The initial planning stages and subsequent development of our statewide professional development program, the Idaho Core Coaching Network, was predicated on the concepts of Design Thinking. This iterative process is never finished: as more teachers join our ranks, we constantly ask for feedback in the form of surveys, reflective questions in dialogue journals, and collaborations between Core Coaches. This feedback informs our goal of continuous improvement, but it does so in such a way the integrates the needs and concerns of those most deeply impacted: the teachers receiving the professional development and the Coaches providing the professional development.
This brief clip (Don Norman and Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO) provides a glimpse into why design thinking provides an additional layer of insight for those concerned with planning, innovation, and problem-solving.
I provide professional development to teachers. This is my passion and my vocation. As a doctoral student, I have grappled with the challenge of being deeply immersed in my subject as a facilitator and dispassionately observing in my role as researcher. And yet, it doesn’t make sense for me to entirely disregard my 15 years in the education field. My experience as a junior high and high school English Language Arts teacher and as a facilitator of professional development for teachers has provided both a substantial foundation of knowledge and a valuable context for the events and practices that I encounter as researcher. And while there is validity in acknowledging the researcher’s bias, there is a long history of acknowledging the valuable role that harnessing the expertise, insights, and “gut checks” of the researcher in question (Mills, 1959; Glense & Peshkin, 1992; Straus, 1987; Reason, 1988) provides. It is this acknowledgement of tensions – the awareness of real, perceived, and potential bias as well as the “virtuous” perspectives and insights of my experience – that girds my research journey.
What do I do? Upon reflection, it seems that I must acknowledge the tension. And so, on this journey of research and dissertation planning, I vow to consciously honor the years of apprenticed and masterful junior high and high school teaching, the years spent honing the art and science of facilitating professional development for adult learners, and the depth and breadth of my own perspective, knowledge, and experience in these roles. I also consciously bound this journey within a flexible netting of researcher awareness. While choosing not to eliminate the influences of my educator identity or background in facilitating professional development, it is also essential that I choose not to impose my assumptions and values upon the research. In this, I am adopting the lens of “critical subjectivity” (Reason, 1988, 1994), that “quality of awareness in which we do not suppress our primary experience; nor do we allow ourselves to be swept away and overwhelmed by it; rather we raise it to consciousness and use it as part of the inquiry process” (1933, p. 12). Instead of allowing myself to be distracted by the binary thinking of either/or, I am embracing the both/and attitude. I am both a researcher and a teacher — and my writing, thinking, and research will only benefit from this union.
As part of my readings and preparations for my Comprehensive Exams and for writing my dissertation proposal, I’ve been reading a couple of books. One of these is Maxwell’s (2013) Qualitative Research Design. Chapter 3 suggests drafting a Researcher Identity Memo. Here is an excerpt, the first of several that I’ll eventually post, which explores my identity as professional development facilitator.
I have very powerful memories of both watching and experiencing effective professional development and non-examples of the same. I began to internalize these experiences, almost without conscious thought, and creating experiences for teachers that mitigated the negative aspects and enhanced the positive. Because I realized the importance of mentoring another facilitator into position, I began the arduous task of explaining my rationale of my choices to her. This was painful, both for me and, I imagine, for her. Sometimes I could not clearly articulate my choices and the underlying rationale without resorting to drawn diagrams and a great deal of narrative explanation. However, over time, the process solidified and the communication became more fluid, the rationale more easily accessed. This particular facilitator and I now work seamlessly, a team in the truest sense of the word, both of us able to brainstorm, plan deep learning experiences and active learning activities, and articulate the rationale for both content and strategy decisions. The act of mentorship honed my own facilitator abilities and forced me to articulate the rational for my actions.
This was an interesting activity that helped me name and label the seminal events and milestones that shaped my research interests and led me to this current space in my professional life. If you’re interested in doing the same, read the section on “Experiential Knowledge” (pp. 44-48) of Chapter 3.