Surviving and Thriving with Teacher Action Research

Reflections and Advice from the Field

by Heather Lattimer (Volume editor) Stacey Caillier (Volume editor)
©2015 Textbook XIII, 209 Pages
Series: Educational Psychology, Volume 33


Action research can be a transformative learning experience that strengthens educators’ practice and empowers our voices. For the novice action researcher, however, it can sometimes be frustrating, isolating, and overwhelming. Surviving and Thriving with Teacher Action Research is an outstanding companion for educators embarking on the action research journey. The book shares the collected wisdom of more than thirty experienced teacher researchers. Designed to guide readers through the research process, the book is divided into five sections that reflect critical components of action research: developing a research question, designing a plan, engaging student voice, implementing the research process, analyzing data and sharing results. Relevant for both novice and seasoned action researchers, Surviving and Thriving is perfect for use in graduate education coursework, among professional learning communities, or by teachers embarking on action research independently. The text design, which includes introductory statements and guiding questions for each section, allows the book to stand alone as a guide for action research or it can serve as an outstanding complement to a more traditional, procedurally focused action research methods textbook.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Section One: Journey toward a Research Question
  • Chapter One: Fierce Wonderings: Finding Your Research Passion
  • Chapter Two: Starting with a Problem: Using Action Research to Respond to Challenges in the Classroom
  • Chapter Three: Do I Really Want iPads? How Critical Questions About a School Reform Can Drive Action Research
  • Chapter Four: Building on Success: Recalling the Past to Inspire Action Research in a New Context
  • Chapter Five: My Journey toward a Workable Action Research Question
  • Chapter Six: Moving from “Noticings” to Research Questions
  • Chapter Seven: Goals, Questions, and Anxiety: Initiating the Research Process
  • Section Two: Designing Action Research
  • Chapter Eight: Taming the Beast: Researching and Writing a Literature Review
  • Chapter Nine: Emergent Research: Building the Plane While Flying It
  • Chapter Ten: Making Time for Action Research
  • Chapter Eleven: Data Collection: How My Research Methods Became My Greatest Assessment Tools
  • Chapter Twelve: The Stories at the Heart of Our Research
  • Chapter Thirteen: What Makes Action Research Good Research?
  • Section Three: Engaging Student Voice
  • Chapter Fourteen: Learning to Listen
  • Chapter Fifteen: Letting Students See behind the Curtain: Transparency, Teacher as Learner, and the IRB
  • Chapter Sixteen: It’s Not about the Technique: Learning That Teaching Is More Heart Than Strategy
  • Chapter Seventeen: Youth-Led Action Research: A Lesson in Letting Go of Control
  • Chapter Eighteen: Power Sharing or Power Hoarding? Reflections on My Position Within the Research
  • Section Four: Trusting the Process
  • Chapter Ninteen: Embracing Disequilibrium
  • Chapter Twenty: Letting Go: Heeding My Own Advice and Letting Go of Expectations
  • Chapter Twenty-One: Paradigm Shifts and Possibilities: My Exodus from the Land of the Linear
  • Chapter Twenty-Two: “Can’t We Just Do a Worksheet?”: Persevering through Challenges When Implementing Action Research
  • Chapter Twenty-Three: Hidden Gems: Finding Unanticipated Outcomes Through Collaborative Action Research
  • Chapter Twenty-Four: Tackling the Ambiguities of Action Research: Advice for the Goal-Oriented Practitioner on How to Stay Sane
  • Section Five: Sharing the Work
  • Chapter Twenty-Five: Raise Your Voice: Writing for Change, Writing to Be Heard
  • Chapter Twenty-Six: Challenging Assumptions: A Student Teacher’s Action Research Prompts Veterans to Rethink Their Beliefs About K–12 Student Potential
  • Chapter Twenty-Seven: Empowering Students as Change Agents: Reflections from a Social Justice Educator
  • Chapter Twenty-Eight: Growing Our Practice: AR in a Professional Learning Community
  • Chapter Twenty-Nine: Getting Your Knowledge “Out There”: Finding Your Knowledge Ambassadors, or How They Find You
  • Chapter Thirty: Confessions of an Educational Researcher: Overcoming Cognitive Dissonance about Action Research
  • About the Contributors
  • Series Index

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The strength of this book is in the voices of teacher researchers who share their stories. Many, many thanks to each of our authors for your willingness to take a risk and share both the joys and the challenges of engaging in this work in classrooms alongside students. Your contributions exemplify the dedication and generosity of so many K–16 educators—thank you!

Many thanks also to our students and professional colleagues who have pushed our thinking and encouraged our work in action research over the years. We have learned and continue to learn best when immersed in the work alongside thoughtful, engaged individuals who ask important questions and offer unique perspectives.

Thank you to the editors at Peter Lang. We greatly appreciate your support, professionalism, and commitment to excellence throughout the publishing process.

Thank you to Marius (Ty) Jefferson, a senior at High Tech High Media Arts, who created a beautiful design for the cover.

Finally, thank you to our families and friends for your understanding and encouragement. Your support allows us to pursue work that matters.

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What do you think of when you think of research? What are your experiences with research?

When faced with these questions, many of us conjure up images of science labs with hypotheses to test, stacks of books and printed articles to read, and lonely hours hunched over a computer. Those of us with a humanities or social science background might describe research as a process of collecting and summarizing the ideas of others in order to build support for an argument or a recommendation. Those of us with a background in the physical sciences might describe a process of forming hypotheses, testing those hypotheses, and describing what is found in “objective” terms that require the researcher to remove him/herself from the equation. We might describe research as a process that concludes when the data or evidence has been collected and analyzed, the conclusions stated, and the implications and next steps reported. Researchers’ responsibilities seemingly end here; it is the responsibility of others to implement researchers’ recommendations. In short, it is the work of practitioners, those who work in the contexts being studied, to take action and to effect change.

