Action Research Implemented in The Grand Erie District School Board: Impact on Teacher Development, Improvement and the Support System

 

Jacqueline Delong’s Lecture to the Japanese Association of Educators for Human Development on the 29th February 2004.

 

 

I want to thank Professors Asada and Sawamoto and the organisers of the conference for giving me this opportunity to talk with you today about Action Research implemented in the Grand Erie District School Board and its impact on teacher development, improvement and the support systems we have provided.

 

I’d like to set a little context for my address first. It is my first trip to Japan and I am very pleased to be here in your beautiful country. Over the past 5 years I have had opportunities to host Professors Nojima, Asada, Ikuta and Sawamoto in my school board so they can verify that the stories I tell of the growing knowledge base of teaching and learning in action research are accurate. They have the impact of the development of action research approaches to the professional development of teachers in my district. I am delighted to be here to share ideas on ways in which action research may be of use to your work as teachers, professors, graduates and undergraduates in the field of education.

 

I know that I have in this audience some of the contributors to a book on Action Research in Japan that is due to be published in April 2004 - I think it includes a Japanese translation of a foreword by Jack Whitehead. I think Professor Ikuta and Tadashi Asada have been involved in this and that Tadashi Asada produced a paper some two years ago on what is called Kounnai Ken (I am unsure of the spelling). This is about a professional development model that draws on the Japanese understanding of action research.  The keynote Jack gave in 2001 setting out the systematic cycle of action research and stressing the importance of understanding that the practitioner is researching

their own practice with the aim of improving has been published in both English and Japanese.

 

I reflect back, as well, to September 8, 2002 when Professor Sawamoto from Japan Women’s University visited me in my home. She and I had long discussions around the nature of action research and how it compared with her work in reflective practice. She then wrote a paper called “A Meeting in The Beautiful Garden” which she published in A Collaborative Research For Teachers’ Development: A Comparative Study Between The Reflective Method and Action Research (Sawamoto, 2003).

 

For the conference, I have been asked to include an overall view, in addition to the details of action research being implemented in the Grand Erie District School Board.  I wish to build my address around three points. One, the particular nature of the action research that we are doing in Grand Erie. Two, the significance of embodied knowledge and how we have built a system in the Grand Erie District School Board over eight years to produce an evidential base. Three, the critical role of that evidential base of action research to transform systems and its role in career long professional growth. Throughout I will stress the importance for my distributed form of leadership to be carrying out action research into my own educational influence in creating a culture of inquiry as a senior administrator and practitioner-researcher.

 

Let me take a minute to describe my own context. The Grand Erie District School Board is a medium sized rural, semi-urban school district in the province of Ontario in Canada. The district encompasses an area of 4,067 sq. km. in south-central Ontario We employ 2000 instructional staff for 70 schools for children ages 4 to 14 and 16 schools for students ages 14 to 20, with a total student population of 30,000. I am the superintendent responsible for program, that is curriculum, special education and research.

        

First, the living educational theory form of action research

 

It is important to know that my work and the examples of the teachers’ research that I use is based primarily on the work of Jack Whitehead at the University of Bath, UK. Whitehead’s living educational theory of action research (Whitehead, 1989) places the researcher at the centre of the research. Questions of the kind, “How can I improve my practice?” focus the investigation on the teacher and her practice with the students in the classroom.

 

In conducting action research, teachers use the same kinds of quantitative and qualitative data that they have always collected to assess student learning. However, as action researchers, they now analyze this data to assess the success of their own teaching in teaching their students.  They also use other kinds of qualitative data in their research.  For example, video taping lessons helps them analyze their own teaching and keeping their own journals helps them capture and keep track of developments in their own thinking about teaching.  Other sources of qualitative and quantitative data external to the classroom and school are also helpful, such as the reports on the results of provincial tests of mathematics and language learning in Grades 3, 6, 9 and 10.

 

Once teachers have begun to research their practice, they are more able to theorize about how they work with their students and what methods and strategies work or don’t work. They are also more inclined to access the research of others including the work of  academics and other practitioners like themselves. This approach to research attempts to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

 

In workshops I give on action research, I have found it important to focus on two kinds of knowledge in action research. The first kind of knowledge I will call ‘propositional knowledge’. The second kind of knowledge I call ‘embodied knowledge’. This is the knowledge in what we do as students and educators.

