Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Experiencing Community: How it Makes for Good Researchers

Fragment of a Felt Panel By the Author

 I have pretty much always felt that creating a strong, positive classroom community/culture is good for any and all instruction, from kindergarten through adulthood.  It's my background, my roots in progressive education, the 60's, you name it.  I knew it was important for developing good writers (yes, I had also been through lots of writing/reading process workshops). 

But I really hadn't understood until I got to the end of this particular doctoral level qualitative research course (Fall Semester 2014:  07.704) that community was equally important for developing excellence in qualitative research, not because it made the instruction "take" better, but because it literally made people better in the field doing the research.  It took my students, as usual, to show me how this worked.

We were having our very last discussion of the semester and talking about what had happened in the 14 weeks we had been together.  I asked them about the community we had developed in the classroom during that time.  As they talked about the importance to them of "being heard", "everyone being respected" "being able to share divergent opinions" "testing ideas out" "being allowed to speak their mind"--it suddenly clicked for me.  I realized that if they experienced these notions in the classroom, and if they embodied that experience of openness or safety, they would be able to go into the field and share that experience with the participants of their studies.  In other words, they would be able to talk to their researchees without fear, recreating for that person an open and questioning attitude, a characteristic of the best interviewers.  Or they would be able to observe a classroom with bracketed judgment, a trait of the best observers.

For the first time since I began to teach qualitative research (1998 is when I officially started down this path!), I began to see the entire scope of what happened in the classroom as pertinent to research training.  In other words, I broke down the barrier that had existed in my mind between teaching research and being a student or teacher, and conducting research and being a researcher or participant.

I tried to articulate this to the group, but I think they may have thought I was beginning to lose it!  It was a profound moment for me, and as usual I owe it to my students.

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