Action Research in Urban Schools: Empowerment, Transformation, and Challenges

By Razfar, Aria | Teacher Education Quarterly, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Action Research in Urban Schools: Empowerment, Transformation, and Challenges


Razfar, Aria, Teacher Education Quarterly


Introduction

For over ten years the teacher education program at a Hispanic-serving liberal arts college offered a traditional Masters program, with a traditional five-chapter thesis based on quantitative or qualitative designs. After much deliberation and feedback from graduating students, it was decided that a Masters program based on an action research model would be more engaging and appropriate for the population of educators served by the college. Given the nascent state of the program, the terms 'action research,' 'empowerment,' and 'transformation' were a quite nebulous and as expected contested terrain. Appropriately enough, they would be defined and shaped in the course of our collective actions over time. As a result of the shift, a distinguishing requirement for participating in the program was that students must be active in a K-12 educational setting whereby they would develop and implement an action plan appropriate for that context. Furthermore, this process would require the engagement of their colleagues as well as the community.

This article examines the experiences of a cohort of seven urban educators who conducted action research over a two-year period. Of the seven participants, six were teacher-researchers (henceforth 'TRs') and one was a bilingual coordinator. I provide an analysis of focus group discussions conducted after the completion of the action research projects, in particular six sessions dedicated to the themes of empowerment and transformation framed by a special issue of Teacher Education Quarterly (Levin & Merrit, 2006), and vignettes from three illustrative projects. The three cases were selected to demonstrate the range of topics, issues, and populations embraced by the teachers. By synthesizing the narratives and reflections of multiple action research journeys into a single "meta-narrative," this study aims to build upon the extant literature on action-research based approaches to in-service teacher training.

While carrying out action research can be considered a "messy" process for individual teachers (Wilson-Cooper, 2006), synthesizing multiple projects could be even messier. This was the challenge of this study; however, this type of meta-analysis is necessary toward broadening the dialogue about the dynamic potential of action-based approaches to teacher development. Through the voices of practitioners immersed

in the lives of historically marginalized schools and communities, this article provides a framework for synthesizing and to some degree assessing teacher reflections about their action research j ourney, the meaning of the process to multiple stake-holders, the challenges they named, how they navigated the challenges, and ultimately some of the changes they named in themselves, their schools, and communities. Given the national trend toward "scientific" and essentialist approaches to student learning and teacher education (Erickson & Gutierrez, 2002) there are significant implications for teacher identity and epistemology(s). More specifically, the TRs in this study emphasized the importance of problematizing issues rather than 'fixing' them, appreciating complexity over simplicity, becoming comfortable with discomfort and uncertainty, and becoming a more complete member of their respective communities. In the remainder of this article, I discuss the context and methods for these emergent themes.

Defining Action Research

The action research projects conducted by the TR's in this study show a wide range of issues such as literacy development for English Language Learners (ELLs), parent involvement, classroom management, and after-school programs geared towards increasing student academic performance and developing a positive sense of affiliation with the school community. Each of these projects illustrated how TRs can assume leadership roles in fostering pedagogical and policy changes in their respective sites. …

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