Monday, December 23, 2013

When organizational politic work within and against action research in a school community

For years, action research has been a tool teachers (and others) have used to address a wide variety of issues.  Whether addressing a school-wide curriculum concern,
addressing a problem of practice in their classroom, or struggling to connect with an individual student, teachers around the globe are using action research as a means to empower themselves and those around them to effect change.

Our article in the Action Research Journal looks at one principal’s attempt to mandate action research for all those in her school community.  Knowing the power of action research, the principal believed that this type of research would provide the teachers with a tool to enact change.  By empowering her teachers, she believed that she could ensure that ALL children receive the educations they deserve.

Interestingly (but not surprisingly according to the literature), this mandate—born out of her desire to empower teachers—caused a wide variety of tensions in the schools.  In our article, “Politics and Action Research: An Examination of One School’s Mandated Action Research Program,” we examine the ways that organizational politics worked within and against the action research program. 

While excellent work was produced by many of the teachers, the action research program uncovered historical tensions in the school and pitted factions of teachers against one another.  As researchers connected with the school and its teachers, we found these events fascinating.  Throughout our time with the school, we asked ourselves questions such as:

            • Why do some educators bristle at the thought of mandated professional development even when they are given the autonomy to enact their own agency?

            • What would it take to authentically engage an entire school in the action research process?

            • How do we encourage thoughtful administrators—who simply want to engage teachers in providing quality educational experiences for all children—to pursue action research as a viable option for professional development?

While our intent is not to support or reject mandated action research programs in schools, we believe the tale we tell in our article will give others pause as they design professional development opportunities for their schools.  

We truly believe in the power of action research, and we look forward to thinking through the questions above with you!

Ryan Flessner and Shanna Stuckey

You can access this article for FREE for the next 30 days by clicking HERE.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Recognizing and Developing Young Mothers’ Leadership Capacity Through Participatory Research

During graduate school, I taught in an interdisciplinary leadership program full of inspiring and interesting students, all of whom were used to being identified as ‘leaders’. As an undergraduate student, I was the Executive Vice-President of my university students’ union. Before that, I was on my high school student council, I ran leadership camps for other students, and I was often the ‘go-to’ student when a teacher needed someone to take on a project. I was, by all standard accounts, a young leader.

Adults and young people alike treated me like a leader, told me that I was a leader, and believed that I had leadership skills. I was often involved in decisions that affected me. As a result, I too believed that my voice mattered, so when my voice wasn’t invited, I had no problem offering it.

“Is this for real”? Participatory Research, Intersectionality, and the Development of Leader and Collective Efficacy with Young Mothers, is about a different leadership story. It’s the story of the recognition and development of leadership capacity with young people – young mothers to be precise – who are rarely, if ever, thought of as leaders (or citizens).
Over 10 months, I worked with a group of 11 young mothers who were simultaneously raising children, completing high school, and managing complex personal living situations. They were also becoming, through the youth participatory action research (Y-PAR) project I present in this article, community researchers. In turn, they made recommendations about provincial level child protection policy, from the perspective of young parents living in one province in Eastern Canada.

In “Is this for real”?, I describe our Y-PAR process, and highlight the benefit of intersectionality as a theoretical orientation to research with young mothers. I also struggle with the challenge of inviting historically marginalized youth (in this case, young mothers) to invest their time and energy into Y-PAR, and into creating recommendations that all too often fall on deaf ears. I offer some modest suggestions for making Y-PAR’s societal impact more “real” for participants, and for policy. It is not the ‘typical’ story of youth leadership, or of young mothers, but it is a story worth telling. Young mothers, not in spite of, but because of, their identities and experiences, should be thought of as leaders and citizens with expertise to share.      

What do you think about young mothers’ involvement in participatory research? In policy-making? How can we further expand the way we think and talk about youth leadership?
I welcome your thoughts on comments below.

LLevac atsign uofguelph dot ca

You can access this article for FREE for the next 30 days by clicking here

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Living well with dementia

       Diagnosed with dementia (probable Alzheimer’s) in her early 80s, I first met Ana when she was 84 years of age. Unique in her way of life, Ana had lived on the same section of land nearly all her life. What is more, she had lived alone for over 35 years in the house she had built for herself and her mother over 40 years previously. She had no immediate family, but friends who knew her well and supported her, were of the opinion that, despite her age and failing memory, it would be best if she could stay in her own home. I used to call on Ana, to make sure she was safe and well and to help her shop for groceries. In those days, a meal was delivered Monday to Friday by ‘Meals on Wheels’ and Ana would stretch that one meal over lunch and dinner. She also had a caregiver who came in two mornings a week to help her shower. On other days she would get up and dress by herself before preparing her breakfast which consisted of cornflakes, a banana, and a pot of tea. Another caregiver came in on Saturdays to check on her, otherwise she fended for herself.
 So began a relationship from which I would learn a great deal about the intricacies of dementia. For instance, people with dementia are often said to be confused, but exactly how does one define confusion? The Collins Concise Dictionary (2001) defines it as “lacking a clear understanding of something, mistaking a person or thing for another, bewilderment, lack of clarity, and disorder” (p. 184).
Image of Portrait of Una Platts used with
permission from Auckland Gallery
This definition and others like it lead us to think that people with dementia live in a state of bewilderment, and their actions or responses are always muddled somehow. In my dealings with Ana, I found misunderstandings or ‘confusion’ could easily be rectified if information was put into context. This served to refresh knowledge that was previously known but had been forgotten. Alternatively, it may be that presenting the facts in a simple and straightforward manner enabled Ana, who was very astute, to use her innate sense of judgment to make rational decisions.
     In trying to work out her likes and dislikes, I asked Ana one day if she had previously done her own cooking and housework. She replied “certainly not if I could help it.” When asked what she used to eat she said with a smile, “An egg thing.” “What’s an egg thing?” “An egg and anything in the cupboard.” With her declining capacity to care for herself, these skills, or lack of them, took on a new significance which is why her friends sought help from a community support service. However, all too often other people (caregivers) assigned to help Ana wanted to clean the house, but that was not at all what she wanted. Ana’s home reflected her passion for painting, portraits and reading. She liked it as it was and she would not tolerate anyone trying to change her way of life.