 

Š             Propositional Knowledge - This is the knowledge we communicate through our language in the frameworks of statements that constitute our traditional academic theories of education.

 

Š             Embodied Knowledge - This is the knowledge in what we do as educators. It is the knowledge we express in action that enables us to do what we do.

 

Doing action research requires an understanding of ‘embodied knowledge’. That is the knowledge that enables you to do what you do in your professional practice. If you want to do action research in your field sites you need to understand that this is a new methodology. Like much new learning it is often difficult in the beginning.

 

While generalizability and transferability of the research findings are rare in this form of research, others may find the process more understandable and a pattern to be followed. Where a number of teachers research similar questions, a critical mass on a particular topic may begin to develop. However, I believe there are no control groups for the dynamic environments of teachers and classrooms all of which include many variables. Thus, teacher researchers must do their own learning about their way of being with their students and parents in their own community of learners.

 

In Whitehead’s form of action research, values are at the centre. While we often think that we know our values, researching questions like, “How do I improve my practice?” focuses the lens directly on how we are with students, parents and colleagues.

 

Second, a bit on the history of action research in Grand Erie

 

In 1995, my board became a partner in a four-board initiative funded by the Ontario Ministry of Education to use action research as a means to implement the curriculum. Starting with five teachers and two school administrators who took a risk, (Barkans, MacDonald, Morgan, 1996) we began a process of building a culture of inquiry, reflection and scholarship in the school system. It began as a small group of committed individuals and, today, has grown to a critical mass of over 300 practitioner-researchers (Delong, 2001).

 

Despite the enormous upheaval of the restructuring of the education system in Ontario in the late 90’s, action research continued to grow in strength. The evidence of this critical mass is captured in action research publications, conferences, and support groups across the school system (Delong, 2001). In 1997, I partnered with Dr. Ron Wideman, Associate Dean of Education at Nipissing University to found the Ontario Action Researcher (www.nipissingu.ca/oar/), an electronic refereed journal intended to promote the development of educational knowledge through action research by elementary, secondary, and university teachers.

 

In 1999, again Ron and I worked together in a partnership among Grand Erie, The Nipissing-Parry Sound Catholic District School Board, Nipissing University, and the Ontario Educational Quality and Accountability Office. The partners supported and published, An Action Research Approach to Using Provincial Test Results to Improve Student Learning (Wideman, Delong, Morgan & Hallett, 2003). The findings in the research of the teachers and professional support staff demonstrated that the data in standardized assessments can be utilized to help teachers focus their efforts on improving the achievement of the students.

 

The teachers’ own assessments and the 2000 EQAO test results indicate substantial success. Teachers began to see provincial test results as friendly data that schools can use to improve student learning, and action research and feedback/corrective action as powerful methods to do so. The study contributes to understanding how provincial testing and action research can be used to improve student learning, what constitutes effective teacher in-service, and the benefits of teacher research (Wideman et al, 2003, abstract).

 

During 1999-2001, Brock University offered a Master of Education cohort program in which 14 Masters students from Grand Erie each conducted a research project using the action research methodology. All but two of these students is in a leadership role in the board and, therefore, carries that philosophy into a position of influence.

 

In 2003, Nipissing University began to provide its Master of Education program in our district with an initial cadre of 65 students.  Candidates have the option of conducting action research for their master’s level research papers and theses.

 

Most recently, Grand Erie has established its own web site on action research (www.actionresearch.ca) to provide additional opportunities for its teachers to share the results of their action research with colleagues locally, nationally, and internationally. I need to take a moment to make an internet connection here to show www.actionresearch.ca, www.oerc.net, www.nipissingu.ca/oar and www.actionresearch.net. So that is the evidential base that is so important to solidifying the role of the knowledge of the practitioner in improving student learning.

