Self-Study Research in Teacher Professional Development


Though based on the traditional qualitative methods of collecting data, self-study derives into an independent research approach which helps the educator to set a novel context for the query. As suggested by Geursen, Berry, Hagebeuk, Peters, and Lunenberg (2016), in the self-study, the role of the researcher and the teacher are interrelated, or sometimes, even inseparable. Still, as inquiry-guided research, it tends to demonstrate high validity and reliability, while generating positive outlook on teachers’ professional development (Geursen et al., 2016).

Such level of trustworthiness can only be achieved if researchers accurately present the methods for the data collection, providing clear linkage between raw data, empirical findings, and subjective interpretations (Mena & Russell, 2017). Furthermore, the success of the initial self-study depends on the presence of the overarching research question, provoking a critical change in the nature of the studied phenomena. This paper will analyze the available methods for data collection in self-study along with applicable examples of former investigations and potential issues.

Methodological Components of Self-Study

Prior to the in-depth examination of the methods for data collection, it is essential to distinguish specific methodological components, common for self-study scholars. According to Jackson and Evans (2017), such constituents include reflection and reflexivity, interaction with colleagues, peer review, and openness. On a more fundamental level, self-study should undergo a process of transparent data analysis overseen by the improvement-aimed exemplars who are committed to facilitating one’s professional learning experience (Jackson & Evans, 2017).

As supported by North (2017), those who use self-study for reflective inquiry should locate their work in a manner which provides them with multiple perspectives and critical cogitations from a community of learners. The reason behind such requirement lies in the tendency of scholars to reconsider their knowledge paradigms and existing epistemological stances due to numerous viewpoints (North, 2017). Another vital aspect to consider concerning the self-study is that it arises through collaboration and feedback from others despite the interpersonal origin of learning and thinking as cognitive processes (Bullock & Sator, 2018). Therefore, a peculiar combination of the aforementioned methodological components leads to the ever-changing nature of the self-projected by the collaboration of others.

Subtle, yet, no less important, constituents of the self-study, data-generation, and analysis processes are also interrelated, sometimes happening simultaneously. Such interventions play a critical role in the formation of conscious awareness of an educator through the practice of post reflection (Vanassche & Kelchtermans, 2015b). The final component for contemplation refers to the structure of the self-study. Unlike in traditional research designs, this method depends heavily on the individual patterns of behavior manifested by the educators (Vanassche & Kelchtermans, 2015a). In other words, researchers do not make prior agreements on the ways of collecting and analyzing data, adapting to the procedures in the process of the study itself.

Brief Overview of S-STEP

Methodologically consistent with the aforementioned guidelines, self-study in teaching education practices is frequently labeled as S-STEP. This approach combines a dual purpose of improving one’s professional skills and identifying as a practitioner on a larger scale of high-quality educators (Gregory, Diacopoulos, Branyon, & Butler, 2017). According to Peercy and Sharkey (2018), at its core, S-STEP has action research and reflective practice, derived from the social perspective; thus, the method has been acknowledged as specifically important for the development of pedagogies and practices. Despite a number of disadvantages and a relatively short academic history, S-STEP gained recognition as a research genre both in the peer-reviewed journals and in the general education community (Peercy & Sharkey, 2018).

In fact, the level of educators’ engagement with the self-study methodologies rose so drastically that an independent publication, called Studying Teacher Education, has been created. Nevertheless, as supported by Ritter (2017), S-STEP has a series of prospective issues, since the method is still not presented in the sphere of linguistics, which causes concerns given the expansive range of reflective practice. Examples of such include teacher identity, inclusive research methodologies, and critical pedagogies.

Though not widespread in all the areas of teaching practice, it is essential to acknowledge that S-STEP provides several valuable perspectives to the research base. As further written by Attard (2017), first, it aligns the algorithm of questioning, critical for the empirical study based on reflection. In other words, the researcher can raise questions about one’s role in the process, considering the effectiveness of the learning community. Such approach allows analyzing in-depth the philosophy, experience, social identity, and pedagogical expertise of an educator with the response to the particular methodology (Mead & Gilson, 2017).

