‘It’s an opportunity to lift your head and look around.’

A collaborative blog for PD North from the online Practitioner Action Research Group

Our PD North Practitioner Action Research Group is an online community of practice, where practitioners from across FE come together to share and discuss practitioner-led research in our sector. 

Over the course of the year, we’ve focused on various aspects of action research. Topics have been wide-ranging, including, for instance: research conceptualisation and design, developing meaningful research questions, ethical considerations, methodological approaches, practical applications of FE-based research and strategies to support writing and dissemination. 

During our meeting today, we explored the following 2 questions:

1. What have we learnt/ are we learning about practitioner-based research in FE that we would like to share with others?

2. How does our engagement with online communities of practice support and develop our own research practice in FE?

Discussions took place at a lively pace, and our thoughts and ideas travelled in interesting directions. Here are some of the things we had to say:

What have we learnt/ are we learning about practitioner-based research in FE that we would like to share with others?

  1. FE-based research is alive and well, but we need to get better at coming together to share and write about our findings. 

‘FE has been like Cinderella at times, it’s nice to see that we are finally coming together to formally share and discuss our ideas.’

‘The word formal is important here, because FE-based research has been happening for a long time.’

‘It has, but a lot of it goes on in silos. One of the challenges is bringing everything together.’

  1. We need to address the lack of confidence and ‘imposter syndrome’ that can at times hold us back from sharing our research findings with the wider world.’

‘I’ve heard some people say ‘I’m not a part of a university’ so I can’t do research. We need to change the narrative here and help build confidence across our sector to engage in research and to share our findings.’

‘It can be a daunting task, but it’s very important that we speak up. For example, as part of our PD North and OTLA work with the Education and Training Foundation, we’ve been involved in research that challenges some of the HE driven, grandiose education theories – we need to share our findings and say to colleagues that these big theories or interventions may not work in your context – don’t take them as gospel, do your own research with your learners into what works best for them. 

‘There can be a risk of FE-based research becoming re-territorialised and placed under the HE banner.’

‘This is why we need to write about our work, to own it. It’s about understanding the merit of what we produce for our sector. Drawing on research from HE is of course important, we can use it to broaden our understanding. But it’s not better quality research just because it’s come from HE. As FE practitioners, we have tacit, contextualised knowledge about what works and what doesn’t work for learners in our settings. 

‘FE has its own language.’

  1. FE-based research often strives towards cultural change, and this begins with critical reflection in relation to our own practice.

Through my research into my practice I usually eventually arrive at the realisation that I am what needs to change.’ 

‘You have to have lived experience to be able to write authentically about FE, and that means continually questioning your practice… be confident in your practice, but question it too. I think the two can work together.’

  1. Action research shifts conventional understandings about teaching and learning.

‘I learn as much as the people that I am teaching.’

‘Participatory research approaches have hugely impacted my own understandings of teaching and learning. For me, I feel that if I really want to improve my practice, I first need to understand the impact of my teaching from my learners’  perspectives. The insight learners have shared with me has been invaluable.’

  1. That researching your own practice can be an emotional experience.

    ‘I never escape from my self-doubts for long.’

‘You have to be very self disciplined to maintain your project against some very demanding things elsewhere’.

‘Having time to step out and look in is very important. You need the headspace to really understand where your research is taking you and what your findings mean.’

  1. That practitioner research can be empowering, supporting wellbeing and encouraging autonomous practice. 

‘There is still a culture of consultant-led, one off approaches to CPD. In our college, we offer practitioner-based research as an alternative approach for staff. Staff have been able to explore areas of teaching and learning that they really want to develop, rather than being directed by us to attend a particular training session.’

‘As practitioners, we can be very in the moment, head down, really busy getting everything done. Action research gives you permission, gives you that opportunity to lift your head and look around. It gives you time and space to ask questions and reflect upon your practice.’

‘You always want to get better. Action research can help.’

‘Engaging in practitioner-led research can be really empowering. It keeps people in the sector at times I think. It gives you a sense of autonomy over your practice.’

How does our engagement with online communities of practice support and develop our own research practice in FE?

  1. That social and other online networks help facilitate relationships with other FE-based research and researchers.

‘Through our group, and more widely, through eduTwitter, I’ve met and shared ideas with people who I would have been unlikely to come across otherwise. FE practitioners from all over the UK, and further afield.’

‘Online spaces can be a really helpful way of facilitating shared interests, whether that’s developing a reading culture, embedding skills for digital literacy, or learner wellbeing… you’ll find others who share your interests and who have useful ideas to share.’

