A living theory approach to educational policy formation, implementation and evaluation:  forming and sustaining a culture of inquiry for teacher-researchers as leaders of learning in a School Board.


For ICTR 2007 at National-Louis University, Chicago, 13 April 2007.


Jacqueline Delong, Grand Erie District School Board, Canada.

Jack Whitehead, University of Bath. UK.




A living theory approach to educational policy formation, implementation and evaluation has involved the creation of a new epistemology of the kind that Schon (1995) called for with the recognition that this would challenge the epistemology in the modern research university.  The living theory approach has involved the creation of new relationally dynamic standards of judgment and a living logic of inclusionality. Both the logic and standards are flowing with energy and to avoid repetition below, when we refer to living logics and standards of judgment we are referring to energy-flowing logics and values-based standards of judgment. We cannot overemphasise the importance of understanding the meaning of energy-flowing values in what we are seeking to communicate. To stress the importance  of these meanings in our communication we want to show you how Delong expressed these meanings while responding to a question on supports for teacher-research at an international panel at ICTR in Montreal in 1999.





Towards the end of this video-clip as Delong is describing the 'S.W.A.T.' team response to a request by a teacher for help in developing her action research, Delong expresses her life-affirming energy and the pleasure in loving what she does in education. It is such expressions of energy and value that characterize the explanatory principles in a living theory approach to enhancing professionalism in education.


Our standards of judgment also include forms of democratic evaluation in which we submit our accounts to the power of better argument. In this form of democractic evaluation we accept Bernstein's announcement of his two conditions of an effective democracy:


First of all, there are the conditions for an effective democracy. I am not going to derive these from high-order principles, I am just going to announce them. They first condition is that people must feel that they have a stake in society. Stake may be a bad metaphor, because by stake I mean that not only are people concerned to receive something but that they are also concerned to give something. This notion of stake has two aspects to it, the receiving and the giving. People must feel that they have a stake in both senses of the term.


Second, people must have confidence that the political arrangements they create will realise this stake, or give grounds if they do not. In a sense it does not matter too much if this stake is not realised, or only partly realised, providing there are good grounds for it not being realised or only partly realised. (Bernstein, 2000, p. xix)


In the following video-clip from a supervision session on Delong's doctorate we are expressing our commitment to democratic evaluation, to power with rather than power over, with the flow of life-affirming energy in the pleasure and laughter that is expressed after Delong's point about wisdom.





We are claiming that such energy-flowing values are necessary in the development of a living theory approach to educational policy formation, implementation and evaluation.

What now follows is Delong's narrative of forming and sustaining a culture of inquiry for teacher-researchers as leaders of learning in a School Board. The analysis of leaders of learning includes Delong's influence in supporting a Japanese researcher in developing her understanding of how Delong has helped to form and sustain such a culture of inquiry.  The culture of inquiry includes engaging with the development of Provincial Wide Standards of Practice from the Ontario College of Teachers. It includes developing an appropriate masters curriculum in partnership with a University to support a living theory approach to the professional learning of teachers. The narrative is consistent with McNiff's advocacy of a living educational theory approach to cultural transformation (McNiff, 2007a, 2007b). In relation to Schon's point about the need for a new epistemology for educational research into teacher education we are drawing on Whitehead's (2007) work on a living logic of inclusionality. This follows Marcuse's (1964, p. 105) idea of logic as a mode of thought that is appropriate for comprehending the real as rational and seeks to answer Ilyenkov's (1977) question from his work on dialectical logic, If any object is a living contradiction, what must the thought (statement about the object) be that expresses it?  Can and should an objective contradiction find reflection in thought? And if so, in what form? (p. 320).

We understand the 2,500 arguments between formal and dialectical logicians in which each denies the rationality of the other, particularly in relation to theory generation and testing (Popper, 1963, pp. 313-317). What we are suggesting is that a living logic of inclusionality, expressed through narratives forms such as that used by Delong below, can be used to appreciate the value of as logic that can integrate insights from both propositional and dialectical logics without denying the rationality of either. We are further suggesting that the public accessibility of the living theory narrative is constituting a cultural artefact. Following Said (1993) we are using the word culture to mean all those practices, like the arts of description, communication, and representation, that have relative autonomy from the economic, social, and political realms and that often exist in aesthetic forms, one of whose principal aims is pleasure. We are also using the word to include  a refining and elevating element in each society's reservoir of the best that has been known and thought (p.ii).

