiries and to ‘capture the often ‘untapped’ lived experiences of children in ECEC settings’, Cole (2008, p. 2).

You may also like to listen to Early Childhood Ireland’s podcast with Dr. Lynn McNair who takes a deeper dive into practitioner inquiry What is Practitioner Inquiry, with Dr Lynn J McNair and Kathleen Tuite (buzzsprout.com)

We look forward to sharing the highlights from our practitioners who are currently engaging in our practitioner inquiry programme later in the year.

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