Justin Reich and I recently submitted a proposal to the DML Teacher Mastery and Feedback Badges Competition. And, like my recent submission to the DML Conference, it wasn’t accepted.
But that’s cool. I was curious about the process and I learned a bunch about the problems and opportunities of badges and badging. In case you were curious, below is the full text of the application. You can read the winning Stage 1 proposals on the DML Competition Website.
Teacher inquiry has long been recognized as a valuable way for teachers and students to critically examine their learning and pedagogy. We define teacher inquiry, sometimes called teacher action research, as a process by which teachers identify a problem of practice, gather data about that problem, systematically analyze that data, prepare a public presentation (lecture, workshop, published article) about their findings, and then adopt a series of action steps to improve instruction. In countries with very successful national curricula, such as Japan and Singapore, systematic teacher inquiry practices such as lesson study are central to efforts to improve educational systems and help individual teachers develop as practitioners.
In the decentralized education ecosystem of the United States, teacher action research has been adopted less systematically, but it remains a promising and powerful approach. For instance, the DataWise program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education has had tremendous success in helping schools and teachers adopt a structured cycle of inquiry in order to use assessment data to improve instructional practice. We propose the development of a badge recognition system for teacher recognition activities. Such a system would both encourage teachers to engage in these effective professional learning practices and to provide teachers and districts with a map through the complex landscape of teacher action research.
Several structural factors in American schools limit the degree to which teacher have opportunities to practice teacher inquiry and teacher action research. In particular, most districts structure professional learning time around a series of “early release” or professional development days. Often, these days are filled with lecture-based teacher professional development which teachers often find to be both useless and boring (teacher professional development is one of the truly shameful elements of our national education system). Teachers are rewarded for their seat time in these professional learning opportunities with Professional Development Points or Continuing Education Units, which are required for recertification, tenure, salary steps, or other rewards in the system. These structures and schedules are not well suited for nurturing teacher action research, which requires a more flexible allocation of time and energy. Generating questions, data collection, data analysis, preparing reflections, and adopting refined practices cannot be broken up into arbitrary chunks of time throughout the year, as these activities need to be tied in with the classroom lessons, projects, and activities that a teacher is trying to improve.
In an attempt to change this dynamic, the St. Vrain Valley School District in northern Colorado created the Digital Learning Collaborative in the Fall of 2009. The DLC introduces intentional institutional subversion through a model that re-centers teachers as both learners and researchers and incorporates a two-year approach. Attachment 1 gives more background on the DLC. Through a partnership with the Colorado State University Writing Project, and informed by the teacher inquiry work of the National Writing Project, these teacher researchers in the DLC are emerging as experts in residence in their schools, not as outsiders, but as insiders invested in the schools and students they serve. The DLC by design allows for the research of its members to spread throughout the district and, through the use of the Web, beyond.
As these teacher researchers, and others like them, move from novice to more experienced roles, they have value to add to their communities as practitioner researchers who are well equipped to ask difficult questions and seek out answers from the communities they serve. But how do teacher researchers develop the skills that they need to possess to engage in thoughtful inquiry? And, how do others know that these teacher researchers are well equipped to serve in that role within organizations they might join later?
Badges, we believe, can help.
We envision that open badges might have two specific roles to play within the teacher researcher community, both outlined below.
1. Teacher Researcher Badges as Instructional Pathfinders
The role of teacher researcher is not too terribly different from the role of a teacher. Like researchers, teachers are expected to make good use of the data around them in order to better understand a situation, in this case, a studentʼs learning. A teacher researcher has a more formal and specific role to play with regards to how he or she interacts with the data to dig for deeper understanding. Badges can help to identify the skills involved in conducting teacher research and provide an instructional path for prospective teacher researchers to follow as they begin to explore and apply the ideas of teacher research. For prospective teacher researchers, a badge or series of badges might function much in the same way as Pac-Man uses power pellets, or Sonic uses rings, or Mario gold coins. The badge serves not just as a carrot or a prize, but as a map.
We propose that within teacher research there are at least five specific skills that might benefit from badging:
1. Asking thoughtful questions
2. Intentional Data Collection
3. Systematic Data Analysis
4. Publishing Findings
5. Improving Instructional Practice
By providing teachers with a structure for exploring teacher action research with badging, we provide teacher-researchers with a map for using teacher inquiry to improve practice. Since professional development structures in schools are not designed to support teacher action research, we believe that a badging system could help teachers use their own more flexible prep periods or team and department to make progress towards these goals. In total, the five badges would represent a sixth badged identity – that of teacher researcher.
Several organizations seem likely candidates to participate in the infrastructure to award these kinds of badges. Districts like St. Vrain could be responsible for awarding badges to their own faculty who participate in projects like the DLC professional development program. Consultants or other professional development organizations, such as those providing training on the DataWise method, would also likely be willing to serve as distribution nodes in a badge network.
2. Teacher Researcher Badges as Signals to Organizations
All learning organizations need more thoughtful, reflective practitioners who carefully study their own practice. Teacher Research Badges can serve to signal to organizations the presence of these teacher researchers in the organization or within the larger community granular detail about the kinds of professional learning that teachers have explored, and are much better suited to helping teachers spotlight their teacher action research.
Moreover, Teacher Researcher Badges could be used to build bridges across districts and demonstrate a national or international “teacher researcher community,” one where teacher researchers could discover and support one another.
The democratization of education reform requires that teachers and students are engaged and informed voices for the practices, habits, and mindsets that are essential to an informed citizenry. Teacher research is a powerful force for institutional subversion that can lead to a better learning environment and experiences for all. Badges that help to cultivate and mentor the next generations of institutional subverters can lead to thoughtful and inquiry-grounded innovation that can be nurtured through an organization and shared beyond.