Wow, I have so much to say that I can't blog it all in one entry (SIDE NOTE: I'm trying to give myself permission to write shorter entries so that I'll post more regularly :). In fact, this entry started out as a comment on Rebecca's blog that was just going on far too long. Incidentally, you should go read that entry because it's a really good one.
Her entry brings up the question: In any given classroom situation--say, student making and commenting loudly on his dragon drawings in book club while other students are trying to talk about the book--how do you manage the observant researcher with the dutiful teacher? Because they often aren't the same thing.
This tension between the dual roles of the teacher researcher comes up on a regular basis in teacher researcher Karen Gallas's work, too [see NOTE below]. She's done her t-r in a primary classroom, and she's usually looking at some pretty hot-button issues like race, gender, and class and how these get played out among young children.
My teacher research group in Oklahoma and I used to talk about the dual-role tension in her work because we sometimes questioned whether or not the teacher in us would let a particular activity go on to the extent it did in Gallas's classroom all in the name of collecting data.
I just now looked at what "the Marians," as Bud calls them, had to say about this tension [Marion Maclean and Marian Mohr are the authors of Teacher Researchers at Work]. They describe an almost identical scenario to the one Rebecca describes where a kid is being disruptive during writing time. Here's how the Marians describe the teacher researcher's reaction:
"As a teacher researcher, you are trying to observe, describe, and reflect on what is happening in the classroom: to question, not to make assumptions. In your research log, you write your observations of Jeff's behaviour and make notes on reactions or the lack of reactions by the rest of the class. You jot down your own feelings and reaction, too. Finally, as a researcher, you make a note to ask jeff a question later that will help you understand the function of his pen-tapping during that day's journal writing.
But you are also the teacher, and in that role you have a responsibility to make the classroom an environment in whihc everyone can work...As a teacher, you want Jeff to be quiet and to get his writing done even though you may wonder why he isn't writing. In this situation you experience a tension between your responsibilitites as a classroom manager and classroom researcher, but your examination of Jeff's writing practices adds insights to your teaching as well as data to your research" (p. 107).
That pretty much hits the nail on the head, doesn't it? The Marians don't offer any easy answers, but they go on to say that the researcher stance is helpful in that it provides what they call some "involved distance" that allows the teacher researcher to view the kid's behavior at hand as "something of interest...points of change, informative shifts, and important clues to the learning process" (p. 108). They suggest, and I think I agree, that "(t)he research process, while it requires immersion in classroom tensions, helps [the teacher researcher] gain some control and authority over her work from an involved distance....For a teacher researcher, the shift in stance is not a shift away from being a teacher toward being a researcher. It is more a shift away from being only a participant, even a thoughtful and conscientious one, toward being someone who has the distance to take a look at the participant role. That means being prepared to address the tensions and questions that characterize the experience of doing both at the same time. Addressing those tensions and questions is one source of the depth of understanding that results from being a teacher-researcher. We are not teachers OR researchers, but both" (pp. 114-115).
So what should the teacher researcher do? Step in and insist that the kid quit disrupting others or keep observing as long as things don't get out of hand and see what the kids themselves will do? I'd say it depends--on what the teacher research question is to begin with (e.g., does it have to do with social interaction in a book club setting?) and what else I can predict about where this behavior is likely to head based on prior patterns I've observed in the classroom.
Regardless of the decision, however, clearly, ethics become an issue the minute you set out to conduct teacher research in your classroom.
One last word from Marian Mohr's "Teacher-Researcher Statement of Ethics" in Jane Zeni's Ethical Issues in Practitioner Research, a chapter we'll probably read in the summer session of the CSUWP Advanced Institute:
"1. The Teacher-Researcher Role. Teacher-researchers are teachers first. They respect those with whom they work, openly sharing information about their research. While they seek understanding and knolwedge, they also nurture the well-being of others, both students and professional colleagues."
So who are you today:)?
*NOTE: You can find a really interesting review of Gallas's book Sometimes I Can Be Anything in Education Review. In it, William Pawluck comments on the dual roles of a teacher researcher and also has a good deal to say about how the seeming insularity of Gallas's teacher research methodology is tempered by her involvement in the Brookline Teacher Research Group.