Action Research in Practice with Jo Fletcher-Saxon – Universal Learning with Saj Mohammad
Please Note: This transcript has been slightly edited to improve readability.
Saj Mohammad: In this series, I’ll be talking to professionals inside and outside education, as well as parents, carers, and learners themselves about their experiences of inclusive practice.
I’m on a mission to discover as much as possible about inclusion, because I’ve been a learning support practitioner for over six years and I’ve come to realise that many of the adjustments we make for students with additional needs could benefit all learners. For example, making things easy to read helps dyslexic students, while using clear language can benefit autistic learners. So, shouldn’t inclusive practice be part of our normal routine when planning teaching, learning, and assessment?
In an ideal world, I’d like educators to stop thinking about inclusive practices as another chore to be added to an ever-expanding workload. In actual fact, I believe that inclusive practice can ultimately make life easier by making learning more accessible for all of our students.
This is the second episode in a two-part special on action research. As I mentioned in the last episode, action research is a term used to describe research that is done by practitioners themselves in the environments they work in. In other words, it isn’t academics doing experiments in highly controlled environments. It’s people like teachers and learning support practitioners trialling interventions in their own classrooms. I am a great advocate for action research as I believe that it can greatly improve our practice which results in better outcomes for students.
In the previous episode, I talked to David Powell about action research in theory. But in this episode, I’m talking to Jo Fletcher-Saxon about action research in practice. Jo is Assistant Principal at Ashton Sixth Form College and has worked tirelessly over the last few years with Sam Jones of the Bedford College Group to promote action research in further education.
We begin our conversation talking about the start of Jo’s career. She’s always been involved in education as she began as an early years practitioner. She then entered further education in her twenties to gain an Access to HE qualification that led to her achieving her degree in Women’s Studies. This lived experience of how FE can be transformational has led Jo to advocate for the sector.
Jo then talks about how she began to promote action research in the college that she works in. She says that scholarship is a well-defined concept in higher education, but is not focused on as much in FE. Jo addressed this gap by organising an FE Research Meet at Ashton Sixth-Form College with lots of practitioners sharing their experiences of research. This helped to kickstart a culture of more reflective practice at the college.
The professional learning culture at Ashton is now also driven by curiosity. Rather than people selecting from a pre-selected menu of activities, teachers are asked what they are curious about and this leads of a more personalised form of development.
Jo then highlights the democratic nature of the movement to promote action research in FE and says that it is very much by FE and for FE. While research in schools and universities is well supported, FE has to catch up. However, with colleagues in the sector like Sam Jones, Jo has helped to form the Research Colleges Group to tackle this disparity.
She then moves on to talking about how one member of staff at Ashton now spends some of their time promoting research as part of their job. Jo says that developments like this can help educators to become critical consumers of evidence-based practice.
Jo also says that research can benefit students greatly, but also staff themselves. She says that her own sense of self and belief has flourished as a result and she now wants to pay this back and support others.
We then move on to talk about how there’s more to quantifying impact than pie charts and Jo says that the story of what happens during research is just as important. She says that small-scale qualitative research shouldn’t be devalued, which echoes what David Powell said in the previous episode about how no research is too small to make a difference.
We round off our conversation talking about some of the other activities that Jo is involved in, which include podcasting, radio hosting, running writing rooms online to help peers be more productive, and even shepherding sheep as a form of mindfulness. She also mentions how she is working with Mel Lenehan who I spoke to in episode 5 and Lou Mycroft who I also spoke to in episode 7. Their initiative Adult Conversations is intended to spark a discussion around the renewal of adult education in the UK.
Jo concludes our conversation with a message for senior leaders who may be sceptical about the importance of research in improving practice. She points out that the policies and guidance that they work under is inevitably shaped and informed by research, so it’s already a part of the landscape, albeit one that needs to be brought more to light.
In this two-part special on action research, there is a huge amount of insight and advice that should help you to get started. But if there’s anything else that you want to know more about, I am planning to answer questions from listeners about inclusion in an upcoming episode. So do feel free to get in touch with your questions via our website at UniversalLearning.education
So, this interview was recorded using Zoom and the quality is not always the best. However, you can read a transcript of this and every episode on our website UniversalLearning.education where you can also find links relating to each episode to help you discover how you can put inclusion into practice for all of your learners.
