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Living Through a Lens

I was out of town, having lunch at a local cafe when I noticed a young mom taking a picture of her toddler while eating. “Come on, look at the camera!” she pleaded. The toddler said “no”, shook her head. Mom took the picture anyway and probably posted it on Facebook and/or Instagram. The little girl just wanted to have lunch with her mom.

It was yet another example of how so many of us, this writer included, are enjoying important moments through a lens. As the mom was taking her toddler’s picture, she might have been thinking about what filter to use, or whether or not to tag someone else in the photo to get more visibility, likes, comments, whatever. I’ve done that, plenty of times.

What I do know is that I have stopped doing a few things I used to do regarding my own children. For example, and maybe it is the fact that they are older now… I have stopped curating their photos and videos to make digital presentations of their lives. They enjoyed watching themselves when they were toddlers. They never said “no” when I wanted to video record their birthday party using my totally 20th-Century camcorder.

Author Amy K Rosenthal suggested parents take a picture of their child every year on a couch to hallmark their annual growth. My parents have recorded my kids’ heights by the back door in their house. Since I have been uploading all of these images and videos to Facebook and other social media, what have I lost? I think we lose ownership of our documented lives. Not that the social media sites own them (although Instagram makes it hard to download your content). It’s that we aren’t doing anything with our documented memories. We aren’t putting pictures into scrapbooks or making home movies with our video recordings anymore. At least I haven’t.

Maybe that is what is lost when we live through a lens; time to contemplate our shared histories, to pore over our artifacts from life and think about what made them special. These reflections, as well as the process for organizing them into a coherent timeline, brings me joy. I cannot wait to share what we developed, although who we share them with is mostly immediate family. Do people beyond our inner circle really care that much about our life details? Should they? They have their own lives to live.

I’ve used the excuse that I post on Facebook because that is a great way to let family and friends know how our kids are doing. But why not use text message? Or email? Or an online photo print provider? It’s just as easy. I suspect it is because social media such as Facebook and Snapchat are set up to keep us coming back for more sharing and attention. We are trained to rely on the likes and comments for validation of what we shared. (I won’t even get into the whole Russia thing.) If treated with light-heartedness and basic info sharing, social media should be fine. But once our emotions and habits are manipulated, the line between what is personal and what is public starts to get blurry.

I’m deleting my Facebook account for a variety of reasons: my data is used by Facebook to profit from advertisers; Facebook appears to have been a part of the misinformation campaign from the 2016 elections; it is built to keep me and others using it for hours on end. I do hear at times, “Don’t blame the technology; it’s only a tool.” Yes, but it’s a powerful tool, designed to distract us from everything else. If Facebook were only a tool, I would be more cognizant of when and when not to use it, like a hammer or a saw. I’ve caught myself many times flipping through my feed when I had originally planned to write or do something more important, such as having lunch with my kids.

No worries about my photos and videos: I’ve downloaded them all from Facebook and saved them to a cloud storage account and on an external hard drive. I would like to get back into documenting our experiences, maybe even do some photo journaling that highlights our family’s visits to libraries. I feel at least a little redeemed in that I haven’t loss the content of our lives, just as long as I do something about it now.

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If you are waiting for me to say, “I’m not here to tell you what to do with Facebook,” I won’t. I think you should also evaluate your use of Facebook. Is it keeping you from enjoying the moment and being mindful of the present? Are you finding that you are no longer engaging in a few hobbies or family experiences like you used to? It’s not the only social media platform with issues, but it might be the worst. I am going to continue using Instagram and Twitter. I find the former to be lighter and less addictive. For the latter, I believe I have tamed the beast a bit by using lists and specific apps that restrict advertising and unwanted posts on my feed.

More than anything, I want to be a little more present in my life and take control of the things I can control. My phone is not the answer, and Facebook isn’t fitting into the equation.

Recommended books to read more about this topic:

  • Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers
  • Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

Related books I want to read on the topic:

  • Magic and Loss by Virginia Heffernan
  • The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
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Top Ten Reasons Why Should Implement Digital Student Portfolios

We should not judge people by their peak of excellence, but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.

