Throughout the nation, teachers and administrators are being challenged to collaboratively investigate the effectiveness of research-based instructional practices currently used in classrooms to improve student learning. Current accountability mandates, such as those through the Education for All program, highlight the goals of high-quality implementation of research-based instructional practices and techniques to ensure success for all students. Teachers are encouraged to reflect on and analyze student data on a consistent and collaborative basis to ensure success for all students. In order to meet the challenges being faced, schools are encouraged to restructure their professional development system providing faculty members with opportunities for collaborative inquiry, reflection, and dialogue what is driven by student data.
Basic or action research is a model of professional development that promotes collaborative inquiry, reflection, and dialogue. “Within the basic or action research process, educators study student learning related to their own teaching. It is encouraged that every classroom teacher especially the master teacher shall do even a very simple action research. It is a process that allows educators to learn about their own instructional practices and to continue to monitor improved student learning” (Rawlinson & Little, 2004). “The idea of action research is that educational problems and issues are best identified and investigated where the action is: at the classroom and school level. By integrating research into these settings and engaging those who work at this level in research activities, findings can be applied immediately and problems solved more quickly” (Guskey, 2000). Therefore action research is a continuous and reflective process where educators make instructional decisions in their classrooms based on student needs reflected by classroom data. The action research process involves four phases:
- identifying a classroom problem
- developing and implementing an action research plan
- collecting and analyzing data
- using and sharing results.
Action research provides teachers and administrators with an opportunity to better understand what happens in their school. This process establishes a decision-making cycle that guides instructional planning for the school and individual classrooms. Creating the need for research and establishing an environment for conducting classroom action research is the responsibility of a school administrator. A principal’s support of any new initiative is crucial in order for the practice to be sustained and impact student learning.
This support is ongoing as the principal should ensure the following components are established to promote an effective learning environment for their faculty:
- provide sufficient and consistent opportunities in the school day for collaborative action research (studying, analyzing student work, dialoguing collaboratively, and analyzing student data to make instructional decisions)
- build a support system for teachers through a coach or a knowledgeable person(s) of the action research process, student learning, and instructional practices
- set high expectations for faculty and students
- create a professional library housing professional literature, assessment tools, and other instructional resources for faculty
- plan several sharing sessions for faculty to present their action research and findings throughout the year
- encourage all faculty to participate, including the principal and assistant principals
The support for continuous learning of all within the school is the most important task of the leadership within a school. Trust and collaboration are critical components of a school that seeks to embark on problem-solving instructional dilemmas through action research. Once a climate of mutual trust and support has been established, the administrators continue to support this critical process of action research through their knowledge, organization and management, and continuous alignment and support of teachers throughout the action research process.
Within the action research process, teachers may choose to focus their study on one student, a small group of students, a class or several classes, or a whole school. The focus and level of participation among school and district colleagues depends on the level of support, needs, and interests of the teacher(s) and school. Emily Calhoun (1993) described three approaches to action research: individual teacher research, collaborative action research, and school-wide action research. Even though the environments are different, the process of action research remains the same. This process uses data to identify classroom/school problems, creates and implements a plan of action, collects and analyzes data, uses and shares the results, and makes instructional decisions to improve student learning continuously.
Individual teacher research focuses on studying a problem or issue within a single classroom. The teacher who engages in individual teacher research may or may not have support from colleagues and administration to share, brainstorm, and discuss the topic of action research. Although just one teacher may become directly involved in action research, support from knowledgeable educators at the school or district site is still important for successful teacher research to occur. Also, universities, educational agencies, and districts may encourage teacher action research by providing ongoing professional development related to the needs of the individual teacher researcher. These resources may also provide different venues for sharing the successes of the action research.
Collaborative action research focuses on studying a problem or issue within one or more classrooms. Teachers may collaborate and work together to study a particular problem in many different ways
- co-teachers in one classroom studying a specific group of students
- a team of teachers focusing on a grade level issue
- a teacher and district, educational agency, or university personnel learning and studying a particular instructional practice
- a group of teachers in the same school studying the same instructional concern.
This collaborative action research approach fosters a joint effort because more than one teacher is involved in a specific area of study. Opportunities for sharing and dialogue are more likely to occur.
