Should teachers be ‘expected’ to read peer reviewed journal articles? A blog post that has not been peer-reviewed and is based purely on my opinion!

I’ve recently arrived at the point in my masters degree where I’m preparing to write my dissertation. A daunting task, but one I’m looking forward to due to the topic I’ll be researching. In preparation for this I’m undertaking module called ‘Research in Coaching and Mentoring’.

The aim, as outlined in the module guide, is as follows:

To develop students’ knowledge of a range of research approaches, methods and techniques appropriate to the study of coaching and mentoring. It also develops faculties of critical evaluation of research carried out and reported by others, particularly with regard to claims for the ‘evidence-base’ of coaching and mentoring in professional practice. Students will be introduced to research methodology, and how research is written, disseminated and evaluated. Students are given the opportunity to explore and critique current research in coaching and mentoring and develop a critical literature review.

Research in Coaching and Mentoring Module Handbook, Oxford Brookes University (2019)

Despite holding a 2:1 BSc in Technology Management, a Postgraduate Diploma in Biblical Studies, a Post graduate Certificate in Coaching and Mentoring Practice and a PGCE, the contents of this module feel completely new to me and one which I approached with caution.

Qualitative and quantitative methods, paradigms, ontology, epistemology, abstracts and critique, are words which have become part of my daily vocabulary and over the past ten months I’ve read more journal articles that I have in my entire post-GSCE lifetime – which is about 30 years!

How on earth have you got this far without knowing the vocabulary? You may well ask. I haven’t got a clue, is my simple response. Perhaps I was absent on the days we looked at those areas during my first degree and the study of the three postgraduate qualifications I hold. The fact of the matter is I am where I am, but what I’m appreciating now more than ever before is the value that reading research, in particular peer-reviewed journal articles can have on my own personal and professional development.

The main focus of most of the articles I’ve read recently has been on coaching, theories of adult learning, Transactional Analysis (TA) and the use of TA in schools, all areas which hold a great deal of interest for me. The more I’ve read, the more I’ve wanted to find out more. The more I’ve wanted to find out more, the more I’ve searched for articles. It’s become a bit of a hobby, rather than just a need to complete an assignment. I’ve encountered opinions I agree with and ones I’ve disagreed with. Research which has a clear slant towards obtaining specific findings and research has informed my thinking and way of approaching things. I have read research written by academics from different continents and research which hasn’t meant a darn thing and I’ve abandoned after the reading the second paragraph of the abstract.

My reading has made me feel more confident to discuss certain topics, not because I suddenly feel like an expert, but because I have the vocabulary to enter into these discussions and feel able to offer a more informed opinion.  

When I asked the question ‘should teachers be ‘expected’ to read peer reviewed journal articles?’ my response was and still is yes and this is in part due to the reasons I’ve given about my own experiences. Journal articles provide a good starting point – whether the article is something you agree or disagree with. When you read a journal article, some of which then go on to become published books, you also get a comprehensive list of references, which may be books, blogs, government documents or articles, but which provide more fuel for the topical fire and again, enable the reader to make a more informed judgement on a topic.

Time is always a factor, this is something that will never change and this, alongside accessibility to journal articles is a stumbling block, however this does not mean it’s not possible to do.  

Meta-analysis is a great way of synthesising (get me with the big words), data and information relating to particular studies and providing easy access to said studies. However, the merging of such studies is still based on the opinions of a few and criticality is still required on the part of the reader in order to decide what aspects they think are worth taking away and applying to practice and which they feel hold no value. Questioning what is read is still something the reader has to do; you can’t swallow everything whole.

For me, the ‘expectation’ is about the need to continually develop your practice. It doesn’t have to be done with a view to implementing new methodologies, it’s about being more aware. It’s about becoming more discerning about how you take on board the information that’s presented to you. If you’re planning to implement new ideas, it’s about seeing what’s be done before, how it went, why it worked or didn’t work. It’s about understanding that some research studies are carried out in settings that may be nothing like your own because they’re in a different part of the country, or the world, or have different cohorts of children. Or because the author owns a company that may rely on the research outcomes or is a member of a certain political party who want to implement certain practices and need to use ‘research’ to justify this.

Peer-reviewed journal articles mean the piece has gone through some sort of process, unlike this blog post which I’ve just written and posted and have no-one that I need to justify my opinions to. Even if those who are peer-reviewing (and as I understand it, authors never actually know – although can sometimes work out – who is reviewing their article), have their own bias and opinions and their feedback demonstrates this, there is still a process.

From a professional development point of view and the value I believe it can provide, I do think there should be an expectation. The question that remains is how to make it accessible and not burdensome for those expected to do it.  

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