Initiating teachers’ action research: Empowering teachers’ voices
I wanted to send some quick feedback on your paper. It is a long paper, and I read it thoroughly until page 31, but just had to skimread it from there because of time pressures.
You have a very extensive literature backing your work. I was particularly surprised to find your reference to Purkey's work as it's not well known, in my experience, outside the U.S., but VERY appropriate for improvement in educational contexts. But you also have lots of the usually-cited authors so you must have read very widely. At times, at the start of the paper, I found there was almost too much - I wanted to get on and read what you actually did. If you decide to cut down the size of the paper, you could reduce some of your literature analysis.
I was also pretty impressed by your use of complex and sophisticated English words. However, in places the usage was fairly 'stilted' and made understanding a little difficult. I can't imagine even trying to write such a complex paper in a foreign language, so I applaud the work you have done, but it might help to get a native English speaker to proofread and edit it for you. I am also interested to know whether the writing of your colleagues was done, and the feedback from you given, in English, or whether this is a translation to make the work more widely accessible.
What came through clearly for me is your passion to provide appropriate professional development for yourself and your colleagues, using action research, and in an environment where this is clearly not the norm. I can understand the mindsets you had to try to work past/through in order to have teachers engaging in action research, and it is to your credit that you persisted with this, and ended up with a cohort who clearly wanted to use the method to improve their practice. And you are pragmatic about the reluctance or refusal of others about this kind of participation.
If you're familiar with Purkey and Novak's '5 Ps' then I think you have shown a real commitment to improving processes, programmes, people, possibly policies (in the long run) and places, to make schools in Croatia places where staff feel empowered to work collaboratively to improve practice. Good luck with your ongoing work - in the words of the paper, "action research never ends"!
Dear Pip, thank you very much for the feedback on my paper. Your first comment was that this paper is long. One of reasons for sending this paper to EJOLTS was the fact it is really pretty long. Since it is stated in our submission guidelines that is not necessary to fit neatly into pre-sized packages, and that reviewers will be very flexible about this, I decided to send it in the form as it is. I read this paper many times and it seems to me it represents concordant unity. I am afraid that mechanical elimination of some parts could undermine harmony of its inner structure. Certainly, if someone would point out any redundant information and statement that could be removed without damage to the rest of text, I would do it.
I am glad to find out that you were impressed by my "use of complex and sophisticated English words." Certainly, I am completely aware that my English is not enough good that I do not need any help of a native English speaker. Jack promised that he will proofread the paper at the end of reviewing process.
Regarding your question about writing of my colleagues they did not write too much in this project. They mostly presented their action research at meetings of our learning community and at professional seminars. I wrote about that in the report:
However, written action research reports were not of sufficient quality to be published in professional publications, but teachers produced well designed multimedia presentations which were presented at professional seminars. This form of reporting does not fit traditional ways of thinking but it is in accordance with non-linear ways of thinking and reporting which could contribute to the popularisation of this approach:
Traditional forms of enquiry tend to use traditional ways of thinking. The aim is to show how processes of enquiry lead to certain conclusions, and how linear forms of thinking and reporting can show the processes of establishing causal relationships: ‘If I do this, that will happen’. New forms of enquiry tend to use non-traditional ways of thinking. The aim is to show how dynamic processes of enquiry can lead to improved practices; perhaps the best way is to use creative ways of thinking and non-linear forms of reporting that show the processes of ‘I wonder what would happen if…’. Non-linear ways of thinking and reporting can be represented using a variety of forms and media, including writing, story-telling, dialogue, visual narratives, and other forms of physical representation such as dance or performance, and a combination of all these forms. (McNiff & Whitehad, 2010, p. 223-224)
Although teachers who participated in this project did not publish anything, it was important experience which in subsequent projects resulted with quality action research accounts:
After this project we started with several projects which main aim was helping teachers to improve their practice by using action research. Those efforts resulted with significant changes in teaching of many teachers who participated in those projects. Some of those teachers published their accounts in professional publications and presented them at numerous professional seminars and several conferences (see http://ejolts.net/conference). In that way we popularized the action research approach in our country and abroad.
According your suggestion I could include several references of published papers in this paragraph.
Thank you very much for recognising our “commitment to improving processes, programmes, people, possibly policies (in the long run) and places, to make schools in Croatia places where staff feel empowered to work collaboratively to improve practice.” One of intentions was to show in this paper that improving something important in our lifes requires long-term efforts. It is not only one person that makes the difference, it is important that at least a small group of thoughtful committed citizens (Mead) unite in realisation shared values. Sometimes it requires efforts of many people and several generations that something valuable flourish.
I am truly impressed with the magnitude of the study you undertook and how much you managed to accomplish. I think it is brilliant work and should be published.
However, I do agree with Pip that it is far too long and complicated. As a reader I could not read it all in one session and I really had to force myself to review it. Although EJOLTS offers an alternative to traditional journals, if an article is too long, it is off putting, no matter how interesting the work is.
