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The Netherlands: promoting research in VET schools

Teacher teams promote research as a method of evidence-informed innovation of education practices.

Teacher-researchers (practor) have formed a multi-disciplinary teacher team (practoraat) in many VET-schools. Practors operate as mediators conducting and linking research with education practice. They develop a structured approach to entice teachers and students in joining the creative environment of a practoraat to participate in a research project or reflect on potential reforms in teaching and learning. Demand-led and practice-based research should lead to innovation in vocational programmes or raising the quality of teaching and learning. Roughly speaking, there are two types of teacher teams (practoraten):

  • those specialised in an occupational domain such as social media, catering, logistics, mechatronics, care, welfare;
  • those specialised in an education topic and/or didactic theme: citizenship, media literacy, work-based learning.

After a slow start, this initiative is now widely acclaimed and adopted by many VET schools, supported by the foundation Leder MBO een practoraat (every VET-school a practoraat). In 2018, a total of 27 practors have been appointed and 5 practoraten are in formation. These 32 practoraten and practors are spread over 16 VET-schools. The concept is even welcomed as a milestone in the process of transforming VET-schools into centres of knowledge, operating as platforms for programming practice-based research and exchanging of knowledge and research experiences in schools.

The title practor, a neologism hinting both to the position of academic lecturers (lector in Dutch) and practice, was coined in the media college in Amsterdam, the first VET-school creating such a position six years ago. This school appointed a teacher in the position of researcher to develop, in close cooperation with colleague teachers, a series of online lessons on media literacy. One of the main findings was that teachers can be more motivated to use social media in the classroom when hearing from colleagues (instead of experts) about successful practices or after positive feedback from their students.

Following this concept, a practoraat provides direct links between research and the application of its outcomes in school practice, by applying methods of practice-based professional learning. Research is focused on questions raised in the education practice by teachers or the school management. New and creative forms of knowledge dissemination are used to spread the findings in the organisation. Practors might conduct research projects themselves and transmit the findings, but they are also expected to encourage colleagues to participate in research projects developing new knowledge through active participation.