The explanatory power of the expression of life-affirming energy and values through a visual narrative includes its living logic and standards of judgment. Through their accessibility through web-space we believe that such artefacts are contributing to the realization of the potentials of educational action research for renewable cultural transformation (McNiff, 2007b). Evidence to support this belief is the acknowledgements of the value of a living theory approach to enhancing professionalism in education in different contexts around the world (Farren & Crotty, 2007, Laidlaw, 2007, Whitehead, 2007).


Jacqueline Delong's Account of forming and sustaining a culture of inquiry for teacher-researchers as leaders of learning in a School Board and extending this culture through international relationships.


Over 12 years, I have encouraged and supported pre-school, elementary and secondary teachers, administrators and support staff to research their practice by asking the question, " How Can I Improve My Practice?" (Delong, 2002; Whitehead, 1989, 2005). The evidence of the systemic influence is embodied in six volumes of Passion In Professional Practice: Action Research In Grand Erie  (Delong, Black And Knill-Griesser, 2001-2005) and annual conferences, Ontario Educational Research Council and Act Reflect Revise, where researchers also share their findings. The support model has been developed, refined and published in Action Research For Teaching Excellence (Delong, Black & Wideman, 2005).


In this paper, I will share ways in which I have contributed to educational policies that have influenced the development of a culture of inquiry through action research in a school board. The policy initiatives connect a number of programs and values. The programs like Roots of Empathy, Tribes, Schools Attuned, Early Learning and Parenting Centres, Mindshift and Action Research Inquiry Groups (Delong & Whitehead, 2006).The values are embodied in Character Development, Special Education Guiding Principles, Inclusive Cultures, Valuing the Other and Inquiry and Reflection. All of the programs, focused on improving students' learning by building capacity in the system, reinforce and connect to each other and embody the values and most significantly have been researched by practitioners in the District School Board (Delong, Black & Knill- Griesser, 2001-2006 and www.actionresearch.ca). One update I might include is that all of these programs have grown annually. One example is the Roots of Empathy Program which started in 3 classrooms in the Grand Erie District School Board in 2004 and now is in 27 classrooms within the system! 


I think that I am living systemic thinking as a focus for inquiry.


I set out to learn more about, and develop, how systemic thinking informs my behaviour

and approaches to inquiry. Thinking systemically, to me, includes:

Often holding in mind ideas of connectedness, systemic properties and dynamics,

persistence of patterns, and resilience;

Respecting emergence and unfolding process;

Believing that often "parts" cannot change unless there is some kind of shift in

systemic pattern, but/and that sometimes "parts" can change and influence change

in the wider "system";

Typically experiencing myself as involved in any systemic relationships I am

seeking to understand, not apart. (Marshall, 2004) 


The professional body for teachers in Ontario is the Ontario College of Teachers. The paper will show how teachers researching their educational influences in their schools are living the standards of practice and ethical standards of the OCT as well as contributing their educational knowledge to the Academy.


The significance of the presentation lies in its contribution to understanding the living standards of judgment that can be used to assess the quality of practice-based research and self-studies of teacher-education practice. The significance of the importance of developing agreed-upon procedures for transforming knowledge based on personal experiences of practice into 'public' knowledge has been highlighted by Snow (2001). Such 'public' knowledge requires comprehensible standards of judgment.


I would like to bring a new understanding of explanatory principles -  thinking of explanatory principles that are flowing with the energy I've expressed and sustained through my professional life. I think the video-clip at ICTR shows the flow of life-affirming energy with pleasure (I can also be seen to be loving what I do). 


I also want to celebrate the hundreds of teachers researching and theorizing about their practice in my district. My work, much like the "Fellow Traveller" (Spiro, 2006) has been as a "follower":

We carried on walking, and the Fellow Traveller didn't seem to be showing me anything at all, but just following where I went along the hillside.

