Action Research and the Value of Reflection

The following is part of an assignment for my coursework in Educational Technology Leadership and includes a compilation of some things that I have learned on the importance of action research and the value of reflection ....

According to Aileen Ferrance (2000) “action research is a process in which participants examine their own educational practice systematically and carefully, using the techniques of research.” Action research or administrative inquiry is a reflective process of intentionally engaging in the systematic study of practices in order to find ways to improve or change based on the results. It is a powerful tool for professional development and can be used to gain deeper insight in order to enhance the improvement efforts of any organization.

Action research allows leaders to step back, ask questions, and look at data to continually improve. The process allows for inquiry and discussion and is a collaborative activity that enables leaders to search for solutions to everyday problems and look for ways to improve instruction and increase student achievement.

Action research refers to research intended to bring about change of some kind and allows practitioners to become collaborators in educational research by investigating their own problems and facilitate change. It is a research paradigm model that is conducted by practitioners inside an organization and focuses on providing insight into one’s own practice in an effort to change and improve.

Traditional educational research involved doing research on or about people and finding all available information on a topic of interest, looking for correct answers, learning why we do certain things, or problem-solving to find out what is wrong. Traditional research was performed by outside researchers and focused on explaining a process or controlling, predicting, and impacting the results.

Some examples of action research in educational settings include university coursework, superintendent / district meetings, leadership teams, and professional learning communities. By taking part in university coursework, leaders have opportunities to share their experiences with colleagues and classmates which enhances the inquiry process. Superintendent, district, and leadership team meetings allow leaders to share their work and the responsibilities of leadership with others as well as building a culture of collaboration. Professional learning communities allow groups of professionals to connect and network to learn from each other’s practice.

Some of the benefits of conducting action research are that it provides a meaningful way to grow professionally and allows principals to become role models for teachers and students. It also a process which helps best practices to flourish and enables principals to spend more of their time becoming proactive rather than reactive.

Reflection is an important skill in leadership because it is a continuous exercise that leads to greater productivity and efficiency. According to Dana (2009) “many principals do not engage in the process because they just can’t find the time”. Scheduling a planned consistent time for reflection and inquiry will allow a greater sense of control and accomplishment. Time for reflection is an important aspect of action research because it enables leaders to make informed administrative decisions and to feel better about the important decisions they make on a day to day basis. “One way to help ease the tension of time is to make inquiry a part of your daily practice rather than a separate part of it.” (Dana, 2009) Another way is to make inquiry a part of something you are already doing such as evaluating annual reports.

In an earlier post on this blog titled Reflecting on Reflective Thinking dated Dec. 16th, 2009, I wrote the following .....

"I have been thinking alot this week about the value of reflective thinking. As a counselor I use reflective listening techniques in working with students to help them solve their own problems and overcome challenges and barriers to their academic success. I have come to see how using our class discussion board, writing on our blogs and wikis, and completing our group and individual reflection assignments enhances our learning process. From my own personal experience, since I began participating in social networking sites and blogging, my own reflective thinking skills have increased tremendously. Before I began this course, Teaching with Technology, I don't think I had a true appreciation or understood the importance and value of the skill of reflective thinking."

Educational leaders would benefit from using an online journal or blog as a tool for capturing reflective thinking. Blogs are easy to create and update and can also serve as a good way to facilitate the thinking and learning of others. A weblog serves as an “online diary” where you can post text, images, and links to other blogs as well as interact with others by posting comments and receiving feedback from peers or anyone in the world. By reviewing our thought processes or connecting thoughts together over a period of time, the continual exercise of journaling or blogging can lead to greater insights into administrative practice.

Another statement that really stuck out to me on this subject was from noted educational ethnographer Harry Wolcott ( 1990) who stated that "writing and thinking are synonymous. The conventional wisdom is that writing reflects thinking. I am drawn to a different position: Writing is thinking". (p.21)

Ferrance, A. (2000). Themes in education: Action research. Providence, RI. Retrieved on July 17, 2010 from

Dana, N.F. (2009). Leading with passion and knowledge: The principal as action researcher. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Wolcott, H.F. (1990). Writing up qualitative research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

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