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Why do schools need action research?

Action researchers start with the simple premise that the situations under investigation are interfering with progress and stakeholders desire to find some way to improve them. Participants engage in collaborative processes to help them articulate how circumstances in their school community are “produced, reproduced and experienced on a daily basis” (McIntyre, 2000). To look at it from another perspective, collaborative action research engages a group of people in systematic trial and error. Hence, “all participants in the research process should rightfully be called researchers insofar as they engage in deliberate processes of inquiry or investigation with the intent of extending their understanding of a situation or a problem” (Graham, 2013, p. 12).

The focus is on practice. Related questions include: How do we work with what we have to make our circumstances better than what they are now? How do we glean from our history and our surroundings the information we need to make better decisions? How do we raise our awareness of what is appropriate and activate a plan to make it happen? Through the use of participatory action research participants problematize issues of concern and position themselves “as agents of inquiry and as ‘experts’ about their own lives” (McIntyre, 2000).

Participatory action research engages participants in critical analysis, storytelling, historical research, statistics, and raising critical consciousness about the socio-cultural circumstances in the life of the organization. Action research works, in part, because a range of perspectives from within the community is brought to bear on the issues under investigation, and the actions that emanate from collaboration have the potential to affect balance within the organizational ecology. The ability to engage in ongoing introspection empowers community stakeholders to take charge of their own outcomes in ways that engender hope and self-determination.

Action research has potential to change agents as well as agencies. Scrutiny of people, places, and circumstances may lead to modifications of viewpoint by requiring stakeholders to deconstruct rules, assumptions, and images; reflect on them, and reconstruct belief structures that enhance the organizational ecology.  Such deconstruction may be particularly useful in impacted urban communities currently plagued by violence and other social ills (Stringer, 1996). Moreover, action research comprises “research for a better world” (Reed, 2017).

Sources:

Reed, L. C. (2017). The agape alternative. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming middle schools: A staff development workshop manual. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming school culture: A case study approach. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

 


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Phases of Perspective Transformation

Phases of Perspective Transformation

Phase 1 – Identify the disorienting dilemma of this case.

This step typically results from the convergence of several “disquieting” events or experiences that tend to upset the equilibrium within the organization and its stakeholders. What are some of the significant areas of concern presented in this case? Identify the most immediate areas of concern – the disorienting dilemmas. State the dilemma(s) in simple terms.

Phase 2 – Self-examination (Look)

This phase involves deep introspection about the problems or situations. Engagement with this phase might entail stakeholders having critical conversations about the significant issues. Questions that might facilitate organizational self-examination include:

  • What are the major issues? How are they interconnected?
  • In what ways do the school’s problems impede the goal of building resiliency in the school setting?
  • What specific personnel or organizational adjustments will have to be made if the major issues are to be resolved?
  • Assess the school’s strengths and weaknesses in the following areas:
    1. Caring Relationships
    2. High Expectations
    3. Opportunities for Participation and Contribution

Phase 3 – Critical analysis of assumptions (Think)

This phase requires stakeholders to examine their assumptions about people, places, things, or circumstances that could inhibit or facilitate change. Such assumptions should be deconstructed, critically assessed, and reconstructed in ways that enable movement toward the desired goal. Questions include the following:

  • Does everyone in the organization look at the issue in the same way? What are the points of departure and convergence?
  • What are the likely sources (or root causes) of problems in the following areas?
    1. Caring Relationships
    2. High Expectations
    3. Opportunities for Participation and Contribution
  • As a group, assess how Meier’s five questions on critical consciousness are being addressed? (Meier, 1995).
    1. How do we know what we know?
    2. Who’s speaking?
    3. What causes what?
    4. How might things have been different?
    5. Who cares?
  • What programs and policies need to be adjusted to support the implementation of protective factors in the school setting in each of the categories?
    1. Caring Relationships
    2. High Expectations
    3. Opportunities for Participation and Contribution

Phase 4 – Recognition that one’s discontent and the process of transformation are shared

This phase assumes that the stakeholders’ level of discontent with circumstances will serve as a motivator for change leading to transformation. Questions that might help to clarify the situation include:

  • What prohibits the organization/community from reaching the desired goal of resiliency?
  • What would be the consequences if the desired change were not made?

Phase 5 – Exploration of options: New roles, relationships, and actions

If change is warranted, stakeholders have to explore new roles, options, relationships, and actions, along with long-term and short-term implications. Exploratory considerations might include:

  • Ensure that the new program addresses all of the areas outlined below:
    1. Caring Relationships
    2. High Expectations
    3. Opportunities for Participation and Contribution
  • For the given scenario, what would be the ideal solution?

Phase 6 – Planning a course of action (Act)

Planning a new course of action entails developing a set of action steps for activating protective factors in the school setting and taking the plan to build resiliency to the next level.  Guiding questions might include:

  • What steps must be taken to reach an ideal formulated by the group? (The “new ideal” must be contextual and may vary from school to school.)
  • What new roles and relationships should be cultivated to advance movement toward resiliency?
  • What is the relative difficulty of implementing each protective factor?
  • What are other details that need to be considered in an action plan? (i.e., “who, what, when, where, why, and how”).

Phase 7 – Acquiring knowledge and skills for implementing the plan

This phase involves helping stakeholders acquire knowledge and skills needed to implement an action plan. This list of skill-building activities does not need to be all inclusive but should provide stakeholders opportunities to build competence in critical areas. Questions to be addressed at this phase include:

  • What are the organization’s/stakeholders’ current strengths and weaknesses about the achievement of resiliency protective factors?
    1. Caring Relationships
    2. High Expectations
    3. Opportunities for Participation and Contribution
  • What resources are accessible to help stakeholders build competence and self-confidence in their redefined roles and relationships?

Phase 8 – Provisional trying of new roles

This phase involves stakeholders practicing acquired skills and acquiring experiences. Questions to be considered at this phase include:

  • What new skills and knowledge have stakeholders acquired to nurture protective factors?
    1. Caring Relationships
    2. High Expectations
    3. Opportunities for Participation and Contribution
  • What lessons have stakeholders learned so far?
  • What additional opportunities exist for growth and development?

Phase 9 – Building competence and self-confidence in new roles and relationships

Building competence and self-confidence entails involvement in opportunities to improve performance in the new role(s).

  • Develop a tentative list of possible opportunities for building competence and self-confidence.
  • What are the costs involved in pursuing each opportunity?

Phase 10 – Reintegration into one’s life of conditions dictated by one’s new perspective

For this phase, reintegration is defined as what occurs after a radical change has been completed. Questions include:

  • In what ways are the stakeholders equipped to apply newfound skills and insights to achieving and sustaining resiliency?
  • In what ways should the organization or stakeholder invest materially, intellectually, physically, and emotionally to sustain resiliency?
  • What mechanisms will be used for the organization or stakeholder to engage in constant reflection and revision of the goal to promote resiliency?

Sources:

Reed, L. C. (2017). The agape alternative. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming middle schools: A staff development workshop manual. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming school culture: A case study approach. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

 


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Systemic Change in Schools

Systemic Change in Schools

The professional literature on systemic change in education is vast. For purposes of this discussion, systemic change is defined as holistic self-examination, redefinition, renewal, and reformulation of fundamental principles, beliefs, and practices that drive the entire organization toward attainment of its goals. Such an encompassing definition is based in part on the notion that schools exist in an open system, with a dynamic interchange between internal and external environmental influences. To maintain equilibrium in such an environment, schools have to adopt practices that contribute to their survival – a notion that is referred to as organizational resiliency in the present discussion. The synergistic impact of any organizational adjustment is organizational ecology.

Schools that are kept off balance cannot concentrate for sustained periods of time on goal attainment. Therefore, the institution needs to engage in practices geared toward organizational self-renewal. Ongoing self-renewal results in goal attainment and the survival of the organism.  Systems thinking coupled with organizational resiliency and organizational ecology provides a useful way of viewing the systemic school change problem.

A common thread running through recent research pertains to the systemic nature of change in school organizations. That is, the change affects every aspect of the institutional environment, having the potential to throw off balance the delicate ecology of the school as an organism. Educational entities must have a way of monitoring the ecological impact of change on school outcomes. Systems theory provides a way of looking at the problem. System theory is not a theory in the true sense of the term.  Rather it is a framework for viewing interactions occurring in most living systems.

General systems theory can shed light on transactions that take place in complex social systems.  In the 1950’s Ludwig von Bertalanffy detailed a general systems theory to encompass all levels of science ranging from the investigation of what occurs in a single living cell to what occurs in society at large. Later, Miller expanded and developed the theory, broadening its applicability to a range of living systems.

Viewing a phenomenon from a systems perspective draws our attention to the influence of the larger environment, the complex interdependencies that exist within that environment, and the impact of subtle changes on the organism as a whole. Looking through the lens of systems theory, cause-effect relationships become problematic – a single factor is rarely the cause of an outcome. Rather, the cause is associated with a complex and sensitive interplay of subsystems within the larger entity.  Thus, the concept of subsystems is coupled with that of multiple-causation.

These ideas can be translated into schools. Schools function in an open system in which a close relationship exists between the school organization and its surrounding environment. Any system needs to have a continual inflow of energy to maintain a viable connection between structure and supporting environment. In schools, this interchange is associated with an endless, cyclical transaction between school and the surrounding environment. In this relationship, organizational behavior is contingent upon forces that extend beyond the self-contained context of the school.  It then becomes necessary to study “the relationships between human behavior and the context (environment, ecology) that are characteristic of the organization” (Owens, 1998, p. 44).

Sources:

Reed, L. C. (2017). The agape alternative. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming middle schools: A staff development workshop manual. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming school culture: A case study approach. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

 


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Perseverance

Don’t let anything break your stride!

A Motivational Message from

Center Street Consulting – “Teach One”


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Assumptions About Change

Although change is inevitable and rarely easy, it consists of a predictable process. Back in 1990, Michael Fullan identified some factors that impede meaningful change. Today, concerned stakeholders are well advised to revisit Fullan’s “10 Assumptions about Change.” They are as insightful now as they were more than 20 years ago. As we collectively address the ongoing need for change in schools, we should move forward with caution and pay attention to the lessons of the past:

  1. Do not assume that your version of what the change should be is the one that should be implemented.
  2. Assume that any significant innovation, if it is to result in change, requires individual implementers to work out their own meaning.
  3. Assume that conflict and disagreement are not only inevitable but fundamental to successful change.
  4. Assume that people need pressure to change (even in directions that they desire). But it will only be effective under conditions that allow them to react, to form their own position, to interact with other implementers, to obtain technical assistance, etc.
  5. Assume that effective change takes time: 3 – 5 years for specific innovations, greater than 5 years for institutional reform.
  6. We should not assume that the reason for lack of implementation is the outright rejection of the values embodied in the change or hardcore resistance to all change. There are some possible reasons: value rejection, inadequate resources to support implementation, insufficient time elapsed.
  7. We should not expect all or even most people or groups to change. Progress occurs when we take steps that increase the number of people.  Our reach should not exceed our grasps … by such a margin that we fall flat on our face.
  8. Assume that we will need a plan that is based on the above assumptions.
  9. Assume that no amount of knowledge will ever make it totally clear what action should be taken.
  10. We should assume that changing the culture of institutions is the real agenda, not implementing single innovations.

Sources:

Reed, L. C. (2017). The agape alternative. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming middle schools: A staff development workshop manual. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming school culture: A case study approach. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

 


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History and Background on the Purposes of Education

Education in some circles represents the one best hope for millions of young Americans, especially those who classified as minority and underprivileged. However, policymakers and many stakeholders have failed continually to agree on what constitutes quality in schools. There is a lack of consensus about the core purposes of schooling in a world dominated by relativistic values and beliefs.

What are the purposes of schooling?  Some critics, analysts, and theorists have suggested that schools should serve as vehicles for social change, the kind of change that is planned, controlled, and directed toward improving the human condition. Other groups have advocated for schools that focus on achievement (based on a range of definitions). There are some stakeholders who believe schools should help youngsters develop thinking skills, communication acumen, and similar aptitudes.  Another group believes schools should get youngsters ready for work, while their counterparts insist that schools prepare students for college. Another contingent would have schools preserve and transmit “traditional” and societal moral values. Some stakeholders believe the school should be a place that teaches young people how to build and nurture relationships. Frequently, these groups stand in opposition to each other. Infinite variations exist on the themes. In the meantime, a failure to define the purposes of schooling keeps school systems off balance.

The present state of schooling has become one of perpetual motion. The need for change, especially in the urban school context, is ongoing, inevitable and driven by social, political, and economic factors at any given time. The debate among disparate stakeholders rages on in spite of the fact that most of them have not bothered to look long and hard at the big picture. Instead, special interest “marksmen” from outside environments are shooting random arrows at targets blurred by political and fiscal uncertainty. And, in too many cases their solutions miss the intended mark. Until the focus becomes clearer, trying to improve schools from the outside will remain little more than the practice of shooting arrows into the wind and hoping they land somewhere near the stated targets.