  1. That connection with others through communities of practice can build research resilience and support well-being.

‘Being part of a network is invaluable to help you keep on track and to learn from your peers. In fact the more people you involve the more likely you are to develop the resilience to continue. Tutors in our sector face a lot of challenging issues and it takes determination to see your research through.’

‘Forums such as this one, and other, social media driven forums can be really useful places to talk about your research if it doesn’t go well. You may not always want to highlight what went wrong in your workplace, so it’s good to have places where you can share and learn and ask advice from others.’

‘It’s important to find spaces of trust, to know that people have your back.’

  1. That having a variety of platforms, and sharing across them, brings diverse communities of practice together.

‘Different platforms suit different people. Some love Facebook or Whatsapp, others will prefer to engage on Twitter or a face-to-face meeting like ours on Zoom. Others will really not like a platform like this and will not engage… some will stick by a traditional email to get in touch and make a connection. There is value in multiple platforms because you’ll get different engagement where people feel comfortable.’

‘It’s a great way of blending silos of practice, in essence a snowball effect. For example, people now come along to this PD North Group who run their own forums, and members of the PD North team have been to those events and presented their research, so we’re growing connections with others in our research community all the time.’

‘6th form provision can sometimes be ostracised from other areas of FE. Online forums can help those from across diverse areas of FE contribute to the conversation.’

  1. That engagement in online groups and forums can be active or passive.

‘I see myself a bit on the outside, looking in. I’m a lurker. It can be hard to break in sometimes, and sometimes I find it hard to put a contribution into writing. But I really get interested in what others are saying, so I get something from it. I’d like to become more actively engaged.’

‘I didn’t contribute to an online forum for a long time. I watched and read what others were saying. And then the topic of education for social justice came up on FE Chat, and I thought I really did have things I wanted to say, so that gave me the confidence to get involved.’

  1. That engaging in online communities of practice is often the first step towards meeting and engaging with other FE-based researchers face-to-face.

‘People I’ve met on Twitter or other social media platforms I’ve now met in person too as they’ve come along to events like FE Research Meet or PD North celebration events to share their research.’

‘It’s important to remember that engagement online is not always an end in itself, it’s often the first step towards a face-to-face connection. The online connection helps facilitate face-to-face communities of practice, where people are actively coming together to present their research and share practice.’

  1. Online forums can be a useful place to learn about other FE-based research projects and FE-produced educational theory. It is also a useful place to share your own research.

‘I’ve found online forums and groups such as our PD North group an incredibly useful place to learn about other FE-based research that’s happening.’

‘There can be really helpful discussions about educational theory, and good access to, and recommendations of, literature that can support you with your own research.’

‘They can be good places to share your own writing and research findings, and have some feedback from other FE-based practitioner researchers.’ 

Would you like to contribute to this conversation? Perhaps you have fresh ideas or a different perspective to share? If so, you are warmly welcomed to join our group. Please complete our booking form here: PD North Practitioner Researcher Booking Form.

We also have a Padlet Board, where we have been building and sharing our ideas as a group. To visit our Padlet, please click here: PD North Practitioner Researcher Padlet.

Organising the CPD Exchange Week #5

A weekly blog on lessons learned by PDNorth Events Lead, Lou Mycroft

I missed Week 4 in a blur, so many apologies to you all. 

Since the last blog, I’ve been involved in the #APConnect Live event. So much learning from this experience of running a virtual event, not least that I have to give people a break! Jo and Kathryn on our PDNorth team have spoken to me firmly about this and I’m taking heed. We met as a team this week and thrashed out a few of the details. We are not always in agreement but the joy of our little team is that we are not afraid to say so and we are always having a laugh by the end of the meeting 🙂 

What’s most important in planning events is to keep it simple. My instinct is to over-complicate so I’ve learned to take it down a gear over the years, step back, scrutinise and run through the steps again and again to make sure it all fits together. It’s amazing how fast time goes at events – whether they are physical or virtual. And at least there’s a moment at a physical event – usually in the afternoon – when the door closes on the final workshop and you can put your feet up with the team for half an hour. That *never* happens virtually, especially if you have social media streams happening too. 

So keeping it simple works against giving people lots of choices in a way, though I’ve also heard people get frustrated when they have too much choice! You can’t please everyone all the time 🙂 We’re going with three separate Zoom rooms, one for each of the three regions but this is where the choice comes in – the landing page will contain all the links so if delegates want to pop into another ‘region’ that’s fine. I love that idea. It helps individuals find their own level of ‘stretch’. 

We’ve lots more plans but they need a bit more mulling over. It’s Good Friday tomorrow and although it’s likely to be a weird Easter (virtual Mass, anyone? Flourless, eggless Easter cake?) I’m pretty sure the community spirit we’ve seen over the past few weeks will help us find some joy. We’re doing an ‘Easter Egg Hunt’, where the Easter Eggs are pictures in windows for children to see on their daily walks. What about you?