 

Providing systemic support for action research

 

Systemic support means building a culture within the school and school district that supports action research. Each year, over the years 1995 to 2004, we have worked to build a culture of inquiry, reflection, and scholarship (Delong, 2002). Living a value of inquiry and reflection inherently means that all members of the organization question and challenge decisions based on hierarchy and assumptions that cannot answer questions like, “How do you know?” Such activity can be disturbing for those who have not yet thought through their values and assumptions. The nature of this form of action research is embedded in a values-based inquiry where teachers ask the question, “Am I living my values fully in my practice?”

 

Systemic support also means dedicating financial resources directly to classroom research. In the beginning in Grand Erie, we had small amounts of money tucked in different budgets. Then we drew on a system innovation budget for six years which meant that each year we were required to submit proposals for particular research projects. Finally in 2002, a research budget was established in the district’s base budget, broken down into a central fund, which supported central projects and networking groups, and funds for each of the families of schools.

 

Systemic support means sustained school and school board support for researchers. In Grand Erie, this comes in a variety of forms including:

Š             five days each year of release time from teaching to focus on one’s action research

Š             facilitated support during those five days, visits to observe in other teachers’ classrooms, and meeting time with critical friends

Š             collaborative, supportive group meetings

Š             critical friends

Š             professional development sessions on aspects of conducting research

Š             opportunities to meet with experts in action research and content areas

Š             attendance at the Ontario Educational Research Conference

Š             access to books, still and video cameras, tape recorders, and other resources to support one’s research

Š             opportunities to share one’s research at workshops, conferences and in publications

Š             building action research into policies and systems.

 

I have used You and Your Action Research Project (McNiff, Lomax and Whitehead, 1996) with my teacher researchers and they found it helpful in providing a ‘framework’ for their action research. 

 

Finally, it is essential that the leaders of action research not only inspire teachers to ask questions like, “How do I improve my practice?” but also conduct action research themselves. It is not a process that you can understand by reading about it. I'd like to stress the importance of the creativity of individuals and listening to each others' ideas – these are not 'technical solutions' or 'handbooks' that are then followed to the letter. This form of action research is non-hierarchically and asks the academics and administrators

to give up some of the controlling of the knowledge. The idea that teachers have significant contributions to make to knowledge-creation may feel strange to some, unless you have been influenced by Professors like Ikuta and Sawamoto.

 

You have to do it. The leadership must come from all layers of the organization but it will not be sustained without leaders at the senior executive level who model and support the action research processes.

 

I think that as students and educators you want to improve the learning of the students in your classrooms and lecture halls. I think that you can help your students to learn better and your teachers to teach better and your leaders to lead better by starting with yourselves, by modelling this very professional way of developing yourself.

 

How can we link theory and practice in professional learning?

 

A consistent theme in discussions on education is the degree to which academic research influences teachers’ classroom practice. A variety of reasons for the theory-practice gap are cited such as the esoteric nature of academic research and the quality of writing in academic articles. In the three volumes of Passion In Professional Practice (Delong, 2001; Black & Delong, 2002; Delong, Black & Knill-Griesser, 2003) we have evidence indicating that teachers make more use of academic research when they begin to conduct their own research in their own classrooms. They begin to reach out to other researchers to support or challenge their own findings. In fact, they seem to have a confidence in their own knowledge that encourages them to see other research as more accessible and less foreign to their experience.

 

My experience tells me that teachers may be intimidated by academic (university) research and the fear of being overwhelmed prevents them from approaching it. The term ‘research’ itself presents a block because of the stereotypical images many teachers have of what research entails. Conducting one’s own research demystifies research. Using one’s own observations as valid data which can inform one’s practice makes the research of others less intimidating and more accessible.

 

What are the five reasons for conducting action research?

 

When a teacher conducts action research in her classroom, there are benefits that radiate outwards like the concentric circles of ripples that result from throwing a pebble in a pond. The benefits begin with students and extend outward to teachers, the school, the school system and the education profession as a whole.

 

i) Benefits for Students

 

The whole purpose of conducting action research is to improve student learning. The bottom line question to be asked is “How is what I am doing helping my students to learn better?” The research process is a matter of focusing attention in a systematic investigation to see if a strategy or program is working to improve the learning of the students in the class. The process will impact on the professional learning of the teacher but the purpose is still the learning of the students.