― Henry Ward Beecher (via Thoughtful Mind)

As both a father and a building principal, education is a personal endeavor as well as a professional one. My two children have always attended the school in which I have served as a leader. So for me to recommend anything to teachers and leaders, it has to pass muster as a dad as well as an educator.

One of the few technology initiatives I do promote is digital student portfolios. They are defined as online collections of learning artifacts intentionally curated to showcase a student’s accomplishments and growth over time. With the availability and ease of use of digital tools today, there is little reason why students should not be able to experience this authentic process of assessment. Here are ten reasons why every student should have a digital portfolio…

Click here to read the rest of this ASCD Inservice article!

 

 

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Promising Distractions

It’s Saturday night, which means I start to wind down my connectivity. I try to take a 24-hour sabbatical from almost all things technology. Typically I would let the phone die and not recharge it. However, lately I have been using an app called Streaks. You can track your daily habits in order to develop a better, more healthy lifestyle. You can track your progress over time and customize your goals for how frequently you want to accomplish something. During the day, the app will push out notifications on your phone to remind you to drink enough water and get 30 minutes of exercise.

While the dilemma is now whether or not to have my phone on Sundays, these notifications are the type of distractions that I appreciate. I feel a little more mindful of my actions, even if I don’t always meet my goals. This example relates to an article I wrote for EdTech Digest, titled Promising Distractions. Educators are bombarded with so many options for integrating technology into instruction. Which ones are worth our time? I offer three possibilities: gaming, digital storytelling, and citizen science. Each of these modern concepts holds a lot of promise for teaching and learning.

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Digital Portfolios in the Classroom: Interview with Rod Berger @Scholastic

I recently responded to a series of questions regarding my new book, Digital Portfolios in the Classroom: Showcasing and Assessing Student Work (ASCD, 2017). This Q & A was with Dr. Rod Berger for his blog with Scholastic, titled Down the Hall. You can click here to read the entire interview.

Below is an excerpt from the interview.

I hope the start of your school year has been successful! -Matt

(P.S. My book is now available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as through ASCD directly.)

RB: The subtitle of your book is “Showcasing and Assessing Student Work.” We often focus on the assessment part and overlook the showcase element. What are some of the ways digital portfolios create a good showcase for student work and why is this important?

MR: Students, and really everyone, want to be recognized for their accomplishments and best efforts. Our society has little problem with handing out trophies and medals for success in sports and extracurricular activities. Celebrating academic work should not be a significant shift for anyone when we consider this context.

Digital portfolios can facilitate showcasing student work in a variety of ways.

  • Post pictures of students’ final products. These images should be shared with an accompanying text caption in which students describe what they created, how they did it, why it’s important, and what they want to work on for next time. This explanation, self-reflection, and goal setting provides context for student work and their future goals.
  • Upload video of student performances. Our families cannot attend every play, concert, and demonstration of learning, nor should they be expected to. Digital portfolios can bring families into the classroom by documenting their performances via video and then uploading this media for families to watch and enjoy at a later time.
  • Record audio of students’ current skills and understanding. Showcasing our students’ best efforts should not be limited to only final projects and performance tasks. There are reasons to celebrate every day. Maybe a student achieved the next level on a reading benchmark assessment or was finally able to pronounce a specific sound during their speech and language intervention. Parents can experience this success with their kids by hearing evidence of their accomplishments.

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Student Goal Setting in the Classroom

Below is my response for Larry Ferlazzo’s Classroom Q & A for Education Week. You can view all of the responses by clicking here. Enjoy!

Used smartly and with intent, goal setting can be a game changer in engaging our students in their own learning process. Writing down goals makes them concrete. Sharing goals with peers, teachers, and family members puts more accountability on oneself. Including others in setting the goals provides a support system to help achieve them. Others become invested in their success. When students finally do achieve what they set out to accomplish, everyone celebrates.

So how can we use goal setting with our students? I believe the first step in this process is asking students what they are interested in as well as their needs. In one 2nd grade classroom, one teacher I know (my wife) asked her students questions regarding their interests and needs. One student, who in previous years had significant behavior issues, said he wanted to “build more because I like to tinker”. This information translated into co-developed goals between teacher and student around creativity and the importance of choice in learning. Over the course of the school year, both his behavior and academics improved dramatically. Both the process (choice) and the product (building things) were a part of this example of student-involved goal setting.