Second, as hidden in the name, S-STEP is not only a tool for generating and analyzing data but also an ultimate way of studying for the practitioners (Bullock & Sator, 2018). High level of relatability to the findings of the research increase the rate of teachers’ engagement with the results and their further implications.

Basic Approaches in S-STEP Methodology

While the scope of this paper does not allow to describe all the approaches in S-STEP methodology, this section will serve as a brief accountant of the vast majority of the data collection techniques. As indicated by the name, self-study research is mostly focused on one’s personal teaching inquiries, wherein an educator openly and systematically examines the practice while elaborating on the criticism obtained from multiple points of views (Hordvik, MacPhail, & Ronglan, 2017). In terms of transforming one’s professional skills, such an approach seems to be the most valid, encompassing methodology that arises from individual experience but can be attainable by the rest of the educators in the field.

The overarching goal of the self-study, however, does not limit researchers in terms of the utilized methods. Teachers may apply S-STEP through interviews, participatory research, autoethnography, artistic methods, personal experiences, and other techniques. In this case, similar to the process in most research methodologies, the focus of the interviews lies in the quality of the responses (Strom, Mills, Abrams, & Dacey, 2018).

A high-quality response balances between spontaneous, well-developed answers, short questions, interpretations, and reliability of self-report. After the interview, the researcher conducts the data analysis on the basis of the grounded theory (Strom et al., 2018). Closely linked to teacher education, participatory research method for data collection examines the researcher’s practices in response to one’s goals, external standards, and diverse institutional constraints (Morettini, Brown, & Viator, 2018). Such an approach is best suitable for the exploration of cyclic patterns in the classroom, including group dynamics and cultural constructions.

Unlike in the interviews, the process of using personal experience for a research-based study varies from traditional qualitative research. To effectively use personal experience in self-study, the researcher should adhere to five basic characteristics of the inquiry: trustworthy, self-initiated, interactive, improvement-aimed, and using qualitative methods. In this situation, when analyzing the obtained data, an educator should use individual perspectives on a certain issue (Andrew, Richards, & Ressler, 2016).

At this point, an impasse in the research methodology may arise, since, at its core, the academic study does not validate subjective interpretations from the conductor of the experiment. However, it is critical to consider the interrelatedness of the participatory and overseeing roles in self-study, as disregarding a personal element in the process leads to the limitations in research design.

Holding a supreme role in the self-study research, autoethnography is a way of identifying stories of teaches with the existing theoretical framework. This method of data collection primarily focuses on the role of the researcher, balancing between concepts of insider and outsider in the study (Dillon, 2017). Though valuable in terms of in-depth uncovering of the relationships between selves and others, autoethnography can be time-consuming and lacking objectivity (Dillon, 2017).

As noted by Berry and Forgash (2018), another methodology in S-STEP refers to the usage of artistic methods to convey nontraditional research. Reflecting upon the transformative nature of the arts, educators attempt to create guidelines for the resolution of one’s fragmented self. This term means that a teacher should first identify the facets of his own personality before educating others (Berry & Forgash, 2018). According to the artistic methods approach, the best way to separate one’s self into several dimensions is through unstructured usage of art (Hamilton & Pinnegar, 2015). This methodology relies mostly on data analysis, being open to multiple interpretations.

Five Steps in Self-Study Methods of Data Collection

Regardless of the varied methodological stance of S-STEP approach, there exist several universal guidelines for all the aforementioned methods, each involving reflection, critical thinking, and rigor as key characteristics. As illustrated by Chang et al. (2016), first, the researcher should create an original research question based on his own practice and generated mainly from personal experiential observations. Second, the educator should collaborate with a team of knowledgeable colleagues who can provide a supportive and intellectually safe environment for expressing one’s personal opinions (Fletcher, 2016). As a deeply personal matter, self-study emerges through feedback from others processed via reflection in learning and thinking.

