Centering, pulling, shaping together—action researching together

I spend quite a bit of my free time covered in mud. Several times a week I head to a pottery studio where I make all manner of vessels for mostly practical purposes. Because I tend to think about things in images or pictures– I’ve included a picture of me and one of my daughters working together at the wheel to create a cylinder that later became a tall, thin mug. Both of my children accompany me to the studio and will help me shape (as in this picture) as well as glaze pieces. I can’t think of a better image for educational action research than this collective centering, pulling, and shaping of clay.

Nolen and Vander Putten state that “Educators see [action research] as a practical yet systematic research method to investigate their own teaching and their students’ learning in and outside the classroom.”

The folks over at have a nice definition for teacher action research and I’ll include it here as well: Teacher action research (TAR) is a method for educational practitioners to engage in the assessment and improvement of their own practice. It can be an individual tool, helping classroom teachers reconsider their teaching methods or to adapt in order to solve a problem.

This clay that teacher researchers center and then pull and shape together–their practice as teachers and the learning of their students–can be difficult to work with. When seeking to make a change–as we do in our classrooms through educational action research–it often feels like an immovable lump of hard clay. However,  with a community of teachers and learners and family members as participants, the action researchers can center and really get a handle on what the real problems are. Potters add water and use their hands, ribs, and other tools to change the clay–to move it to a different position so that they can see what can be created from the initial lump. Teacher action researchers do much the same through the action and reflection cycle. 

It’s only after several cycles of action and reflection by both the educational action researchers and the potter that the real possibilities can be seen and the real change can begin.

I’m interested to know what images or metaphors you use to describe educational action research. What projects are you contemplating, initiating, researching now? Would you share those with us? Please feel free to share your thoughts here. You are also welcome to email me at if you’d like to write a post about action research in education.

Peace, Dusty