Including students in the goal setting process also benefits from making the learning process and eventual outcomes visible. By visible, this means documenting student learning as it is happening and sharing their work for a wide audience. Digital portfolios are an effective way for facilitating this approach. Going back to the previous example, my wife used FreshGrade to capture images and video of her students building during Genius Hour. Families could observe the idea generation, collaboration, prototyping, and collaboration that led to an exciting product as it was happening. By making visible a student’s pathway toward goal achievement, it takes the mystery out of the learning process and celebrates their work.

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Cultivating the Student Growth Mindset

The article below was written in collaboration with FreshGrade. It is an administrative companion piece to an upcoming eBook I wrote on instructional strategies for developing self-directed learners. Click here to read my conversation with Dr. Rod Berger via Scholastic’s Administrator blog for the article. And stay tuned for more information on the free eBook!

Leadership Strategies For Building the Mindset Around Student Growth | Matt Renwick

In 2006, Dr. Carol Dweck published the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. She has studied people’s attitudes toward learning for some time. Her work revolves around comparing fixed mindset (mistakes are indicators of failure; intelligence is fixed) and growth mindset (mistakes are opportunities for learning; intelligence can be developed). Her research made an impact on the educational landscape. Many teachers and school leaders started proclaiming that they were “growth mindset oriented.” A fixed mindset was the enemy. If a student became discouraged, the objective was to praise their effort and encourage them to persist within the adverse situation.

Fast forward ten years to the present day. Growth mindset has become a part of education’s lexicon. However, this has not lead to widespread improvement in student dispositions toward learning. There are a few reasons. First, Dweck believes teachers and parents often misuse her research when interacting with kids (Barshay, 2015). Specifically, teachers praise effort but are not as effective in offering feedback to improve performance. Also, adults would claim they use a growth mindset, but their actions promoted a fixed mindset. In addition, Dweck has revisited her work since it first came to the educational forefront. One area that has been revised is the strict dichotomy between fixed vs. growth mindset. “Maybe we talked too much about people having one mindset or the other, rather than portraying people as mixtures. We are on a growth-mindset journey, too” (Dweck, 2016).

As one school leader to another, I ask you: If Carol Dweck, a leading researcher in the area of psychology and learning, can revise her current thinking, what is stopping our teachers and us from the doing the same? Her example gives us permission to question our current strategies in how we empower students, engage parents, and enable educators in our respective buildings. This article will describe the better practices in education that encourage student growth, the challenges to expect in this instructional change and the indicators of success. We will focus on four areas of consideration for facilitating this change: Cultivating the conditions for success; Clarity above all; Feedback, feedback, feedback; Authentic work for a real audience. To be clear, this is not a prescription for success. Rather, it is one pathway your leadership team might take to promote a growth mindset in all of your learners, teachers and students.

Cultivating the Conditions for Success

Before a school can move forward toward developing a collective growth mindset, the educators have to assess current reality. People need to understand that everyone has room to grow and should strive to become better. I like the verb “cultivate” instead of create. It evokes imagery of a gardener, tending their soil in preparation for a growing season. Amendments such as fertilizer and compost are added to help ensure a healthy harvest. Weeds are removed so the garden can flourish. To follow the metaphor, the level of health of a school’s soil is largely comprised of the trust colleagues have for each other as well. Trust does not happen naturally; it too has to be cultivated with intentional leadership acts.

One activity I have facilitated with teachers is allowing them to share their concerns regarding the past. Teachers write a statement which articulates their issues on a small piece of paper. A sentence stem, such as “In the past, I felt…” helps get people started. The school leader can model this first, sharing out loud any grievance they might have kept welled up until that moment. Educators appreciate it when leaders demonstrate what is asked of them. It conveys honesty and makes ourselves more transparent. Once teachers have an opportunity to share their personal concerns verbally, everyone puts their note in an empty suitcase. Then the principal closes it up and announces, “I appreciate your feedback. These concerns are mine now. I will do my best to address them in future conversations with everyone.” Staff will feel listened to, acknowledged, and more ready to move forward. Principals can take this one step further and categorize the concerns by themes. This will provide focus and allow school leaders to prioritize staff concerns and effectively address them. (Thank you to my superintendent Luke Francois for sharing this idea with me.)