At times, you explain things in such detail that it seems you are writing a thesis or a book. I am sure that you could really shorten it to contain the pertinent stuff without losing any of the important points - in fact, it would make it a more compelling read and easier to follow.
I also admire you for writing in English and suggest a professional language editor when you have reworked it. The project was a long one, perhaps you can just report on your own learning from it, try to focus the article more. How did this experience help you to live out your educational goals as stated?
I have made a couple of comments on the first few pages that might help you to reduce it. I hope you can try to rework it to make it more focussed - I often find the questions that McNiff and Whitehead suggest, help me to structure: What was my concern, why, what did I do and why?, what evidence can I present to show my influence? how can I validate it? what significance does my learning have for others, for education, for policy .... I have adapted their questions and you can do the same. Unfortunately, no matter how good the practice, if we do not report it an a "readerly" text, it will be lost to most people.
I wish you all the best with this and look forward to a second draft.
Dear Lesley, thank you very much for suggestions and comments which you included in the text. It seems that it would be advisable to shorten the length of my work. I obviously have to find spare time to do this before publishing the next issue.
It is a fascinating type of research project. I have been busy and could not post earlier. My apologies. I read the paper on my flight from Sydney to Helsinki and commenting from Oslo where I will be here for a few days.
Not knowing much about Croatia I would like to have some feeling for the culture relating to power an politics in the country,right now, and its impact on what you can and cannot do in a public schooling system. It looks like the dominant style you adopted may have something to do with how things work over there. You may like to have a look at these dimensions from Hofstede and Trompenaar's works. Sorry I do not have those references with me right now but can send you later. There is always Google!
It might be useful to have a an 'event calendar' to have a table or a calendar with times (dates) when meetings were held and where you think significant changes happened. You can look at Miles and Huberman's Qualitative Data Analysis for an example of how to use an event calendar for data analysis. I used it in my action research to find out when power shifted from me (a senior manager involved in organisational change) and my co-researchers (managers with whom I had a power distance relationship who were learning from my intervention).
You say that you are using qualitative data analysis yet most of your coding is based on counting but not on analysing the quotes to explain your themes. Were you using grounded theory techniques? Or content analysis? Quantifying reduces the richness of data. Why did yuou have to write a program. Could you not use readily available software as it was expensive?
I would also like to have seen samples of outputs such as reports or at least a description of what the completed action research reports contained?
You also mention action learning - was it used at all? It is shown in Figure 1. Figure 1 will also need some explanation especially the light arrows on the top boxes. Some are unidirectional and some bidirectional.
That is all I have now!
Thank you for inviting me to join the discussions.
Thank you very much for commending my work!
Shankar: It is a fascinating type of research project. I have been busy and could not post earlier. My apologies. I read the paper on my flight from Sydney to Helsinki and commenting from Oslo where I will be here for a few days.
Not knowing much about Croatia I would like to have some feeling for the culture relating to power an politics in the country, right now, and its impact on what you can and cannot do in a public schooling system. It looks like the dominant style you adopted may have something to do with how things work over there. You may like to have a look at these dimensions from Hofstede and Trompenaar's works. Sorry I do not have those references with me right now but can send you later. There is always Google!
I did not read Hofstede and Trompenaar's works, but you are right that the problem of my dominant style was culture relating issue. I tried to explain that in the chapter “Institutional context” and later in interpretations. For example, I mentioned this in differences between leaders and managers/pedagogues and head-teachers (p. 20-21) and in following interpretations:
“In our group appeared as the true statement of Barica Marentič-Požarnik that between our teachers and professional collaborators predominate low level of personal responsibility for their professional improvement which is contributed by forms of the professional development where prevail the lectures with little possibilities of discussion, direct advices and critics, the detail instructions to implement some procedures (e.g. the execution plan of teaching hours), schematic forms for teaching preparing, analyses with the position “exclusively right” approaches etc. (Marentič-Požarnik, 1993, p. 352)” (p. 24-25).
“Another problem is the lack of clear vision and professionalism in governing structures which are responsible for education. Such a situation “has resulted in a lack of change, innovation, and accountability”:
Although education “strategies” have been drafted in Croatia, they have not been implemented, and major reforms have not yet been undertaken at any level. Croatia’s situation in this regard is similar to Serbia’s and Bulgaria’s. By contrast, Slovenia, Czech Republic, and Hungary have implemented wide-ranging reforms based on agreed strategies. Decentralization of the education system has been a priority in several transition countries, although the extent and success of decentralization have varied. Croatia has carried out very little decentralization, and this – along with conflicting authorities, a lack of system-wide focus, and poor management – has resulted in a lack of change, innovation, and accountability. In comparison with other transition countries, Croatia has rigid, hierarchical and opaque governance and management of its education system. (Lowther, 2004, p. 17)
A previous critical analysis was published shortly after finishing this project, but the situation has remained unchanged and in some aspects it is even worse due to the financial crisis.” (p. 32)
I hope that from those explanations cultural and educational context is enough explained, and certainly it had negative impact on desired changes. However, I will try to find Hofstede and Trompenaar's works to check whether they could help me in additional explanation of cultural issues.
