This study analyzes the ways in which practitioner inquiry engages graduate student educators in understanding how to navigate the complexities and contingencies of teaching. By examining the challenges graduate student teachers faced while conducting practitioner inquiry, as well as the categories of teacher knowledge they developed in the process, this article demonstrates that the primary value of novice practitioner inquiry is in the cultivation of educators who can approach their practice with deeper analysis, self-awareness, and sophistication. By learning to adopt an inquiry stance and translate their research into action, they can elevate the quality of their own teaching. As they become more seasoned, and if a culture and scaffold can be created to advance and support their inquiry, teachers have the potential to enrich best practices in the field by sharing their research-generated perspectives with colleagues.
Practitioner inquiry engages educators in the valuable reflective task of asking questions about their own practice and examining evidence to make informed decisions. This research practice has gained traction in the graduate training of educators over the last two decades as a path for unpacking assumptions and biases about good teaching and testing teaching strategies in order to improve practice (Valli & Price, 2000; Valli et al., 2006; Cochran-Smith, Barnatt, Friedman, & Pine, 2009; Richert, 2012). The process of teaching and learning practitioner research skills and dispositions is not formulaic. Learning to teach is complex work; mastering conducting inquiry about one’s own teaching is even harder (Freeman, 1998; Hubbard & Power, 2003; Mills, 2007). Practitioner research also has the potential to illuminate insider perspectives on teaching that inhabit classrooms. However, as a subfield of educational research, practitioner research has come under scrutiny by academics over the relative credibility of the findings of practitioners’ studies; all the more so for novice practitioner inquiry. By examining the categories of teacher knowledge that graduate students develop through inquiry projects, as well as the challenges they face in the process, this article demonstrates that the primary value of novice practitioner inquiry is in the development of more analytical, sophisticated teachers who approach their work with an inquiry stance and a commitment to the ongoing examination of teaching in order to improve practice.