It was fascinating to hear about how Jo’s experiences have shaped and informed her career as an educator and advocate for action research. I hope you enjoy listening to our conversation.
Jo Fletcher-Saxon: So my name is Jo Fletcher-Saxon, I’m an assistant principal for adult and higher education. That said, I’m based at Sixth Home college, so I also have responsibility for a proportion of our 16 to 19-year-olds on vocational programs, that’s me.
Saj: Now, in your introduction you’ve given a brief description of your job, but really you’re involved in lots and lots of different things in your career. We’re going to talk about that in a little bit more depth but just to begin with, before you started working in education, what kind of things where you involved with?
Jo: There’s not been a before because well, when I left school I trained to work in Early Years, so I’ve always been in one phase of education or another. After a number of years working in Early Years I then returned to education as an adult learner myself and did an access to HE course, so I only then studied for a degree in my 20s. My degree was in Women’s Studies actually, so like a social science-based but with a gendered lens.
Then I trained to teach, but I trained to teach in further education and that’s what I’ve done since then, but that said, I’m still with my role linked to all phases of education really because the department that I lead runs training for teaching assistants, early years workers, child-minders, right through to primary, secondary and FE teacher training. Those in themselves are HE courses, so in a way I’m still linked to all phases really.
Saj: You basically went back into education as a mature student in FE and that’s obviously helped you in your career, so would you say that that experience that personal lived experience has given you more of a passion for FE and it’s transformational possibilities?
Jo: Absolutely and I know we bandy around that word transformation a lot, don’t we? And it can start to lack meaning but it truly did. When I stepped foot back into that further education college then, I’d never heard then of an access course. The only thing I was aware of was this sense of A levels or something that I should have done and I didn’t do because I’ve taken a vocational route. It was the tutor there that said, “Oh, have you heard about an access course?”
That one year oh, my goodness, if I could do it again, I would. It was absolutely brilliant and really I suppose that’s why, once I got the opportunity to get back involved with adult education, which would be around the year 2000, I think. Then I did because I wanted other people to have that same mind-opening, if you like, opportunities that I’d have that’s all stemmed back to that year. Recently actually, in my college, we’ve introduced Access to HE, we used to do years zeros, so similar space but not the same in what they do really. It’s been great to be able to actually go back to my own roots and put Access to HE on our map again.
Saj: Well, that’s wonderful. More recently in your career, you’ve become involved in promoting research and education and particularly, the practitioner-led action research. What was it initially that got you interested in that?
Jo: Yes, wow. Well, as I mentioned we run HE courses and in the world of HE we talk about scholarship, but if you’re a tiny team in a relatively small college a scholarship community and scholarship endeavours are quite tricky. When I was looking at it, I was thinking, “Well, but everybody’s a scholar, all teachers are scholars really, we just don’t use the word, we just don’t use the word,” and it started from there.
That’s when I connected with Sam Jones, who founded FE Research Meet because that looked like a great model for me to bring together lots of strands of people as a scholarship community. It started there and we did start with a big bang. Before really launching anything internally in college, we started with an FE Research Meet which brought lots of people to the college and we had about 80, 90 that first time.
Then on the back of that, we launched our internal opportunities for research as a strand of professional learning. We used to have twilight workshops, really people being taught about being taught, right? Using that word, but about whatever the agenda for the college was really, but I was very keen that people had the opportunity to be more self-directed and think about what really mattered to them, what were they really interested in.
Not just rocking up to a workshop because that’s directed time and that’s what was expected, but to really buy into, “Oh, actually I’m quite interested in this, I want to have a look at this,” so that was three years ago. In the first year, we had a cohort, it was a really exciting year that because we combined those actions about say 10, 12 people, remember we were a small college, there’s only 120 odd staff so 10% got involved in the practitioner research group. We called it the research group and actually, the language matters, so we’ve changed it slightly but really great year. We also mixed that with some Learning and Skills Research Network events, so it wasn’t just in-house. Some things have changed across college because of what those teachers did in terms of their research projects.
Now, the next two years we’ve been then interrupted of course, by an inconvenient global pandemic, how inconvenient. That’s really disrupted the ability to really build up that research community. It existed, but we’re relaunching again. What we’ve launched this academic year, we’re relaunching in September is a model called Be Curious and what we did was we asked staff, “What is it you’re interested in?” Before they could see the menu of professional learning, so that they weren’t just picking the thing, they were actually thinking first, I’m interested in whatever, maths pedagogy or whatever.