Once major concerns have been heard, a second step toward cultivating the conditions for success is developing collective commitments. These are like norms, created as a faculty that serves as guidelines for professional conversations. A difference between collective commitments and norms is the former is directly connected with the mission and vision of the school, more like principles. To get started, leaders provide different professional articles for faculty to read ahead of time. Each article should speak to one of the school’s or district’s initiatives for the school year. Encourage teachers to closely read the text of their choice with a pen in hand and be ready for a conversation with colleagues. Doing some reading ahead of time will prepare everyone for more productive dialogue. Assumptions are not made about any educator’s background knowledge. Once teachers have read and discussed the content, the entire faculty can develop collective commitments. A consensus strategy such as “Fist to Five” can help ensure faculty buy-in. The alignment between mission, vision, and collective commitments ensures goal alignment.

Essential to the success of this work is having the time, resources, and training to engage in it. To capture more time, a number of schools and districts have gone to early student release once a week. This time is then allocated for teacher teams to look at student work and results, and adjust their instruction to meet students’ needs better. Educators’ mindsets start to bend toward student learning results instead of only instruction. Professional resources and training should be a school priority. Within this conditions, teachers can start to emerge as leaders. The autonomy provided within the commitments and goals of the school treats teachers like the professionals that they are. This type of environment can lead to a necessary level of trust that allows all school members to start taking risks in their personal learning endeavors.

Clarity Above All

The work that educators engage in to develop their mission, vision statements, collective commitments, and building goals aren’t worth the paper they are printed on if they do not translate into action. Clarity about our work is achieved when there is complete alignment between the more abstract artifacts previously mentioned and the concrete actions of teachers and leaders in classrooms. We know we are on the right pathway when the assessment results reveal student growth over time and achievement of essential learning objectives.

One of the best ways to achieve clarity in our work is by looking at the types of assessments and the priority placed on each. Assessments in school generally fall into three areas: formative, interim, and summative. Formative assessments include helping students understand the criteria for success, offering and receiving feedback, and providing students with opportunities to improve on their work through reflection and self-assessment. Interim, or benchmark, assessments are more summative in nature. They serve as checkpoints in a student’s learning progression toward essential understandings and skills. Summative assessments, such as exams, quizzes, and projects, help teachers and students gauge what was learned and at what level of understanding.

If a school directs the majority of their focus on summative assessments, then teachers’ mindsets become more concerned about the results of student learning versus the process students took to get there. Summative assessments are fixed; once you take the test, or place a score on student work, the learning stops. In an educational world hyper focused on end results and ensuring all students succeed, it is little surprise that a growth mindset can be so fleeting in classrooms. Teachers and students are clear about the purpose, but the purpose may not lead to deeper learning in these situations.

To address this situation, school leaders have to shift their mindsets by placing a greater priority on students and teachers capturing, reflecting on, and sharing formative assessment results. In my prior school, we did this by selecting six weeklong windows during the school year in which each student would upload a writing artifact into their digital portfolios. We used FreshGrade to house and share out students’ best work. Before each window, teachers would identify the learning targets to be addressed and then prepare instruction to guide students to achieve them. The fruits of their labor – informative texts generated by the students independently – was showcased within FreshGrade’s web-based portfolio system. In addition, families and colleagues could see growth over time in each student’s writing from fall to spring. To ensure that this process remained formative, teachers were expected to confer with each student while they uploaded their work, asking questions such as, “Why did you select this piece?”, “What did you do well in your writing? And “What do you think you need to work on for next time?”. Within a portfolio system, students start to see learning as a dynamic process instead of a static event. Clarity is evident in what the students produce and how they grow.