Working From Home: The New Normal

Members of the @ccc_pathways team share what it’s like to #WFH.

As the Covid-19 pandemic sweeps across the world, working from home has become the new normal – at least for now. As educators, we are often used to the busy buzz of our classrooms and workshops, to face-to-face contact with those who share our teaching and learning spaces. We’re used to actively engaging with learners, to building welcoming and engaging atmospheres, and to noticing (through our highly attuned teacher senses), when things aren’t quite working and we need to change tack. When we want to bounce ideas around regarding our next revolutionary resource, we can nip into our colleagues’ classrooms to share our plans. When we want to wax lyrical about that lesson that worked, or rant over the one that got away from us, we can rest assured that there will always be a sympathetic ear and a cup of tea waiting in the staffroom. 

As the world settles into home working, there have been some amusing posts flying about the Twittersphere. For teachers, these have largely centered on our blind panic to remember our VLE login details, not to mention how to stealth-load the materials onto it that we were supposed to add at the start of term…

For many of us, we are well aware that getting to grips with teaching and learning via digital platforms (and sprucing up our own digital literacy practices while we’re at it) will undoubtedly serve us well. There are lots of opportunities available at the moment for us to develop in new digital directions (see the Education and Training Foundation’s Enhance modules for example, or visit PD Norther Gail Lydon’s fabulous teaching online and developing your practice padlet). 

But what about the more holistic aspects of working from home – working from home’s ‘soft skills’ if you like? As home workers (some fairly new to our roles, others with plenty of years’ service under our belts), we thought we’d share some of our top tips for turning what can be a lonely and stressful process into something more enjoyable and productive. 

Working Environment

Vicky: If at all possible, find a space to work that doesn’t encroach on your everyday living space. If you have a separate space you can use as an office – amazing. If not, clear away your work things each evening so you can enjoy your night free from a visual reminder of everything you need to get through tomorrow. A joy of working from home is that it gives you an opportunity to design a workspace that meets your needs – you can be as tidy or as messy as you want to be, you can surround yourself with superb stationary or embrace minimalism. As someone who is used to moving about a lot (in teaching and in sport), I found sitting down for long periods of time quite uncomfortable. I’ve now constructed a standing desk (by putting my laptop on top of an old chest of draws), which suits me so much better. 

Jo: Have a dedicated space for working so that when finished for the day you can switch off.  I have always used my dining room although these days it is really an office as there is no dining table anymore.

Chloe: When I started working from home, I’d gone from teaching all day with an hour or two on a computer in the evening to a full day at the screen. My body wasn’t happy with it and I got RSI in my wrists and ankles. As well as regular breaks away from screen (and my desk), I placed a rolled up towel under my wrists and put my feet on a small step. I later got a vertical mouse which was a game changer! When it’s cold, I also wear fingerless gloves. 

If you’re having remote meetings using video be mindful of where the camera is and try to position it so your colleagues can see your whole face (it’s nice to see people :-)). Also be mindful of what’s in the background. My office is in my sewing and laundry room. I use a shelving unit to split the room in two so my colleagues can’t see our washing airer! I also have passwords and meeting links on my work whiteboard so I position my computer away from this so people can’t see it.


Chloe: I have a routine in the morning that helps set myself (and our family) up for the day. Having a shower in the morning can be really stressful with a baby (and a waste of time once covered in her breakfast!) so instead I finish the working day with a bath (with my baby!). 

I used to find it hard to stay in work-mode when I’d make myself a cup of tea because I’d want to start cleaning and doing jobs around the house. It meant my work day was getting longer as I wasn’t getting work done so I force myself to look only at the kettle and nothing else when I leave the office for a brew!

Vicky: Getting in the right headspace for home working can be tricky. It can be hard to haul yourself out of bed in the morning (and hard to stop working at the end of the day too). Establishing a routine (whether that’s a 9am – 5pm working day with lunch at 1pm or something else that works for you) can help get you in the mindset for productive, well boundaried home working. 

Now this may well be a nod to my September born Virgo-ness, but I really like to begin my working from home days as clean and as fresh as I would be for my face-to-face training. When I’m showered and dressed, I feel ready to face the day; when I’m in last night’s PJ’s, I feel ready for Netflix. Of course I love to work from home in trackie bottoms and a hoodie as much as the next person – comfort and cleanliness are both winners in my book! 