School-wide action research is a school reform initiative. Every faculty member of the school is involved in studying a specific issue identified from school data. This approach requires a great deal of support from the administrators and lead teachers/personnel, but the results can lead to school-wide change. Successful school-wide action research is directly related to initiatives contained within the school improvement plan.
Please refer to the chart on the following page to read examples of research questions that were studied using the different approaches of action research.
Different Approaches to Action Research
Level of Focus
Level of Participation
Example of Research Question
|Individual||Single classroom||Individual teacher||1. What impact can daily phonemic awareness activities have on my kindergarten students’ oral language development? (kindergarten teacher) 2. How can using concrete objects (manipulatives) improve my students’ ability to identify and extend patterns in mathematics? (third grade teacher)|
|Collaborative||One or more classrooms||Co-Teachers, teams, departments, & teachers, school faculty & teachers, teachers within a district, etc.||1. How can students with disabilities experiencing deficits in phonemic awareness show improvement in those skills by participating in additional and intensive instruction in phonemic awareness activities at least four times per week? How will it affect their overall reading ability? (exceptional student education (ESE) teacher & literacy coach) 2. How can implementing “Organizing Together,” a Strategic Instruction Model curriculum, improve students’ abilities to come to class organized and prepared? (grade 6 teachers in a middle school team)|
|School-Wide||School-Improvement||Whole faculty||1. How can we teach our students to organize, analyze, synthesize, and interpret what they read? (school-wide question) • How can modeling through readalouds improve students’ abilities to organize, analyze, synthesize, and interpret what they read? • There are several action research teams within the school. The above example is one question being studied by one action research team. 2. How can implementing a school-wide positive behavior support program improve students’ safety and increase appropriate student behaviors within the school? (all faculty)|
The following are guidelines to ponder when considering implementing action research as an individual, collaborative, or school-wide process.
Guideline 1: Build Knowledge of the Action Research Process
Information is the critical ingredient when implementing a new process that could change the formal learning of the instructional staff. The principal’s role is to generate interest in the action research process by expressing the need through essential questions on student and teacher learning. The principal should pose the following questions during team meetings, individual teacher planning conferences, and with members of the school advisory committee:
- Based on school and classroom data, what do students need to learn in order to achieve in school?
- What instructional practices are we implementing that have positive results on student learning?
- What instructional practices are we implementing that do not have positive results on student learning?
- What do we (faculty) need to know or learn in order to ensure our students achieve their learning goals? What instructional practices or techniques should we investigate and research?
- How are we going to learn about these instructional practices and ensure student impact?
- How will we know that students are achieving their academic and behavioral goals?
It is important that the principal develop an understanding of action research to become proficient in explaining the impact of classroom research on student learning and teacher professional growth. Participating in professional development and reading literature on action research builds a base of knowledge for the principal that makes it possible to respond to questions and work with teachers as they implement the phases of the action research process. The commitment of time will result in a new depth of knowledge about action research that can only reflect in the continued support of teachers.
Teachers are required to plan and implement a professional development plan aligned with the DepEd Professional Development System Evaluation Protocol. The protocol outlines the criteria for successful professional development plans, including participating in professional development that is directly related to improving the skills and knowledge used in the classroom. Learning communities, such as those associated with action research implementation, are encouraged as part of professional development when they identify research-based programs and strategies, gather research and implement studies on instructional methods, and share the results with other faculty within the school setting. Facilitation of action research in the classroom setting meets the criteria for quality professional development according to the state guidelines. It is designed to be related to specific student performance and supported by data, have clearly defined objectives, strive for specific measurable improvements in student performance, and have an evaluation component to determine the effectiveness of the plan.
Action research is continual professional development and provides a direct route to improving teaching and learning (Calhoun, 2002). Using the process to facilitate school-wide change offers the opportunity to transform the school’s climate. Teachers and administrators work together to create a professional community in which all contribute to the plan. As the principal begins to investigate the practicality of implementing action research school-wide, the following questions should be addressed:
- What do the disaggregated classroom data reflect about student and teacherlearning?
- What do teachers need to learn in order to impact specific student learning needs?
- How is the school going to support teacher learning to ensure student achievement?
