26 SES 06 A, Engagement, Shadowing and Action Research
During the last decades, researchers and leaders have emphasized the importance of schools developing into learning organizations as a way to cope with the accelerating pace of changes. There is also strong agreement among researchers that school improvement is most evident where teachers and school leaders are dedicated to research and to learning in and about their everyday practice. By building on their self-produced research results, teachers and school leaders become the main actors in knowledge-building about how children's learning and development can be influenced in the best possible ways. In Sweden this view coincides with the political ambition reflected in the new Education Act, which stipulates that education must be based on both scientific premise and proven experience (4§ 5) Skollagen (2010:800).
This paper reports findings from a Swedish school development project in which the development process was designed and structured as a course in systematic-knowledge-building based on day-to-day issues. The concept knowledge-building is frequently used in the presentation and denotes learning processes in which the learners are active co-creators of knowledge by acting as researchers.
One primary school and one secondary school participated in the project. Altogether sixty teachers, two school leaders, two developmental leaders and the research team, in which the authors of this paper had an instructional/tutoring role, were involved.
The process of systematic knowledge-building that the staff at the two schools learned to use during the course followed five steps:
- Definition of a problem or a learning domain followed by formulation of a research question;
- Determination of how to obtain reliable data that form the basis for the learning process;
- Detecting patterns in the obtained data;
- Understanding and explaining why the patterns look like they do;
- Examining the validity of the knowledge by testing it in practice.
Participants were assigned to inquiry groups. In each a learning leader was chosen to coordinate the work of the group. As the groups progressed in their research processes, lectures were given to support the participants in the different phases. Tutoring from the university complemented the course. The course and the tutoring were coordinated to create continuity in the participants’ systematic knowledge-building. The learning leaders met one of the authors for tutoring five times during the year to discuss problems, questions and dilemmas in the learning processes of the groups.
Earlier studies within this project have shown that a course in systematic knowledge-building functioned as a scaffold in the school development process, helping the participants to focus on and be persistent in their improvement. Systematic knowledge building based on the “five step” research process was perceived by the teachers and school leaders to support their own learning about teaching and student learning. It was also considered to a have positive effects on cooperation between teachers and strengthening teacher-school leader relationship.
However, as researchers, lecturers and tutors, we were also able to identify some problems related to the learning groups’ research processes as well as variations in the result of their work. The identified difficulties served as a starting point for the study presented in this paper.
The aim of the paper is to provide some insight into the work carried out by the teachers and school leaders within their learning groups.
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