Then they could look at how they wanted to pursue that interest, whether it’s through a coaching relationship, a workshop, research, we’ve introduced a journal club, a reading club, that kind of thing. I’m hoping we’re going to have another stab at that again without interruption hopefully, this September. That takes you through really the last few years from where it started and where we’re at now.
Saj: For people who haven’t heard of FE Research Meet or not been to it, just give us a flavour. What type of event is it?
Jo: Okay well, first of all how dare you if you haven’t heard where have you been? Yes, so a bit like Teach Meets but people coming or gathering together or attending, have got some interest in teacher research or practice research or engaging with it if they’re not leading it themselves. Yes, that’s what it is much like a Teach Meet, but they’ve been real life events but obviously, they’ve been online for the last couple years really popular.
People share, literally share their little action research project, supported experiments or they might be on a doctoral program, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter, it could be a small project to doctorate or PhD. They talk about the things that they are investigating, learning about, experimenting with in their practice. Then there’s usually workshops, all gatherings people hear from them, whoever’s there and then they decide who they want to go and hear more from and spend some time with that person.
That’s generally been the model but FE Research Meet, although there’s a few of us pushing it, it’s not owned in that sense, so people will look at the models and then run their own events that suit their own agenda. All that we ask is that, it’s democratic. We try and avoid giving the space to academics who are predominantly in HE. This is very much about by FE for FE. Of course, our university colleagues are very, very welcome but we want it to be a co-production, co-partnership, because we need to step up and fill that space.
If you remember, when Ofsted put out the new framework for inspection, they accompanied it with a booklet about the research that informed the framework and they had that line that became famous, ‘a paucity of research in FE’. Of course, we know that’s not necessarily true, it’s just not that visible, it doesn’t have the same infrastructure that the other research worlds have.
Saj: Absolutely and I guess that’s also just reflective of the reality that HE is funded much more generously than FE and then the priorities in FE have to reflect that unfortunately.
Jo: Yes, but there’s also the schools research network, remember? There are research schools. There is an infrastructure there that exists. Not all schools may not be active in that space, but it does exist. You’ve got the school research networks. Then, you’ve got the world of HE. Well, and then there’s those potentially in the middle or crossing those boundaries quite often.
Saj: Interesting, so there’s definitely a lot of scope to emulate more of what schools are doing in research then.
Jo: Yes, and certainly that’s happening. I don’t know if you’ve had Sam on as a guest yet, but she will share with you. There’s a group of 10 of us as colleges launching the Research College Network. I think we’re called the Research College Group, actually. We’re working together on research projects, but it is trying to put that bit of infrastructure in and to stick a claim in that space really about… It’s not just about staff or teachers, lecturers, support staff and being part of that research world and making a contribution. It’s about all of that body of knowledge then informing the sector, informing whether that’s policy, or informing what goes on in institutions. What we don’t want to see is people engaging in research activity within an institution, but then, that’s just what they’ve done, nice project off you go. It’s about that then being used to inform decision-making within and beyond those institutions. That’s what the Research College Group is driving at really.
Saj: Interesting, so in your own setting in Ashton Sixth Form College, I understand that you now actually have somebody on staff who has got some remission to actually promote research in the college. How has that been going?
Jo: Yes, Dan the man. Well, Dan’s been in place just for the year that of course, we’ve hardly been there. Again, he’s not really had a great year to get his teeth stuck into things, but I suppose next year will be more exciting for him. He’s worked with those practitioner researchers. In Sixth Form, we tend to say teachers rather than practitioners, but teacher researchers has worked with them on their, supporting them with their projects. He’s been to events talking about practitioner research.
It’s great really because it’s all right me going on and on about it, but people would expect me to… I’m on the senior leadership team. There’s a disconnect there because I’m not in the classroom all that time. It was really important to have somebody like Dan, who has engaged in research projects. He’s got an interest in it. He’s in the classroom all the time apart from his bit of remission. He’s best-placed to bang on about it instead of me. I think it’s going well, but the coming September, that will be his second year. Hopefully, he will be able to find his feet more.
Saj: Is it something that you’d recommend to other colleges and other settings to have somebody on staff, on the teaching team if you like?