Feedback, Feedback, Feedback

I list this element of formative assessment three times because it is so important for developing a collective mindset around student growth. Feedback is any information that helps to guide or affirm student work and offers pathways for improving upon it. Feedback is also the information a teacher receives from a student in response to their instruction. Examples include written and verbal comments and reflective questions that focus a student’s attention to their process. NonExamples of feedback include grades and test scores (summative assessments). To be sure, not all feedback is created equal. If students are unable to use the comments and questions to further their learning, it renders the teacher’s efforts as ineffective. “The most important things about feedback is what the students do with it” (Wiliam, 2016). Therefore, it is critical that teachers receive training on how to best provide and use feedback in the classroom.

The best feedback for developing a growth mindset can be categorized into two areas: Descriptive and prescriptive (Kroog, Hess, & Ruiz-Primo, 2016). Descriptive feedback is objective commentary about the student’s work. The language should be specific and revolve around the attributes of the content, skill or strategy. Descriptive feedback should acknowledge the student as the learner, allowing him or her to own their learning by connecting what they accomplished with their efforts. An example of feedback on a piece of writing might be, “Kyle, when you used sensory details in this story, I could visualize the scene.” This type of feedback gives students a window into their current reality. It also offers an opportunity to celebrate what’s going well. Conversely, prescriptive feedback provides students with a pathway for improvement. It can be a direct suggestion or a thoughtful question. Following the same example, a teacher might want Kyle to expand on his descriptions by asking, “What other senses might you include in this description of the forest?” Of course, all of this feedback is only as effective as the level of clarity conveyed to understand the criteria for success (Hattie, Fisher, & Frey, 2016).

As school leaders, we can promote these better practices during professional learning days and in the classroom. For all staff training, teachers can watch examples of other teachers using feedback in effective ways. The Teaching Channel offers hundreds of videos of real teachers in action, with dozens depicting effective feedback and formative assessment strategies. Teachers can also read related articles together, such as the ones cited in this section, and have professional conversations about the information. Once teachers have enough background knowledge about the nature of effective feedback, school leaders can model this skill when conducting instructional walks in classrooms. These walks are 15-20 minute classroom visits documented with descriptive and prescriptive feedback. Instructional walks are formative in nature, and should not be considered part of the evaluation process. With instructional walks, we are “looking first for the teacher’s strengths, noticing where support is needed, and also discerning instructional patterns across the school” (Routman, 2014, p. 198). I use a paper notebook and a pen, write what I observe, and then have a brief conversation with the teacher about what I observed. Before I leave the classroom, I offer positive affirmation of the day’s instruction to build and maintain teacher-principal trust. This process models for teachers how they might interact with their students, as well as how students might interact with each other in the form of peer feedback.

While what we say and do not say is critical for student growth, the best type of feedback comes from the students. It is in our interactions with kids where we can glean all types of information and adjust our instruction to meet their needs. This student-teacher interaction is dependent on the quality of the relationships in the classroom. That leads us into our last section on the importance of authenticity and audience in our daily work in schools.

Real Work for an Authentic Audience

If the only person that regularly sees student work is their teacher, we deprive our kids of opportunities to make their voices be heard. Bringing in an authentic audience for student learning increases motivation, raises the stakes in a positive way and facilitates the celebration of everyone’s efforts and accomplishments. Coupled with learning tasks that closely resemble what one might experience in everyday life, students will see that their work is important not only to them but others as well.

Preparing students to accomplish real work for an authentic audience does not necessarily mean teachers have to develop elaborate projects that take weeks at a time to accomplish. One of the easiest ways to facilitate this is by utilizing a digital portfolio to publish student work (mentioned previously). This is what many professionals do in their occupations: Maintaining a professional website that highlights their skills and abilities. The audience for student portfolios – families and other teachers – can respond to what students publish in the form of comments. Teachers can educate parents about how to offer better feedback by modeling it within the digital portfolio ecosystem. School leaders can offer after school sessions for families to learn the technology and how to comment on student work.

While celebrating student work is an essential component of building trust, we also need to honor the process that students took to get to the point of proficiency. That is why I advocate that students and teachers maintain growth portfolios in addition to best work portfolios previously described. Growth portfolios document the progress students are making as learners as well as the processes they used to make the progress. These types of portfolios are more teacher-directed, especially when monitoring progress with digital tools. However, there is no reason students should not be an integral part of this assessment process. One possibility is for every student to have a blog. Suggested blogging tools include Kidblog, Edublogs, and WordPress. Students can use these online journaling forums to post first drafts on topics of choice and expressing their thinking regarding interests or content areas. Teachers can show students how to comment on each other’s blogs effectively. This practice promotes a growth mindset because it says, “We are all learners here.” Competition is reduced, and mistake-making is recognized because of the visible and collaborative nature of blogging. An audience that consists of peers and families might be all that is needed for shining a broader light on the real work students do in school.

