Facilitated by Donna Azodi
Leadership Development through Action Research Opportunities Donna Azodi, Lamar University
Action research is an experience suitable for preparation of educational leaders and the development of effective leadership skills. Batagiannis (2011) suggested action research supports principal candidates in establishing their leadership identity. Moreover, the collaborative nature of the action research process is helpful in learning to work as a team and being open to the ideas of others. School leadership preparation programs should provide a focus on developing aspiring leaders’ capacity for both reflection and action (Furman, 2012).
Students participating in quality leadership preparation programs are involved in instruction in which they are actively engaged in addressing authentic problems of practice in their work environment (SREB, 2006). Implementing study of practice through action research reflects a common strategy for professional learning in teacher and principal preparation. Within the context of sustained reflective thinking, professionals can study and analyze their practice and make adjustments as needed. (Carver & Klein, 2013). Further, preparation of aspiring principals should provide learning experiences that reflect the work of the principal (Wallace, 2016). The focus of students implementing an action research study as a capstone assignment was to develop leadership skills and to solve real life problems in the school or classroom.
Candidate Reflections Regarding their Experience Developing and Implementing Action Research as a Basis for School Improvement
Candidates indicated their experience in leading action research helped them to
- Support others with appropriate leadership style
- Communicate effectively
- Use data-driven decisions
- Develop time management
Candidates suggested they increased their knowledge regarding
- The research process
- Data-driven decision-making
- Initiating change
Candidates suggested the following positive outcomes from their implementation of action research
- Initiating change
- Student learning
- Data-driven decision making
- Teacher learning
Candidate comments about implementing an action research study
- Through action research we developed the ability to research and lead research. It also helped our ability to understand change so we can lead school change.
- I communicated my findings to the principal and the administrative team. They were surprised by the data and collectively they decided to make improvements to the homework policy. Through this experience, I have gained insight on how to apply future studies on my campus as a principal to address any needs.
- The need on the campus that I identified was the need to close the academic gap between the majority of the student population and the ESL sub-population. My principal made it a campus goal too. I now have a new position, Assistant Principal, that affords me the opportunity to help all students, but in particular our ELLs.
- The experience that I have gained from this activity I feel will be an invaluable tool to have. I know that this action research is something that I will be using when looking to try new things as an administrator. Overall this was a good experience that will carry over to into my administrative duties since much of what we use in schools is researched based.
- Through this experience, I have gained insight on how to apply future studies on my campus as a principal to address any needs.
We invite you to share studies or activities that highlight how participation in action research can support leadership skill development.
Collaborative Problem Solving
Shared by Donna Azodi
Exemplary principal preparation programs demonstrate the importance of and provide internship opportunities for collaboration for transforming principal practice (Darling-Hammond, LaPointe, Meyerson & Orr, 2007). As students initiate their action research planning, they begin by conducting an informal poll of a representative cross-section of their colleagues asking them to identify their top two or three needs or concerns for their campus. Once they have organized their colleagues' perceptions of campus needs, students meet with their campus mentor to discuss the poll results and work collaboratively with the mentor to identify an action research study that will benefit their campus.
Once the research topic has been established, students meet with a stakeholder group of colleagues to conduct the 5 Why Process. http://www.toyota-global.com/company/toyota_traditions/quality/mar_apr_2006.html
This process provides an opportunity for collaborative problem-solving where colleagues state the need or issue being addressed and ask why that need or issue exists. Discussion follows until the group has decided on their answer to the first why question. This is followed by a second question asking why that circumstance exists or does not exist, again followed by a collaborative discussion. This process is followed until the root cause of the identified need or concern has been established. The group may reach the root cause before asking the fifth why question.
Once the root cause has been established, students use this information in developing their problem statement and research question(s). Students have indicated that they found use of the 5 Why Process to be an effective collaborative problem-solving strategy and plan to use it in their leadership role on campus.
Question Thinking and Q-Storming
Shared by Linda Purrington
In our search for tools and strategies in our action research course strand to help our students further develop their leadership skills and experience transformation in the process, we discovered question thinking and Q-storming in Marilee Adam's book, Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 10 Powerful Tools for Life and Work.
Adams describes question thinking as " a system of skills and tools using questions to expand how you approach virutally any situation. You develop the skills to refine your questions for vastly better results in anything you do" (2009, p. 25). Q-storming, is a question thinking tool that is a more advanced means of brainstorming.
