Alternative Approaches

Yesterday I went to an acupuncturist for the first time. Maybe it’s a gut feeling, but I think it might help my lower back pain in addition to physical therapy. The problem is that I can understand the physiology being the physical therapy, but I just couldn’t get my mind around the metaphors of Qi, meridian lines, blance, colors, etc. I want to know what that little metal needle does and how it is supposed to work. Acupuncture’s been around for thousands of years, but why isn’t there any conclusive scientific evidence? Why aren’t more people doing formal research on this?

In some ways, action research is to formal educational research what acupuncture is to western medicine. In the book, Transforming Development into Student Results, the section on how to create high-impact professional learning ends by suggesting that “some of the best new ideas are emerging from collaborative and alternative approaches to research.”

Action research in short is a reflective problem solving process where teachers collaborate to try different solutions to increasing student achievement. This practice “relies on a good deal of opinion and rhetoric that may not directly stem from the observations.” Hard statistical data becomes less important. Reeves recognizes that “it’s not a substitute for quantitative research, but a contextual lens for other research.” And school leaders need to encourage colleagues to try new things (even if it makes one feel uneasy).

Reeves identifies four obstacles to teacher leadership:

  1. toxic hierarchy
  2. compliance orientation (the test of effectiveness is a balanced combination of documented improvements in student learning and professional development)
  3. shooting the messenger (not all opposition to change is irrational – you don’t believe a text book alone will improve student achievement – ok, test it out. One group uses it and another doesn’t)
  4. disrespect (respect is conveyed when teachers are participants in, not merely consumers of, research and the professional learning that accompanies it)

He states that “just as high expectations of students are consistently linked to improved performance, teachers also benefit from the expectation that they can and will have a profound effect on the lives of students and colleagues.” This is consistent with Carol Dweck’s work about growth mindsets.

A simple protocol for action research includes:

Research question – inquiry about a link between a certain practice to student achievement

Student population – description of grade level, class, etc.

Student achievement data – not just year-end tests, but also formative assessments, classroom observations, and other assessment tools that help identify changes in student achievement

Professional practices to be observed – focus on the two or three practices

If something you are doing in your teaching doesn’t work, why keep doing it? Try a new approach, but be thoughtful about it, reflect on it, and if successful, share it.

The final three chapters of the book focus on how to sustain high-impact professional learning which looks beyond the ‘train the trainer’ model (which Reeves claims sustains poor practice). A combination of assessment, ownership, and coaching is what he focuses on.

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