Action research: practice-based evidence.

After years of working in and with schools in Australia, Pacific and other far-flung places, I can finally say with complete confidence that –

Suprise! One off professional development has minimal effect on teaching and learning.

Ok, so many will say, “Of course it doesn’t”. Deep down I’ve always known this, but after years of assisting schools to change culture or practice, action research has been the most effective tool to enact change.

How do I know that action research contributes positively to teaching and learning?

  1. Others said so! My favourite Australian Action Research book is Tony Shaddock’s, “Using Data to Improve Learning“. Anthony has produced an easy to read guide to action research in schools with a comprehensive overview of the benefits to schools.
  2. I worked it out! Over 15 years ago I started a district-wide mentors program for improving literacy. Together we developed action learning in over 30 schools. Later I had the pleasure of working with schools from four Pacific nations to develop action learning in their schools to improve teaching and learning. And it worked! School-based learning is vital to sustain change. This work was documented and you can download Mobilising School and Community Engagement to Implement Disability-Inclusive Education through Action Research: Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu or Learning about Inclusive Education Action research
  3.  Australian Professional Standards for Teachers and Principals require us to collect, analyse and interpret data to improve the planning and delivery of teaching programs.

What are the benefits of action research in schools?

Teachers who work together in collecting and anlaysing data not only become better teachers but they also renew their enthusiasm for teaching and build capacity in their school.

(Shaddock, 2014, p. 12)

The list of benefits for action research in schools is lengthy. So I pulled together text about action research into a word cloud. You can’t beat collaborative teacher research, conducted in their own school to answer their own questions about their teaching effectiveness in their own time.

action research word cloud

What does action research look like?

Action research looks different in every school. Context is vital in determining how, why and what research will be done. It can be as complex or as quick and simple as the school or teacher wants it to be. Even better it can include students and the community. Below is a simple summary of action research done in four Pacific countries. Many different questions were investigated through a variety of methods and with varied results.


Evidence-based practice hand in hand with practice-based evidence

The push for evidence-based practice in schools should not rely on solely scientific, and/or the results of expensive quantitative educational research. Evidence-based practice can be complemented by practice-based evidence (Erikson in Shaddock, 2014, p. 7).

The point is that evidence based practice, when interpreted and mandated by those with managerial and fundamentalist proclivities, may stifle the spontaneous innovation that must occur every day in schools in response to unique conditions and opportunities.

(Shaddock, 2014, p. 7)

There are many action research projects to check out on the AITSL site. But you can’t beat the satisfaction gained by a group of teachers who collaborate to determine what works for their students in their classrooms in their own time.


Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, http://www.aitsl.edu.au/australian-professional-standards-for-teachers. Accessed 13 May 2017.

Shaddock, A. (2014). Using data to improve learning. A practical guide for busy teachers. Victoria: ACER.

3 thoughts on “Action research: practice-based evidence.”

  1. Great article again Jennie,
    I have shared with the three teachers coming with me to your workshops 🙂 hope that’s ok.


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