A free-to-download practical handbook from the British Council
Mentoring Teachers to Research Their Classrooms: A Practical Handbook
By Richard Smith (University of Warwick, UK)
British Council India, 2020
Far too many involved in ELT spend their working lives just teaching – which sounds like an odd way to begin, I know, but for most of my career that’s all I did. During one problematic year, however, some younger colleagues asked me for a bit of help, so I observed them in the classroom and later suggested various points we could investigate together. If this scenario resonates with you in your own institution, then this free to download handbook could help alter your ELT career trajectory.
The introduction outlines how although guidelines for general mentoring are available, there is little guidance to enable mentors to support teacher-research. This handbook bridges this gap by offering ideas on how to involve teachers in exploratory research and will be of most value to teacher educators mentoring others to research their classroom and potential mentors who want to know more.
Early chapters in Part One cover the foundations of teacher research along with the benefits for all involved. The author demystifies research here, too, which in my own experience with getting colleagues on board is half the battle. In the first of many excellent tasks, we learn how ‘teacher-research is practitioner research – usually classroom-based – initiated and carried out by and for teachers, for their own benefit and that of their students.’ (page 8).
Chapter three explains how a mentor is needed to help teachers become more systematic in their reflections, helping them transition from reflective practitioner to teacher-researcher and motivate them through challenging stages. We are also able to listen here to a mentor, Esther Gloria Sahu, who talks about her experience of needing to address teachers’ fears that classroom research will involve extra work at school (page 21).
The following chapter focuses on thinking carefully about who to mentor. Task 4.1 (page 23) I would particularly recommend completing prior to making firm decisions on this, while related advice from experienced mentors in the answer key at the back of the handbook is well worth heeding here. Planning a timeline, communicating, and keeping records are the essentials of productive mentoring and in chapter five we read about the importance of scheduling meetings and tracking progress. Part One ends on the importance of mentors’ development via reflecting on and evaluating their practice.
Part Two looks at the process of teacher research, beginning with helping teachers choose a suitable topic. The author points out how it can be hard for teachers to choose one among the many issues facing them, plus how the mentor can suggest criteria to help them with this process. Chapter eight deals with guiding teachers to develop suitably effective research questions, while chapter nine covers an area teachers have probably never formally carried out before and thus require the most help with: data collection, and especially getting permission to do so.
The final three chapters cover supporting teachers in analysing and interpreting both quantitative and qualitative data, plus how to suitably code and categorise the latter. This is perhaps the most daunting phase for novice researchers, who tend to believe data has to be in numerical form to be understood, and the suggestion to hold a workshop covering such matters is one I would fully agree with. Also looked at is supporting teachers to plan and evaluate change, since a mentor needs to encourage critical interpretation of action research findings. Helping teachers share and reflect on their research is vital; the author suggests this may take place via conference presentations, article writing and multi-modally online.
The final chapter ends with a checklist of competencies revisited for mentors who have completed their reading of this handbook, plus a long list of hyperlinks to valuable sources such as reports of teacher research and mentoring research. This handbook will prove an invaluable resource to ELT departments wishing to encourage teachers to explore, understand and improve their classroom contexts.