- How will teachers and the school evaluate classroom instruction and professional learning? What evaluation tools will be used?
- How will teachers and the school use the information collected through the evaluation to make specific and targeted decisions regarding research-based instructional strategies?
Action research is a process in which teachers systematically investigate instructional practices and techniques in order to improve their teaching. The impact of a specific instructional practice on student learning is measured, and the results become the basis for educational planning and decision-making.
The principal can learn a great deal from the resources available to communicate effectively with teachers, other administrators and district staff, and parents. If there is a university in the area, consult with faculty to assist with professional development or mentoring of teachers or principals. As the principal guides the staff toward successful implementation, questions will continue to need answers and the level of understanding will continue to improve. It is important to be a risk-taker and demonstrate the what, why, and how of action research.
The following form can be used to record what is read and what main points will be useful in assisting teachers.
Principal’s Reading Log
|“A Passion for Action Research” Teaching Exceptional Children Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 26-32|
|Becoming An Action Researcher To Improve Learning In Your Classroom Florida Department of Education Bureau of Instructional Support and Community Services 2002|
|Bennett, C. (1994). Promoting reflection through action research: What do teachers think? Journal of Staff Development, 15(1), 34-38.|
|Calhoun, E. (2002). Action Research for School Improvement. Educational Leadership, 59(6), 18-24.|
|Little, M.E. (2001). Successful school improvement using classroom-based research. Florida Educational Leadership, 1, 41-44.|
|McKay, J.A. (1992). Professional development through action research. Journal of Staff Development, 13(1), 18-21.|
Guideline 2: Understand the Benefits of Action Research
Action research is a teaching, learning, and decision-making process that can be used in a myriad of ways to assist the learning process of students and teachers.
- Action research is a means of improving student achievement through more effective teaching and administration of schools (Cohen & Manion, 1980; Elliot, 1991; Kemmis, 1981; Stenhouse, 1975).
- Educators involved in action research became more flexible in their thinking, more open to new ideas, and more able to solve new problems (Pine, 1981).
- Engaging in action research influenced teachers’ thinking skills, sense of efficacy, willingness to communicate with colleagues, and attitudes toward professional development and the process of change (Simmons, 1985).
- Teachers engaged in action research depended more on themselves as decision makers and gained more confidence in what they believed about curriculum and instruction (Strickland, 1988).
- Action researchers were reading, discussing, thinking, and assessing ideas from related research with expanded analytical skills (Simmons, 1985).
Positive changes occur in the school environment through the action research process. Teachers become lifelong learners, and students experience success in learning. It is important to realize the benefits and purposes of action research, specifically in relation to the current professional demands and responsibilities in Florida. Aligning this process with the Florida Professional Development Protocol, the teachers’ individual professional development plan, the school improvement plan, and other school and district reports and responsibilities are very important when establishing rationale and use for this process by teachers and others within the school community.
List additional benefits for ____________________School.
Guideline 3: Identify and Address Implementation Issues
School environments are varied and approach new learning methodologies in a multitude of ways. Preparation and planning to address the potential barriers to new learning is important to successful implementation. The following list of issues to discuss to facilitate effective implementation of action research includes:
- Action research may be viewed as a tool for gaining support for one instructional practice over another.
- Action research may be viewed as a way to document support for a proposed initiative.
- Action research requires time to collaborate.
- Some teachers are confident in their own abilities and do not feel the need to conduct formal action research.
- When the term “action research” is discussed, the definitions and applications are numerous and varied.
- Individual teachers’ comfort levels with seeking outside support and assistance can be an obstacle to action research.
As with virtually all school improvement initiatives, active administrator support is a key tosuccess of action research. Understanding issues and guiding discussions on solutions iscrucial for the principal so a culture develops where action research can be successful.Knowledge about action research, explicitly stated goals and rationale, and supportthroughout the implementation of action research are critical to its success. Specific issues,both real and perceived, must be identified and addressed at the outset of this process andthroughout its implementation.