Third, the teacher is responsible for outlining and planning new pedagogies for enhanced learning. The key idea of this step lies in the researcher’s own realization of the value of his research to others (Lovelace et al., 2017). When questioning the value of one’s study, the educator has a higher chance to engage in improved teaching through improved learning. In other words, step three mainly focuses on learning from mistakes and renewing the old paradigm of thinking in response to the newly obtained insights. Fourth, the educator should evaluate the research process when enacting the document (Makaiau, Leng, & Fukui, 2015).

Transparent, clear, and accurate, this step should involve a two-sided conversation with colleagues and peer review. Unless self-study teachers state the problems arisen explicitly, little can be done to address the issue. Probing questions and alternative perspectives contribute to the fifth and final step in the process: generating and sharing the learned information (Patrizio & Stone-Johnson, 2016). Based on the fruitful discussion with other experts in the field, the researcher should make the study public, improving the world pedagogical knowledge base. Once the basic approaches and steps in self-study methodology are outlined, it is possible to examine three of the most common methods of data collection.

Usage of Text for Data Collection

One of the primary methods of data collection in self-study, texts are divided into two categories: self-generated and published. Both types of text provide equal opportunities for problematizing the practice and providing assumptions for the propositional understanding. As noted by Pithouse-Morgan, Coia, Taylor, and Samaras (2016), to use this method effectively, researchers may record their personal experiences in a factual and detailed manner, generalizing the meaning from their practice to the overall methodology of teaching.

Examples of using text as a method for data collection include autobiography, narrative inquiry, anthropology, and qualitative research, which appeared during teachers’ collaboration and in the process of teaching histories (Pithouse-Morgan et al., 2016). In this method, special attention is paid to the pedagogical context and development of the overarching research question to provide guidelines for data analysis.

Usage of Dialogue for Data Collection

Developed from the usage of text, another method for data collection in the self-study research is dialogue. Instead of relying on the existing texts, educators derive novel context in the process of sharing stories with their students (Grant & Butler, 2018). In response, students resonate with the received information, telling their own narratives, according to the reciprocity principle (Ressler & Richards, 2019). This method emphasizes the role of an experiential approach in narrating, wherein storytelling transforms from the tool of solely telling the story to a reflective approach, seeking for the construction of professional knowledge (Kim, Wee, & Kim, 2018). Usage of dialogue can be most effective for validating the narrative inquiry and restoring the teaching of children in developing education programs.

Usage of Narrative Self-Studies for Data Collection

Once appeared as a part of the dialogue method, narrative can also be used as a separate means for educators’ professional development. Such an approach focuses on the connection between artifacts of teaching practice, such as lessons, reflections, feedback, and the resolution of conflicts in the classroom (Korthagen, 2017). Narrative self-study effectively uses dialogue as a methodological tool to generate and analyze data while posing challenges both in terms of creation and investigation of the conversational principles (Ressler & Richards, 2019). This method heavily relies on the concept of insight, rooted in the clarity provided by the structure of the self-study dialogue.

Usage of Visuals for Data Collection

A distinctive method for data collection in self-study among teachers is the usage of visuals. In this situation, visuals can have a function of data and prompt for reflection in the process, depending on the nature of the inquiry. As written by Hannigan, Raphael, White, Bragg, and Clark (2016), in this method, researchers collect information on the basis of pictures, drawings, paintings, collages, documentaries, and videos as ways of recording the professional experience. Such visual representations help educators to analyze the significance of space and place in the research culture with the intention of creating an improved collective understanding for the distribution of class area (Hannigan et al., 2016).

This method can be specifically valuable in the process of developing small-scale exhibitions, organizing the classroom for the discussions, and providing place for the small-group presentations. Unlike narrative, the usage of visual cannot be utilized simultaneously as a data generation and a data analysis tool.

Conclusion

Self-study, also known as S-STEP, is a novel research methodology in teaching, focused on the close analysis of one’s personal experience in the classroom. Enhanced by collaboration, rigor, and critical thinking, this approach provides valuable insights for an educator, contributing to the practitioner’s professional development. The most common methods of data collection used in self-study include usage of text, dialogue, narratives, and visuals as primary sources for reflection on past encounters.

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