‘Before I began my academic journey, I would have never viewed myself as a real researcher; that was someone far more professional than me- possibly a woman in a white coat! Yet, with my new knowledge, training and unpacking my beliefs about researchers, I came to realise that maybe I could be in fact one of the best children’s researchers. Self-study action research granted me the opportunity to become curious about research and an area of my practice that I could possibly improve or change (Whitehead, 2009). I have always been passionate about educational relationships, reflection, and the voice of the child’. This is Lydia Murphy’s summation of what the action research paradigm means to her. Lydia completed her BA and MA in Maynooth University and is now pursuing her PhD in Dundalk IT.
Over the past few weeks we have seen some fascinating insights into how some people have approached action research; we have seen that in fact action research is an extremely appropriate and valuable way to approach research in educational settings, especially early childhood settings. When I (Máire Corbett) was completing my MA at Pen Green, Northamptonshire/ University of Leicester, I was first exposed to the notion of action practitioner research. I recall how authentic it felt, and how immensely practical. Being deeply involved, with the potential to change practice and document that process, in a robust manner, backed up by reading and reflection was a personal experience. I always liked the idea that as McNiff, Lomax and Whitehead (1996; 111) in their book You and Your Action Research Project, say ‘action research is participatory, and others are involved as co-researchers’ and also that they say (ibid: 61 that ‘you are researching your work with others’. For me, this means that research is really being ‘done with’ rather than ‘done to’ colleagues, families and most especially children. Lydia has mentioned about her passion for capturing the voice of the child. In so many ways there is no better way to do that than being there, in the setting every day, knowing and allowing for all the various influences on what might be happening and reflecting deeply on how what we do impacts children and families and how we can do that better. And of course, identifying what we do well, so we can continue doing that is also very important.
In the first post of the series, Kathleen Tuite, from Early Childhood Ireland, likened the process to the Plan, Do, Review cycle, used by High Scope settings. She described the ‘essential steps of action research: identifying the problem, devising an action plan, implementing the plan, and observing and reflecting upon the process.’ In her post, Early Years tutor Sylwia O’Rourke referred to ‘the strong ethical stand; a compulsory requirement of every research project and, in my opinion, of being a professional Early Years educator. Regular dealing with children and families calls for a strong moral compass and by the same token-develops one. Quality care and education guidelines combined with practical experience, where we continually come across ethical dilemmas, assist us in developing a robust sense of moral code and ethical conduct’. Ethics is a fundamental consideration for any research. Being involved with the children, families and colleagues gives a unique insight into the lives of these people and enables the researcher to be understanding and sympathetic, while also conducting robust research. Debbie Mullen, from Early Childhood Ireland, told the story of her first introduction to the concept of action research. She describes some of the projects she has undertaken since, using this paradigm and says ‘action research supports educators understanding of what they do, how they do it and why they do it. They also can continue to build on the action research processes that works for their setting’. This cyclical aspect of action research was also referred to by Janis Power, setting Manager and educator in the last Scéalta blog post. She describes the project she did, on the use of creative reuse of materials from ReCreate. She mentions how she discovered she wasn’t giving children their voice as much as she thought she was and discovered this through reflection and action. She also refers to the fact that even when the write up was done, the research and changes continued in her setting.
And the last word is Lydia’s: My story ends here, with more unanswered questions.
This is the nature of action research; as questions are answered, more emerge to be teased out, planned for, reflected upon and changes made….and so it goes!
Lydia Murphy has worked in Our Nursery community service for over fifteen years. She has completed her MA and BA (Hons) in Early Education in Maynooth University. Now pursuing a PhD in Dundalk IT. She has a particular interest in the Bio-ecology of Human Relationships. She strives daily to lean into Love and Compassionate Care in my educational practice! She has a particular interest in pushing the borderlands of educational research, seeking a strengths-based provision for children and their families. When she’s not engaging in research, she loves to meet with friends or relax into meditation.