List additional barriers for ________________________________ School.
|Issues to Address||Suggested Solutions|
Guideline 4: Develop Goals That Include Action Research
The additional guidelines and resources provided in this booklet are suggestions to guide the continued implementation of data-based instructional decision-making through classroom action research. The basis of the school improvement plan is student data. The quality of goals, strategies, and objectives of the school’s vision and school improvement plan is measured by the achievement of those goals, strategies, and objectives by all of the students in the school. Achieving these goals is directly related to the high quality implementation of research-based instructional practices, methods, and strategies by each individual teacher in the school. This is the foundation for the school to investigate the quality instruction that must take place if student learning is to improve. If the school’s vision is “every child can learn and achieve,” it is important to be able to support the teaching practices that are used to make this belief happen. Action research provides that support by verifying successful investigations. The principal discusses with the staff and community the importance of researching what teachers think will create learning opportunities for the students. Using the benefits of action research (guideline 2) is an excellent way to lead this discussion.
Once improved student learning through continuous progress monitoring has become a part of the implementation of the school’s vision, it is straightforward to incorporate action research as a process to measure the established instructional goals. For example, a goal could be, “Successful learning experiences will be provided for every child each day through instructional practices that have been researched by the classroom teachers.” This goal lays the foundation for individual action research plans to be implemented by teachers based on classroom and student needs.
Goals are incorporated into the school improvement plan and action plans are written to ensure the goals are met. As a part of action plans, include professional development and support during implementation of the action research process. The goals created in the school improvement plan reflect what needs to happen so that all students can achieve the required state standards.
Guideline 5: Establish a Support System for Teachers
The premise of conducting action research is to provide feedback of student learning as a result of instruction. Action research is conducted to identify specific factors that cause students to improve their performance and achieve greater gains in applied learning. The principal facilitates the process and resulting accomplishments of action research. Teachers will need a support system as they conduct action research. A thorough plan of follow-up opportunities and support should be developed and expressed to all instructional staff.
Create a team that will participate in additional professional development in order to scaffold and facilitate teachers as they conduct action research. This team can be made up of resource teachers, subject/grade level chairpersons, district staff, state agency representatives, and/or university professors.
- Investigate and disseminate information on conferences, seminars, and resources to enhance the continued learning and support of the established instructional initiatives.
- Review action plans in the school improvement plan to align action research to ensure that resources will be available.
- Develop a calendar of dates and times that assistance, dialogue, and sharing will be available to teachers facilitated by a support team and/or principal.
Example: On scheduled days for professional development, the support team can facilitate teachers in collaborative dialogue providing teachers with opportunities to reflect on their action research and receive guidance or suggestions from their colleagues and support team.
- In the staff newsletters, assign a section to communicate action research tips to consider, questions and answers, testimonials, examples, resources, and grant information.
- Classroom observations should be linked to the teacher’s action research study.
Guideline 6: Provide Professional Development in Action Research
To conduct action research successfully, a professional development plan at the school level should be developed, implemented, and sustained to provide teachers with opportunities to develop a knowledge base of action research. In addition, opportunities to dialogue, problem-solve, offer support, and share action research studies are critical during implementation. This plan of professional development should be supported and maintained by the support team and administrator. The action research process is in alignment with the Florida Professional Development Evaluation Protocol System, enacted to ensure student impact related to teacher professional development and classroom implementation. In addition, the need for teachers to document improved student learning outcomes is also part of the requirement of the teacher’s Individual Professional Development Plans. Making these connections through professional development is very important to the rationale, benefits, and support for the action research process in the school and the classrooms.
Therefore, for most teachers, conducting action research changes how a teacher looks at instructional practices and their own professional development. This action research process clearly delineates the relationship between teaching and student learning. It is no longer enough that teaching occurs, but the results of the student learning are the critical factor.
Many resources are available on action research, such as articles, books, videos, etc. However, professional development involving continuous follow-up is a productive method for giving teachers the opportunity to learn about the process, engage in collaborative dialogue about student learning and instruction, study instructional practices and methodologies, look at student work to guide the process, and trouble shoot specific problems or issues.
The principal should actively participate in the professional development that is planned and delivered at the school. Remember, it is important for the administrator to demonstrate not only knowledge but also support of the teachers’ action research continuously. When the principal models an understanding of the process and is actively involved in the professional development of teachers, positive attitudes can be maintained and strengthened.