 

The creation of a culture of inquiry in the classroom and school emerges from the teacher modelling reflective practice. This culture will encourage critical and creative thinking essential to the improvement of learning for students and teachers.

                                               

ii) Benefits for Teachers

 

The experience of conducting and sharing research on their classroom gives teachers the confidence of ‘knowing’ what works and does not work to improve the learning of the students. Articulating and testing whether one is living in accordance with one’s values is part of the inquiry process. It can be transformatory in validating their professional experience; it can also be disturbing when the teacher finds that she is not living up to her values.

 

A confidence in knowing what they know (and don’t know) can give teachers a renewed energy and faith in their commitment to their students and their professional growth. They have a sense of control over their lives as professional educators.

 

iii) Benefits for Schools

 

One benefit of action research in classrooms is that the knowledge, skills, and values of the students, teachers, and parents are examined and shared. It is through a process of building understanding and agreement that change is accomplished in schools. Action research is about our students, teachers and community and is, therefore, directly relevant to the improvement of our school at this time. It is meaningful activity and, therefore, there is a raised level of professional dialogue amongst all parties.

 

iv) Benefits for School Systems

 

In an era of increasing demands for accountability, the research knowledge base that arises out of the compilation of the research of teachers across the system gives evidence of a commitment to improvement. It also provides evidence of strategies and programs that have proven effective for students in our classrooms. The context is specifically ours. No two systems, no two schools, no two teachers (and so on) are the same. We all need to do our own research.

 

v) Benefits for the Teaching Profession

 

There is a growing body of knowledge emerging from practitioner research in many countries in the world. Examples of this kind of knowledge may be found in such publications as the Ontario Action Research (www.nipissingu.ca/oar) and the action research website (www.actionresearch.ca). That body of knowledge celebrates the voice of the classroom teacher, a voice that has frequently been ignored and controlled by academics, school system administrators, and political leaders.

 

I want to share with you some examples in practice

 

This excerpt is from the project of Deb Opersko. Deb was a primary teacher when she undertook this project. She had been teaching for fifteen years and had her specialist certification in Primary and Junior Divisions, as well as her Reading specialist.  In September of 2002, she began a new position as Primary Consultant at the Simcoe School Support Centre. This was Deb’s first action research project.

 

Deb’s Question: How can I increase reading ability using “Guided Reading” strategies?

 

Deb’s project was published in Passion in Professional Practice, Volume 2 (Black & Delong, 2002) and is also available at www.actionresearch.ca. The final section of her research report includes her conclusions and her plans for future action.  In her writing, professional growth, values, use of data and learning process are evident.

 

I feel confident that my research improved my students’ reading ability.  Not only that, it improved my teaching practices.  My diagnostic testing showed that all of my students made gains, both in reading skills and comprehension. My observation showed me that each child’s attitude toward reading was a positive one.  I feel teaching children to read is one of my greatest joys. I am proud that I introduced my pupils to many wonderful authors and fantastic stories, through my use of quality fiction and non-fiction. I hope as my students leave my classroom they will remember all the wonderful books we shared together and that I have set them on the path to becoming lifelong readers who cherish the value of a good book.

         

I will continue to refine my methods for using guided reading in my classroom and continue to share what I learned and what worked for me with my colleagues.  I don’t feel guided reading is something that can be perfected in just a year, but needs to be continued as I grow as a professional.  I am a firm believer that these methods are successful for teaching reading.

          

I will also continue to engage in Action Research.  It has been too worthwhile to do only once and I have lots of other ideas to explore! (Black & Delong, 2002, p. 180).

 

 

I have been advised by Kei Sawamoto to spend a few moments on this form of research for those for whom this is completely new. I apologize if this is redundant.

 

I want to show you what I mean by asking you to do something that I think will be difficult for you. You might find it embarrassing. It is however important I want you to talk to each other!

 

* To talk to your neighbour for two minutes each about something you want to improve in your practice.

 

I will then ask you to:

 

Š             Explain to your neighbour for two minutes how you might improve what you are doing in your professional practice.

 

 

 

 

So let me review the process of conducting action research

 

1.   Identify an area of concern.

The initial step is one of having a passionate concern about something in your practice. It is driven by a desire to improve your practice with the learning of your students in your classroom or with the teachers with whom you work.  It is a process by which a person observes the effect of their actions, changes their practice accordingly and observes the impact. The area of concern you identify will be the basis of the research question you develop.

