What is Action Research?

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Wikipedia defines “action research” as:

“A reflective process of progressive problem solving led by individuals working with others in teams or as part of a ‘community of practice’ to improve the way they address issues and solve problems. Action research involves the process of actively participating in an organization change situation whilst conducting research.”

It strikes that me that this is exactly the kind of outcome we are hoping our students are walking out of our classrooms being able to do. Essentially, we want our students to be able to use a variety of problem solving strategies, individually and collectively, to arrive at workable solutions and strategies for addressing progressively-difficult, authentic, real-world problems. Clearly, this desired state of students applying their learning in such a way isn’t necessarily already occurring, at least not universally and to the extent defined above.

Obviously, we want our students to be able to do this, but how often do we as educators engage directly in a similar process? To what extent are we working collaboratively with our administrators and one another with a level of trust in one another necessary to be a productive collaborative group?

Too often, we view our various roles as classroom teachers and administrative leaders too dichotomously. Therein lies the promise of initiatives such as this program and what is being implemented with the Iowa Teacher Leadership and Compensation Legislation adopted by the Iowa State Legislature. If we can blur the lines of teacher leadership and distribute leadership roles and responsibilities more broadly across a school district and engage more stakeholders, we can develop better solutions to the challenges we face.

Another positive outcome would be a greater staff buy-in to such a collaboratively developed leadership vision where teachers have a direct role in shaping the vision for education taking place in their classrooms daily. Giving teachers more ownership and responsibility for leadership outcomes holds educators to a higher standard, but also values their professional expertise and experience as those who work most directly with our students.

Action research therefore, has the potential to create a more collaborative and inclusive culture of educational professionalism where income does not determine the outcome. The merit of your ideas has more value than the title behind your name.

As teachers, we must also accept that with more power comes more responsibility. This new way of thinking will not arrive with universal acclaim from teachers and without missteps along the way. In reality, some teachers are too comfortable with the current model of top-down educational leadership. They have grown accustomed to being given little opportunity for investment and input in developing ideas and visions for educational initiatives. As a result, their buy-in to new ideas is low and they are quick to find even the most minor of flaws in an idea and are quick to point their fingers at their administrators.

With a model of distributed teacher leadership in place, teachers may now be pointing at a fellow teacher, or even themself when ideas don’t go as planned. I think this is a great and necessary consequence of action research. This shared accountability among teachers and administrators breaks down the walls that separate us unnecessarily and allows us to work together to construct common solutions and shape better ideas. Over time, we build a more reciprocal understanding of the challenges each other faces in their roles, develop more trust of one another, and best of all, continue to build a better educational experience for our students.

For those more interested in action research, another great article is: Using Action Research In Online Communities to Effect Building-Level Change

~Brad Hurst

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