Action Planning In Improving Practice And Generating Educational Knowledge In Creating Your Living Educational Theory


The update of the 10th October 2011 includes the above introductory video (click on the image)

I am making at least three assumptions in the following text:

The first is that you are asking a question of the kind, 'How do I improve what I am doing?'  in  your professional practice.

The second is that you already embody educational knowledge in what you are doing that is worth making public as a contribution to knowledge through research into your question.

The third is that your educational knowledge will deepen, extend and transform as you research your practice and generate your living educational theory.

Your living educational theory is your explanation for your educational influences in your own learning, in the learning of others and in the learning of the social formations in which you are living and working.

Whilst I would not advise you to look at the following two papers immediately you can, when you wish, see a more detailed description  of living educational theories in the paper on Creating a living educational theory from questions of the kind, 'How do I improve my practice?'  in  the1989 in the Cambridge Journal of Education at http://www.actionresearch. net/writings/livtheory.html and in a paper on  'Using a living theory methodology in improving practice and generating educational knowledge in living theories' in the first issue of the Educational Journal of Living Theories at

Clarifying and sharing your values

In working to improve what you are doing I think you will find it helpful to talk with another person (a response partner) about the local context you are working in and the values you both use to give meaning and purpose to your productive lives.  A conversation in which another person pays close attention to the values that motivate you, helps to make public the values you use to both evaluate your educational influence and to explain this influence.  You should take some care to ensure that you both receive the recognition that attentive listening can bring in giving each other a similar amount of time for each other's attention.  Whilst there may be an initial embarrassment about talking about the values you use to give meaning and purpose to your life, an understanding, expression and communication of these values is essential in any valid explanation of your educational influence in your own learning and in the learning of others.  I am thinking here of values such as freedom, justice, care, love, compassion, respect and knowledge-creation.  When I use the word values I am including the experience and expression of flows of life-circulating and life-affirming energy that are necessary in distinguishing practices as educational. I imagine that you are like me in distinguishing something as educational because it involves learning something that I value as life-affirming. 

Developing some understanding of the expression of such values in local contexts is important because each context is constituted by unique individuals and their relationships and by the history of the context and sociocultural influences.   Contexts offer unique constraints and opportunities and it is wise to take these into account when working on the action plan below.

In my own action research workshops I usually begin with conversations between pairs of practitioner-researchers in which we take some 4 minutes each to outline our contexts, what really matters to us, and what we would like to improve. I encourage individuals to hold ourselves to account with a responsibility towards each other for sustaining an enquiry into living our values and developing our understandings as fully as we can in improving our practice.

As well as talking about the local context and the values that are motivating you to improve your practice it often helps in the development of realistic action plans to share an understanding of the national or global contexts that influence what you can do.

Being clear about and understanding the constraints on your actions

In the UK, for example, teachers have been subjected to oppressive statutory regulations that have not served well the expression of teachers' creativity in improving practice.

This problem was recognised in March 2009 by the House of Lords Committee on the 'Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee' in the UK, in a report on  'The cumulative impact of statutory instruments on schools' :

"Able, brilliant and skilled professionals do not thrive in an environment where much of their energies are absorbed by the need to comply with a raft of detailed requirements...  the evidence that we have seen during this inquiry has highlighted the problems that are caused to schools when too little thought is given to the systematic need to rely so heavily on regulation, and too little effort is put into managing the overall impact of statutory instruments issued, and monitoring whether the myriad requirements being imposed on schools are being taken seriously and implemented on the ground... We recommend that DCSF should now look to shift its primary focus away from the regulation of processes through statutory instruments, towards establishing accountability for the  delivery of key outcomes." (House of Lords, 2009, p.15)


This kind of understanding offers some hope that a most oppressive context of statutory regulation that influences the expression of teachers' and pupils' creativity may be giving way to a more supportive environment for the expression of creativity and educational learning. Such changes may not occur quickly and it is wise to recognise the limitations on action that can be experienced when working under statutory regulation.

After the initial conversation on values and context in relation to your desire to improve practices that relate to helping students, yourself and/or colleagues to improve their learning, I believe that you may find the following action planning process most useful.

The questions can be answered individually or in a conversation with others. Following such a conversation it is important to write down answers to your questions as part of the exploration of the implications of asking, researching and answering your question  'How do I improve what I am doing?'

Action Reflection Cycles

Here are questions, ideas and actions that can distinguish an action reflection cycle:

1) What do I want to improve? What is my concern? Why am I concerned?

2) Imagining possibilities and choosing one of them to act on in an action plan

3) As I am acting what data will I collect to enable me to judge my educational influence in my professional context as I answer my question? 

