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Chapter Seven: Reflection

At the beginning of the research process, I simply wanted to become a better teacher. Truth is, I knew I wasnt reaching my students and I wanted to stop the trajectory that I was on. I tend to be a people pleaser. I was stuck because I was torn between pleasing the district I am employed by and my responsibility to my students. I had to go back to why I became a teacher. I didnt enter education to pour knowledge into students. I never saw myself as a naturally smart student. When I look back at my own educational journey, I had to learn how to learn. I desperately wanted the favor of my teachers. I fed off the praise from my teachers when I turned in my work on time or when I was the only one listening while my peers chattered. I was so fixated on pleasing my teachers that it took my years in college to realize that I had a voice. It was around that same time that I discovered there were populations of people that continue to be unheard. I was compliant. I made it to college. I even became a professional. I had the positive regard of my administrators because I did as I was told. But I was not changing the fate of my students. I was perpetuating it. My students continued to be denied the right to use their voice and have choice to impact their learning. This denial didnt equip my students to be the critical thinkers needed to function in a democratic society. My students were already from underrepresented populations and I was keeping them there by requiring compliance and distributing punishments (however minor) when I didnt get it. I began this research knowing that student voice would bring the empowerment they needed to be successful. My conscience to serve my students won over, but my people pleaser self would interfere throughout the research process, starting with developing my research question. Wording my research question was difficult because I didnt know how to say what I really wanted in one sentence. I wanted my students to be happy at school. I wanted them to feel proud. I didnt want another trendy instructional strategy. I didnt want to continue ineffective patterns. I wanted something that would live beyond my classroom. I knew that it had to be the opposite of the control that had been at the center of my instruction. My insecurity to be a people pleaser pressured me to think that my research question had to be worded just right. It had to sound academic and give me credibility. After trying out many varieties, I was able to zero in on a question that was closest to what I was after. Looking back, Im surprised how often I forgot the actual wording of my research question. My goals for my research were always on my heart and mind, but the question didnt seem as important as I thought it was when I began.

As I began my Understandings, I read and read until I couldnt read anymore. I thought that I needed to understand everything there was about reflection. When I searched reflection, I was led to journals about self-regulation. I thought that those words sounded academic and decided to pursue that path. When I began to write about self-regulation and how it would inform my research, I realized that I didnt understand what I was saying! I couldnt recognize myself in my writing. W henever I had conversations with my critical friend and graduate colleagues, they would write down what I would say I wanted for my students. They would then tell me what I said, and encourage me to pursue it in my writing and research. This revealed how significant it was for me to rely on my graduate colleagues throughout the research process to remind me when I was straying from the heart of my research and to help me get back on track. As researchers, we want to get it right the first time. We want to find the right question and read all the right books. Time is precious, none of it can be wasted on mistakes. I now dont see my journey through my Understandings as wasted time, even though I didnt ultimately write about much of what I read. I needed to allow myself to begin wide so that I could discover the heart of what I was after. I needed to write a bunch of unconnected thoughts to find the connection. I was beginning to see that my research would involve more than my students. It would involve researching my own journey, my own transformation. Since research was a foreign thing for me, I relied on the models of alumni who did their research ahead of us as I crafted my methods. I loved how they recorded interviews, surveyed multiple times in the year, and coded for themes. I thought, I will do the same thing! I over estimated how much data I could collect and analyze in the limited amount of time I had, and I underestimated the effectiveness of using observations and journaling. After designing a survey that would be easy for my first graders to fill out, I still had my doubts. I had a sustainable way to collect the amount of information I needed, but I was concerned with the quality of information that I would get. I wanted to know how my students experienced school and what the roots of those experiences were. As I sat down to interview all of my students, it felt as if I was hitting a wall. Some students didnt understand what I was asking them and others responded with one word answers. I felt like I was not getting any closer to how my students felt about school. I felt relief when I accidentally stumbled upon interviewing my students when they played because they were relaxed and engaged with what they were interested in. This ability to be relaxed enabled them to explain why they were interested in an activity because they were doing it right then and there. Playing also helped them remember other interests that were connected to what they were doing. I was also able to write how they interacted with one another as I observed them during play.