            "But you aren't showing me. Shouldn't you be showing me the way?"

"No, quite the reverse. You choose which way you want to go, and I'll come along with you."

"Are you sure?" I asked, nervously. It seemed a strange way to lead, to be in fact a follower.

"Look, the end of the journey is over there." He pointed beyond the wood where the narrow track disappeared. "You can get there any way you like." http://www.jackwhitehead.com/spiro/jstraveller.htm (2007)


I want to include as well an international connection that has helped me to reflect on my own school system while helping a friend conduct her research. I met Kazuko (Kei) Sawamoto, a professor at Japan's Women's University in 1998 when Jack introduced us. Kei has visited me every year since and produced a number of studies, one of which was Collaborative Research For Teachers Development: a Comparative Study Between The Reflective Method and Action Research  (Sawamoto, 2003) and on February 29, 2004 I gave a address to the Japanese Association of Educators for Human Development conference in Tokyo. I have been struck by the symbiotic nature of learning in our relationship when often I have thought of my role as teaching Kei. In fact it is she who has learned a new language, English, and I still know only the basic phrases in Japanese. Kei's English had improved enormously when I chatted with her during this visit but I've got to concentrate all the time to decipher her meanings. In the taped interviews, you hear me interpreting the questions so that Kei's intentions are clear. I was interested in her purpose:


 I would like to explore the teacher development process from the perspective of the meanings of "profession" in teachers' lives through interviews with expert teachers. In doing so, I will elicit reasons why teachers have been motivated to improve their skills and knowledge as a teacher. In addition, I will clarify how they have built their professional skills and knowledge.  Furthermore, I would like to explore the meanings of the professional development in teachers' lives (Sawamoto, 2007 email).


 and her questions which included:


When are you satisfied with yourself as a teacher?

When do you build good relationships with students?

What is the meaning of being a teacher in your life?

When do you think being a teacher is hard for you? Please explain with your experiences. (Sawamoto, 2007 email).


I was, moreover, very moved by the responses of the teachers to her questions. Barkev's (one of the teachers I work with) response to her first question looked like this:


Barkev:            O.K. "Where are you most satisfied with yourself as a teacher? Please outline your experiences"

I'm most satisfied with myself as a teacher when I know that I made a difference in the lives of my students and there are many ways that I see that I've made a difference. It's not always just curriculum based. Quite often if I know that a student has decided they want to come down and sit down to talk with me about something personal, about what they're doing on the weekend; if they are part of a club; or they're part of a dance team; or that kind of stuff and if they want to share their experiences and talk about things, then I know right then and there that they feel very comfortable with me and it's very important to have a comfort level with you students. It's very important for them to be able to respect you and for you to respect them and their opinions and their lives. There is a mutual relationship that has to build in order for there to be a good solid foundation for learning.


When I reflect on the nature of my influence, I remind myself to address the issue of my hierarchical position as a superintendent in supporting the action research process, a process full of vulnerability. My colleagues and co-researchers tell me that I have a relational way of being that takes the hierarchy out of the relationship. Marion Kline, a teacher at the time, now a Vice-Principal said:


You always had time for me. We talked on the phone so comfortably and openly that I believe those conversations kept me in this [masters] program. You are such a good listener and sincerely cared about me. You give me advice with dignity. If we were really talking right now you would say, Marion, how do you know? What did I do that made you feel that way? I know you sincerely cared because of many little things you did. During one phone call you immediately said, "When can we meet?" The reaction was so genuine and you so honestly wanted to help me that I will never forget the tone of your voice and the speed of your reply. (Kline in Delong, 2002, p.262).


When Kei asked Barkev if he felt uncomfortable with his Superintendent sitting beside him, his response was, "No. I don't feel uncomfortable. I don't feel uncomfortable because I feel like in our profession, in order to grow, you have to be able to think and speak your mind and be able to have conversations and sometimes you might disagree. And that's O.K. to disagree as long as there is dialogue, as long as there is conversation and it's through that, that you learn and that you grow (Sawamoto, 2007)." Now how is that for evidence of an inquiring mind!


