Formalised action research as an emergent form of teacher professional development

Bradshaw, Pete; Gallastegi, Lore; Shohel, Mahruf and Younie, Sarah (2014). Formalised action research as an emergent form of teacher professional development. In: 2nd International ProPEL Conference 2014, 25-27 Jun 2014, Stirling, UK, p. 21.



This paper discusses the place of action research in the professional development of teachers. It draws on an EU TEMPUS-funded project (see footnote) that looks to develop capacity in this domain and in aspects of teacher education involving partners from faculties of education in England, Sweden, Malta, Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine.

The theoretical underpinning of the paper is the classical application of action research in educational settings. This can be traced back to Dewey and Lewin’s work in the 1930s on research in “natural settings” i.e. in this case, the classroom. Kemmis and McTaggart (2003) identify different orientations of the approach whereby classroom, or pedagogical, action research is seen as different from participatory action research and critical action research. In carrying out such research teachers and faculties of education need to work together to “elucidate, examine, explain and extend teachers’ working knowledge” (Macintyre, 1980 cited in Pollard, 1984).

Brydon-Miller et al. (2003:13) see action research as rejecting “the notion of an objective, value-free approach to knowledge generation in favour of an explicitly political, socially engaged, and democratic practice.” For the teacher, such research contexts are not free influences of the school, the community it serves, the education system and its politics (see Hammersley, 1993).

In England there has been a significant shift in policies around teacher education and development with control being moved much more towards the school. Somekh and Zeichner (2009) argue that the political, critical stance of action research is most prevalent at such times of step changes in policy. What remains clear throughout this changing landscape and different international contexts, however, is that action research is fundamentally concerned with enquiry into ways of improving practice (Elliott, 1991; McNiff, Whitehead, and Lomax, 1996; 2011; Sellwood and Twining, 2005). This may result in teachers improved self-efficacy and changes in self-perception of their professional identity as well as changes in their practice (Goodnough, 2011). Vaino et al (2013) have further shown that action research can change a teacher’s beliefs and attitudes. Guskey (2000) on the other hand argues that such changes only occur when they are prompted by changes in student performance.

The findings are based on an analysis of international case studies and on views of action research as represented in the project partners’ baseline reports and on its application in two schools in England. It illustrates that while action research remains a contested notion it is one that has some core tenets at its heart – that of a practitioner systematically enquiring into his or her own practice through a series of interventions, which lead to the classic ‘spiral’ of action research (Lewin 1946; Elliott 1991; Dick 2002; McNiff & Whitehead, 2005; Carr, 2006; Lendahls Rosendahl and Rönnerman, 2006). This, in turn, can then be used by individual teachers, schools and/or faculties of education as a vehicle for teachers’ professional development.

The implications of the paper are for ways in which the increasingly prevalent practices of action research by teachers can be linked with that undertaken by faculties of education. A further challenge is the alignment of the research practice of the classroom with the demands of formal qualifications.

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