4) Evaluating the influence of the actions in terms of values and understandings.

5) Modifying concerns, ideas and actions in the light of evaluations.

6) Making public a validated explanation of educational influences.

I like the way Barry Hymer writes about data in his recognition of the significance of data that he had collected over years but remained almost unnoticed:

This email dates the moment I resolved finally to abandon the experimental method, and to use instead the data which had arrived almost unnoticed over many years, and which lay untidily all around me. These data were neither obviously connected to each other nor did they conform easily to the types of scale (Stevens, 1968) that my background training had taught me to collect and work on. They weren't neutral, and they certainly did "bring me" into the study. They held, I now realized, a potentially rich and fruitful source of evidence. They also revealed gaps in my self-knowledge, which suggested that I needed to collect further data, much more systematically and self-consciously than hitherto. (Hymer, 2007, p. 26)


7) As I evaluate the educational influences of my actions in my own learning and the learning of other, who might be willing to help me to strengthen the validity of my explanation of my learning about my influence with responses to questions such as:

i)               Is my explanation as comprehensible as it could be?

ii)             Could I improve the evidential basis of my claims to know what I am doing?

iii)            Does my explanation include an awareness of historical and cultural influences in what I am doing and draw on the most advanced social theories of the day?

iv)            Am I showing that I am committed to the values that I claim to be living by?

In the light of the evaluation the concerns, action plans and actions are modified and the process of improvement and educational knowledge-creation continues. I have included an action planning page with these questions as an appendix for you to print and use if you wish. Joan Walton, the Director of the Centre for the Child and Family at Liverpool Hope University, has an excellent illustration of her use of such an action planning process in a collaborative enquiry 'Aiming High for Disabled Children' (AHDC) of September 2010.

If you would like a more detailed introduction to action research for professional development I recommend Jean McNiff's approach of September 2008 to Planning, Designing and Doing Action Research at .

You might also enjoy and find useful the McNiff and Whitehead book on 'Doing and Writing Action Research' (Sage, 2009).

  Enhancing professionalism with TASC (Thinking Actively in a Social Context)

Much of my professional life has been focused on enhancing professionalism in education through the generation and communication of living educational theories that can explain educational influences in learning.  In producing a valid explanation for our educational influences in the learning of others I believe it to be necessary for the other's explanation of their own learning to be included in our explanation. 

In developing an action research approach to improving practice and generating knowledge with all the pupils in a class I have found most useful the TASC wheel (Thinking Actively in a Social Context) developed by Belle Wallace (2001). 











 As teachers work to help their students to recognise and develop their talents the TASC wheel, when given to all the students,  can be useful. It is useful in helping students to guide and monitor their own learning in terms of both the given curriculum and in terms of any extended study the students might be undertaking as they form their own questions to guide their learning.  It is useful to teachers as their pupils help them both to recognise the talents the students wish to develop and to document and monitor this learning.  It is also useful in the production of evidence-based accounts from the students as they evaluate how well they have done and what they have learned in communicating the story of their learning to others.

If you would like to see the explanations of educational influence in their own learning and in the learning of their pupils and students in both primary and secondary schools I recommend the writings of Sally Cartwright and Joy Mounter. They have used both the action research planner in their continuing professional development on their masters degree programme and the TASC wheel in supporting their pupils and students to improve their learning.

Both approaches have been used by Sally Cartwright  in her continuing professional development on a masters programme and in her research with her 17 year old students in their extended projects for an AS examination and preparation for University entrance. You can access  some of Sally's writings on How can I enable the gifts and talents of  my students  to be in the driving seat of their learning?  at

In evaluating my own educational influence in the learning of others I need to see this influence in the living theory of the other in a way that recognises the creativity of the other in engaging with ideas I have helped to generate and communicate. I think you may need to do the same in the creation of your own living educational theories. I believe that Sally's writings make an original contribution to educational knowledge whilst showing that she has found useful some of my own ideas  in making this contribution.

Both approaches have also been used by Joy Mounter in her  continuing professional development on a masters programme and in her research with her 6 year old pupils in exploring the question Can children carry out action research about learning, creating their own learning theory? You can access this account at .

I think that you will be particularly inspired by the three video-clips in Appendix 2 that show three pupils explaining to Joy how they think the TASC wheel should be modified to give a more appropriate representation of their learning.

Teachers accounts from a masters curriculum with assessments.

