Professional development can be an expensive and time-intensive proposition for isolated, rural districts, but one researcher suggests in a new study that a practice known as collaborative action research can be an answer to some of those challenges.
Collaborative action research involves teachers picking and executing projects individually, supported by teams of their colleagues and mentored by someone such as a university professor.
Five rural school districts in Canada took part in a collaborative action research study to see its benefits and shortcomings, and the results are chronicled in “Action Research Supporting Students’ Oral Language in Northern Canadian Schools: A Professional Development Initiative.”
The article was written by Shelley Stagg Peterson of the University of Toronto and published in the Journal of Research in Rural Education.
Teachers were interviewed and observed as they worked to enhance their teaching practices to support students’ oral language development.
Peterson found all teachers felt their involvement had been a worthwhile professional development experience, with one saying, “For me, this has been the best professional development of my entire teaching career, and I’ve been teaching for 20 years. I can sit in a room and listen to a speaker for an hour. I can get some things out of it, but not nearly as much as I get out of working with my colleagues, working with my kids, and taking something right into the classroom and trying it.”
Still, some said the amount of time required to do collaborative action research, particularly in a rural setting, was a significant challenge. Some teachers withdrew from the study for that reason.
Peterson suggested rural administrators should ensure they include collaboration as part of action research initiatives and that participation be voluntary, especially in small schools where teachers have a heavy load of responsibilities. Research topics also should relate to programs already in place so teachers can incorporate that experience into their work.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.