Jo: Yes, well, where his role sits is in… So in colleges where you have teaching, learning mentors or coaches that are advanced practitioners. He’s one of those types of roles. Quite often, they will have a theme or remit, won’t they? His has become research. In a way, it’s easy to do. If you’ve already got those teams, who’s going to champion that space if you like. Of course, I’d advocate for it because it was what I introduced, but it’s no more costly than you have in your advanced practitioners, it’s that sort of thing really. Oh, how can I not advocate for that? That’s what I’m passionate about.
Saj: In your setting then, that role promoting research sits inside the quality improvement part of the college would you say?
Jo: Wow, yes, it is. Yes. It’s not in the assurance side of it. It is really. Yes, and professional learning. We keep using this term now, professional learning, not CPD, not training, but professional learning is trying to put that scholarship, that academic back into the narrative, with which we describe teachers and lecturers really.
Saj: The counterpoint to that is, do you think that a lot of our practice is guided by so-called zombie ideas like learning styles or Ofsted myths about you not having your coat on in class? Do you think that we’re still dealing in a lot of myths and misconceptions when it comes to effective teaching?
Jo: They’ll always be myths and misconceptions because whatever is a myth now, wasn’t necessarily the point it was introduced, it was believed in, wasn’t it? Oh, well, I think a lot of the stuff informing the teaching and learning messages that we’re getting, yes, if you look at that research document, that sits with the Ofsted framework, largely schools driven and certainly is coming from a certain angle, isn’t it? It’s very cog-sci, heavy cognitive science, heavy. We’ve both been in this game a long time. Things come in and out of popularity. You ride the waves.
What’s really good about the practitioner research space is you’re encouraging colleagues to have a more critical eye, a critical consumption of this stuff that flies at us and not just to take it as fact, but to think, “What do I need to know about? What do I need to think about? How does it apply to my students, my setting, my classroom? How am I in this? How am I working with this?” Which I think is useful to have. Have we been encouraged to be critical consumers of such information? No, I don’t think so.
Saj: Some teachers, yes, as you say, have seen fashions, fads come and go and also been subjected to all kinds of interesting, weird and wonderful CPD sessions over the years and may start to feel a little cynical about professional development. For those people, who suffered through bad CPD and ill-informed practices if you like, what would you say to them to get them to take a look at practitioner-led research? Then, what benefits would you say it has for their professional practice?
Jo: Well, you own it then, don’t you? There’s nothing to be cynical about because it’s up to you. You pursue your area of interest and make it yours really. It is a hard sell in that we’re not there in the sector in terms of having an abundance of time to fund for people to pursue this, but where there is the space it’s great. I found my own sense of self and belief and my career has really flourished since I’ve engaged in my own. I’m on my third masters type program now, actually.
I think if you are really into either amount of subject specialism or the whole business of teaching, learning and pedagogy, it’s a great thing. I think it rejuvenates your sense of professionalism and pride. You step forward. Not only do you lead your own development and look at an area you’re really interested in, you then share it beyond. You put it out there. You pay it back into the sector.
Saj: At Ashton, you’re helping to train the new generation of educators as well. Are you doing anything to change the way that you deliver your programs to encourage more action research?
Jo: Well, on the PGCE that we run, there is an action research module anyway. It already sits there, but this year, I’m holding on it rather than the colleague. Nothing wrong with it but I just thought, “Oh, I’m going to stick my nose in here to shake it up a bit really.” I think, yes, they have to stick to the university guidelines on how they do it. It is not quite the way I would do it, but I’m trying to infuse them with it not just being a thing they perform for the sake of getting their PGCE, but something beyond that.
One of the things I’ve asked them, they have to present their findings and data and all that. I’ve said to them, “I am not interested, this is when we get back after Easter, in a load of pie charts. I’m just not interested. I want to know the story. I want to know the story of what you set out to find, what the heck happened, and what’s going to happen now,” because that’s at the heart of it, isn’t it? So that they’ve gone off, and they’re thinking more creatively. Now, I hope they won’t have a load of PowerPoints. I’ll have proper stories of what really happened.
Saj: That’s interesting, you mention that because in other conversations about the people, about action research, there’s a fear of maths. Maths as a subject causes anxiety for lots of people. Then, when people start to read research, they see tables and measures. A lot of the experience in the classroom can’t easily be quantified, although that suits management, that does suit organisations like Ofsted. How do you capture those experiences more qualitatively in action research?