Conclusion

After almost a decade in school administration, I have come to believe that our actions as leaders make the biggest difference in the learning lives of students and teachers. We model the learning process by being learners ourselves. This includes co-creating an environment that sets everyone up for success, being clear about our goals and what excellence looks like, offering feedback in a productive manner, and providing an authentic audience for our work. A growth mindset is more about what we do rather than anything we might say. We develop this mindset by living out our beliefs in our everyday actions. When a faculty’s collective disposition moves from “We have a growth mindset.” to “This is how we do things here.”, a school can become a true learning community.

References

Barshay, J. (2015). Growth mindset guru Carol Dweck says teachers and parents often use her research incorrectly. The Hechinger Report.

Dweck, C. (2016). Carol Dweck Revisits the ‘Growth Mindset.’ Education Week. 35(5), pp. 20, 24.

Hattie, J., Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2016). Do They Hear You? Educational Leadership. 73(7), 16-21.

Kroog, H., Hess, K. K., & Ruiz-Primo, M. A. (2016). The 2 Es. Educational Leadership. 73(7), 22-25.

Routman, R. (2014). Read, Write, Lead: Breakthrough Strategies for Schoolwide Literacy Success. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wiliam, D. (2016). The Secret of Effective Feedback. Educational Leadership. 73(7), 10-15.

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Getting Started with Action Research

I wrote this article for the Stenhouse blog. I am reposting it here as it was. Enjoy!

Getting Started with Action Research
Matt Renwick

We recently facilitated action research for twenty of our district teachers. They came from all areas in grades K–12. The course was led by Dr. Beth Giles and Dr. Mark Dziedzic from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Teachers met one evening a month to explore their driving questions, set up action plans, collect and organize data, and prepare their work for an inquiry showcase this spring. Here are some of the questions that were specific to literacy, and what we learned.

What happens when we provide choice in reading and learning?

Three teachers investigated this tenet of engagement. A second-grade teacher conducted Genius Hour at the end of the day, a time in which students could tinker and make things of their choosing. A third-grade teacher allowed her students to decide how their classroom should look and feel regarding furniture and resources. A reading interventionist embedded choice within her instruction, including letting the students select one book a month to keep.

What they found out was that choice affected each student in different ways. For example, the reading interventionist discovered that if a student’s basic needs were not being met, he or she had a hard time progressing. She countered this reality by bringing families into school to engage in literacy activities, such as building bookshelves. The third-grade teacher realized that some students liked working with peers regularly, whereas others needed quiet time to read and write. The second-grade teacher found that, for one student in particular, a half hour of tinkering every day led to a reduction in office referrals by 70 percent from fall to spring. Providing choice in school helped teachers better understand their students and adjust their instruction.

What happens when students are taught to ask questions and reflect about their reading?

A fourth- and fifth-grade teacher working with multiple curriculums in a split classroom realized that addressing the needs of a wide variety of learners was a tall order. Therefore, she wanted to find out if teaching her students to ask their own questions of the books they read and to reflect on their thinking in authentic ways through reading journals would lead to more independence.

She modeled these skills and strategies with her own reading. Gradually, she released the responsibility of questioning and reflecting to the students. Data she gathered were anecdotal and powerful. Students not only kept reflections of their own reading, they also noted what their peers were reading. Recommendations for what to read next led to students creating “Want to Read” lists in their journals. Also, students emulated how their teacher talked in their book discussions. This teacher later noted that she was looking forward to working with next year’s fifth graders in the fall.

What happens when teachers reveal themselves as learners?

