TESOL Research and the Scholar-Practitioner

This blog is part of the TESOL Research Professional Council (RPC) Blog series.

Welcome to the second in a series of blog posts from the TESOL Research Professional Council (RPC) highlighting aspects of the TESOL Research Agenda. This post outlines how the agenda defines and offers research directions, explores teacher research and professional development, examines the concept of the scholar-practitioner, and points to examples of possible research questions.

The TESOL Research Agenda

The TESOL Research Agenda defines research as “a spirited inquiry and systematic investigation that contributes to the knowledge base of a field” (p. 5), with the purpose of that research being to inform principled decision-making about policies, plans, and actions. By identifying new and emerging research directions in TESOL, the agenda focuses on three change drivers at the individual, community, and societal levels:

  1. Theoretical perspectives on the nature and learning of language(s)
  2. Technological support for learning
  3. Teacher agency

Teacher Research and Professional Development

Closely aligned with the agenda’s definition of research is Borg’s (2010) definition of teacher research. For Borg, a visiting professor of TESOL at the University of Leeds, teacher research also involves systematic inquiry, but it is specifically carried out by teachers in their own school and classroom environments. The goal of teacher research is for teachers to find out more about their teaching practice and share those findings publicly. The research produced by teachers has great potential to impact teaching and learning while also contributing to institutional development and policy making (Borg, 2010).

The TESOL Research Agenda recognizes teacher research as a meaningful avenue for professional development. Xerri (2017), a lecturer at the Centre for English Language Proficiency at the University of Malta, has pointed out that this kind of professional development puts teachers in the driving seat and involves teachers in improving the field of English language teaching and learning more effectively and sustainably, perhaps, than more general forms of in-service training. With this kind of professional development, teachers become creators of knowledge rather than just consumers (Xerri, 2017).

Teachers as Scholar-Practitioners

Furthermore, when teachers incorporate research and the spirit of inquiry into their practice and as part of their professional development, they are embodying the concept of the scholar-practitioner. Macintyre Latta, Cherkowski, Crichton, Klassen, and Ragoonaden (2017), teacher educators at the University of British Columbia, have conceptualized scholar-practitioners as students of learning who

  • engage in continuous professional growth,
  • make use of and contribute to the scholarly community,
  • employ their practical knowledge to improve the field of education, and
  • seek out links between teaching and research to best suit their contexts.

The work of scholar-practitioners enhances intellectual well-being in the profession while energizing and nurturing teaching and learning. Lowery (2016), an associate professor in Educational Studies at the University of Ohio, has further pointed out that scholar practitioners want to better understand how teachers teach and how students learn, with the goal of adding to current research and educational theory when they notice misalignments with their own particular classroom experiences. Scholar-practitioners can further advance educational research and theory when they systematically notice effective practices that emerge in their own work as well.

Example Research Questions

To guide the work of the scholar-practitioner, the TESOL Research Agenda offers examples of the kinds of questions, with different focus domains and change drivers, teachers might ask when putting together an inquiry project. These questions propose topics teachers could consider as well as provide models teachers can use to develop their own questions pertinent to their particular teaching and learning contexts. For example, a question about how “the proficiency of individual learners develop[s] over time in distinct contexts of language use” (p. 10) connects to the individual domain and theory change driver. A question about “the relationship between students’ use of technology for language learning and their broader socialization into a community” (p. 10) relates to the community domain and technology change driver. As a last example, a question about how “language teaching professionals [shape] their own field and [influence] public debate around language education” (p. 10) points to the societal domain and teacher agency change driver. More examples can be found on the 2014 Research Agenda Suggested Research Questions website.

An Invitation to TESOL 2020

Teachers have an important role to play in strengthening the field of TESOL through their own research as scholar-practitioners. Systematic inquiry, as part of ongoing professional development, has the power to invigorate the field and benefit learners. The TESOL Research Agenda serves as a valuable source of ideas for teachers working as scholar-practitioners who want to seek answers to questions related to teaching and learning in their own contexts. For teachers interested in learning more about how to set up a research project, the Research Mentoring Workshop for Novice Researchers, a ticketed event at the TESOL 2020 International Convention, is a valuable opportunity to connect to the TESOL Research Agenda and explore ways novice researchers can formulate questions. All teachers interested in research are invited to attend this workshop, which takes place on 31 March 2020 from 3 pm–5 pm.

See the other posts in this series:


Borg, S. (2010). Language teacher research engagement. Language Teaching, 43(4), 391–429. doi:10.1017/s0261444810000170

Lowery, C. L. (2016). The scholar-practitioner ideal: Toward a socially just educational administration for the 21st century. Journal of School Leadership, 26(1), 34–60. doi:10.1177/105268461602600102

Macintyre Latta, M., Cherkowski, S., Crichton, S., Klassen, W., & Ragoonaden, K. (2017). Investing in communities of scholar-practitioners. Teacher learning and professional development, 2(1), 32–47. Retrieved from http://journals.sfu.ca/tlpd/index.php/tlpd/article/view/31

TESOL International Association. (2014, November). TESOL Research Agenda 2014. Alexandria, VA: Author. Retrieved from https://www.tesol.org/docs/default-source/pdf/2014_tesol-research-agenda.pdf?sfvrsn=2

Xerri, D. (2017). Teacher research as creative disruption. Modern English Teacher, 26(3), 17–19.

About Scott Douglas

Scott Roy Douglas, PhD, is an associate professor in the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan School of Education. His focus is on English as an additional language teaching and learning. Recent research projects have explored topics such as short-term study abroad, undergraduate English for academic purposes, and communicative competence in the workplace. He is also an active member of his local TESOL affiliate as the editor of the BC TEAL Journal.
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