Participatory Action Research for Educational Leadership: Using Data-Driven Decision Making to Improve Schools


E. Alana James, Margaret T. Milenkiewicz & Alan Bucknam

  • Citations
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  • Text Size

  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Dedication

    This book is dedicated to the educators in the Colorado PAR project who started us on this journey and to our family and friends who continue to support us through all the projects in our lives.


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    To those who reviewed this book in process, we thank you for pressing us to sort out the forest from the trees. This book improved greatly due to your efforts on its behalf.

    Judith Adkison, University of North Texas

    Gary L. Anderson, New York University

    Mary Brydon-Miller, University of Cincinnati

    Teresa T. Field, Johns Hopkins University

    Emma Fuentes, University of San Francisco

    Elizabeth Grassi, Regis University

    Marjorie Hall Haley, George Mason University

    Leanne R. Ketterlin-Geller, University of Oregon

    Scott Peters, Cornell University

    Barbara A. Storms, California State University, East Bay

    Patricia Weaver, Henderson State University

    Brent G. Wilson, University of Colorado at Denver

    Robert E. Yager, University of Iowa

  • Glossary

    • Action research (AR) A multistage type of research designed to yield practical results and capable of improving a specific aspect of practice and made public to enable scrutiny and testing.
    • Adaptive problems The distance between the real and the ideal is great enough to cause distress in individuals trying to solve the problem.
    • Bias Influences that distort the results of a research study.
    • Code A label put on data that summarizes its content or highlights a primary idea. The purpose of coding is to segment sections of data for ease of recall and comparison. Later data are reread, grouped in sections with like or similar codes, and larger theories or understandings emerge.
    • Cognitive dissonance A condition of conflict or anxiety resulting from inconsistency between one's beliefs and one's actions.
    • Community of practice A group of people who share a concern, interest, or passion for an issue, topic, or activity. Through regular interaction, the group gains knowledge and skills.
    • Correlation The strength and direction of the relationship between two variables.
    • Credible The degree to which the person reading a report thinks the conclusions make sense. This is a subjective judgment and requires PAR researchers to be cognizant of their audience and context.
    • Critical friend In a 1993 article, Costa and Kallick defined critical friend as “a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critique of a person's work as a friend. A critical friend takes the time to fully understand the context of the work presented and the outcomes that the person or group is working toward. The friend is the advocate for the success of that work” (p. 50).
    • Descriptive statistics Describe what data demonstrate by providing simple summaries about the sample and the measures. As such they are commonly used by PAR researchers when describing their outcomes to their stakeholders.
    • Disclaimer A statement that explains a potential flaw in the findings because of research methodology issues that can be construed to weaken results. Disclaimers allow other researchers to avoid similar problems.
    • Do no harm Not to cause injury or damage to an individual; in research, caused by misuse of research subjects, and often related to “informed consent” protocols in educational studies.
    • Fallacy An idea that is believed to be truth but is based on erroneous logic or reasoning whereby the conclusion does not follow the premises.
    • Families As data are sorted into codes, they are separated from the root document. As PAR researchers reread their data, they focus on one code at a time. This action encourages researchers to see new overarching themes under which the ideas held by codes and memos congregate.
    • Field notes Written explanations or data taken, often by multiple observers at a single event, capturing interactions of interest related to the larger topic under study.
    • Final report A document that researchers develop at the conclusion of a research project that typically includes a summary of the methodology used, a review of the key findings, and conclusions or interpretations of what the findings mean.
    • Focus group An interview conducted with a small group of people, all at one time, to explore ideas on a particular topic. The goal of a focus group is to uncover additional information through the exchange of participants’ ideas.
    • Formative evaluation Focuses on the process and judges the value of an activity or program while the activity or program is in progress.
    • Grounded theory Developed originally by Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss, this systematic methodology uncovers meaning from a systematic analysis of and the generation of theoretical understanding from qualitative data.
    • Holding environment A situation set up by a leader of a group facing a difficult and complex set of issues in order to diminish discouragement of participants who work together to address the situation.
    • Inferential statistics Used for looking at a small sample of data from which the PAR researcher draws some conclusions (makes inferences).
    • Informed consent An agreement between concerned parties related to the data-gathering process and/or the disclosure, reporting, and/or use of data, information, and/or results from a research experiment.
    • Iteration An instance or the act of doing something again; a core element of PAR.
    • Ladder of inference A problem-solving strategy in systems thinking used to help understand the development of inferences.
    • Likert scale A scale on which survey respondents indicate their level of agreement or disagreement with a series of statements. The responses are often scaled and summed to give a composite measure of attitudes about a topic.
    • Logic model Developed in the 1980s for use in program evaluation, logic models are employed in PAR to help practitioners focus on their purpose and find related literature to solidify their diagnosis of the problem when working through each cycle.
    • Mean The average score of all the data for one variable. It is determined by dividing the sum of the numbers by the size of the population captured in the data.
    • Meta-analysis A method designed to increase the reliability of research by combining and analyzing the results of all known trials of the same object or experiments on the same subject.
    • Observation A research technique in which direct questions are not asked, but individuals in public locations (e.g., shoppers and drivers) are observed and their behavior recorded.
    • Open code Single words or short phrases that capture the emerging patterns of ideas as researchers repeatedly read qualitative data.
    • Outliers Cases within a sample that are in some way extreme, often aggravating the chaos in their surrounding environments.
    • Participatory action research (PAR) A participatory group of equal stakeholders gather, investigate an issue, analyze their data using standard research methodology, take action, measure their results, reflect on their learning, and work to improve their local educational settings.
    • Participatory research Research conducted in circumstances where diverse practitioners work together to achieve reliable results. In local context, this implies groups of citizens who have an equal say in all the parts of the study.
    • Population A group of persons who one wants to describe or about which one wants to generalize. To generalize about a population, one often studies a sample that is meant to be representative of the population.
    • Positivist A theoretical doctrine that denies the validity of any notion of reality that is not measurable.
    • Purpose statement One or two sentences that convey the motivation behind the PAR project, to help researchers keep focused on the goals of the study.
    • Qualitative research Data collected as words or pictures and report findings as words. In its most common form, qualitative data quote people as a form of evidence, using the interview, or one of its variants, to gather evidence.
    • Quantitative research Reports findings as numbers primarily using the survey or questionnaire, with all its variants, to gather evidence.
    • Random control trial Basically understood as the comparison between two identical or very similar groups of subjects. In the typical random control trial, one group receives an intervention while the other group does not, and the results are compared.
    • Reflective practice To consciously review one's work on a daily or regular basis to influence future work and action steps.
    • Reliable The consistency and dependability of the research findings in general to ascertain whether and to what degree the findings would transfer to another context.
    • Research design The plan to be followed to answer the research objectives; the structure or framework to solve a specific problem or to investigate a particular issue.
    • Research methods Defined as a series of steps taken to complete a certain task, such as learning the answer to a question or to reach a certain objective, such as finding a solution to a problem or analyzing the effectiveness of a current solution.
    • Research question The focus of the study, which is stated in an inquiry format.
    • Review of literature A survey of research already written on a topic. Generally, researchers present the literature review at the beginning of a research paper to support how the researchers arrived at their research questions.
    • Rubric Written guidelines that articulate specific standards for how student work is judged.
    • Sample A representative selection of a population that is examined to gain statistical information about the whole; a group of subjects selected from a larger group in the hope that studying this smaller group (the sample) will reveal pertinent information about the larger group.
    • Scale A group of related measures for a particular variable that can be sorted along a continuum according to some weight or opinion.
    • Selective coding The reader starts with specific themes or ideas and subsequently sorts the data by assigning the themes or ideas as codes to the data according to preselected categories.
    • Semistructured interview A type of interview when researchers know what the literature says about their topic and map out pertinent questions with possible probing subquestions. Semistructured interviews allow the opportunity to digress from primary question and to probe a response to understand more clearly what is seen as a provocative remark on the part of the interviewee.
    • Stages of change As presented in the stages of change model, a change in behavior does not happen in one step. In the process of successful change, people tend to move through different stages and progress at their own rate.
    • Standard deviation from the mean A statistic used to characterize the distribution among the measures in a given population.
    • Statistics Mathematical tests with the purpose of clarifying the relative position and meaning of data.
    • Structured interview Researchers decide upon a series of questions and read this exact selection to establish an understanding of respondents’ ideas on a topic.
    • Summative evaluation Evaluation focused on determining the overall effectiveness and usefulness of the evaluation object.
    • Survey An exercise to measure people's opinions on a subject. The survey is not to be confused with the questionnaire. (When people say, “The interviewer did 50 surveys,” they generally mean 50 interviews for one survey.)
    • Tenet A system or code of beliefs upon which solid practice is built. Although similar to values, tenets are defined and subscribed to on an individual basis and are confirmed through increasing capacity.
    • Trend analysis Measures taken over time as a means of demonstrating growth.
    • Triangulation Using a variety of research methods to compare diverse sources of data pertaining to a specific research problem or question. This process helps to enhance the validity of results, since the results do not overly rely on any particular method of study.
    • Unstructured interview Starts with general ideas or areas of concern. The specific questions asked are likely to change depending on the subject's responses and interests. Unstructured questions may be open-ended, such as, “Tell us about your experience of this topic.”
    • Valid The degree to which data and results are accurate reflections of reality. Validity refers to the concepts that are investigated, the people or objects that are studied, the methods by which data are collected, and the findings that are produced.
    • Variable An attribute or characteristic of a person or an object that varies within the population under investigation (e.g., age, weight, IQ, test scores, attendance).