A secondary reading interventionist was frustrated with her past students’ inability to exit her program in a timely manner. She decided to focus on how her language might promote a growth mind-set in her most reluctant readers and writers. First, she wrote in front of her students about the struggles she was having as a teacher and as a parent. These were day-to-day ordeals—ordinary issues she was sharing publicly. Students were also asked to write about their struggles. Few initially took her up on it. But as the teacher continued to model a growth mind-set, more students followed her lead.

Because the teacher was so open about her own learning, students felt safe in her classroom to take risks. They started to shed their rough exteriors, revealing frustrations about classes and their home lives. This led to exploring literature that students could personally relate to, populated with characters and settings in which they could reside. Pretty soon, her students were coming to her with improved progress reports to share and celebrate. A few kids exited her reading intervention earlier than anticipated but didn’t want to leave. This teacher eventually published her action research in the Wisconsin State Reading Association journal.

What happens when we let kids read?

A fifth-grade teacher and I teamed up to provide her students with a lot of texts to read, and we decreased the reading requirements placed upon them. I would come in once a month with a box full of high-interest books and do a quick blurb about each one. The teacher also used her allocated funds to enhance the classroom library. She taught the students how to have a conversation with peers and frequently conferred with students about their reading and goals. Her work derived from the research by Gay Ivey and Peter Johnston, highlighted in a Stenhouse blog post four years ago.

My role as coresearcher was to survey the students once a month using a tool developed by Ivey and Johnston. What we learned was that every student was different. Their reading lives varied from month to month. One student who proclaimed “I hate reading!” in February was excited about a new series he discovered in March. Other students also became more honest about reading in school. “I am SO glad to be done with my reading contract, so I can read whatever I want.” This type of data was more powerful than any screener or test score. Reading lives look more like a heartbeat than a straight line. Readers—kids and adults—have their ups and downs.

In observing these teachers’ journeys, I have discovered new truths about principalship. Just as students need to be engaged in their learning, teachers have to be engaged in their work. Not merely busy or working collegially with staff, but really engaged. We need to trust in their professionalism. We need to provide teachers the room to ask questions and grow. We need to honor the process as much as the outcomes. We need to celebrate both their mistakes and their successes, always striving to become better every day as professionals. Letting go of some control as a school leader is hard. Yet when we do, teachers are able to be the leaders of their own learning.

Tips for Getting Started in Action Research
If you are a teacher…

  • Ask yourself, “Why do I want to engage in action research?” If you can identify the purpose for this work in your professional life, it will motivate you to get started.
  • Do your homework on action research to build a knowledge base about the topic. Excellent resources include Living the Questions by Ruth Shagoury and Brenda Power (Stenhouse, 2012) and The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research by Nancy Fichtman Dana and Diane Yendol-Hoppey (Corwin, 2014).
  • Develop a community of professionals who also want to engage in action research. You can leverage the power of the group to persuade your principal to support this initiative as part of the professional development plan. If you cannot collaborate in person, check out online communities related to classroom research, such as The Teachers Guild.
  • Find a question that you want to explore and that is embedded within your current practice. This wondering should relate to your professional learning goals and offer artifacts that can serve as evidence for your evaluation system.
  • Include your students in your action research as much as possible. They will become a great source of information as you study the impact of your work on their learning. They will also come to see you as a learner, which enhances the entire classroom community.

If you are an administrator…

  • Be deliberate when considering action research as a possible professional learning experience. The phrase action research can scare off some teachers who might otherwise be interested in this approach. Start small, maybe offering it as a voluntary course beyond the school day for graduate credit or pay.
  • Connect with outside organizations that can facilitate a course instead of trying to host it yourself. There is vulnerability involved in action research. The more we can have others lead the initiative, the more likely teachers will be willing to open up and take risks in their pursuits of becoming better practitioners.
  • Conduct action research yourself. I did this, using the resource The Action Research Guidebook by Richard Sagor (Corwin, 2012). The author offers several examples of a principal engaging in professional inquiry at a schoolwide level. I would share my findings and reflections in staff newsletters and at meetings. The message you send is the same one teacher-researchers convey to their students: We are all learners here.
  • Prepare a multiyear plan for facilitating action research in your school or district. Teacher questions seemed to lead to more questions during the school year. At the inquiry showcase, teachers were already asking if they could conduct action research again. “I feel like I just discovered my question,” noted one teacher.