Friday, July 4, 2014

Collaborative Action Research: Empower Your Teachers (Part I)

Two years ago, our director asked the tech integrators "So when are we getting iPads?"  Now, we've all been there:  Schools want to look tech-forward, so they pour money into smartboards or whatever, throw them at the teachers and say, "Here--use them!"

Fortunately, we have a brilliant tech integrator in the HS and she told the director  "If we're going to do this, we need to do it right.  We don't even know if these things are worth the investment."

And that was the birth of the iPad Trials, a two year experiment in collaborative action research. Perhaps ironically, my big take away isn't about iPads (meh--as with any tech, the power's in how you use it, not the tool itself);  it's about the power of the process  to engage and support teachers and their teaching and through that, improve student learning.  That blew me away.

As I mentioned in my last post, I  struggled mightily this year with the whole collaboration thing. WAB has a very strong staff, and part of that translates into them (knowingly or not) keeping control of the teaching in their classes.  Add the insanity of the IBDP teaching load, and teachers don't have a lot of time for non-content instruction or playing with new ideas that may or may not work.

I also believe that, while it's important to broadcast our impact on student learning, it's not having the effect we hoped for, because we're not accountable.   Nobody expects the counselors to take responsibility for science scores and principals don't hold librarians responsible for  reading or history outcomes.  Test scores aren't directly relatable to anything we do--and until NCLB starts testing for information literacy,  they won't be any time soon.

Where we DO have huge impact is on school climate and community building. I will always remember my principal telling me after my first year as librarian that he'd never seen one person make such a huge impact on a school in such a short time.  Now, as much as I'd like to take all the credit for that, I think it says far more about my role than it does about my performance.  They hadn't had a certified LMS in several years, so how could it not have a big impact, when suddenly someone is there whose main job is to make everyone students' and teachers' jobs easier/more productive?

Which brings me back to the iPad Trials.

I'll describe our process in later posts; what's important here is why CAR is so worth doing, and why it should be an integral part of your library services.  Basically, we had 15-20 teachers from multiple disciplines meeting from 4:30-6:30 every Wednesday for four months. The tech integrator and I worked as a team to take them through our version of the action research process. Some worked on individual projects, others worked as groups, but all of them came together every week (and occasional weekends) to discuss, share, commiserate and congratulate.  It was friggin' awesome.

I watched this disparately-skilled group of teachers move from not even being sure how to turn the iPad on let alone knowing how they wanted to use it in their classrooms to writing confident, data-driven chapters on their studies.  It was fulfilling to walk down the hallways and hear teachers talking about their studies, to listen to students chatting in the library about their classroom experiences, and to feel the teachers' pride in their own learning and growth.

Action research is "practical, focused on real life problems...acting on knowledge gained through reflection" (Barranoik, qtd in Sykes 16); it's grounded in students' observable behavior or problems; it's a teacher's reflection on practice, followed by focused, direct action in response to learner needs.  Moreover, working together embeds teachers in a supportive network of shared expertise,  building both collegiality and what Mitchell, Reilly and Rogue call a  "community of practice."

Being an integral part of this process demonstrates the libraries' role in the school and student learning more than any abstract study.  Not only do admin see teacher-librarians actively leading/supporting teachers in their efforts to improve pedagogy and student learning, teachers themselves experience the power of collaborating with the library because, of course, this is an excellent opportunity to team with teachers in the classroom.

I hope I've conveyed the power and promise of the CAR process, and raised your interest.  In following posts, I'll detail exactly how we went about this and link to all of our documentation.

CAR, Part II

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