I was first introduced to action research during my studies, in particular my master’s degree with Pen Green Research, Development and Training Base / University of Leicester in 2006. This was a new concept for me, with most of the assignments and the dissertation influenced by action research focusing on practitioner action research. I started to view research differently and how we as educators can make a practical difference to our own pedagogy and practice. Carr and Kemmis (1986) talk about action research being like reflective practice and participants take it on to improve practice. What I really like about the process of action research is that it can be undertaken by anyone in a setting (McNiff, 2013).
Through the themes of my various assignments and dissertation, I supported educators to really reflect on what was happening in their setting; what was going well and what needed to improve. We spoke about it being ok to name what was not going well or what the challenges were. This process is something educators do daily. I think by acknowledging that they are participating in action research, educators can better understand their own practice and how their practice can be informed by research and that the evidence collected is from their work in their setting.
My first action research assignment on my master’s degree was about Early Childhood Curriculum. As part of this research, I worked with educators on site and recorded video clips of children’s play. This assignment was the first step for me in exploring action research. I also involved the children’s parents and showed them the video I recorded. Parents found that being able to view their children at play in their preschool environment was an amazing opportunity. I also shared the video with the children and listened to their voices commenting on themselves playing. This research created a space for educators to discuss their practice and affirmed to educators what was working well and areas of improvement that they could identify. Pen Green believes that when educators are involved in action research, it contributes to a quality Early Years’ setting.
Reflecting on my years as an educator in a setting, I was involved in action research daily without really knowing it. I was always looking at ways of improving practice, whether it was the daily routine or rearranging the environment. I reviewed what was working well and what was not. I then tried to improve by making changes or by trying new ways of doing things. The following day or week this process would start again and always with the child at the centre of my practice.
In my earlier role with NCNA/ECI, I worked with staff teams in a setting to support them to reflect on and improve the quality of their practice. As a Síolta mentor, I supported the settings on the Síolta Quality Assurance Programme (QAP) journey to use the 16 Síolta standards to reflect on their practice, take action, problem solve and drive evidence-based quality improvements as a continuous feature of their everyday practice. These teams were completing small scale action research projects on their practice in their setting. Through attending Early Years community of practice meetings, educators from the participating settings found inspiration from each other and were able to share their action research approaches, methods, findings and new knowledge from their Síolta QAP journey.
Action research is something that anyone working in the Early Years or School Age Childcare setting can easily do to help their setting promote a positive change and different ways of thinking. 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.