As the principal and teachers assess the school’s climate and needs, individuals probably will gain an insight into an area that they would like to investigate. As teachers participate in discussions, they are more likely to conduct action research if the principal demonstrates an understanding and support of the research process.
Clearly, the principal must establish the environment in which action research is viewed as a systematic process that affords greater opportunity for each teacher to direct his or her own professional growth. In this context, action research is a direct route to advance professional inquiry and help teachers become lifelong learners of instructional methods and strategies. The emphasis is on application and its impact on identified measurable outcomes. The knowledge of the action research process that the principal demonstrates through discussions, presentations, and classroom observations is critical to the high quality implementation of data-based instructional decision-making in every classroom.
As mentioned, it is important for the principal to align professional development and action research to teachers’ individual professional development plans. It is also important to communicate to teachers that action research is a process related to their individual professional development plans and the Florida Professional Development Evaluation Protocol System.
Guideline 7: Provide Opportunities for Collaboration
Principals know that teachers learn not only by themselves but also by working with others. Teachers need to work together to plan what instructional practices and techniques need to be implemented, what changes can occur, and how to evaluate their instruction. The more teachers learn, the more likely they will think of changes to implement to enhance student learning. Teachers must look at action research and ask
- What do we want our students to achieve related to the curriculum standards and student needs?
- Which instructional practices and techniques are we using which have a research base?
- What instructional practices, programs, and materials should we investigate to verify the effects on student learning?
- How will we know that all students are mastering the established goals andobjectives?
Perhaps the very best efforts toward implementing action research are to start small and work in a group. Beginning small and working collaboratively will provide support as well as demonstrate for other teachers the positive effects of action research. The principal and interested teachers work together in a very open relationship. It is important that there are trusting, collaborative relationships in the school. Participation inspires the trust that permits a wide range of constructive behaviors–sharing, suggesting, studying, observing, demonstrating, learning, and changing.
There must be time for collaboration. The principal establishes not only high expectations about action research but also the time for teachers to complete tasks.
- Set specific times on the school calendar for action research.
- Establish guidelines for professional development to include action research.
- Create schedules so teachers can visit classrooms of colleagues conducting action research on the same topic.
- Cover classes for teachers to collaborate on action research.
To encourage the inclusion of collaboration for all teachers, the action research process can be the foundation of a school-wide professional development plan for the school year. Each teacher could be required to conduct action research individually or collaboratively.
- Professional development would be devoted to learning how to conduct action research, studying student learning and instruction, monitoring student learning, and dialoguing and sharing teachers’ experiences with action research during the year.
- Designated days could be scheduled during teachers’ planning periods to ask for specific assistance from the support team.
If individual or school-wide action research is to take place, the principal must provide opportunities for communication and learning. A few suggestions that make these opportunities successful are listed below.
- Establish school-wide student-learning goals.
- Provide time for action research groups to meet during the workday.
- Support all ideas that are generated through discussions.
- Provide release time to visit colleagues’ classrooms.
- Provide resources to enhance discussions.
- Provide sessions to share successful action research with staff.
- Provide a suggestion box in the office for ways to improve the action research process within the school.
Some teachers may need more guidance through the action research process or may not be ready to conduct action research. If teachers are experiencing frustration and have difficulties successfully conducting action research, they should be encouraged to develop a professional growth plan that will support their abilities for improvement.
The action research design allows teachers to be successful or unsuccessful in achieving their desired outcomes. This is positive in that teachers can learn what does not work and can make professional decisions about promoting student learning.
In summary, one of the most productive outcomes of effective, instructional leadership is that the principal provides ongoing growth and improvement opportunities. Through the series of guidelines discussed above, the principal guides the teachers to establish the need and the desire to conduct action research in their classrooms. As with virtually all school improvement initiatives, active administrative support is a key to the success of action research. It is crucial that administrators build a culture that promotes inquiry while nurturing teachers in risk-taking research efforts. As a result, principals provide more instructional leadership and specific professional development opportunities.
Action research will happen if the principal follows these guidelines:
|1. Build knowledge of the action research process|
|2. Understand the benefits of action research.|
|3. Consider and work through the barriers of action research.|
|4. Develop goals that include action research|
|5. Establish a support system for teachers.|