Wednesday, June 19, 2013

You learn from going through the process: The perceptions of South African school leaders about action research

What is the value of action research for motivating change in school principals who work under difficult circumstances?  This was my question.  I was surprised to read the following comment from one of the reviewers of this paper:

The main contribution of the paper is its account of how action research can assist school leaders who work in difficult circumstances. This is useful as there could be a tendency internationally to consider action research only possible under ideal conditions of professionalism (my emphasis).

This surprised me! I think that action research that has an emancipatory intent is ideally suited to affect personal and systemic change in disadvantaged contexts.  School leaders working in these circumstances tend to either burn out and be immobilised by feelings of helplessness and hopelessnes, or take a very autocratic approach focusing on pass rates, rather than developing relationship and a climate conducive to mutual learning.  In my experience, the only way to help school leaders imagine and enact a different form of leadership is to engage them in a process which restores their feelings of dignity, worth, and self-efficacy: Action Research. 

Often, the main challenge is enticing school leaders to engage in the action research process in the first place. In this study, only 3 principals were really involved.  The findings show that participation in the Action Research process was beneficial in helping school leaders live out transformational values that, in turn, helped in the attainment of educational goals. But,  given their busy schedules and often negative attitude towards research, how do we get them on board?  Luckily, one of the founding members of a network of principals working in disadvantaged contexts was involved in this action research project.  He was so convinced of the transformative potential of Action Research that he shared it with this network. As a result, all the principals in the network are exploring ways they could incorporate the principles and processes of Action Research into their leadership.  This highlights the lesson reflected in the title of the paper – you learn from going through the process.  

Free access to this new article in Action Research Journal is available free for 30 days here. I'd love to engage in conversation with you about your response to this article.

We would like to hear how other researchers have encouraged participation of busy school principals in action research.

Lesley Wood and Bernadette Govender

More information on the project can be found here

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