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Blog post Practitioner research and commentary in a networked society

CollectivED: Curating voices in professional learning

Rachel Lofthouse, Leeds Beckett University

The thread

As a new professor I was invited to establish a research and practice centre, and it was suggested by the dean of my school that creating a working paper series would be a valuable output. The idea both enticed me and created some anxiety. Would I be able to encourage enough people to contribute? Would they be read? Would it detract from my capacity to undertake work deemed significant in external evaluation? While these questions bubbled up, I could not erase the thought that I could take the thread of this conversation and use it to create something new and of value.

In two 2018 BERA blog posts, Alice Sullivan and Erik Mellander discussed the roles of working papers in education as an academic discipline with a traditional publishing culture. Sullivan noted the role that they can play in giving timely insight into research findings to policymakers, practitioners and parents. Mellander argued that for authors they should be viewed as legitimate intermediate publications. Both are valid arguments from an academic perspective. However, in CollectivED we have deliberately extended the remit of working papers to become publications that position writing by practitioners alongside that of academics. While purists might baulk at this, I would argue that by doing so we have extended their reach and potential value.

The quilt

CollectivEd: The Mentoring and Coaching Hub is the research and practice centre based in the Carnegie School of Education at Leeds Beckett University, and is the centre I established following that initial conversation. Our aim is to support professionals and researchers in a shared endeavour of enabling professional practice and learning that has integrity and the potential to be transformative. In our work we are interested in all voices, we aim to learn from many experiences and we engage with and undertake research.

‘CollectivEd’s aim is to support professionals and researchers in a shared endeavour of enabling professional practice and learning that has integrity and the potential to be transformative.’

Between December 2017 and March 2019 we have published, as an open access resource, seven issues of CollectivED working papers, which now encompass over 100 papers with perspectives from 13 countries, making them a key aspect of our work.

The working papers are an opportunity to connect educational practice, policy and research. They are written with a diverse audience in mind: teachers, governors and school leaders, academics and students, members of grassroots organisations, advocates, influencers and policymakers at all levels. The working papers enable a diverse range of informed voices in education to coexist in each publication, in order to encourage scholarship and debate.

To achieve this, we publish a range of paper types. Research working papers are typically summaries of empirical research, case studies, action research or research vignettes, and include a consideration of the implications for practice and/or policy at an appropriate scale. Practice insight working papers focus on aspects of educational practice, and offer readers insights into its particular features, its context and the decision-making that shapes it. Think-piece working papers offer opportunities for writers to share opinions, reflections or critiques of education practice, research and/or policy. As our working papers have evolved we have included book and conference reviews, interviews and summaries of CollectivED research symposia. By contributing to our archive of working papers, our writers have helped to create a quilt, with each paper adding a new unique patchwork piece, and the whole representing lived experiences of professional development in education offered through a number of lenses.

The embroidery

As the director of CollectivED and editor of our working papers, I have a natural pride in them. Some schools and universities use them in journal clubs, or to support reflection and decision-making in and about continuing professional development, and some papers are cited in peer-reviewed journals. What matters is not just that additional relevant online content is available to those working to develop evidence-informed policies and practices for teacher education and professional development, but also that we acknowledge the value of a wide range of evidence and how this is both deliberately created and engaged with as a knowledge-base in the field. The working papers have supported our intention to create a new space shared by practitioners and researchers (and of course many of us wear both hats), and as such have contributed to the creation of an inclusive professional education community by giving legitimacy to multiple voices. The original thread is now joined by many more threads illuminating and connecting ideas between the papers and into wider professional and academic lives: a virtual embroidery of personal reflections and conversations that contribute to creating a networked society in education.