Action research: good for managers as well as teachers
3 March 2014

Teachers are being encouraged to do action research: but why not their managers as well?

There are many good reasons for managers in English language schools to have easier access to existing research as well as the encouragement to do some of it themselves, the English UK management conference will hear on Saturday.

"Firstly managers need a research foundation to help them make the right decisions: that's a key management skill. As far as decision-making is concerned we need to be moving towards an evidence-based approach, and get people talking about research to inform their decision making, not just looking for evidence to support their decisions," says English language trainer and consultant George Pickering, adding: "This is probably the most important thing I've talked about."

Currently, he says, there is an emphasis on managers learning how to help teachers to do action research, rather than doing it for themselves. Managers are constantly required to take in and evaluate information which they then use as a basis for decision-making, he says - but there is little available research on how to do this well.

He points to other sessions at the management conference, saying that the ability to make decisions underpins everything a manager does. "Sheila Levy is going to talk about listening skills and Julie Wallis on why we want managers to be effective listeners, and not just say to people they are supported but learn to listen to make better decisions. Why listen, unless it's to make future decisions?"

In many organisations, he says, the person with most power frames the questions when decisions are being made. "There's a tendency to ask 'what do you think?' rather than 'what's the evidence for?'  "and they are two totally separate questions," says George, citing confirmation bias which means people look for evidence to support rather than attack their preferred course of action.

"There's lots of reasons we should be looking at management research and help managers to carry out their own research. We think it's a good idea for teachers to do action research, presumably because we think it will improve professional practice and have a beneficial impact on learner outcomes. It's the same for managers.

"Moreover, one of the good skills as a leader and manager is to lead by example. I would think it strange to be in a school exhorted by academic manager to carry out academic research if he doesn't do it himself. It might be research to inform a decision, or to guide what we do, or if we want to create a learning organisation. I long ago came to the conclusion that this was an area we needed to focus on. It's the whole issue of leadership and management. And it's about how to make better decisions."

George, academic director of DELTM, says that course does involve a project, often about management research, but that currently it is extremely hard for its students to locate other research relevant to EL managers. One of his aims is to create a research framework for managers and ELT directors, leading to a research bank of the best which would help people find resources and reference. He also wants to move towards a definition of management research (such as action research on management leading by example, for instance) and to look at the decision-making function at the heart of management.

"There is research going on at the moment, but with no framework, and greater emphasis on teachers doing action research at present than managers. I want to reverse that. I want managers to realise the importance of action research, and I think this is the best way to do that... if they realise the impact they might be more inclined to create a whole-school policy on this. But this should be voluntary... there might be a case for simply presenting it as method of continuing professional development."

If you haven't already booked for the English UK Management Conference, which takes place in Bristol on Friday 8 and Saturday 9 March, please click here to register via our online booking system. For more information oon this conference, click here.


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