I found that as I was listening to Kei interview the teachers, I was reflecting on nature of my influence and on living systems thinking (Marshall). My influence was evident in the willingness of teachers and principals to open their doors and hearts to Kei (something she was unable to access in the Toronto District School Board) on very short notice. In her usual manner, Kei gives me very short timelines, at times a couple of days, and the fact that teachers and principals would agree to give their time in and out of classrooms is remarkable. The opportunity to learn from another country as well as to reflect on their values was part of my living systems thinking (Marshall, ) when I invited different schools to be involved in Kei's research. As Fullan, 2006) says, "The Ontario school system can be classified as good by most world standards, but it is not great (p. xiii)".


 While I and the teachers are learning from Kei, I agree with Jack: I'm just hoping she gets to understand just how you have developed your systemic influence in supporting the teacher-research accounts with the focus on improving learning. With Kei, if she understands what you do I think she would be very influential as the Japan Women's University moves into its new location. (Whitehead, Feb. 14, 2007 email). Kei is in a unique and challenging position in her university, her country and her research, given that she is a female in a male-dominated culture and working on an international study in a country that is very insular.


Many academics and administrators here agree that Japan's insular higher-education system would benefit enormously by opening up to the rest of the world. They cite such problems as the sluggish adoption of new course-management technologies like Blackboard's, the lack of creative thinking in departments and classrooms, and a shortage of programs for older students. Critics add that most Japanese universities are not competitive internationally: Just three Japanese institutions made the top-100 list in the 2006 rankings of the Times Higher Education Supplement, in London (McNeill, D. 2007).

Going back to Kei's visit, I can see in myself the "conceptualisations of energy and values, energy and meaning and energy and motivation (Vasilyuk, 1991, p. 63-64)." If you could have seen us on those two days, you would have seen my commitment to helping Kei and expanding the horizons of the teachers as well as maintaining the integrity of my own work in schools, and you would recognize energy and values, energy and meaning and energy and motivation (Vasilyuk, ibid ) as part of my ontology. What I didn't mention that in addition to trying to be two places at once – one with Kei and one at my school visits, I was very sick with a bronchial infection. I submit that as evidence to confront Vasilyuk's opinion that "It is not clear to what extent these conceptions are merely models of our understanding and to what extent they can be given ontological status (Vasilyuk, p. 63).


Responding to a request from the University of British Columbia for an interview on action research to be shown at the Investigating Our Practices Conference on May 5, 2007 provided another opportunity to reflect on my living systems thinking (Marshall, 2004) as well as the issue that Vasilyuk points out concerning the poor conceptualisations of energy and values, energy and meaning and energy and motivation.


I am wondering if this clip might demonstrate those conceptualizations:





I think you will hear me talk about my values as standards of judgment. The values as standards of judgment that I articulated are valuing the other, building and sustaining a culture of inquiry, creating the evidential knowledge-base of practitioner research to give voice to teachers' knowledge, sustaining collaborative learning communities for improving student learning and improving the social order. What I don't talk about in the clip is the cycles of support and non-support, 'victory narratives' and 'stories of ruin' (MacLure 1996), that I have experienced in those 12 years of building a system culture of inquiry.


Politically and economically the support has gone in cycles. In the years 1995-1998, I received encouragement both in finances and in moral support from retired Director, Peter Moffatt, even though this role did not appear in my job description until 1997.  From 1998 to 2003, with the political and economic influences of amalgamation of three schools boards into one, the momentum slowed but I did not flag in my commitment to keep moving ahead. After his retirement in 2003, support was withdrawn particularly in the form of budget.


In July 2007 during budget deliberations, the trustees directed that monies from other budgets were not to be available for action research facilitation costs. With my usual tenacity, I have worked personally with an ever-growing small group of 10 action researchers during 2006-7 who have sought me out and who meet with me once a month in an elementary school with no refreshments and a small amount of release time. At these meetings we have some of the most thoughtful and rigorous discussions I have ever experienced with a group of teachers. 


