INSTEP: Action research projects and voices of change

Students in their third year of the Social Studies INSTEP program recently gathered at TC in an intensive workshop focused on fine-tuning their Action Research Project. With two summer sessions down and one to go, students are in the final stages of the research project which will serve as the culminating product of their MA in Social Studies Education through the Intensive Summer Teacher Education Program.

Convening over Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, students came from schools sites around the country where they are teaching full time and where their Action Research Projects are being implemented. Dr. Meredith Katz, adjunct Assistant Professor with the Social Studies program, hosted the workshop, while Jay Shuttleworth, PhD candidate in the program and INSTEP coordinator, helped in the role of facilitating the event. The students, who plan to graduate this summer, had the opportunity to share their experiences with the project, reflecting on challenges, successes, and new insights gained through their research.

The angles through which students approached the Action Research Project vary. Some students tested which strategies lend themselves more to civic action or more participation in the classroom and community. Others looked at their own theories about how best to respond to students’ needs or foster an appreciation for civic responsibility.  Whichever approach INSTEP students took in designing their research question and gathering data, the project’s general nature is that of an intensive self-reflective project that enables students to learn about their own practices and grow as educators.

Jay Shuttleworth believes that the unique dynamic of the INSTEP cohort allows for meaningful relationships and powerful learning over the course of the three-year program. “The cohort, while diverse in their backgrounds, is professionally very homogeneous. They’re early professionals, they’re all highly motivated, and they’re all highly talented. It’s exciting because your colleagues are in very similar situations as you, but are coming from all over the country.”

A foundational belief shared by many INSTEP students and faculty is the idea that teachers have the power and the responsibility to teach students about their role as a potential change agent. INSTEP students who endeavor to bring this philosophy into their classrooms sometimes run into challenges when their middle and high school students are faced with the magnitude of this proposition. Says Shuttleworth, “Students sometimes feel overwhelmed at the idea of being potential change agents, saying, ‘I’m only one person. I’m 16. How can I possibly change things?’ This was a mental road block for a lot of people, but when we look at our field and at people in general who have been ‘movers,’ they are often moving as single people.”

Shuttleworth points to an example of bike lanes, initially proposed by high school students, being introduced in California. “There are examples of teenagers affecting change, so I think we just need to remind ourselves that change is possible at all kinds of levels, even when you’re a kid. We try to take an optimistic tack that yes, systems often move at glacial paces, and bureaucracies often seem to be immovable objects, but they have been moved before.”

The INSTEP program seeks to cultivate such forward thinking about the role of an educator through practical, research-based teaching pedagogy. By instilling students with a sense of optimism while equipping them with the tools they need to effectively impart these ideas to their own students, the program hopes to impress upon these educators the importance of their role in the lives of young people.

Click here for more about the Social Studies INSTEP program.

Read more about INSTEP facilitator Jay Shuttleworth here.