"Q-storming is based on the premise that 'every question missed is a crisis waiting to happen'. It is a method for discovering those questions to make breakthrough differences in decision-making, problem-solving, strategic planning, innovation, operational excellence, and culture" (Retrieved from http://inquiryinstitute.com/resources/q-storming/). Rather than brainstorming answers, ideas, or suggestions to problems, the goal of Q-storming is to come up with as many new questions as possible in order to prompt new ways of thinking and acting related to situations/issues/problems. You begin the process by describing the issue/problem and your goals for change. Next, you figure out what assumptions you have about the situation. After you have clarified your goals and assumptions, you start brainstorming new questions and record them on chart paper. Giving time to this step, seeing all of the questions in writing, and reflecting upon them, promotes more objective thinking and can lead to breakthroughs and transformation.
In a vignette that Adams story tells in Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, two characters engage in Q-storming in order to discover a means for helping a team work better together and move a project forward. The initial brainstormed questions reflected more of a judger mindset; more automatic reaction oriented, blame-focused, and win-lose relating in nature. As the process continued, the questions became more reflective of a learner mindset; thoughtful choice oriented, solution focused and win-win relating.
In our action research course strand, we invited all of the students to read Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. We then invited Marilee Adams as a virtual guest speaker to present to and interact with our students regarding their understanding of question thinking skills and tools and possible application in their respective action research projects. It was exciting over time, to observe students become more intentional about adopting a learner mindset, surfacing and challenging assumptions as a more regular practice, framing issues and problems in more positive and productive ways, and asking questions that led themselves and others to discover more powerful outcomes and solutions. Students described how question thinking and Q-storming helped them and their teams to get "unstuck", become more innovative, and work together more collaboratively.
Teacher Leadership and Action Research
In thinking about leadership and action research, my reflections go back to a large scale survey project with my friend and colleague Hank Becker. One of our areas of analysis was teachers leadership which we then compared to use of technology. We wrote a chapter on teacher leadership with technology in The Handbook on IT in primary and secondary Education (included below). We were looking at leadership and technology use through a national survey of 4,000 teachers. We arranged the responses to the questions into what was a pyramid path to a generative or adaptive form of expertise. A pyramid because the group of teachers who are seen as leaders got smaller as more characteristics of leadership were added. At the base, teacher leaders are those who knew how to learn from practice. They are not just teaching but they are actively learning from their teaching. One effective way to do this is through action research which leads to and evolving generative expertise. This expertise helps teachers make good choices as they develop as educators. At our second level of teacher leadership, we placed educators who shared what they learned with others locally. It was not a simply telling but sharing in ways that helps others develop new skills. This is also commonly a vital part of action research. These teachers developed a set of skills that are often referred to as "service leadership" skills. Their leadership was not manifested by creating the plans that everyone else "should" follow, but rather these were teachers with the skills to foster great groups who together changed their practice in effective and innovative ways using evidence to guide them. In our survey research, we identified a group of teachers who appeared to be strong local leaders, but they did not research out beyond the school context. Another group of teachers responses suggested that they were able to extend their reach over distances and across time. Over distances they can played leadership roles in conferences and professional communities. Over time they created conceptual artifacts (papers, videos, blogs, books, or podcasts) that shared their wisdom with teachers who can benefit from following their intellectual footsteps. While in the paper we were not looking specifically at action research, it is clear that action research helps teachers to continue the pyramid path to leadership.
Here are some questions that use with students to help them to think about their own role as leaders.
- How will you lead from your position?
- What problems do want to set for yourself
- How can you extend what you are learning in your classroom to help you and others learn more?
- What are your action research questions?
Riel, M.& Becker, H. (2018). Characteristics of Teacher Leaders for Infomation and Communication Technology. in The Handbook on IT in primary and secondary Education.
I offer one further chart that I use in my teaching that is linked to leadership, if you accept that a leader is an educator with adaptive expertise (contrasted with innovative or routine expertise), then action research is the path to this essential form of generative knowledge.
From Riel, M , Rowell, L. (2017). Action Research and Development of Expertise : Rethinking Teacher Education. In Rowell, L, Bruce, C., Shosh, J., & Riel, M. (Eds) The Palgrave International Handbook of Action Research