 

2.   Use data to assess your practice.

Start to collect data related to your area of concern.  Data is commonly thought of as numbers and statistics. Such quantitative data is useful.  However, in studying our work there is much more qualitative data that can inform our improvement. These include such things as teacher and parent observations, student and teacher journals, report cards, photographs, and videotapes. You need to inform and involve teachers, parents and students in the research.

 

2.   Develop a research question.

As you collect and analyze data, you will be able to focus your concern into a research question.  Usually the question begins with the words, “How can I….” For example, if your concern is about the level of mathematics learning in your classroom, your research question may be, “How can I improve my students’ ability to explain their answers in problem solving?”  The question comes from the passionate concern that a teacher has about her practice and the achievement of her students. The question changes frequently in the process of data collection and analysis. It is open to change and does not presume a particular solution as there may be many.

                                                        

3.  Work with a critical friend.

A critical friend is someone who shares your values and who is willing to help you with your project.  Your critical friend is essential to the process because he/she looks at your data and conclusions with “fresh eyes.” The ideal is someone in your school/building because you can easily get time together to dialogue. This person can be in any role, but a person in the same grade or building may be more familiar with your content and context. Trust is the most essential quality of a critical friend. The relationship should be based on mutual respect so that there can be sharing of critical feedback.

 

4.   Focus on action.

The action research process is based on a cycle of “act, reflect, revise” (McNiff, 1996). One of the differences between reflective practice and action research is the focus on action. There is an expectation that researchers will act to improve their practice. This involves keeping a written record of what they do and on its impact, reflecting on that data, and then revising one’s future actions as necessary.

 

5.   Modify your question as necessary

In the process of data collection and analysis, sometimes it becomes clear to the researcher that the original question has changed. The process of researching your practice tests your assumptions about who you are and what you do in your classroom. A new or refined question emerges based on what you learn about your work and its impact on students.

 

6.          Validate your findings

Practitioners often ignore the process of checking the validity of stories of their own learning in meetings of colleagues, in conferences and on the internet.  Many teachers and other professionals do not see the need to produce such stories as part of their professional development.  It is only by producing your own story of your professional learning that you will experience the educational value of seeing yourself as a knowledge-creator and a contributor to the knowledge-base of education.

 

I found helpful the work of Jurgen Habermas (1975) on social validation in asking these questions:

 

Is my account comprehensible to you?

Have I produced sufficient evidence to justify a claim to know my influence on my own learning and the learning of others?

Have I clarified the meanings of my embodied values in my inquiry ‘How do I improve what I am doing?’

Have I sustained my commitment to improving my practice through time?

 

It is important in action research to trust your own originality of mind and critical judgement to find the appropriate form for describing and explaining your own professional learning. When you are writing your stories of your learning and helping your students and teachers to construct their stories of their learning you need to understand how to test the validity of these stories.

 

7.     Draw conclusions

Since the investigation is about your situation, your conclusions can only apply to your situation. We are not looking for conclusions about how the particular strategy or process might work in other situations. If a systematic data collection, analysis and validation process has been used, and you have received feedback from your critical friends and other colleagues, there is good reason to believe that your conclusions are trustworthy.

 

8.   Record and share your project

Initially, writing about their projects may be difficult for practitioner researchers. The significance of the writing process for learning becomes evident once they have made the effort to share in writing what their study has taught them. A second reason to write about a project lies in its contribution to the knowledge base of the profession and the life of other teachers and students. At first many practitioners do not feel that they have anything worth sharing. Once they see the value of what they know, they are eager to share on a stage that is comfortable for them.

 

Some more examples from the field

 

The following are two examples of the reflection and personal learning that the action research process affords those teachers willing to research their practice. 

 

First, is the personal reflection of Niki Bales. Niki is currently a Family Studies teacher at Pauline Johnson Collegiate and Vocational School.  She teaches all sections of the Grade 9 open level Food and Nutrition courses in the Department of Family Studies and has been teaching at this school for three years.

