Parents + Teachers + Action Research = Real Involvement

Article excerpt

I used to some in as just an IEP parent, and I would feel frustrated at times. But now that I come in with a different hat on, i feel more in contact with the school, feel closer.

-MVadeine Wetherby, a parent involved in action research (Kay, Fitzgerald Lockhart &Lockhart, 1995)

pecial education and action research have much in common. Both use similar processes: defining a problem, gathering important information from many sources, analyzing what that information means before planning and taking action, evaluating the results of that action, and beginning again. special education process gives teachers new knowledge about a student, which they use to improve that student's education. Action research results in new knowledge about any issue of practical interest to teachers.

When parents join teachers in doing action research, they develop new relationships that ultimately strengthen those parents' involvement in their child's education (Davies, Palanski, & Burch, 1993). Thompson (1993) described parent-teacher action research as "a new relationship between teachers and parents that functions according to new rules that allow for new roles and responsibilities on both sides" (p. 18).

This article describes the action research process and provides practical guidelines for teachers and parents, based on our experiences in a rural school district in Vermont. Even though the challenges can sometimes seem overwhelming, we agree with Rousseau and Tam (1996) that "the benefits outweigh the barriers" (p. 52).

Special educators have been trend-setters in parent involvement, using the individualized education program (IEP) to tap into parents' knowledge about their children. Parent-teacher action research takes the next step-inviting parents to join teachers in a systematic exploration of a puzzling issue. When they work together as equals, parents and teachers have more opportunities to express their respect for one another's wisdom, learn more about the other's perspective, and often become allies in making improvements in the school.

Approaches to Action Research

You may begin to involve parents in action research in two ways:

* Invite parents to do research with you on their own child as an individual learner.

* Ask parents to conduct research with you and other teachers within your school on broader educational issues.

In either approach, the research may focus exclusively on special education issues, with you or other special educators as the only teachers participating, or it may include issues for the child or the school system, including general education. The way you choose to get started depends on the climate for both action research and special education in your school and the type of relationships you have already established with individual parents.

Laying the Groundwork Within the School

An important component of action research is the support of your principal and peers. It is possible to conduct good research all by yourself in your classroom; however, most teachers find it more satisfying to have colleagues with whom they can discuss their work.

You will want the support of your principal or other supervisor as you collect data, especially if those data need to be gathered from groups of children or gleaned from school statistics. Be sure to check on your school's policies at the local and district level regarding parent permission for research activities. Keep your principal and other administrators informed of your activities. Their endorsement and ongoing awareness will be necessary when you reach the stage of making action plans based on your results, especially when you have involved parents as fellow researchers.

Find out who else in your school or special education department is interested in doing action research. Ask if your local college or university's department of education offers a course in action research. …