Module 1: Overview of Finding, Selecting, and Writing for Practitioner Journals in Education

RR graphic - no words.jpg  Module 1: Overview of Finding, Selecting, and Writing for Practitioner Journals in Education

Module 1: Overview of Finding, Selecting, and Writing for Practitioner Journals in Education

Essential Questions 

  1. What are “practitioners”? 
  2. What is practitioner research?
  3. What are some of the benefits of engaging in practitioner research and publication?  

Defining a Practitioner

What is a practitioner? Teachers, administrators, or support staff found in early childhood through college-level settings are practitioners. While the term “practitioner” is most frequently used to describe early childhood, elementary, and secondary classroom teachers, in reality, practitioners is a broad term to describe someone who is actively embedded in the growth and learning of children, adolescent, and adults within or around a school setting. A practitioner, then, is someone who is constantly practicing his or her craft, seeking to refine strategies and skills to improve student learning and performance (Morris, Coleman, Toscano, Healy, & Imms, 2019). 

What sets some educators apart from others is that devoted practitioners go the extra mile to take part in professional development to improve their skillset, examine their own practices, and use effective teaching practices. Even more, these practitioners do not work in isolation; they attempt to engage in a community of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998, 2000), or a network of devoted educators, to improve their skill set and get better at their craft. Never settling for mediocrity in their work with students sets educators apart from true practitioners who are actively devoted to their work, beyond standard job expectations (Morris, Coleman, Toscano, Healy, & Imms, 2019)  

Defining Practitioner Research 

For those who have spent substantial time in a school, questions about the practice and craft of teaching arise. 

  • Why do students behave in particular ways at the beginning of the day versus the end of the day? 
  • Why was one assessment harder for students than another assessment? 
  • Why do some students struggle with a particular task while others don’t? 
  • Why do certain technological tools seem to enhance learning while others seem to detract from learning? 

All the questions that bounce around in a practitioner’s mind that impacts their teaching and students’ learning is fodder for research. Practitioner research, then, is any research conducted in schools by PreK-16 practitioners on their own practice and their own efficacies, or lack thereof. Practitioner research allows for reflection upon one’s efforts as an educator, attempts to improve one’s efficacy, and analyzes the outcome of those efforts to improve.

Why Engage in Practitioner Research 

Practitioner research is needed for countless reasons. Entire books are devoted to this subject (see, for example, Sagor, 2005; Sagor, 2010; Stringer, 2008), but one primary reason is that practitioner research is a way to professionalize and reinvigorate the teaching workforce. As teacher attrition rates climb (Carver-Thomas & Darling-Hammond, 2017), professionalization can lead to greater connectedness amongst teachers and staff in a school, greater public support, and improve teaching and learning outcomes. Linda Darling-Hammond (2017), professor of education at Stanford University and president of the Learning Policy Institute, and her team of researchers argue that teacher growth and support are what sets certain educational systems apart from others. There are many ways to professionalize teaching like advocacy work and taking on leadership positions in the field (Gojak, 2014), but practitioner research is one way to add knowledge to the field and also improve educator efficacy and student learning. 

Practitioner research also helps enhance motivation and efficacy of teachers. Because attrition rates are high, it is important that practitioners stay motivated to help energize the workforce and prevent education from becoming a field devoid of innovation and progress (Morris, Coleman, Toscano, Healy, & Imms, 2019). Practitioners who engage in classroom research can stay abreast of new educational trends and troubleshoot problems in the classroom to improve student learning and teacher satisfaction. 

Classrooms are more diverse than ever before (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017). Linguistic, racial, ethnic, and religious diversity in schools is at an all-time high. Teachers, administrators, and support staff must be prepared to meet the needs of a variety of learners. Specifically, practitioner research helps identify specific needs of specific students and the pathways to supporting those students. For instance, if a teacher conducts research on why a subgroup of learners like English learners struggle on a certain type of assessment, then that teacher can better instruct, support, and prepare the learners for the next assessment. Plus, researching one’s own school or classroom helps answer the most pressing, time-sensitive questions that arise when dealing with unique populations of students. 

Finally, practitioner research helps educators find success in a standards-based, test-focused system. With the increase in prescribed curriculum and pressures to teach to the test (Walker, 2017), practitioner research allows educators to stay interested, engaged, and focused on student learning when distractions move to the forefront of the mind.

Publishing Practitioner Research 

While many educators engage in formal and informal query into how they can improve classroom learning, publication is often a point of resistance. Perhaps it is the busy life of a teacher or testing pressures or the challenges of servant leadership where the educator’s main goal is to serve others rather than to help an organization flourish (Greenleaf, 1977), but many practitioners do not move on to the next stage of the inquiry process, which is to disseminate findings in a public way so that other educators can benefit. 

The publishing process can be daunting for many educators, especially when their commitment is to students rather than to traditional academia. National trends suggest a “demoralization” of the teaching field due to high-stakes testing and loss of teacher autonomy where the “moral rewards” of teaching are decreasing (Walker, 2017, 2018). One solution to this “demoralization” is by involving educators in finding solutions. Practitioner publication, then, has the potential to “re-moralize” the profession by giving educators the space to investigate problems and identify solutions within schools and classrooms alongside a community of invested stakeholders. The research and publication process can help educators take informed action to improve schools while putting autonomy back in the hands of those who serve on the frontline – teachers, administrators, and support staff. All of this helps to build a coalition of committed practitioners seeking to improve the field of education for generations to come.

Suggested Readings 


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