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Education Research Resources and Opportunities at CTF and Member Organizations

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Research comprises one of the key strategic and supportive activities at the Canadian Teachers’ Federation. Through our work, we support the short- and long-term needs and objectives of our Member organizations and position ourselves as the “go to” national voice on publicly funded K-12 education in Canada. The CTF has a long history of monitoring and analyzing critical trends and issues in public education, including: teacher salaries, collective bargaining, education funding, commercialization and privatization, teacher workload and well-being, recruitment and retention, among many other issues. Our research draws on the strengths, interests, and needs of our Member organizations, and provides teachers with the knowledge and tools to support and empower their practices and profession. Research at the CTF is guided by our commitment to quality publicly funded K-12 education, and to protecting and advancing the needs and working conditions of teachers across Canada who are at the heart of public education.

Research, therefore, serves both practical and strategic purposes. One important function is to lend evidentiary support and clarification on issues of importance to teachers and Member organizations. It may be necessary, for example, to determine how many students are in a given jurisdiction, how many teachers are expected to retire in a given year, or the average salary of a beginning teacher in a comparable salary category. To answer these questions, research staff at CTF and Member organizations conduct demographic and labour market projections, and analyze collective agreements, respectively. Researchers utilize tools such as Ministerial-level student statistics, Statistics Canada labour market data, and salary grids within collective agreements, to answer questions that are vital to understanding learning conditions for students and working conditions for teachers across Canada. The CTF houses many of these research tools and reports in its research library and on its Members’ Only site, particularly via Infosource, a portal that supplies, among other things, historical collective bargaining and pension data and documentation, as well as pan-Canadian survey data. The CTF, in particular, has a mandate to provide Pan-Canadian analyses across multiple issues areas.

These types of quantitative analyses are further complemented by research tools and approaches that rely on qualitative or face-to-face engagement with individuals and groups of teachers, leaders and representatives from Member organizations, and other education stakeholders. The CTF and its Member organizations provide numerous workshops, events, conferences, and teacher inquiry and action research opportunities, as well as engage in extensive and rigorous member surveying, interviewing, and focus groups. The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation has compiled an excellent bibliography on many of these research approaches and methodologies.

Action research, as an example of an education research methodology, is a type of qualitative research that centers teachers as researchers and problem-solvers (ETFO, 2016) [1]. Action research is a participatory and intentional process of inquiring into a problem, planning for, and implementing change. The Alberta Teachers’ Association has developed an excellent resource, “Action Research Guide for Alberta Teachers” and many CTF Member organizations provide research grants and other opportunities for their members to develop and conduct their own action research projects.

CTF Member organizations also provide their members with valuable teacher inquiry opportunities, through grants and/or programming. The BC Teachers’ Federation, for example, has a well-established Teacher Inquiry Program (TIP) that provides participants with the opportunity to develop a focused inquiry question, plan and conduct data collection, analyze and interpret their findings, reflect on and rethink practice, and finally, share their results. The unique quality of the BCTF TIP program is that it is teacher-led; teachers have the professional autonomy to choose and decide on the focus of their inquiry project. The process is the key as teachers have the time to explore and design their own question and participants in the program are led by trained teacher-facilitators of teacher inquiry[2].

These opportunities allow teachers to engage critically with issues to support problem-solving and/or advocacy. Teachers’ participation in research activities helps to amplify all voices within the teaching profession, ensuring that the CTF and its Member organizations align their work with the real needs and perspectives of teachers. Research, therefore, also supports the strategic needs of the profession and CTF Member organizations. Increasingly, policy decision-making has adopted the terminology and emphasis of being “evidence-based”. Indeed, this term is so commonplace that it seems to have lost some of its meaning or has devolved to simply mean “supported by data”. In a world that increasingly transforms much of human experience into data, a process defined as “datafication” (for more information, see the joint Education International, Alberta Teachers’ Association and CTF project: “We the Educators”), there is a tendency to equate the use of data with “evidence-based”.

In actuality, evidence-based refers to findings that are deemed to be sufficiently rigorous, having met established standards in research planning, data collection, analysis, and, wherever possible, peer review and/or systematic review. With respect to peer and systematic review, the former relates to research that has undergone blind reviews by experts in the field, while the latter compares findings from a group of studies examining similar phenomena (a review, for example, of studies looking at technology implementation in primary-level classrooms). These criteria tend to be employed more extensively in academic research, although many research staff at Member organizations present their research at national and international scholarly conferences, including the Canadian Society for the Study of Education and the American Educational Research Association conferences.

The CTF and its Member organizations, therefore, conduct multiple forms of research that are translated into evidence‑based reporting, collective bargaining activity, and advocacy. There is more work to be done, though. We need to continue to work together as a Federation of Member organizations to align research plans and/or collaborate on research where appropriate and useful, to leverage evidence into coordinated action, and to continually work to improve our research processes and reach in influencing education policymaking. We must also recognize and offer thanks to the teachers who lend their voices, through research and advocacy, to our collective efforts to advance the values of a strong, publicly funded K-12 education system and improved teaching and learning conditions for all. Thank you from your CTF research team.

[1] For excellent primers on Action Research, see: Flynn, T et al. Learning Through Teacher Research: A Guidebook for your Action Research Journey. Toronto, ON: ETFO, 2016., and Carr, W. and Kemmis, S. (1986). Becoming Critical: Education, Knowledge and Action Research. Sussex: Falmer Press.

[2] Source: Henry Lee, Assistant Director, Professional and Social Issues Division, BCTF.

(Sherri Brown is Director of Research and Professional Learning at the CTF)