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    About the Authors

    E. Alana James, MNM, EdD, is the associate chairperson of the Jones International University (JIU) EdD program. She has worked in education for two decades, often using community-based resources to aid educational activities in developing programs for high-risk youth. She serves as coordinator of professional development for the School of Education at JIU, where she provokes substantive conversation about the similarities and differences of teaching online rather than in a face-to-face venue. She designed and serves as the primary facilitator for the Web-Based Professional Development (WBPD) project, sponsored by the National Center for School Engagement. Participants in this project are school administrators, teachers, and community members using participatory action research as professional development to study and develop programs for students experiencing homelessness and high mobility. Originating during 2003 from a face-to-face participatory action research environment in Colorado with 18 educators, the WBPD project evolved into a blended but primarily online activity that serves educators across the United States. To date, project this project has included 90 participants in 34 communities in eight states across the United States. She completed her doctoral work at Teachers College, Columbia University, in educational leadership.

    Margaret T. Milenkiewicz is an educational consultant working in Ireland and in the United States. Her work centers on professional development for educators and on the furthering of community and school partnerships to benefit the highest risk students. During the 2003–2004 school year, in partnership with a private foundation while working for the Colorado Department of Education, her office sponsored participatory action research for the development of educational practices for homeless and highly mobile students. She authored multiple publications and presented at numerous national and state conferences on the development of programs for students experiencing homelessness.

    Alan Bucknam, AIGA, is the owner and principal of Notchcode Creative, a visual communications studio in Colorado. He has over 13 years’ experience in graphic design, branding, and integrated marketing. Graduating with a BFA in photography from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 1993, his background includes small boutique design studios and a large private university. Since opening Notchcode for business in 1999, he has created award-winning campaigns for local and national clients in the nonprofit, small business, corporate, and government sectors.

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