Step 1 – Define the issue

In the cacophony of our daily lives in school, there is often a great deal of distracting noise. Not simply from the students we teach but from the myriad of unresolved tasks that fill our minds. In order to take the first step on the research journey, we must try our hardest to reduce this noise. We need to help ourselves as researchers to focus on the issues we face and to move beyond what Daniel Kahneman would call ‘lazy’ or ‘fast thinking’ (Kahneman, 2011). It would be easy to think of an issue we face and accept our first and most present thought, especially if our working memory is filled to capacity. However, while this most pressing issue may be relevant to the moment, it may not be at the heart of the systemic issue that affects our practice.

In order to define the issue worthy of research, both the time and place for
thinking need to be considered. We need to subdue the distracting noise that we face in school, enabling our cognitive load to reduce and finding space in our working memory to think.

The starting point to help mute this organisational noise is to find a quiet spot, away from your usual routine, to have a coaching conversation. In creating the uninterrupted place to
have a conversation that goes beyond fast thinking, you are afforded the space to find a meaningful issue that could evolve into an engaging research question. This place should be beyond distraction, be a treasured time for you and your research coach, and be a regular entitlement for you and all staff in school.

Once you have found that space and time, here are my top tips for defining the right issue to help you form a purposeful research question:

• Find time to meet with a research coach to still the distracting noise, enabling you to think about the professional issues you face.
• Use appreciative inquiry to help you recognise strengths in your practice that can inform your research question.
• Think slow in order to go beyond your initial thoughts and ideas.
• Address your own assumptions and biases related to your research issue.
• Meet with a research coach who will ask questions to encourage you to think, while allowing you to own your issue without being strong-armed into research that may lack relevance to you.
• Funnel down the issues you face and focus on one relevant and accessible issue that is purposeful to your professional roles and responsibilities.

See my book, Irresistible Learning – embedding a culture of research in schools for further explanation of step 1 of the Research Cycle


Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Penguin.

Back to the Research Cycle

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: