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Principals supported to become 'practitioner researchers' in their own schools

Published:10 June 2019

Front: David Turner, Sue Davis, Jo Dargusch (on screen), Angelina Ambrosetti, Zoe Smith. Standing: Peter Keen, Kylie Todhunter, Claudine Moncur-White, Trevor Davison, Bruce Knight, Trevor Buchanan.

An exciting new partnership has been established by CQUniversity and the Queensland Association for State School Principals (QASSP) to pilot a new approach to educational research and professional development.

A cohort of principals will be mentored by CQUniversity academics as they undertake a Doctor of Education, exploring issues and opportunities of relevance to their schools and the education profession.

This new model has been developed by Dr David Turner, who leads the professional learning program for QASSP (and is a CQUniversity Ed D graduate himself) and Associate Professor Susan Davis, Deputy Dean of Research for the School of Education and the Arts.

While the value of practitioner-research in schools is well understood, this work is often not undertaken by principals.

There are many important issues, perspectives and knowledge systems that principals have access to, and their opportunity to conduct applied research in educational contexts is unparalleled.

“Principals are busy people, but I thought if we presented this as a unique professional development opportunity, working together in a cohort approach with a university, we might be able to make a unique contribution to the research community,” says Dr Turner.

“From our perspective, this was a perfect fit,” affirmed Associate Professor Davis, “considering CQUniversity’s focus on applied research, working with professional communities and industry on research that aims to make a difference".

A pilot program is beginning this year, with Dr Turner starting with 40 expressions of interest for an initial developmental program, gradually whittled down to five who are now enrolling to begin their Doctor of Education.

The group met in Brisbane recently, along with CQUniversity supervisors who were suitably impressed with the quality and value of the projects.

One of the candidates is Principal Trevor Buchanan who is based in the Townsville region. He is investigating identification and preparation programs for principalship. This work recognises some of the issues facing the profession, with many younger teachers reluctant to put their hands up for the role or identify as aspirants.

Mr Buchanan says he's stepping up to undertake research and study at this level because "studying a doctorate allows me to extend the depth of my work, to connect and broaden my community of learners and hopefully provide a benefit to the profession".

"There is a real purpose to the research that I hope can make a difference, and I also hope I can show that principals can lead the way through demonstrating life-long learning," he says.

The new students will each have their own supervision team as per the usual doctoral model but will also meet several times a year for professional development, and to share and collaborate.

The first cohort includes:

Trevor Buchanan – supervised by Professor Trevor Davison

Kylie Todhunter- supervised by Associate Professor Angelina Ambrosetti

Claudine Moncur-White – supervised by Professor Bruce Knight

Peter Keen – supervised by Dr Joanne Dargusch

Zoe Smith – supervised by Associate Prof Susan Davis

With Dr David Turner being a common associate supervisor for the team.

Enquiries about the program and future cohorts should be addressed to Associte Professor Susan Davis via s.davis@cqu.edu.au or Dr David Turner via David@qassp.org.au