In this month’s issue of Educational Leadership focusing on professional development, educators Stephanie Dodman, Emma Zuidema and Amy Kleiman describe a powerful method by which teachers can lead their own professional learning. It’s actually the same method that students regularly use to embark on, conduct, assess their academic research, known as the Action Research Process.

The Action Research Process revolves around 6 key  actions and questions:

  1. Notice and pose a question. What do I wonder about?
  2. Refine my question with literature and resources. How can I learn more about my question?
  3. Make a plan to study my question. What actions can I take to address this question?
  4. Collect and analyze data. How will I monitor my actions?
  5. Compile, reflect on, and share my learning. What did I learn?
  6. Identify new questions for further study. What’s next?

In the context of professional learning for educators, this framework draws attention to questions we can ask ourselves about our practice and emphasizes data collection and reflection as two tools that help us measure our professional growth. In many ways, the Action Research Process is similar to Design Thinking, which also begins with questions based on observations. The hallmark DT question, How might we… becomes How can I…, a powerful beginning for anyone seeking to learn and grow.

Just as the teacher plays a critical role in the student’s research process, so a coach or group of trusted colleagues can help a teacher to really focus his or her question and professional growth plan. An example given in the article involves math teacher Emma Zuidema’s initial question: How do intentional math communities affect student grit/ problem solving? Feedback helped her to be more specific about what an intentional math community is, what she saw as the dynamic between grit and problem solving, and how she would measure whether grit and problem solving were being impacted by her practice. Through an iterative process, she was able to shift her question toward a clearer and more measurable undertaking: How do intentional math communities affect students’ persistence, approach to problem solving, feelings about math, and math achievement?

It’s hard to imagine any of us welcoming such a nuanced and challenging question if it were handed to us. However, in the creation and refinement of the question, we are completely invested in the inquiry and growth that will come from answering it. The theme of this month’s EL magazine, “When Teachers Lead Their Own Learning,” is the best theme to offer at this point in the school year, when teachers are in the thick of teaching and grading, and it can be hard to be intentional about or feel empowered to lead professional growth.



Jessica is a doctoral candidate, education consultant, writer and editor. She is the founder of bookclique, a collaborative of English teachers and students working to promote book culture, and a co-founder of Well-Schooled, the site for educator storytelling, dedicated to sharing first-person educator stories. All Rights Reserved - What I Learned Today in School.