Jo: Well, those PGCE trainees, they’re working with very small sets of data in that they are typically observing or recording about, or interviewing some very small groups. In their literature, they’re making connections to bigger projects and research matter studies, et cetera. The risk here is that you start to devalue the small scale qualitative. There’s a place for everything. Isn’t it? There’s a place for everything.
In the first year actually we had a chemistry teacher, not in the PGCE but I remember staff who did a little study and it was really focusing on why the girls were performing in a particular way, versus the boys. As a complete side product of our action research or intervention, she found out that actually what the female students needed or really appreciated, was a one-to-one conversation regularly. I don’t know why. Of course all students get one to one time, but they just need it a bit more. Then, it wasn’t the intervention she was focusing on. Now, she found that out. Now gosh, what if now her knowing that has made a significant difference to all the girls in the chemistry department?
All right, that’s not going to change the world in the world of research, but, my goodness, it might change the experience for any girls entering her chemistry classroom. The risk is, when you start to talk big study, versus small, that you start to devalue one and that’s problematic for me.
Saj: That reminds me of something I’ve read in the work of Carr and Kemmis. They they talk about this idea of emancipatory action research, which is actually, and you’re right, in your own classroom, action research can have a really positive beneficial effect.
Jo: the moment, I’m on my second program with Sunderland Center for Education and Teacher Training who are funded by the ETF, the Education Training Foundation, to put lecturers and teachers through or support them in doing postgraduate study.
I did an MA short with them. I’ve already got an MA, but I an MA short with them, and now I’m on the MPhil, which hopefully will become a PhD in year three if I’m lucky. I’m very much around Kemmis because I’m looking at the practice architectures that Kemmis talks about within which the professional learning operates and the action research operates our place.
The bit I think he’s missing from his five architectures is, all the stuff we’re doing now, Saj, they’re slightly outside the organization. All the grassroots stuff. The Brew Eds, the Research Meets, the podcast, the #JoyFE. There’s loads, Teach Meets, whatever and the interplay between that and what Kemmis would call those architectures. I think that’s really powerful. That’s all I think playing into the strengthening of the research in the sector.
Saj: Fascinating. For people who are thinking about getting into action research, but don’t really know where to get started, are there any particular texts or any particular websites that would be a useful introduction for people, would you say?
Jo: One of the things I have said to people in big organisations is, to put a call out to who else is engaged in that research, because quite often we don’t know even in small organisations. You might want to start to form your own little network so that’s been happening a lot lately. People have just set up their own little research groups and talk and collaborate just knowing and seeing each other.
Of course, you can look for #FEResearchMeet on Twitter but quite often, if you look at the FE research, just #FEResearch, it is often on Twitter, sometimes on LinkedIn, and then you’ll start to spot people and activity, and communities and constellations that are active in that space and you can reach out to people and just do it. People message me and we get together and talk and share, whatever.
I definitely say that. The Learning and Skills Research Network as well, look for that because that’s existed for over 21 years and not everybody’s heard about it, but that’s a really vibrant network. There are conveners or reps all over the country and they run activity that is about pulling HE under FE together actually. That’s another thing to look for. @LSRN on Twitter. Oh, gosh. Books wise. I mixed up my head but, who’s my favorite? Gary. Though I can’t remember his surname now. I’d have to look him up. I’d have to edit it in. You have to say it to the end because I can’t remember.
Saj: Not Gary Husband.
Jo: No. Not that Gary, although I’m sure. Okay, so let’s mention Gary. Gary Husband is the president of the Association for Research in Post-Compulsory Education. Of course, him but I was specifically thinking about a book. I think he calls himself how-to, I think or something. Gary Thomas, and is @Garyhowto. That’s why it’s difficult to remember because it’s not by his name. I love his beginner’s guides to engaging with action research. It’s really visual stuff and it’s really step by step, easy.
Saj: Interesting, so I think you must be one of the hardest working people in education because you seem to be involved in so many different activities at the moment. You have all your work of being of being a principal.
Jo: Assistant principal. You’ve just promoted me there. All thanks then.
Saj: I’ve promoted you.You’re assistant principal, you helped to organise FE Research Meets, but you also get involved in some grassroots activities, as you mentioned. One of the spin-offs I think of FE Research Meet is that you’ve actually started a podcast, so let’s get meta. On this podcast, let’s talk about your podcast and what was the rationale for starting that podcast?
