What I hope to address in my doctoral studies

As a doctoral student at the Graduate School of Education in Portland State University, one of the first things we are expected to do is to define a problem of practice that we want to address.

For some of us, it starts off as a topic: children and nature, technology in the classroom, sexism in the sciences, etc.

For some of us, and I put myself in this category, it starts from a very personal place.  Actually, I presume that even if we start with a topic, our focused attention to it is influenced by our personal contexts, beliefs, and triggers.

So what is that personal place that triggers me into my doctoral research?

I have now been consulting with early childhood schools for two and a half years.  I’ve worked now with close to two thousand teachers in that time frame.  One very common question I get is this:

“David, I love these ideas, I want to teach this way.  But I can’t because…”

That list of reasons why people can’t try new ideas depend on the school but they tend to be external forces:

  • Too much paperwork already
  • School or organization has committed to a canned or prescriptive curriculum
  • Director tells them what to do
  • Efforts towards accreditation don’t allow room for trying new ideas.

Whether these are real or perceived hurdles also probably depend on the school, but this fact remains: teachers attribute their suppression of creativity and innovation to external forces outside their classroom.


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Now, some of you may read that and already be jumping into solutions.  How to solve that issue.  You’re converging to an answer.

I’m delaying that convergence.  Sure, off the top of my head, I already have four or five ideas that are grounded in research that can attempt to solve this problem.

But I, too, am hungry for innovation.  Instead of landing on a specific solution, I hope that my research proposes a new way to think about the problem.

I propose that educators should have the ability to think like designers.  I include administrators.  And I’m not just talking about design thinking, although design thinking would be part of the framework.

I’m talking about a methodology for planning, collaborating, teaching, learning, and evaluating.  It’s a way of thinking that informs how we act as teachers.

So a sub-question to my research: How might principles of design inform the practice of pedagogy?


It’s still murky. But I like it.  I’m on a path that I will enjoy even when it gets hard.

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1 Response

  1. October 29, 2016

    […] and goopy work of doing research, this is where I’m at in defining my Problem of Practice.  As I mentioned before, defining a problem of practice is the first big task in our doctoral […]

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