In the meantime, the need for systemic change continues. It has become apparent that change affects every aspect of the institutional environment, having the potential to throw off balance the delicate ecology of the school as an organism. Until educational entities have a way of monitoring the ecological impact of change on school outcomes, schools will continue to operate with uncertainty.

Sources:

Reed, L. C. (2017). The agape alternative. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming middle schools: A staff development workshop manual. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming school culture: A Case Study Approach. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

 


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The Nature of Theories

Perspective Transformation (Mezirow, 1991), Action Research (Stringer, 1996), and Resiliency Theory (Benard, 2004; Henderson & Milstein, 2003) are frameworks with applicability to systemic change in educational settings. These paradigms represent our best guesses about what occurs in schools and how the variables work together. The organizational principles underlying these theories appear to be fairly universal. Examining them enables us to confirm or disconfirm what we believe to be real.

Thomas Kuhn (1970) noted that research stimulates growth in knowledge by confirming or disconfirming theoretical propositions. Paradigms represent the central ideological core of any discipline and serve to define associated research and practice. Therefore, paradigm adherents routinely engage in efforts to support and develop theories (i.e., formulation of esoteric vocabulary, acquisition of specialized skills, refinement of concepts that clarify and strengthen the core beliefs, and support for workshops, conferences, and publications embracing the core). Furthermore, what paradigm adherents see is what their conditioning through experiences with the paradigm has taught them to see (Kuhn, 1970, p. 113).  In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn discussed how paradigms shift.

From time to time, a paradigm no longer possesses the power, breadth, or depth to explain certain phenomena. Consequently, an anomaly occurs, and a crisis results. According to Kuhn, all emergencies are resolved in one of three ways: (a) the problem that provoked the crisis is handled normally in the context of the research program; (b) the problem persists, and scientists may reach the conclusion that the current state of knowledge in the field is inadequate to handle the problem; or (c) a new candidate for a paradigm may emerge. The processes involved in shifting paradigms can be applied to just about any phenomenon requiring a change of mind or an adjustment in practice. Using Kuhn’s ideas as a lens may prompt us to view an old reality from a different point of view.

In the field of education, paradigms frequently shift because to educate is to change. The enterprise exists to move students from one stage of understanding to another. The pendulum continues to swing between equity and efficiency. Educational stakeholders run in circles and conform to cycles based on outside influences such as politics, culture, economics, and shift in ideology. Unless a system exists to manage change, schools will be in a perpetual state of imbalance.

Center Street Consulting outlines a process for cultivating resiliency in educational settings.  The paradigm is grounded in a theory-based model called Strategic Transformation and Resiliency Theory for Systemic Change (START-SC). The process examines relationships among key variables, including, resiliency factors, perspective transformation phases, and action research strategies for systemic school change and hypothesizes that meaningful change depends on equilibrium among all the components in the school setting. Equilibrium requires renewal. The renewal comes about from resilience. Adjustments must be made continually if educational institutions are to thrive. The model helps stakeholders look at the bigger picture so they can respond to it holistically.

Sources:

Reed, L. C. (2017). The agape alternative. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming middle schools: A staff development workshop manual. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming school culture: A case study approach. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

 

 


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Strategic Transformation and Resiliency Theory (START-SC)

Strategic Transformation and Resiliency Theory for Systemic School Change is the conceptual model underlying the work of Center Street Consulting.  START-SC employs case studies to examine variables affecting educational transformation. Most school change models assume that relationships are the focus of organizational goals, pressures for change are persistent and intense, self-renewal is a key goal of the organization, standards are identifiable, and ecological balance within the organization is desirable. Perspective Transformation (Mezirow, 1991), Action Research (Stringer, 1996), and Resiliency Theory (Benard, 2004; Henderson & Milstein, 2003) are the major frameworks we press into service. These paradigms enable stakeholders to:

  • Apply resiliency theory as a conceptual framework for systemic organizational change.
  • Employ perspective transformation to pinpoint areas in need of change.
  • Engage in action research to address priorities for change.

Focus Questions

Completing the case studies will help stakeholders respond to the following questions:

  1. What must the school organization look like if stakeholders are to interrupt and impede harmful and nonproductive behavior in schools?
  2. In what ways can resiliency theory be applied as a model for transformation in school organizations?

Sources:

Reed, L. C. (2017). The agape alternative. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming middle schools: A staff development workshop manual. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Reed, L. C. (2017). Transforming school culture: A case study approach. Chicago, IL: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

 

 

 


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Website Development

Website Development

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