Shankar: It might be useful to have a an 'event calendar' to have a table or a calendar with times (dates) when meetings were held and where you think significant changes happened. You can look at Miles and Huberman's Qualitative Data Analysis for an example of how to use an event calendar for data analysis. I used it in my action research to find out when power shifted from me (a senior manager involved in organisational change) and my co-researchers (managers with whom I had a power distance relationship who were learning from my intervention).
Table 2 (p. 16) represents schedule of workshops during the reflective practicum. However, you probably suggested creating event listing (Miles & Huberman; 1994) which could represent not only schedule of workshops, but time-line of important events during the project. I will try to devise appropriate display of my project.
Shankar: You say that you are using qualitative data analysis yet most of your coding is based on counting but not on analysing the quotes to explain your themes. Were you using grounded theory techniques? Or content analysis? Quantifying reduces the richness of data. Why did yuou have to write a program. Could you not use readily available software as it was expensive?
Yes, you are right. Those questions should be better explained in the text and it could make it bigger. Since I was warned that the paper is too long, I will probably remove the chapter “Changes and improvements in participants’ communicative actions” and related interpretation along with part which is connected with my program for qualitative data analysis. In that way I will reduce 3000 words of text. It seems to me that after this shortening the paper still will be understandable but more readable.
Shankar: I would also like to have seen samples of outputs such as reports or at least a description of what the completed action research reports contained?
I already explained this problem in my response to Pip and I will add several urls in the last chapter of my paper.
Shankar: You also mention action learning - was it used at all? It is shown in Figure 1.
Yes it was used. We learned “from concrete experience and critical reflection on that experience - through group discussion, trial and error, discovery, and learning from and with each other.” According to Zuber-Skerritt (2002) “it is a process by which groups of people (whether managers, academics, teachers, students, or ‘learners’ generally) address actual workplace issues or problems, in complex situations and conditions.” (p. 114-115)
Shankar: Figure 1 will also need some explanation especially the light arrows on the top boxes. Some are unidirectional and some bidirectional.
Yes, you are right. I will do it.
Shankar: That is all I have now!
Thank you for inviting me to join the discussions.
Thank you for excellent suggestions which will help me to improve my paper. I am going to submit the new version after Jack Whitehead, who is my second reviewer, send me his review.
Dear reviewers, I've modified my paper according your suggestions. First of all I’ve shorten it. Now it is 10 pages shorter text from which I excluded the penultimate chapter (“Changes and improvements in participants’ communicative actions”) its interpretation and all related contents. I’ve also deleted some images and edited the most issues which were mentioned in the first cycle of reviewing process. I hope the paper will be proof-edited before its publishing.
Thank you for all constructive and helpful comments and suggestions.
As promised, here's the feedback on this iteration of your paper. I have taken the liberty of including track changed editing, which might shorten the task for Jack in due course. As it's your work, of course you should feel free to ignore my suggestions but I have tried to suggest editing changes that will make the work more readable overall. Mostly, I've ignored making changes to the 'direct quotes' from yourself to participants, or on the participants' entries even where these seem hard to read, as it didn't seem appropriate to change these.
I think the paper reads much more smoothly in this iteration. You have some excellent reflections on what worked, and what didn't, and I think the honesty of these reflections provides a good example of someone trying to introduce action research in a less than supportive context. I do congratulate you and your successful participants, in persisting with the work even when the going got tough.
I'd recommend publishing, but over to the editors on this. I have attached the track changed version.
Dear Pip, the new version of my paper is attached. I accepted almost all your suggestions particularly those which were connected with language issues.
Branko, some of the English in this is clumsy but I suspect it is what the teachers actually said? Were they responding in English or Croatian? If Croatian, then perhaps it is your translation that needs a bit of attention.
I translated everything that teachers said or wrote since we communicated in Croatian. I suppose that in the original version our communication sounds less clumsy.
Just a few things related to APA standard I left unchanged. The first issue is connected with direct quotations that are 40 words, or longer. Here is suggestion how they should be formatted:
Place direct quotations that are 40 words, or longer, in a free-standing block of typewritten lines, and omit quotation marks. Start the quotation on a new line, indented 1/2 inch from the left margin, i.e., in the same place you would begin a new paragraph. Type the entire quotation on the new margin, and indent the first line of any subsequent paragraph within the quotation 1/2 inch from the new margin. Maintain double-spacing throughout. The parenthetical citation should come after the closing punctuation mark. (http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/2/)
In addition, et al. in APA style should not be italicized when it is used as part of a reference citation (http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2011/11/the-proper-use-of-et-al-in-apa-style.html).
I deeply appreciate the time and effort you've spent on reviewing my account. Thank you very much for really helpful suggestions, language corrections and encouraging comments.
You're welcome, Branko. My grandmother used to say, "If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well" and I guess that has stuck with me. Thanks, too, for your advice on the APA stuff. It looks as though I need to download the latest version instead of relying on my understanding of the detail from doing my own PhD!