Last month, we shared Ramsey’s description of reflective practice with the sole school leader in mind:
“Effective principals…set the tone for the school by reminding people at all levels of their mission, defining lofty goals, articulating expectations, raising standards, rewarding preferred behaviors, and modeling desired actions and attitudes.” (Ramsey 2006: 38)
This month, we consider reflective practice from the collaborative perspective—a team of school leader and teachers—in the context of action research and school-wide improvement. According to Eileen Ferrance, author of Education Alliance at Brown University’s Themes in Education: Action Research, action research is defined as “a reflective process that allows for inquiry and discussion as components of the ‘research.’ Often, action research is a collaborative activity among colleagues searching for solutions to everyday, real problems experienced in schools or for ways to improve instruction and increase student achievement.” Reflection occurs naturally throughout the cyclical action research process. Ferrance offers the following five phases of inquiry, which require “routines for continuous confrontation with data:”
- Identification of problem area
- Collection and organization of data
- Interpretation of data
- Action based on data
The problem-solving model posited by Ferrance is laden with reflection, requiring regular stops for educators to ask “why” look for explicit cause and effect relationships, and test possible solutions.
Using the Action Research approach, professional learning communities emerge in which administrators and teachers sit down together to determine a problem to be solved, followed by collecting, interpreting, and acting on data, then reflection. For example, administrators and teachers might collaborate to determine that there is stagnant student achievement in mathematics. The administrator provides Terra Nova results and meets with teachers to determine that the data reveal school-wide deficiencies in computation and problem solving. Teachers determine developmentally appropriate strategies to ensure computation and problem solving are intentionally planned, taught, and assessed. Teachers then share successes and failures in implementing strategies and continue to refine such strategies or try new approaches. In this manner, action research is intentional and collaborative.
Michael Fullan, author of Leading in a Culture of Change, speaks to the necessity of creating a culture of change which may be applied to action research: “It does mean producing the capacity to seek, critically assess, and selectively incorporate new ideas and practices.” Action research requires an effective principal grounded in the behaviors described by Ramsey, who models reflective practice and leads by engaging teachers in a collaborative effort to thoroughly and thoughtfully assess teaching and learning, determine action items for implementation, and assess the effectiveness of implemented strategies.
Thus far, the student has been excluded from this reflective practice, but they should not be omitted. Every principal, teacher, and student must own their longitudinal student achievement data, as well as—and particularly—their classroom formative and summative assessments data. Principals should view such complacency or progress in the action research process as a reflection on the quality and effectiveness of their instructional leadership, including the ability to inspire teachers and students and cultivate a culture of growth and achievement. School leaders must have courage, model resilience, and possess a Stephen White-like “no blame, no excuses” mentality in order to manage change for actual systemic improvement in teaching and learning. Ultimately, an effective school leader must resolve to adopt intentional reflective practice for themselves and their faculty, and even the students. While managing a myriad of issues or concerns that may derail academic progress or distract us from the work to be done in each and every classroom, administrators and teachers must take the time for school teams to dig into their student achievement data, make deductions, discern opportunities for improving student performance, and take action across the curriculum and within each and every classroom to reach each and every student.