Academic journal article Journal of Education and Learning

Action Research in a Non-Profit Agency School Setting: Analyzing the Adoption of an Innovation after Initial Training and Coaching

Academic journal article Journal of Education and Learning

Action Research in a Non-Profit Agency School Setting: Analyzing the Adoption of an Innovation after Initial Training and Coaching

Article excerpt


Action research is a method of organizational development and improvement often used in educational settings. This study implemented an action research process in an alternative school that serves students with significant special needs. The action research process was implemented by classroom teams who developed a research question, collected and analyzed data, and made decisions about how to improve their current practices based on the data. The action research training project consisted of three stages: training in the protocol of action research, follow-up coaching and on-site assistance to participants, and a follow-up study. There were eleven instructional teams, made up of teachers, paraprofessionals, and therapists that took part in the training. One year after the initial training, one-on-one interviews were conducted with sixteen participants for the follow-up study. Eleven people reported that they were continuing to use action research in their classrooms and five people reported they were not. Teacher leadership to implement the process, viewing action research as part of their daily job duties, valuing the collaborative aspect of the process, and valuing the opportunity to serve students better contributed to continued use of action research. Staff turnover, lack of time, and lack of motivation contributed to discontinued use.

Keywords: action research, organizational development, education, nonprofit, human service agency, program process improvement, participatory action research, cooperative inquiry, action learning

1. Introduction

Action research is a process in which workgroups examine their own practice using research techniques and carefully designed plans in order to improve organizational outcomes (Björn & Boulus, 2011; Coghlan & Brannick, 2005; Dick, 2009; Ferrance, 2000). In school and non-profit settings, action research generally involves a group reflective process involving both targeted inquiry and group discussion as part of the overall research process (Amble, 2012; Ferrance, 2000; Stringer, 2007). Action research differs from traditional research in that the study is conducted by people who are a part of the phenomenon being studied (Cain & Milovic, 2010). In agency settings, action research is also often used as a means of organizational improvement and development, and is a collaboration between the researcher and the agency staff (Cunningham, 2008; Dick, 2009; Snoeren, Niessen, & Abma, 2012).

This study examined action research in an alternative school setting within a non-profit human services agency. The school, designed to serve students with significant special needs, is housed within a non-profit agency serving people with developmental disabilities from birth to senior citizen. The school program serves students who are referred from public k-12 schools for temporary placement to support and stabilize them before they transition back to their home school. Students must have two diagnoses: an IQ of 72 or below and a second diagnosis as documented in an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) to be placed at the school. Initially, we were asked to provide action research training to the staff of this school with the goals of both professional and organizational development. The project became two-tiered. First, we examined the results of the training itself. Second, we examined the degree to which the staff adopted the innovation of action research following conclusion of the training.

The action research process acted as a lens through which the education teams could objectively analyze and improve upon their practices using data they gathered. The action research paradigm is used to solve practical problems that arise out of daily practice and are of concern to all team members. (Bennett & Monsen, 2011; Cain & Milovic, 2010). Action research is also highly valued in educational settings as a professional development activity because it increases confidence and knowledge, improves data collection and analysis skills, leads to informed reflective practice, and improves outcomes for students (Bennett & Monsen, 2011; Cain & Milovic, 2010). …

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