Jo: Myself and Alistair Smith, who is at @Alistairteaches, on Twitter, we met on the Suncett program and then I invited him to come and talk at the FE Research Meet about his Suncett research. He was at the same one as you came to. Of course, when you’re at a physical event, you can only go to so many workshops, can’t you? If you lead him on, then you can’t go anywhere else. People are always excited about all these different things and they can’t get to everything.
We just decided that another way of capturing all these great research activities or projects was to do a podcast. I know everybody’s podcasting now. For Alistair, it’s about that. It was about him getting to know all these great things that were going on. For me, it’s a bit of an active curation really. Collecting the stories as a rebuff to the notion that it doesn’t happen, so we’re both in it for different reasons.
I love the fact that we are just collecting all these examples and stories which some people then who come to, they get in touch with that person, and then something else happens. It’s an increase in the accessibility and hopefully the visibility in some way of teachers and lecturers in their classrooms engaging in some form of research activity.
Saj: For people who don’t know much about action research, your podcast, would you say it’s quite an accessible way into hearing more about people’s experiences?
Jo: It is. You’ll hear the stories of people who are doing something, and we usually ask them how it got started or what their tips are for people, or what they’ve been reading. There are those practical things. You get to know names of people that you can then pursue and find out what they’re up to, and so on. I don’t know what their interests are, or the network’s open up. We’ve had Vicky Butterby on but she also works with a couple of independent organisations, and she runs things online for practitioners to get together. It’s like a web, really. Whether you find that web on Twitter or on another social media space, there’s a bit of activity on Instagram now, or whether you find it by listening to podcasts, it opens those doors.
Saj: After doing podcasts, you’ve also started doing a radio show now as well. Tell me a little bit more about your career as a DJ.
Jo: Well, there’s no music. Paul Dix, who might be known to people because of his book, When the Adults Change, Everything Changes, I think he’s got a second version out now, hasn’t he? Or they might know him from Pivotal Education, or from Twitter or from YouTube. He and the colleagues set up a radio station, and it operates the weekend and it’s called Teacher Hug Radio. There are a couple of radio stations around that are here to teach us, so this is just one of them.
The programs run on Saturdays and Sundays, and there’s a whole schedule, but the program that I’m involved in is podcast pick of the week, just because that’s what Alastair and I are into, but we don’t just talk about education podcasts, to be honest. We do have people on who are typically from a world of education or aligned to it that people might be interested in hearing from. Then we talk about all sorts of stuff. Our program goes out once every three weeks. There’s other people in the podcast picking team.
Saj: Excellent. You’ve also started doing something quite recently there, is it the Writing Room?
Jo: Oh, yes, the Writing Rooms. Yes, that’s because I avoid writing at all costs. I thought, ”Well, I’m going to write a bit and I have some friends to do it with. I put a poll on Twitter to say, :If I set up a writing space digitally where we can gather, who would be interested?” It got about 120 votes on Twitter. Again, massive votes on LinkedIn. Everybody’s suffering the same procrastination, and so they have started and I think they’ve been three or four that have run now. They will be regular and people arrive and share their intentions for about 90-minute session about what they’re going to be writing about.
Then they choose a breakout room to go into. They might be doing the Pomodoro technique, which is where you write in little chunks of time and have a break or enter the space. Then they come back after 90 minutes so it makes you accountable. You say what you’ve achieved. So far, people say, ”Oh, my goodness, I wrote so much,” so it’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s easy to not schedule time for writing. If you are on a program or you want to do blog writing or creative writing, it’s quite nice to do.
Saj: Excellent. You have many strings to your bow, is that the correct terminology? Are you a shepherdess, or have I got completely the wrong end of the stick?
Jo: I am a shepherdess. Yes, I have a flock of sheep. I have a flock of Black Welsh mountain sheep, who have all been having their lambs because we’re in spring at the moment. Yes, I’ve been doing a bit of bottle feeding as well, yes, with the lambs.
Saj: How much crossover is there between your classroom practice and shepherding sheep?
Jo: To be honest, I do use some of my sheep pictures in my action research. I just make tenuous links to the life of the sheep, but they’ve been a mindfulness practice for me particularly in lockdown. Making sure I went out to see them once a day and feed them meant I was not at the screen for eight hours. They did, they became a screen break really.
