There has been an explosion of interest in educational action research as it’s regarded a means of professional development and professionalism. In Greece, the increasing importance of reflective rationality and action research are considered to be at an initial state due to several constraints. In this study, a collaborative action research model was planned and implemented in two school units of primary education. Τhe goal was to improve schools from within by employing teachers as active agents of change within their own organizations.
Conditions or requirements of a successful collaborative action research
The elements that yield a successful and effective staff development program do not exist in isolation; instead they are interrelated and interdependent.
a) Many researchers agree that teachers’ development program should be based on their needs, as teachers can’t be treated as a homogeneous group. It is acceptable that the staff is made up of a number of individuals with different skills, attitudes and previous experience (Fullan 1993), and additionally their aspirations vary at different stages of their career (Huberman 1998). The needs of the veteran teachers most probably differ from the needs of the relatively inexperienced ones. Therefore the professional growth activities are processes which integrally involve teachers not only in the assessment of their own needs, interests and concerns, but also in planning, development and implementation of changes (Owens, Loucks & Horsley 1991; Fullan 1993).
b) Participating in a staff development program means that you are willing to make some changes. We all know that change is complex and any real improvement is likely to be associated with some pain or conflict. New equipments and materials are introduced, behaviors and practices change, and new beliefs and attitudes may also be encouraged (Fullan 2001a). Simply changing the first two without changing the third has nothing to do with real improvement. Therefore, the type of plan that brings about improvement at these three levels should be well led and managed, have teacher development built in and most importantly focus on pupils’ progress and achievement (Fullan 1993). In other words, the collaborative process needs managing if it is to happen well and critically at the same time.
c) According to the literature, effective staff development takes place “on the job” in their own workplace where there are many high quality opportunities, such as easily available case study meetings, collaborative projects, peer observations, discussions, a critical friend, etc. (MacGilchrist et al. 2008).
d) Establishment of collegial intelligence plays an important role, in order to develop a shared sense of purpose and commitment that may lead to change and improvement. Collegiality refers to “the existence of a high level of collaboration among teachers and between teachers and principal and is characterized by mutual respect, shared work values, cooperation and specific conservations about teaching and learning” (Sergiovanni & Starratt 2002, p. 330).
e) Collegial intelligence relates closely to reflective intelligence (MacGilchrist et al. 2008). The teachers need to learn together and reflect together critically about what is happening. Reflection is associated with thinking and is judged to involve the cognitive processes of both problem finding and problem solving (Leitch & Day 2000).
f) As the collaborative culture is characterized by a spirit of ongoing support for experimentation and risk taking, the existence of an expert, a facilitator, or a critical friend could mobilize the educational community to consider the change (MacBeath 2005). The critical friend “is the trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens and offers critiques of a persons’ work as a friend” (Costa & Kallick 1993, 50). He/she is the person who supports teachers’ in their effort to improve and create a positive atmosphere conducive to the learning process.
g) Generally, concerning the atmosphere, a successful collaborative action research effort should take place in a non-threatening atmosphere where there is support and encouragement of the headmasters and a warm climate between the participants and the researchers (Wagner 1997; Sergiovanni & Starratt 2002).
Collaborative Action Research as the Means of Teachers’ Professional Development is presented in the course: EFFECTIVE SCHOOLS: A STEP AHEAD