If someone had told me four years ago I would now be working as a “technology expert” and hold a masters’ degree in learning technologies, I would not have believed them. Since starting my college career twelve years ago, I feel that both my personal life and my career have taken me in surprising directions that I could not have foretold. I have had amazing adventures full of rich experiences that have helped me to grow. The process of designing and implementing this action research project has only continued this tradition.
The Action Researcher
In doing this research project, I learned more about myself and how I work. Ideas that presented themselves in my action research readily applied to my personal life. I learned that I do my best when I have time to think about a problem I encounter. I can usually create an immediate response. But, if I wait and give myself some time to think, I often start to see the problem from different perspectives and then can pinpoint the best way to approach the situation. Throughout this past year, I started looking at problems I have encountered with a more analytical eye. Trying to solve everything that is bothering you will leave you exhausted and unsuccessful. This project reinforced the importance of prioritizing and maintaining balance in my life. Instead of trying to jump through all the hoops, I worked at directing my focus on the most important.
Increasingly, I started looking at things for what they were, instead of what I wanted them to be, and that helped me to gain perspective and new understanding. If I was not happy with something, I looked for ways I could make a change to improve the situation instead of waiting for someone else to do it. I learned that going through the process is often more valuable than reaching success. The journey is more important that your destination. At times trying again with a valiant effort will prove worthwhile. There are times when allowing the process to simply end is critical. However, being able to make this distinction is an important lesson that I am still learning.
The Action Researcher in the Workplace
Having just completed my third year working as an elementary school technology specialist and nearing completion of my masters’ degree begs the question, “What’s next?” Many would suggest it is time for me to seek a higher paying job with my new, flashy degree. However, I am happy to stay in my workplace. Before starting action research, I was in this position for two years. I started here with a limited background in technology. Slowly and through much trial and error, I became more confident in my practice and built my expertise. I have formed stronger relationships with staff and students. This foundation helped me to enact change in this action research project. It felt like everything fell into place this year. Cycle four starts this fall. I am excited to see what else we can accomplish.
As Zander and Zander (2002) said, you can lead from any chair. I found that attitude and passion can go much further in affecting change than your actual job title. If you truly care about your work and others, the people around you pick up on that and respond positively to it. Approaching people with the right attitude offers more impact than what you are actually trying to get them to do. For a while now, I have approached life and work with the following idea, “A person won’t always remember what you say, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” This idea is important in working with anyone and I found it extremely helpful in the workplace. To influence the group, you need to target the individuals, which I worked to do in my action research project. I received many sincere thanks from students and teachers this year.
Action Research for Others
In conducting research, I gained a better understanding of why idea sharing is important. Reviewing literature as I planned my project helped me to see what was going on in the educational technology field and prompted me to think reflectively about the specific problem I wanted to target. As I read others’ work, I found ideas that spurred thoughts for actions I could take. It was also helpful to read about ideas that didn’t work well or that I did not think would work in my school setting.
Along with listening to the literature, I found conversations with others a very valuable tool. By listening to what others said and hearing what they did not say, I have been able to see a much broader picture than if I just assumed what they were thinking. This gave an insight to the pulse of the organization as well as the person. People were usually happy to share their thoughts—it made them feel valued and respected. Regardless of age, background, education, wealth, and expertise everyone has a different perspective to offer. Listening to others’ ideas might just be what is needed to reach that “ah-ha” moment when approaching a dilemma. Significant innovations are often the result of combining simple ideas and practical thoughts. If you don’t talk to others, you could be missing out on a great opportunity.
In this research, I discovered elements that were effective in supporting teachers in using technology. A hot topic in education is differentiating instruction for students. However, when shifting to teachers and professional development, this consideration often seems to be neglected. I found that working in small groups and individually with teachers allowed me to readily address their varied needs, which in turn resulted in successes.
Often people will say they cannot do something because they are pressed for time. Conducting action research has shown me if someone is motivated and interested, they will make the time to pursue a task. When people are not interested in something, it’s often because they are scared to try something new or they do not see potential benefits. In working with others to find a solution to a problem, I have learned not to share all the possible technology tools they could use. Instead, focusing on one tool that could meet their needs was usually the best strategy.
In most worksites finding time seems to be an issue. In my project, one might argue that teachers just need more time in general to complete tasks related to their jobs. However, I realized that teachers didn’t just need time. They needed time for support. Creating continuous times dedicated to technology support gave these teachers the encouragement and structure that was needed. It also let them know they were not alone in their endeavors with technology.
While this research project was conducted in a school context in using technology, the elements I have described could be applied in a multitude of other contexts. People need to be valued and be shown respect for their voice and perspective. Support, encouragement, and time all go hand in hand when trying to move forward and make changes for improvement within an organization. Regardless of what path my personal life and career might lead to me next, these principles are now a part of me and should prove helpful no matter what the future holds.