Action Research Returns to Schools


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Message from the Editor:

This is a really interesting blog which allows us to enjoy Claire’s reflections as both a practitioner and a researcher. I particularly like how she weaves a methodological approach – action research – into her practice as a teacher and leader, to help guide her own and her team’s reflections and decision-making. The challenges of the current Covid-19 situation are clearly at the forefront of Claire’s thinking, and this blog offers us a valuable insight into how Claire has used these strange times to reflect deeply.  

We’d love to hear your reflections on Claire’s blog so do comment using #BELMASblog.

Claire is the convenor of our Reflective Practice RIG - more information about the RIG can be found here

She can be followed on twitter via @clairevharley.  

 - Suzanne

Author: Claire Harley

BELMAS has shared, through its many publications, the stories of educators who have overcome unimaginable obstacles to provide an education for their children. The COVID-19 outbreak means that we are now all working in a situation that is beyond our control and the uncertainty of what will happen next is palpable. My school has supported staff, giving us time to develop our practice and subject knowledge. This has brought about the opportunity for our department to reflect on our current practice and evaluate our curriculum for when schools are fully open once more. Through my EdD with the University of Nottingham, BELMAS membership and personal research, I have engaged with the idea of action research to develop my teaching practice. As a convenor for the Reflective Practitioner Research Interest Group (RIG), I wanted to share some ways in which I believe that action research can support our journey as we further open schools to selected year groups as well as children of key workers.

As most of us are working from home at the moment or are teaching, but to different classes or in a different way, now is the time to think about our teaching:

  1. Which aspects of our teaching are we proud of?
  2. Are there aspects of your teaching that you would like to explore further?
  3. When you are back in the classroom, what would you like to do differently? Why?
What is Action Research?

Before we consider how we can answer these questions, I would first like to share what I mean by action research. Action research has many definitions as it is used as a process through which to implement change in a large variety of settings. For teachers, we could say that this is a reflective process through which teachers can explore their practice as a community. There are various models, but one that is used frequently is the model below (Kemmis & McTaggart, 2005, p. 278):



Action research model, Kemmis and McTaggart (2005; 278)

I am particularly drawn to this model of action research which places reflection at the centre of the process.  With the evaluative and reflective at its centre, action research is perhaps a more formal way of thinking about teaching. Townsend's (2013) notion of action research appeals, too, as it deals directly with practical problems and is concerned with developing professional communities as a means of supporting professional development.

Which aspects of our teaching are we proud of?

Our resilience is being tested by the drastic change in our working day and resilience and reflection are intrinsically linked. Exploring our own practice through action research provides us with the opportunity to not only improve our practice (which is the ultimate aim) but also to identify, in a systematic and reflective way, aspects of our teaching of which we can feel proud. The teaching profession is facing one of its greatest challenges at the moment: we are capable of rising to that challenge! At the same time, considering the motivations and effectiveness of our decision-making has never been more important. Reflecting on the key elements of my own practice has helped me to adapt the resources I'm currently creating ready for when Year 10 return to our school. An action research approach can support us in identifying aspects of our practice that we can be proud of and will want to continue and share as we extend the opening of schools in the future.

Are there aspects of your teaching that you would like to explore further?

Action research is not something that teachers usually undertake in isolation; sharing your ideas or talking through your thought process with a colleague is very beneficial. By undertaking action research or any kind of collaborative inquiry, practitioners are engaging in a process that allows them to have a shared meaning, an understanding of terminology, a common language. When has a shared understanding and sense of community been more important? Professional Learning Networks (PLNS) have already been linked to teacher and school improvement (Brown, Zhang, Xu, & Corbett, 2018), and collaboration can support our collective efforts to adapt to these new circumstances. When we return to our classrooms, action research and collaborative inquiry can help us rebuild our connections with one another as well as with our pupils.

When you are back in the classroom, what would you like to do differently?

Action research and the concept of teacher as researcher have also been linked to curriculum development (Elliott, 1991). The team of history teachers I lead is currently unable to work at school, so we have been meeting regularly online to develop our collective knowledge of our subject, our pedagogy and to review our curriculum. The next logical step for us as a team, now that we have created research questions through our discussions, is to explore these questions in a reflective way upon our return to the classroom. I feel there are two potential benefits to this approach. Firstly, we can explore decisions that we have made to determine if they are the right ones for us. And secondly, we can continue to build upon the connections we have made as a team during this strange time. The sense of ‘in it together’ collaboration that this situation has generated is something that I greatly value and want to continue in a more sustainable way once things are more ‘normal’.

If you are interested in working with the Reflective Practitioner RIG, please do get in touch.

Brown, C., Zhang, D., Xu, N., & Corbett, S. (2018). Exploring the impact of social relationships on teachers' use of research: A regression analysis of 389 teachers in England International Journal of Educational Research, 89, 36-46.

Elliott, J. (1991). Action Research For Educational Change Buckingham: Open University Press.

Kemmis, S., & McTaggart, R. (2005). Participatory Action Research: Communicative Action and the Public Sphere. In N. K. Denzin & S. Lincoln (Eds.), he Sage handbook of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications

Townsend, A. (2013). Action Research; The Challenges of Understanding and Changing Practice. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

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