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Monday, January 6, 2014

A New Year's Resolution

A New Year’s Resolution

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University


Dr. Steve Gruenert
Associate Professor and Department Chairperson
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

You’re a school leader … either at the district, building, or classroom level.  As such, you’re probably spending quite a bit of time with assessment – program assessment, standardized testing of students, teacher evaluations, and/or student grading, just to name a few.  Yet how often do you assess yourself?

We’re not speaking of that quiet reflection that happens on the drive home each evening on the return from school.  Most of us do that, and it’s very helpful.  We’re referring instead to the type of assessment in which you use real data to make informed decisions about your professional performance … with pre- and post- measurements providing answers as to whether you have “improved” at something.  In statistician’s terms … it’s has to do with the Effect Size. Dieticians may call it waist size.

We just said “stats.”  Better next say, as does one of our favorite television commercials, “It doesn’t have to be complicated.”

You don’t need graduate-level courses in statistics ...
You don’t need to purchase SPSS analysis software …
You don’t need a great deal of mathematical prowess …

You simply need to make a New Year’s Resolution. 

Say it with us … “In 2014, I will conduct some Action Research.”

You could get very serious about it, as our participants in the Indiana Principal Leadership Institute are doing this year, and that would be fantastic.  To say that these folks are burning bright with high-octane leadership development would be an understatement.

Yet, with all on your plate right now, you might just want to keep things simple as you begin measuring … modestly. In fact, this might end up taking things off your plate.

Here’s an example of how easy action research can be: 

A leader could …

Put together a short survey for staff regarding your use of time at faculty meetings and gather the results anonymously.  Take a look at what they say. Then make a change in what you do (i.e. incorporating one of Whitaker and Breaux’s 40 ideas for Ten-Minute Inservices, or something like that). Ask again, and again look at the results in March.  If things are going the way you want, keep doing what you are doing.  If not, tweak things a bit, and re-measure in May.  Review your results yet again, and decide what’s next.

It’s that easy.

Here’s another:

Put together a short survey for staff regarding your effectiveness as a school leader (or for students as to your effectiveness as a teacher) and gather the results anonymously.  It’s a quick, 360-degree input thing.  Then … start a fitness or reading regimen and pass-out the same survey in March (that is, if you maintain your regimen).  Take a look at where you are.  Tweak things if needed; look again in May.  Review your results and move ahead from there.

Admittedly, a bit of care needs to be taken to control for the natural, research limitation of leaders’ asking subordinates about leadership effectiveness.  Key communicators from faculty, or even school counselors, can typically help with questionnaire dissemination and tabulation.

Let’s ask ourselves a few questions that we could possibly research. After all, the process is what is cool, even more so, at times, than the results.  

Would drinking less soda allow one better to handle student misbehavior?
Would working out with a friend after school allow one better to “leave work, at work”?
Would starting a book club, where teachers pick the books, change the dynamic of lounge conversations?
Would thanking people more often cause resentment in some who value only authentic praise?
Would dressing more casual, or more formal, enhance parental relations?
Would bringing alumni to faculty meetings reduce faculty misbehavior, yet at the same time, could it drive resistance underground?

Consider these definitions on Action Research cited by authors in a National Council of Teachers of Mathematics publication:

Action research is a form of investigation designed for use by teachers to attempt to solve problems in their own classrooms.  It involves systematic observations and data collection, which can be then used by the practitioner-researcher in reflection, decision-making and the development of more effective classroom strategies. (NCTM, n.d., citing Parsons and Brown, 2002)

Or one we like even better …

Action Research is a fancy way of saying let’s study what’s happening at our school and decide how to make it a better place. (NCTM, n.d., citing Calhoun, 1994)

As you work with teachers, staff, and stakeholders, holding them accountable for their own data on performance and asking them to take the initiative to improve upon where they are, can you put yourself out there as an example of someone “living your own charge”?

Make a resolution; lead by example. 

Make some time as we return from the holidays to hypothesize; MEASURE SOMETHING. 

Take ACTION … do  RESEARCH … then talk about it.

Once measured, do some homework on what you have measured, borrow from others, and then simply DO something different [even something small, yet significant and different].

Then around March … measure again.

This New Year’s Resolution doesn’t have to be complicated.


How is Action Research Defined. (n.d.). National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Retrieved at

            NCTE notes the following resources for its quotes:

Calhoun, E. F. (1994). How to use action research in the self-renewing school. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Parsons, R. D., & Brown, K. S. (2002). Teacher as reflective practitioner and action researcher. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

Whitaker, T., & Breaux, A. (2013). The ten-minute inservice: 40 quick training sessions that build teacher effectiveness. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.


Dr. Ryan Donlan and Dr. Steve Gruenert are faculty members in Educational Leadership in the Bayh College of Education at Indiana State University. They are working to encourage principals in Action Research as member of the Design Team for the Indiana Principals Leadership Institute and can be reached at or at

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