 

Niki’s Question: How can I create a culture of responsibility in my classroom to develop social and life skills with my essentials level students?

 

This excerpt from Niki’s project touches on her process of modifying her practice based on her observations, outlines her method of data collection, and identifies the conclusions she drew as a result of researching her professional practice. Her learning process also helped her to articulate some of her values.

 

I have always found it rewarding to share my passion for teaching and knowledge. I find it benefits my students.  Moreover, I want to provide a positive, creative and enriching environment where students can explore and benefit from education. I have discovered that students respond best to a positive and 'fun' teaching environment where they can explore and benefit from educational experiences.  I encourage fair and genuine human relations in the classroom. 

 

Through the changes and modifications I have made in my teaching practice, during this action research project, I have realized that students are extremely responsive to my teaching approach. Through journaling, observation, and data collection I was able to see all the positive changes in my classroom and how these changes affected attitude and learning. In addition, action research has allowed me to see the many positive social skills that students gain in a class like Food and Nutrition as well as the value that is given to these skills. I hope that these valuable lessons learned in class will further benefit my students in their future endeavours

(Delong, Black & Knill-Griesser, 2003).

 

Next, is a description by Melanie Rivers. Melanie is currently a Grade 2 teacher at Riverview School.  It is her third year teaching, working in the primary division.

 

Melanie’s Question: How can I create an inclusive atmosphere to support an autistic student in my classroom?

 

This excerpt from Melanie’s project describes part of her process of developing and modifying her question and the valuable help of a critical friend. This example was chosen as it showed Melanie’s use of the act, reflect, revise cycle and the way in which her research question changed as she worked on her project.

 

This seemed to be a good thing but what next, what was I going to do? I started to consider trying this next year instead because of the uncertainty of what I wanted to pursue.  At the Brantford Action Research Network meeting on November 20th, 2002, I shared my concerns with the group.  Chris Ryder convinced me that I have a great opportunity.  She told me to start taking pictures of students working with Matt, post them in the class and start journals with the students on how they feel when they include Matt (Reflective Journal, Nov. 20. 2002).

 

After my conversation with Chris I believed my focus question in my classroom was “How can I use photography to promote inclusion of an autistic student in my classroom?”

 

After working through various activities, and reflecting on various observations, Melanie made the following observation about the evolution of her question:

 

After acknowledging all the indicators of success I came to the realization that my question had evolved from something quite narrow and small.  The photography was just a small part of creating inclusion. It had been a motivator for students in my class to start to create an inclusive atmosphere.  But, at the same time equally important as the books I read and the song we sang.  Therefore, my question changed to “How can I create an inclusive atmosphere to support an autistic student in my classroom?

 

My third point is about the significance of the evidential base of action research to transform systems.

 

Catherine Snow's Presidential Address to AERA in 2001 on 'Knowing What We Know: Children, Teachers, Researchers', draws attention to the importance of developing procedures for systematizing practitioners' knowledge of education:

 

The …. challenge is to enhance the value of personal knowledge and personal experience for practice. Good teachers possess a wealth of knowledge about teaching that cannot currently be drawn upon effectively in the preparation of novice teachers or in debates about practice. The challenge here is not to ignore or downplay this personal knowledge, but to elevate it. The knowledge resources of excellent teachers constitute a rich resource, but one that is largely untapped because we have no procedures for systematizing it. Systematizing would require procedures for accumulating such knowledge and making it public, for connecting it to bodies of knowledge established through other methods, and for vetting it for correctness and consistency. If we had agreed-upon procedures for transforming knowledge based on personal experiences of practice into ‘public’ knowledge, analogous to the way a researcher’s private knowledge is made public through peer-review and publication, the advantages would be great. For one, such knowledge might help us avoid drawing far-reaching conclusions about instructional practices from experimental studies carried out in rarified settings. Such systematized knowledge would certainly enrich the research-based knowledge being increasingly introduced into teacher preparation programs. And having standards for the systematization of personal knowledge would provide a basis for rejecting personal anecdotes as a basis for either policy or practice  (Snow, 2001, p.9). 