During the years of supporting teachers and school administrators to study their work in order to improve their practice there was a gnawing concern that this work should be recognized through accreditation. This led to the 1999-2001 partnership with Brock University to offer a Masters cohort program. The struggle that Michael Manley-Casimir and I experienced to get it approved by the Graduate Studies department is described in my research:


            I was totally unprepared for the resistance and obstacles presented. They included the fact that the staff was already stretched too thin, students would be drawn away from another program, cohort groups are too insular, it was contrary to policy to partner with one school board and concerns were expressed about the rigour of qualitative/practitioner research.

I naively thought that university personnel held loftier values and set students and program needs above territoriality, loss of power and fear of change. These very human responses to change reverberate across groups and organizations. A change is a crisis. It is an important learning for me that I need to recognize that and deliberately remind myself each time I am attempting to change something, no matter how apparently small it seems to me. (Delong, 2002, p. 208).

The story of that program is in my thesis (Delong, 2002, pp.204-221). One of my most uplifting memories is of the day that I sat with the faculty to watch that group of 15 walk across the stage to receive their degrees on October 20, 2001. I know that that cohort was very demanding for Michael and Susan Drake as they supervised the whole group themselves and were exhausted by the end of the program. It does not surprise me that it has taken 6 years to build up the courage to do it again. The good news is that the partnership is being renewed. The course has been proposed and approved in a process that appears to have been much smoother than the first time. The guiding question that might serve as the heuristic theme being:

How can I better understand and improve my professional practice as a curriculum leader?


The main themes for the program will include reflective practice and the value of starting with yourself, action research as one type of research, professional learning communities (with consideration for personal, interpersonal, and organizational capacity building). This emphasis can cut across multiple courses: interpersonal capacity to be covered in the leadership and curriculum courses; organizational capacity to be covered in the change course: personal capacity to be considered in the reflective practitioner course and evidence and data-based leadership (Manley-Casimir, 2007). The specific courses will be determined in the spring of 2007.


At the informational meeting on March 7, 2007, 25 interested educators attended and an additional 20 asked for the information kit later. We need 15 students to create the program and a maximum of 20. Here is evidence of my value of building a culture of inquiry, reflection and scholarship as well as the "conceptualisations of energy and values, energy and meaning and energy and motivation (Vasilyuk, 1991, p. 63-64)."  Heather Knill-Griesser described her experience in the first 1999-2001 cohort as "the best, most profound educational experience of my life. Every Saturday session gave me a 'high' because of the relaxed feeling of the sessions, the manageability of the workload, the relevance to daily life and the high level of dialogue and discussion. It was like a family.'(McMaster, C., 2007).


In the development of our living theory approach to educational policy formation, implementation and evaluation in  forming and sustaining a culture of inquiry for teacher-researchers as leaders of learning in a School Board, in the context of Ontario, we are very aware of the importance to establishing a supportive consistency between accredited programmes of continuing professional development and the Standards of Practice of the Ontario College of Teachers.


The Ontario College of Teachers is the professional body for teachers in Ontario.  The teachers we are working with are researching their educational influences in their schools in living the standards of practice and ethical standards of the OCT as well as contributing their educational knowledge to the Academy.