If you want to see how teachers working on the masters of education programme in the Department of Education of the University of Bath for registrations up to the 1st August 2008, have responded to questions of the kind, 'How do I improve what I am doing?' for their masters units on Educational Enquiry (EE), Research Methods in Education (RME), Understanding Learners and Learning (ULL) and Gifts and Talents in Education (G & T) you can access these at: . To see the 'given curriculum' for these units up to August 2008 click on the links for EE, RME, ULL, G&TinEd, here. To see the criteria used in assessing these units click on this link for the MACriteria.

To see the criteria used to assess the MA units registered after August 2008 see .

In 2003/4 I contributed to a Senate Working Party on the regulations governing the submission of research degrees at the University of Bath. Following a recommendation to Senate from this Working Party the regulations were changed to allow the submission of e-media. This has enabled the submission of visual and multi-media narratives to communicate the meanings of the expression of energy and values in living educational theories.

To access details of the 2011 - ongoing - international continuing professional development project go to and if you would like to participate in the virtual learning space for this CPD project go to . You can also read Walton's (2011 a&b) ideas on developing a collaborative inquiry.

The use of video in recognising the expression of life-affirming energy with values as practical explanatory principles in the creation of a visual narrative and living educational theory.

The widespread use of streaming servers such as YouTube has enabled the integration of visual data into explanations of educational influence and the communication of meanings of energy flowing values as these are expressed in practice.  These forms of representation, with an illustration below with Moira Laidlaw, are opening up possibilities for the generation of new understandings of the values-laden explanatory principles used by educators and other professional practitioners to explain their educational influences.  Alan Rayner  (2004) is at the forefront of these new understandings with his idea of inclusionality.  Without going into too much detail here, inclusionality involves a relationally dynamic awareness of space and boundaries that are connective, reflexive and co-creative.  It involves a way of knowing that is different from the two ways of knowing, propositional and dialectical, that have dominated much thinking and argument about the nature of knowledge over the past 2,500 years from the work of Plato and Aristotle.  The problem of contradiction has been at the heart of a disagreement between proponents of propositional or dialectical thinking. Propositional thinkers eliminate contradiction from correct thought on the grounds that contradictions between mutually exclusive opposite statements such as 'I am free'/'I am not free' cannot both be true simultaneously. Dialectical thinkers hold that contradictions are the nucleus of dialectics.  When reality is communicated in purely propositional relationships that eliminate contradictions, dialecticians believe that this form of representation is masking the dialectical nature of reality. The problem for dialecticians is that whenever they try to communicate their understandings through statements, they are faced with the problem of contradiction. The dialectician Ilyenkov (1977) put the problem well when he asked, 'If an object exists as a living contradiction what must the thought be (statement about the object) that expresses it?' The problem of recognising the rationality of the other between dialectical and propositional thinkers is transcended in inclusionality.

In an inclusional way of being and knowing an individual recognises that they exist in a relational dynamic of space and boundaries. Hence one of the tasks of the practitioner-researcher is to express and communicate this relational dynamic in explanations of educational influence. Explanations from a perspective of inclusionality can include insights from both propositional and dialectical thinkers without denying the rationality of either viewpoint.  For example, in the question 'How do I improve what I am doing?', I exist as a living contradiction in the sense that I hold together the experience of values together with their negation – this living contradiction stimulates my imagination to create possibilities for improving my practice in the sense of enhancing the expression of my values more fully in my practice. As I evaluate the effectiveness of my actions and seek ways to improve my practice I include insights from propositional theories to help me to do this.  An example here would be the use of Foucault's (1977) ideas on Power/Knowledge to understand the relationships between the Truth of Power and the Power of Truth in the workplace when seeking academic legitimation for new living standards of judgment.

To communicate my meanings of a relational dynamic awareness of space and boundaries using video I would like you to access the clip of Moira Laidlaw at the end of a lesson with some 80 students at Guyuan Teacher's College (now Ningxia Teachers University) in China.

Thinking that the lesson had finished I turned the camera off. I saw Moira move to the door and I turned the camera back on. I am so pleased that I did this because I have used the clip many times to communicate meanings of the expression of a loving dynamic energy in a relationally dynamic of space and boundaries.

The clip is 1.04 minutes long and YouTube now permits the cursor to be moved at any speed along the clip once it is loaded. By moving the cursor along at around 7 times the normal speed – take about 8 seconds, I think you will appreciate what I am meaning by a relational dynamic of space and boundaries. The students are flowing past Moira and Moira is responding receptively as they flow past her.  At 25 seconds she gestures to a student to join her. This is a student who has questioned something that Moira wanted her to do in the lesson. This is unusual in a Chinese classroom that is usually compliant to what the teacher wants. Moira congratulates the student on showing the courage to speak.  When I showed the clip to Moira she wondered what I was seeing that I found significant. I explained that it was her receptive responsiveness to her students and the relational dynamic awareness of space and boundaries within which I experienced Moira expressing a loving dynamic energy. Because this is Moira's 'natural' way of being in the classroom, it took several showings of the video-clip for her to recognise and acknowledge the flow of her dynamic loving energy in her educational relationships with her students.  Because of such advances in digital technology we can now integrate this visual data as evidence in our narratives of our educational influences in learning. 

