Action Research & Research Identity
In 2012 and 2013, a group of colleagues and I researched the 'Action' component of the PYP at our small international school in Germany. Conducted as an action research study we gathered data on a part of our pedagogy we hypothesized wasn't being full-filled for and by students and teachers. We collected data, looked for patterns, dove deep into a case study. From the gaps we identified in our research we created curricula, a website, a children's book, resources and organized a TEDx event in order to engender action taking within our learning community.
“We envision embedding the action phase document into the school culture and making sustained action a more inherent part of the curricula throughout grade levels, in order to shift the perspective of action from primarily an organic by-product of learning to more of an empowered state of mind. ” Tosca Killoran 2013
Years later, my colleagues and I have found that the children's book and website full of resources has been wildly popular in schools around the globe. However they, in addition to the curriculum framework we created to help scaffold children to become change agents has remained untouched at the school in question. How could this be? We found a gap in our own school. We gathered data from our school's planners and documentation. We analyzed surveys of the teachers within the school. We create a framework based on the gaps we had assessed. We wrote and published books and websites and resources to help. We were part of the community. We had it published in a peer-reviewed journal. We were legit.
Now that I am able to reflect on that piece of research, I realize that we conducted that research on people rather than with them. The politics of our good intentions were just that, good, but we still failed.
As a teacher-researcher this in the very technical sense, sucks. But failure is a good thing, after all how do we learn? As a researcher, coach and leader I would like to better involve all stakeholders in each stage of any future action research. Providing equal representation of voice is something I struggle with as I have not yet discovered how to do this when immersed in schools that operate as silos of learning. However, I believe that a stronger knowledge of the tradition of Participatory Activist Research will help define some of those skills and attitudes needed to make better connections and redefine power narratives within my own learning community.
Citations and Further Reading:
Guajardo. M., & Guajardo. F., 2008. Transformative Education: Chronicling a Pedagogy for Social Change. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, Vol. 39, Issue 1, pp.3–22, ISSN 0161-7761, online ISSN 1548-1492. All rights reserved. DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1492.2008.00002.x.
Hunter. L., Emerald. E., & Martin. G., 2013. Participatory Activist Research in the Globalized World: Social Change Through the Cultural Professions. Springer NY
Murakami-Ramalho. E., Militello. M., & Piert. P., (2011): A view from within: how doctoral students in educational administration develop research knowledge and identity, Studies in Higher Education. DOI:10.1080/03075079.2011.578738
It was a sultry evening and the sun was about to set… isn’t that how a scary story goes?. The neighbour boy had dared my sister and I to come explore the haunted house down the road. We brought butterfly nets and the boy’s scruffy dog, as you do when you are hunting ghosts. We tromped down the road in our bell bottoms and pepsi cola singlets- listening to the crickets chirp and the moths buzz by our ears. It was 1979, I was four, but remember it like it was yesterday. Scared but thrilled, my insides were vibrating, I was determined that I would see with my own eyes what all the scary things that went bump in the night really were.
We approached the dilapidated Victorian beach house as the sun dipped below the horizon and red faded to blue, then black. The neighbour boy whispered, “Here they come!”.
And out of the insect filled night sounds came the eeriest, out-of-world sound my four short years on the planet had ever heard. The house erupted and filled the sky with clicks and squawks and the swooping of soft wings and I felt sure that every demon in hell had descended on this decrepit house. And then the neighbour boy screamed waving his net from his insane perch on the equally dilapidated picnic table, “I GOT ONE!”
At that moment the dog leaped into the bushes, and I in a wild panic, thought it best to follow the one of us with the biggest teeth dove in after him, sprinting on my stubby 4 year old legs pushed on by my adrenaline rush of terror. I heard my sister call after me but I kept running until.. I lost sight of the dog. In the darkness I was blind and entangled in brambles. With no way forward and no way to go back, I stayed absolutely still and listened.
There was something coming through the underbrush, and it was moving fast. It had the smell of rotten eggs and death and was whimpering like a hurt.. dog. The boy’s dog flew past me scared and smelly he was running back to his owner still catching ghosts. I stepped in behind him and he wafted a scent trail for me to follow.
As I tumbled back onto the lawn and looked up to the starry sky I saw the silhouettes of wings, and in my mind I made the connection. They are only bats, Tosca. Only bats. I nearly peed my pants giggling.
How is it that this is a story about being a teacher-researcher?
A journey line of research and being a researcher is made of these moments that define who we are. Each of the moments that I identified equally but differently shaped me as researcher.
This particular story is a reminder:
Improvement Science and Design Thinking: Ways of thinking about Education Reform
Design thinking as a model for educational reform:
Design thinking is not simple surface beautification or upcycling of old ideas but of digging deep for real world changing solutions to existing problems. It aims to remove us from our filter bubbles and engage with opposing ideas and constraints for innovative solutions. Underpinning design thinking is social sciences and anthropology as design thinkers desire to not only understand the way a community thinks, feels, acts but also what is important for them to make changes to better their lives within the context of the human whole. Design thinking is a form of action research. Designers are not sitting at desks pontificating about possibilities but rather they are out in the community, prototyping ideas, using elbow grease, embracing failure and developing empathy. However, in order to dig deep and reach true innovation the wild card of ideas has to be played by willing mavericks. Those crazy ideas are built on to create from the seemingly impossible to the totally scalable and buildable. These mavericks need a safe place to break rules, ask the impossible, the silly, the fun the crazy- with a community that celebrates those ideas and builds on them. Most importantly, the mavericks in schools are not a special breed of person, but rather those who have built their creative confidence and are interested in educational reform.
Improvement Science as a model for educational reform:
All education reform starts with a nugget of a good idea and then is often lost in the ‘how’ of implementation on a large scale. By focusing on changing the parts of the problem we can apply change to the whole. BUT.. ‘does it scale?’ is in my opinion the question that kills innovative, wild ideas. And so, improvement science strives to make scalability only obtainable as a contextually relative construct. The idea of “profound knowledge” or the meta knowledge of systems, variation, psychology, and metacognition requires an intimate and empathetic knowledge of the context (Lewis 2015). Thus, change through idea diffusion is a social process. It requires moving beyond telling people to change, policing them to change, rewarding them to change towards engendering safe places in which there is solidarity and power within the change. Human interactions are essential, and only when researchers work alongside practitioners is sustained change possible (Gwande 2013).
Call to action:
How do you build the creative confidence of educators around you?
How do you use design thinking to make changes in your educative communities?
Share in the comments to start the discussion.
Citations & more reading....
Brown, T. 2008. Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review June
Bryk, A. 2015 AERA Distinguished Lecture Accelerating How We Learn to Improve. Educational Researcher, Vol. 44 No. 9, pp. 467–477
DOI: 10.3102/0013189X15621543 http://er.aera.net
Gwande, A. 2013. Slow Ideas Annals of Medicine The New Yorker July
Gwande, A. 2007. The Checklist. Annals of Medicine The New Yorker December
Lewis, C. 2015. What Is Improvement Science? Do We Need It in Education?
Educational Researcher, Vol. 44 No. 1, pp. 54–61
DOI: 10.3102/0013189X15570388 AERA. http://er.aera.net