The significance of the above presentation lies in its contribution to understanding the living standards of judgment that can be used to assess the quality of practice-based research and self-studies of teacher-education practice. The significance of the importance of developing agreed-upon procedures for transforming knowledge based on personal experiences of practice into 'public' knowledge has been highlighted by Snow (2001). Such 'public' knowledge requires comprehensible standards of judgment. we find collective standards of judgment problematic because we believe strongly that each individual has to unwrap  and live her own embodied values through systematic investigation. Having said that, we believe that there is great need for us as a profession of educators to articulate our values as standards of judgment and thus support the ethical standards and standards of practice advocated by OCT such as Care, Trust, Respect and Integrity in the Ethical Standards. They include as well Commitment to Students and Student Learning, Professional Knowledge, Professional Practice, Leadership in Learning Communities and Ongoing Professional Learning in the Standards of Practice.
While some educators know that they exist, the new Ethical Standards and the Standards of Practice of OCT are only now being disseminated. The new standards are backed up with teachers' narratives to show their living meanings and exemplify a transformation from checklists the one-dimensional understandings of educational qualities that motivated our previous criticisms. We focused then on the importance of supporting teachers in creating their own living educational theories, "teachers would define their own professional standards of practice while taking into account the standards of practice and responsibilities of the Ontario College of Teachers" (Delong & Whitehead, 1998).
Several of the action research group from the Grand Erie District School Board joined the OCT Living The Standards Institute on November 22. 2007, lead by Jack (Jacqueline was unable to attend because of family wedding). They informed Jacqueline that they enjoyed the inquiry-based session and the recognition of teachers as knowledge creators.  Our concern continues to be that while those at the OCT who are concerned with developing the standards show a profound understanding of the ideas we are expressing in this paper, there is a great need to bring the accreditation processes for continuing professional development in both the OCT and in partnerships between the Ministry, School Boards and Universities, to a similar depth of understanding.




In developing a living theory approach to educational policy formation, implementation and evaluation in forming and sustaining a culture of inquiry for teacher-researchers as leaders of learning in a School Board, we are both aware of the uniqueness of the relational dynamics of the social contexts in which we live and work. Understanding the systemic influences in what is possible in particular contexts is vitally important in forming and sustaining a culture of inquiry for teacher-researchers as leaders of learning in a School Board. The educational influences we have had in the growth of each others educational knowledge have evolved from connecting our different international contexts and professional interests. Jack has focused on the validation and legitimation of the living theories of practitioner-researchers with their living logics and standards of judgment. He has also focused on enhancing their flow as cultural artifacts through web-space from http://www.actionresearch.net. Jacqueline has focused on the systemic influences for sustaining a culture of inquiry of policy formation, implementation and evaluation in a School Board as well as her own knowledge-creation as  practitioner-researcher.  We hope that we have stressed sufficiently the importance of the motivating values that we use to give meaning and purpose to our lives, as explanatory principles in our explanations of our educational influences in learning.


We have seen the significance of the expression of such ontological values in the living theories of the teacher-researchers we have worked with. We have also seen the motivational significance of the recognition by colleagues of these values, as well as the motivational significance of seeing the values recognized as valid explanatory principles in the living theories accredited by universities as being worthy of masters and doctoral degrees.  As the heart of these motivational energies and values are the life-affirming and creative responses of pupils and students to the learning environments created by educators, administrators and policy makers. We believe that the living educational theories of all educators, students and pupils are connected to the future of humanity through the life-affirming and creative responses in which individuals seek to be true to themselves in an uncertain world (Walton, 2007).


Through the development and sharing of insights from our individual and collaborative enquiries we have documented the growth of our educational knowledge. As we seek to enhance the educational influences of living educational theories in contributing to the creation of a world of educational quality we are most aware of the nature of the relationship between generating educational theories of improving practice and generating cultures of inquiry that can help to form and sustain a world of educational quality.

Ideas from Whitehead's research concerning the generation of living educational theories, living logics and living standards of judgment have been found useful in exploring the implications of asking, researching and answering questions of the kind, 'How do I improve my practice?'  Delong's expression of her leadership in learning in generating her own living educational theory and working in policy arenas to form and sustain a culture of inquiry have been recognized by others as being highly significant in improving practice in education. Others are now studying these ideas with the intention of enhancing their own effectiveness in educational policy formation, implementation and evaluation. The importance of connecting, as Delong has done, policy formation, implementation and evaluation and the standards of practice and judgement in improving practice has been recently analysed (Joan Whitehead, 2007; Whitehead, J. & Whitehead, J, 2007).  The originality of Delong's contribution to educational knowledge lies in the dynamic and responsive relationship to forming and sustaining a culture of inquiry for teacher-researchers as leaders of learning with systemic influence in a School Board. Her contributions to improving practice can be appreciated in the accounts of the practitioner-researchers in the Grand Erie District School Board as they research the implications of asking themselves how to improve their practice in enhancing their contributions to the creation of a world of educational quality.




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