I've been working on a process of clarifying and communicate the meanings of such embodied expressions of energy with values in visual narratives that include the empathetic resonance of the viewer. You can see this process in Huxtable's (2009) account from Research Intelligence - a publication of the British Educational Research Association.

Acknowledgements of the importance of including expressions of life-circulating and life-affirming energy with values as explanatory principles of educational influence are still rare in academic texts about education.  An exception to this is Claire Formby's (2007) second Educational Enquiry, How do I sustain a loving, receptively responsive educational relationship with my pupils which will motivate them in their learning and encourage me in my teaching?

You can access Claire's writings at:

When I asked Claire about her courage in putting a loving relationship into her title she explained that she had found her headteacher's way of being most supportive as he used a language of love in relation to both staff and students in the school.

I hope that you have found useful this introduction to action planning in improving practice and generating educational knowledge in creating your living educational theory.  If you would like to join a practitioner-researcher e-seminar I convene for the purpose of sharing ideas and helping each other with our enquiries do join at:

I look forward to hearing how you are getting on with your enquiries and with the generation and communication of your own living educational theory.


Love Jack.


When Martin Dobson, a colleague, died in 2002 the last thing he said to me

was 'Give my Love to the Department'. In the 20 years I'd worked with

Martin it was his loving warmth of humanity that I recall with great life

affirming pleasure and I'm hoping that in Love Jack we can share this

value of common humanity.



Appendix 1

Action Planner


1) What do I want to improve?




2) Why do I feel that something could be improved in what I am doing? (This is concerned with what really matters to me in terms of the values that give meaning and purpose in my life. These are the explanatory principles that explain why I do what I do.)




3) What could I do that might improve what I am doing? (Imagining possibilities and choosing one of them to act on in an action plan)




4) As I am acting what data will I collect to enable me to judge my educational influence in my professional context as I answer my question?




5) As I evaluate the educational influences of my actions in my own learning and the learning of other, who might be willing to help me to strengthen the validity of my explanation of my learning about my influence with responses to questions such as:

i)               Is my explanation as comprehensible as it could be?

ii)             Could I improve the evidential basis of my claims to know what I am doing?

iii)            Does my explanation include an awareness of historical and cultural influences in what I am doing and draw on the most advanced social theories of the day?

iv)            Am I showing that I am committed to the values that I claim to be living by?


Appendix 2


In July 1999 I taught a masters unit at Bishops University in Quebec. It was organised by the late Fran Halliday, a great champion of teacher research. The curriculum unit I designed with the participants fulfilled my educational values in being responsive to the questions being asked and researched by the participants. You can access this curriculum at

One of the most impressive educational journeys on the two week programme was undertaken by Tina Jacklin, a new teacher. Over the two weeks Tina produced 5 drafts and her final submission, with the help of other participants. You can access the final submission and the 5 drafts at


Foucault, M. (1977) Intellectuals and Power: A Conversation Between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, in D. Bouchard (ed.) (1977)  Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault.

Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

House of Lords (2009) The cumulative impact of statutory instruments on schools: Report with evidence. The Stationery Office Limited: London.

Huxtable, M. (2009) How do we contribute to an educational knowledge base? A response to Whitehead and a challenge to BERJ. Research Intelligence, 107, 25-26. Retrieved 10 October 2011 from

Hymer, B. (2007) How do I understand and communicate my values and beliefs in my work as an educator in the field of giftedness? D. Ed. Psy. Thesis, University of Newcastle.  Retrieved 3 May 2009 from

Ilyenkov, E. (1977) Dialectical Logic. Moscow; Progress Publishers.

McNiff, J. & Whitehead, J. (2009) Doing and Writing Action Research. London; Sage.

Rayner, A. Inclusionality and the Role of Place, Space and Dynamic Boundaries in

Philosophica 73 (2004) pp. 51-70. Retrieved 2 May 2009 from


Wallace, G. (Ed.) (2001) Teaching Thinking Skills Across the Primary Curriculum, p. 22. London; David Fulton.

Walton, J. (2011a) A collaborative inquiry: How do we improve our practice with children? Educational Action Research, 19:3, 297-311

Walton, J. (2011b) A Collaborative Inquiry: How do we, individually and collectively, integrate research and practice to improve the wellbeing of children?