It is not surprising, then, that for many of us educators, the concept of “action research” can at first seem like an oxymoron. Our experience has been that teachers often express excitement and relief upon learning what action research is—that it engages educators as researchers and scholars, that it is rooted in their daily wonderings and practical concerns about teaching and learning, and that it can be a powerful tool for transforming schools and schooling.

In contrast to more traditional forms of research that tend to emphasize the development of theory over practical application, action research is a systematic ← XI | XII → inquiry conducted for the purpose of not just understanding, but improving, organizations and their practices. Moreover, action research is designed and conducted by “insiders” who analyze the data to improve their own practice and the systems in which they work. Teacher action research—which usually involves ongoing cycles of inquiry, action, and reflection—has been described as “a natural extension of good teaching” (Hubbard & Power, 1999, p. 3), a tool for improving schooling for students and their families (Noffke & Stevenson, 1995), a venue for professionalizing teaching by promoting a teacher-generated knowledge base (Grossman, 2003), and a vehicle for critiquing, challenging, and ultimately altering elements of schooling that perpetuate inequities (Kincheloe, 1991).

While teacher action research has been around for decades, it has gained momentum in recent years as educational reforms have increasingly taken the form of external mandates, positioning teachers as implementers rather than designers of change efforts and curricula. In their review of teacher research since the 1980s, Cochran-Smith and Lytle note, “the intellectual and educational projects that fueled the current U.S. teacher researcher movement had in common a critique—either implicit or explicit—of prevailing concepts of the teacher as technician, consumer, receiver, transmitter, and implementer of other people’s knowledge” (1999, p. 16). The experts and policymakers who develop and mandate reforms are not the only ones implicated in this critique; the emergence of teacher research also served as a challenge to the authority of universities as the exclusive gatekeepers and contributors to the knowledge base of teaching. The sentiments expressed by Berthoff (1987) and quoted here by Cochran-Smith and Lytle parallel those we hear often from teachers: “[T]eachers do not need more findings from university-based researchers, but more dialogue with other teachers that would generate theories grounded in practice” (1999, p. 15).

In this way, action research can be a tool for liberation. It challenges the distinctions between theory and practice, between knower and doer. The practice of teaching is inherently laden with theory, and useful theory develops from practice. Teacher researchers, as insiders, are in a unique and powerful position, not only to contribute to the knowledge base of teaching and learning, but also to use that knowledge to effect change within their classrooms, schools, and communities. The questions for all of us engaged in action research are then: How do we support each other in generating understandings and actions that will lead to improved practice and the positive transformation of schools? And equally important, how do we learn from each other along the way?

This book is an attempt to answer these questions.

Anyone who has experienced action research knows it can be exhilarating and exhausting. The process of action research is professional, political, and deeply personal. It pushes us to reconsider our beliefs and helps us arrive at new revelations. It requires us to have faith in the process and to persevere through frustration and ← XII | XIII → self-doubt. It inspires us to see our students and our colleagues through new eyes, and to recommit to the hard but deeply meaningful work of teaching and learning. From developing questions, to crafting research designs, to making sense of our data, to finding our voice so that we can share our learning, action research continually pushes us to become more thoughtful about our practice and more engaged in the professional dialogue about education.

There are many books on the market that outline the mechanics of action research. There are a few excellent books that describe the iterative and evolving process of action research. What is often missing, however, are the voices of those engaged in action research, those who can speak to the lived experience of doing action research in schools.

This book is about those experiences. It is for teacher action researchers, by teacher action researchers.

In the chapters that follow, action researchers share moments of insight, offer encouragement and advice, and reflect on lessons learned about the action research process. Each chapter was written with the busy teacher in mind, to be read in 15 minutes during your lunch hour or before or after school. Each of the sections in this volume—which discuss issues from the journey toward a research question, to trusting the process, to sharing and embodying action research—includes a brief introduction that suggests questions to reflect on as you read. We hope that these questions, like action research, support you in exploring multiple perspectives, reflecting on your own practice, and generating new questions and actions of your own.

Whether you are engaged in collaborative action research or pursuing action research independently, we hope that this text becomes a friend and confidant—guiding and inspiring you throughout the wonderful, wonderfully challenging, and ultimately transformative work of conducting action research in schools.


Berthoff, A. (1987). The teacher as RE-searcher. In D. Gosmani & P. Stillman (eds.), Reclaiming the classroom: Teacher research as an agency for change (pp. 28–38). Upper Montclair, NJ: Boynton/Cook.

Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. (1999). The teacher research movement: A decade later. Educational Researcher, 28(7), 15–25.

Grossman, P. (2003, January/February). Teaching: From a nation at risk to a profession at risk? Harvard Education Letter. Retrieved February 26, 2008, from

Hubbard, R., & Power, B. (1999). Living the questions: A guide for teacher-researchers. York, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Kincheloe, J. (1991). Teachers as researchers: Qualitative inquiry as a path to empowerment. London: The Falmer Press.

Noffke, S., & Stevenson, R. (1995). Educational action research: Becoming practically critical. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.


XIII, 209
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (December)
coursework innovative education student engagement
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XIII, 209 pp.

Biographical notes

Heather Lattimer (Volume editor) Stacey Caillier (Volume editor)

Heather Lattimer, EdD, is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Learning and Teaching at the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego. She has earned degrees from Harvard College, Stanford University, and the University of California, San Diego. Stacey Caillier, PhD, is Director of the Center for Research on Equity and Innovation at the High Tech High Graduate School of Education. She has earned degrees from Willamette University and the University of California, Davis.


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