After writing what I observed and what my students said while playing, I had to interpret what their actions and statements meant. I began to worry that I would interpret what they did and said incorrectly. Since first graders are young, it is easy to assume that they didnt understand my questions. I came to find that it was I who needed to work at the way I understood them. I learned to stop assuming what my student responses meant and simply ask them. It was important for me to probe wherever my students decided to take our interview. I found myself recording exactly what they said in my observation journal. Then I would restate what I wrote to them, and ask them immediately if I understood them correctly. I also relied on my graduate colleagues different perspectives to give me insight on how to pursue next steps in the research. This process was crucial for the integrity of the research and to build trust with my students since their voices were guiding us. I wanted student voice to give confidence to my students when reflecting on what they learned and how they learned. I also wanted them to use their voices to advocate for one another and strengthen our community. Relying on student voice was filled with tensions that I needed to press through. There were times that I wanted to abandon relying on student voice and go back to controlling. Of course this would be the year that I had Andy, the student most resistant to authority in our grade level. This would also be the year that I had the quietest student, Anna, who ran away from school last year without anyone being aware of it. There were times when the research process brought out the ugliness in me. I was frustrated with letting go of what I had been relying on for many years. Many times it felt like I was going through withdrawal from control. I was afraid of the unpredictable. I was afraid of failing. I constantly doubted if it would work. I was grumpy. It felt as if I was a beginning teacher all over again. At one point, out of my weakness, I caved and used table points to make my students listen to me instead of discussing with them solutions to our problems. I realize now that I didnt trust my students and I didnt trust myself. Instead of giving up, I used this moment to reflect on why I made that decision in the first place, why this was hard for me, and to connect back to the hopes and goals I had for my research. I also learned that it was important that I was honest with my students, admitting when I had made mistakes and engaging my students to help correct them. I was beginning to believe that perceived mistakes, like the table points, were critical in helping me go deeper with what I was truly after in my research. At that moment, I realized what the action in action research meant. It wasnt figuring it all out from the beginning. The research journey is filled with endless questions, failures, and triumphs. All of them inform further action. This process repeated itself throughout the research. I now see that it was helpful to have a skeleton of the research design from the beginning, but it was more important to be open to the

unexpected paths that end up being beautiful accidents. I needed to be present to the moment, whatever it would be. Those moments were the right moments that needed to happen because they led me on a journey of discovery with my students. It was then that I decided to surrender to the research process. It was then that I believed my students would teach me what they knew all along to be relevant for their learning experiences. After this awareness, I stopped being afraid of the unexpected. I welcomed it. It was then that I discovered who my reachable and unreachable focus students were during their student led conferences. I began to recognize my students as the windows to helping me understand what learning is like for them. This willingness to understand helped me see beyond how my research affected my teaching in my classroom. I began to see how my research would go beyond my classroom and inform the issues my school was struggling with, and education at large. I realized that my reachable and unreachable students represented the students at my school. My first graders needs were the same as one of our eighth graders. If I found that listening to student voice and providing choice would reach my students, then this was true for all of our students. I began to feel pressure to please my fellow educator audience as I wrote what I had been discovering in my research. As with surrendering to the research process, I had to approach the writing in a similar way. I decided to write uninhibited so that I could arrive at what I really wanted to say. I wrote in a style that I would want read. I stopped writing to prove and instead wrote to share an experience. I wrote to reveal my vulnerability, my questions, my doubts, and my failures. I am part of a community of other researchers who have come before me. I am building my research on their knowledge. There will be others who will come after me to build on what I have learned. I am convinced that action research is how we educators should approach learning with students on a daily basis. The process enables all of us to get to the heart of learning for all students. We are building understanding together. Together we are seeking to understand our students so that they all may be reached, and we may be transformed.