 

My response to Catherine Snow’s desire to systematize and provide “procedures for accumulating such knowledge and making it public, for connecting it to bodies of knowledge established through other methods, and for vetting it for correctness and consistency” is embodied in the three volumes of Passion In Professional Practice. It is a contribution to the necessary evidential base of research by practising teacher and  administrator researchers as I conducted my own research on my practice as a superintendent and supported others to do the same in an emerging culture of inquiry, reflection and scholarship.

 

Action Research As Career Long Professional Growth

 

My last point about the role of action research in career-long professional growth and to stress the importance for my distributed form of leadership to be carrying out action research into my own educational influence in creating a culture of inquiry as a senior administrator and practitioner-researcher. One of our prime goals as educators is to produce graduates who have the capacity as adults to self-assess. How does that happen if not through the modelling of teachers and administrators who take responsibility for their own growth and improvement through a lifetime of questioning their effectiveness and setting their own standards of judgment and practice?

 

It is sometimes easy to say what should be done to improve education. It is often more difficult to do it. When I was conducting my research on my practice as a superintendent of schools, I asked the principals in my family of schools to evaluate my performance in a public forum. They told me that I talked too much at our meetings. Because we had taped the meetings, I was able to analyze the transcripts of the meetings and sure enough I was dominating the discussion. I changed my practice from then on to talk less at the meetings and allow them to talk more. I enjoy talking. It took a great deal of will power and determination to reduce my talk as I modified my plan and actions in response to my evaluations.

 

This approach to professionalism can only happen in a culture of inquiry and reflection with support systems to sustain it. I now want to finish by emphasizing that action research requires more than following someone else’s guidelines or manuals. It is more than applying principles to practice. It is more about showing how your own embodied values are influencing your own learning and the learning of students and teachers. This is a creative process and needs you to trust your capacities as knowledge-creators as well as knowledge-users. It also needs a lot of talking with individuals and groups as well as a willingness to ask others to help us to improve our practice. This is not an easy thing to do. Important contributions to education are rarely made without a lot of effort!

 

My last word is to wish you well in your own action research into improving the quality of education within your local contexts and within our international communities.

 

Jackie Delong, 2004

 

 

References

 

Black, C.  & Delong, J. (Eds.) (2002) Passion in Professional Practice: Action Research in Grand Erie, Volume II. Brantford: Grand Erie District School Board.

Delong, J. (2000) My Epistemology of Practice of the Superintendency, in McNiff, J. (2000) Action Research in Organisations. London; Routledge.

Delong, J. (Ed.) (2001) Passion in Professional Practice: Action Research in Grand Erie, Volume I. Brantford: Grand Erie District School Board.

Delong, J., Black, C. & Knill-Griesser, H. (Eds.) (2003) Passion in Professional Practice: Action Research in Grand Erie, Volume III. Brantford: Grand Erie District School Board.

Habermas, J. (1975) Communication and the Evolution of Society. London; Routledge.

McNiff, J., Lomax, P. & Whitehead, J. (1996) You and Your Action Research Project. London; Routledge.

Sawamoto, K. (2003). A Collaborative Research For Teachers’ Development: A Comparative Study Between The Reflective Method and Action Research. Paper by Kei Sawamoto.

Snow, C. E. (2001) Knowing What We Know: Children, Teachers, Researchers. Presidential Address to AERA, 2001, in Seattle, in Educational Researcher, Vol. 30, No.7, pp.3-9.

Stenhouse, L. (1967) Culture and education. London; Nelson.

Whitehead, J. (1989) Creating A Living Educational Theory From Questions Of The Kind, ‘How Do I Improve My Practice?’ Cambridge Journal of Education. Vol. 19, No. 1.

McNiff, J, Lomax, P. & Whitehead, J. (1996) You and Your Action Research Project. London: Routledge.

Whitehead, J., Yasukata, F. & Tamara, Y. (2002) Action Research: research methodology based on field activities.  Keynote to the 6th Japan Academy of Diabetes Education and Nursing, in The Journal of Japan Academy of Diabetes Education and Nursing, Vol. 6, pp. 22-35.

Wideman, R., Delong, J., Hallett, K., & Morgan, D. (2000) An Action Research Approach to Improving Student Learning Using Provincial Test Results. Toronto: EQAO.