Instead, Ana wanted to engage in conversation, she derived great pleasure from talking to people and was always interested in hearing about other people’s life. She was an articulate and accomplished raconteur who could talk to anyone. In particular, she liked to reminisce and, given the opportunity, to talk about art. Her knowledge and skill were obvious and she could usually remember significant detail when it came to art. Alas, the fact that she often told the same story over and over again, or asked the same questions repeatedly, was a trial to many caregivers and they would leave because they lost patience with her ‘confusion’. Consequently, Ana’s support system was unreliable, and what was worse, often those who came upset her because they wanted to enforce their values in her home. They didn’t understand Ana’s needs and underestimated her capacity to make decisions.  Insights such as these made me realize how wrong it is to judge people with dementia and more, how social perceptions of dementia impact on people’s ability to live well with dementia. Ultimately, my experiences with Ana took me on a journey that I would never have anticipated.

I look forward to continuing this discussion with you! Please feel free to offer comment or question.
Grace O’Sullivan

FREE access to this article for the next 30 days is available through this link.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Importance of the Second Loop in Educational Technology: An Action Science study of introducing blogging in a course curriculum

Integrating new Internet based technologies into the classroom will be a major, ongoing task for educators over the coming years.  The readable/writable web changes our relationships with information along with the traditional student/teacher relationships.  In the  The Importance of the Second Loop in Educational Technology:  An Action Science study of introducing blogging in a course curriculum we describe an Action Science approach based on the work of Chris Argyris and Donald Schon for reorienting the organizational structure of the class in a 21st century information ecology. 
We attempted to develop a blogcentric curriculum that does not just use educational blogging as an addendum to the curriculum (as many early attempts to use blogging have done), but as a central component that mirrors the way the Internet is used outside of the classroom. The major point of this paper is found in its title – we found that we really only made progress in when opening ourselves up to a second loop of learning.
Integration of the Internet into educational process does and we believe will continue to change the governing variables of the classroom.  Action science offers a framework for exploring and understanding the deep organizational changes to teaching and learning engendered by the introduction of the Internet as a true partner in education.

I look forward to continuing this discussion with you! Please feel free to offer comment or question. FREE access to this article for the next 30 days is available through this link.

Michael Glassman

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Action Research with Youth in Foster Care

I have never really considered myself to be part of the foster care “system”. Of course, I am invested in the system-I am a former social worker and foster mother and an active board member of Peace4kids.  My personal and academic life, and now even my professional career in research, have allowed me to have a voice (even if just a whisper) in the foster care community. I am learning how to turn up my own volume. More important than my own individual experience, I am learning how to turn up the volume of a collective foster care voice.
Sometimes I am daunted by the task. Mostly I am inspired. The foster care system is made up of thousands of children (30,000 children in Los Angeles County, alone). That’s a lot of voices. I jumped right in and did what I do: research. I collaborated with youth in foster care and they became the researchers and the voice of the project. Together, we wanted to know what children in foster care would change if they were in charge of the system? What would they want foster care professionals to know about who they are and what strengths they have? The youth researchers were dedicated to learning about the research process. They creatively designed the methods for collecting the data, conducted the interviews, and interpreted the results. They remained committed to the project over a period of two years and were motivated by a desire to inform the world that the negative depiction of the foster care system did not tell the whole story. These youth in foster care were finding their voice, speaking clearly, and realizing they were actually being heard. They had turned up the collective volume more than a little and had found a new audience.

The research outcome was a humbling reminder of the power of science. Due to the age and inexperience of the youth researchers there were some issues with validity in the procedures. But I was the only one who cried over the science. The research team progressed from timid novices to vocal advocates for child welfare reform (use link or see video below). They took the skill and information they gained from the research and moved into action. This is where I stepped back and learned from what they did best. Before I knew it, this same group of youth had planned and executed nationwide media campaign to increase the legal age of foster care from 18 to 21. They also hosted a 4k walk to spread the word about their collective experiences in the foster care system to encourage public interest. Suddenly I was standing there as the novice watching them educate hundreds of spectators about the foster care culture and experience that shaped their lives.  I came to the awareness that I was no longer simply invested in the foster care system. I finally accepted (as odd as it sounds) that I am actually part of the foster care system… and we can all speak up in the ways we know best.
This research project was just the first step in helping the youth researchers learn to express their voices and uncover their perspectives about the very system that controls their life. By engaging in the research they discovered their common experiences and articulated their strengths. Even though the research project didn’t yield specific answers to the original questions, it directly led to advocacy. I am left wondering what powerful shifts would happen if educational interventions, systems protections, and the community as a whole started to listen to the voices of the youth in foster care for who these programs are designed.
So I ask you, can we as the research community continue to turn up the volume on the issues that impact our world? Can we provide the space for the most vulnerable around us to influence the policies that impact their daily lives? And do we have the courage to step away from the piles of data and listen differently to what is truly being said?
                                                                                                                        I look forward to continuing this conversation with you! You are invited to read my article and share your thoughts, comments, and ideas. You can access this article online and ahead of the print journal FREE for the next 30 days by following this LINK.

                                                                                                                          Leslie Ponciano