Jo: You still need a routine so set a timetable of daily activities so that you need to do and stick to it.  I use my calendar with reminders all of the time so i don’t forget. Unlike Vicky I roll out of bed in the morning, make a cuppa and log on for the day.  I work really well early in the mornings so this works perfectly for me. Then by the time Millie (my furry friend) gets up for a wee and a bit of breakfast (she is a bit lazy) I then get dressed (maybe!!!) and clean my teeth.

Time and Workload Management

Chloe: This year I’ve started to use Trello (free via www.trello.com) to let my manager know what I have done each day. I also use it as a to-do list to save time. I have one column with things to do under the days and I simply move them under the correct day when they’re completed. I archive the lists each week so they are still accessible but not clogging up my screen. To manage my own productivity expectations, I set myself a target of 3 things I plan to achieve each day. 

Vicky: Managing your time and workload can be more challenging from home, especially when you factor in learning a whole new load of digital platforms to get to grips with! Screen Time can take its toll, so make sure you factor in regular breaks for you and for learners. I like to take a swift walk around the block, cuddle my cat or feed the birds. Rumour has it a dance around your living room can work wonders too! 

Jo: I write a to do list every morning and prioritise three things that I need to have completed by the end of the day on a post it note and put it next to my keyboard in plain site, this helps me keep to stay focused despite all the phone calls and emails. Remember that just because you are working from home don’t forget about breaks, you must try to factor some breaks in during the day.  

I also always flag up emails that I need to deal with and file those that have been dealt with so that it doesn’t look as chaotic and make a point of doing this every evening before I log off for the day as well so that I start the next day fresh.

Communication and connection

Chloe: When I started to work from home I needed even more a distinction between home life and work life. This included the way in which I communicated with people. For work, I much prefer email (rather than social media) because it is the most formal but also because I can flag important jobs, seperate actioned emails into folders and categorise projects by colour. This helps a lot with my productivity in a way that other methods of communication can’t.

Vicky: It can feel very strange at first when face-to-face contact is minimised. When I first started working from home I found I was more chatty than I’d ever been before when unleashed back into face-to-face work. Nevertheless, through platforms such as Zoom, where you can see people, hear people and notice their body language (from the shoulders up at least) it is still possible to build and grow meaningful connections, with learners and with fellow practitioners. A lovely example of where being apart can actually enhance collaborative work is through the use of Google or One Drive to establish and engage in collective writing tasks. These tasks can enhance learners’ written and communicative skills, as well as developing their problem solving, decision making and negotiation skills (as learners work together to edit and submit their work). 

Jo: Keep in touch regularly with colleagues using email, phone and remote conferencing services so that you don’t feel isolated.  

Working with kids and furry friends

Chloe: If you have remote meetings, it’s good ‘nettiquette’ to mute yourself when you’re not speaking. Not just because it reduces feedback but also eliminates background noise (for me – cats and baby excitement!) from your own work environment.

Vicky: If you’re working at home with furry friends chances are they will want to join you. I find that my cat likes particular people’s voices, and when I’m speaking on zoom, he often thinks that I’m speaking to him. There are times when indulging your furry friends and letting them in on your meetings feels right – they’re part of our families after all! However, there are times where having your dog barking or your cat jumping up on the sides and treading on your keyboard isn’t appropriate. When I shut my door, my cat knows (begrudgingly) that play time is off limits. He’ll try his luck with scratches and meows, but I usually find he’ll give up and curl up on the bed after a minute or two!

Jo: My little furry friend Millie has her own chair (well it actually belongs to the Grandchildren but while they are at school it is Millie’s) and she uses this to sit next to me whilst i am working which kind of makes her happy.

Working from home with kids

Having spent the last 12 years offering granny day care and after school club to my grandchildren I find the following pretty useful.

Routine: Set a timetable of daily activities with the children so that they have a routine and stick to it.

20 minutes: 20 minutes for very important work and 20 minutes for very important play used throughout the day, use a timer so kids can see the count down.

Fresh air: set a time to down tools everyday and get outside for some fresh air and a little run around.

Quiet time: identify areas in the home that is everyone’s individual space where they can sit and have quiet time alone either day dreaming, reading etc and everyone has to respect that.  Make it part of your daily routine and encourage quiet time, everyone will get used to it and eventually enjoy it.


I hope you’ve enjoyed reading our top tips for home working. We love working from home, and whilst admittedly, it’s no substitute for face-to-face work where you can see the whites of people’s eyes, sense whether the energy in the room is restless or excitable, give a big high five to a learner or hug a colleague, home working can nevertheless be a creative and innovative space to work as educators. We have found we can still build and grow our communities of practice, with learners, with colleagues and with the wider world. 

We’d love to hear about your experiences as you embrace home working in all its glorious forms – welcome to our normal.