Action Research

Through programmes such as the Action Research Grants scheme, EIS members can benefit from the support of academic colleagues to advance their professional learning. Through Professor Karen McArdle, Collaborative Action Research Network (CARN) Co-ordinating Group member and an academic mentor to EIS members undertaking action research projects, EIS members are supported to share their research findings with colleagues across Scotland and the wider profession.

In September 2022, EIS action researcher Julie Bell (Falkirk) was invited to present at CARN Conference in Dublin, promoting both her own research activity and the experience of undertaking action research with union-supported mentorship. Presenting alongside Karen McArdle, Julie outlined her insights and methodology in a ‘Meaning and Purpose’ Through Mentorship: Mentees’ and Mentors’ reflections on support for practitioner research’. Here, Julie provides a brief outline of her research, and the experience of sharing her findings with colleagues at an international researchers’ event.

Have you ever had the urge to find out if what you do makes a difference? To find out how it makes a difference and to prove it makes a difference? I do! Regularly! And when I moved from a P7 class to a P2 class during the pandemic, I wanted to learn more about play (recommended for infants for the re-socialisation of children after lockdown) and outdoor learning (important to prevent COVID transmission) and whether these pedagogies made a difference to literacy attainment.

I already understood Outdoor Learning as I had worked with children in that context before. However, as I had not been in an infant class for about 6 years, I wanted to learn more about play in this context rather than accept what I was told.

As I was looking through the EIS website one day, I noticed that the EIS awarded grants for action research. I filled out the paperwork and was delighted to learn a few months later that I had been awarded one of these prestigious grants. So, my active research on “The Effects of Play & Outdoor Learning on Social Skills, Mental Health & Literacy Attainment in a P2 Class during a Pandemic” began.

Throughout the research process I felt that I had more agency in the field I was researching. I did not simply accept a model that was already provided. I could research its significance for myself.

Now that I have completed the research and written the paper, I feel more empowered. I have the research to back up what I have seen to be true and I can put interventions into my practice in my school learning environment which I know are proven to work.

My identity as a researcher has also changed through this process. I have learned a lot and with the help of my EIS mentors, I have been able to craft my practice. My confidence as a researcher has transformed and I am often thinking of what active research I would like to do next! I don’t believe that research can ever be finished. There is always another question that needs to be answered.

My research was published on the EIS website. My mentor calls this the ‘Ripple Effect’ because hopefully other practitioners will read it and will learn something that they can put into practice in their own environment.

To widen the Ripple Effect, I was also asked if I would like to present my paper at the CARN Conference 2022 in Dublin. Of course, I said yes! CARN is the International Collaboration Action Research Network and I presented my paper alongside my EIS mentor, Karen, who explained her role as a mentor in the process. In total, there were about 200 delegates who attended this year’s conference, representing 20 countries!

CARN was great! I was able to attend different workshops and learn from other researchers from different walks of life, including other teachers from across the globe. There were teacher researchers there who presented their findings on Inclusion, Expressive Arts and Foreign Languages as well as researchers who presented on Initial Teacher Education in Portugal and Building Teacher Identity in Cambodian Schools! It is always interesting to hear and collaborate with others but listening to international colleagues gives a different perspective.

Having been to CARN 2022, I have been inspired to continue my action research. My aim now is to have my work published in a peer-reviewed journal and who knows what is next? There has been talk with my mentor about looking into doing a PhD!

Commenting on the conference and their presentation, Professor Karen McArdle said “Julie’s presentation was appreciated because she linked theory and practice so well. Her knowledge and skill as an early career researcher was valued highly at the conference. Questions included whether other trade unions or professional associations would consider an ARG opportunity for their members in other countries. The mentoring model was appreciated by different countries in our audience. The combination of mentoring practice and research practice showed EIS in a favourable light across the 20+ countries represented in Dublin.”

To read Julie’s full research report, and for more information about the Action Research Grants scheme, please visit the EIS website. Action Research Grants are available as a professional learning opportunity annually, and applications for the 2023-24 scheme will open early in 2023.