Guiding School Improvement with Action Research

By Richard Sagor | Go to book overview
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6 Using Theory to Drive Action

Chapter 5 discussed the importance of setting clear and differentiated achievement targets. Clarifying our targets provides us with precise information about our intended destination.

I travel a great deal, and one thing I take for granted is that the airline I'm traveling on and the pilot who is directing the aircraft share an understanding of our destination (we might call that the plane's achievement target). But knowing a plane's destination is just the starting point. It isn't enough to get it there.

This brings me to a story I frequently share at the beginning of an action research workshop. I tell the participants a scary (although fictitious) story that I contend happened to me the evening before. I relate how anxious I became when the pilot announced that we were returning to the gate because he [didn't like the sound of the starboard engine.] I then tell my audience about how this anxiety later turned into abject horror when, after a 10-minute stop at the gate, we were cleared for takeoff. As soon as the [fasten seat belt] light went off, I quizzed the flight attendant about the situation, asking, [What could the airline have possibly done in a mere 10 minutes to fix this problem?] Without missing a beat the attendant responded, [Oh, it was easy. We simply changed pilots.]

I use this story to drive home a key point that every reflective educator must be ever cognizant of: the inextricable connection between theoryand action. The specific strategy employed to deal with the problem of an engine emitting a strange sound is determined by whatever theory the pilot holds regarding the source of the problem. Often more than one theory can possess [face validity] as an explanation for a phenomenon. In the case of engine noise, possible explanations might include the following: something was wrong with the pilot's hearing; a window was inadvertently left open; something was mechanically wrong with the starboard engine.


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Guiding School Improvement with Action Research


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