Saj: We’re still in the throes of the pandemic, but looking back over the last year or so, all the networks that you were involved in and the initiatives that you’ve started, would you say that connection has really helped you get through this period of time?
Jo: Oh, undoubtedly. Yes, undoubtedly. It’s not just one area or one space of connection, so going Graham Pitchforth and I had run a Brew Ed for FEreally in real life. Then once we went into lockdown, we put out a month of YouTube, things in the first month not realising, of course, everything would go on for so long.
Great connections through that. I joined in something called Progress School with Mike Chitty. Of course, there’s the #JoyFE, it’s not a group of people, there’s just loads of people that can be part of #JoyFE activities, whether that’s just some magazine writing or bringing ideas rooms, or things like that.
Then, of course, working with Alistair from the podcast, all of that has held me up over the year, really. I think that’s been the same for lots of people really. In one of the last big FE Research Meets we did online, led by Kerry at Solihull, Kerry Scattergood, one of the outcomes of that is we’ve asked people to write about their lockdown teaching and learning or being a researcher in pandemic times kind of thing. That’s due out soon, but those things are very much there in all those pieces about what has held them together over the past year. That comes through.
Saj: I think another initiative that you’ve started and been involved with is Adult Conversations?
Jo: Oh, yes.
Saj: At first glance, people might not be sure what that involves. Tell the folks listening what this is all about.
Jo: Deliberately tongue in cheek, calling this movement, #adultconversations, really, just to get a bit of like, oh, what’s that? Really it myself, Lou Mycroft, and Mel Lenehan leading in it, but obviously, again, it’s all about people’s voices in the adult education sector. Our mission is to put adult and community learning or adult education back into the national conversation. Because when people say teacher or lecturer, they generally always think 16 to 19-year-olds, even when a teacher or lecturer themselves teaches adults. Often when you have a conversation, first and foremost in their identity is they’re teaching young people. There’s a reason for that. That’s probably a big discussion.
We don’t shout proudly about adult learning opportunities in this country in the way that other countries do, really. That’s our mission really is to make visible what is hidden this year. We’ve got people writing a week, it’s called 52 Weeks of 52 Speaks. Somebody is writing something, or putting out a contribution from the world of adult education every week. Then we’ve got some big conversations happening in the summer. Then it will culminate an event at the end of the year. Hopefully, we will have achieved that and make it something a bit more visible.
Saj: Excellent. Finally, there might be people listening who are really interested in action research, want to get involved or want to get it going in the places where they work, but there might be some resistance, whether it’s from senior leadership or the culture, might need to change in an institution. What would you say to them? Also, what would you say to other senior leaders who aren’t sure about action research or don’t see the value of it?
Jo: Well, it’s difficult because I’m in a place where our principal is very open to it. I’d be interested to know what is informing decision-making. What is it that people read, where did they get their information from? It probably somewhere is research, even if it’s not labeled, it might be called a report. Who’s writing it? I’m not saying that we can answer all the problems or deal with all the situations just on our own but we should be part of that jigsaw. There’s so much to be gained from it. If we’re not, why not? What’s the deal? That’s what I’ll be asking is it seems incredible that we would not be, but people can’t fight battles on their own in that way. It is about making connections probably outside of their institutions to pursue those interests if it’s not something that can be afforded in time within their own institutions.
Saj: Absolutely, I think that’s a great message that actually there are ever increasing numbers of professional networks out there and they’re accessible through things like social media. Get out there and start pestering people and if people want to pester you, Jo, how do they find you on social media?
Jo: I am on LinkedIn, Jo Fletcher-Saxon, it’s just my name and then on Twitter it’s @jfletchersaxon are probably the easiest places.
Saj: Excellent. I know you’re one of the hardest working people in education. You wouldn’t say that, but I will and I really appreciate the fact that you’ve taken some time today to speak with me. Thank you very much Jo Fletcher-Saxon.
Jo: Thank you very much.
Saj: Thanks again to Jo for talking to me about how action research can benefit students as well as those who educate them.
As Jo mentioned, you can find her on Twitter @JFletcherSaxon.
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Visit our website UniversalLearning.education to read transcripts of each edition and find out more about how you can put inclusion into practice for all of your learners. The music you’ve heard in this edition is Sinara by Blear Moon, and sound FX are by New Age Soup, both licensed under Creative Commons. Visit UniversalLearning.education for more information.