We often hear principals say it is difficult to know what to say or do to support highly effective teachers. In an earlier blog post, we offered one idea for supporting highly effective teaching through Communities of Practice. Communities of Practice involve working with groups of like-minded professionals to explore solutions to issues facing teachers in the profession. If you haven’t read it yet, read more about Communities of Practice in Highly Effective Teachers Take the Reins on Professional Learning.

In this post, the focus shifts to individual teachers, looking in on their classroom issues and working on solutions based on data from their students.

This is a concept known as action research. Action research asks individual teachers to collect data on their work to develop their strengths as a reflective practitioner. Teachers look at each lesson taught for factors that support learning, and when those findings inform the next day’s instruction, teachers learn what works for each unique class they are teaching. When we allow our highly effective teachers to dig deep into their own practice, the level of professional development attained by those teachers skyrockets into a higher-level reflection.

Most teachers are probably doing some form of research in their classrooms already. Each time a new teaching strategy is used or reflection occurs on data from the last assessment, teachers are thinking about what works. Action research can be formal, but it can also be a simple investigation of strategies that will work with the next lesson, trying those out, and reflecting on which ones gave the most bang for the buck. Each time a teacher goes through this process, they are refining their practice.

Highly effective teachers can be given opportunities to conduct action research, formal or informal, in place of group professional development. Ask these teachers to identify a problem they want to work on, research possible solutions, implement those ideas, reflect on the outcome and refine the practice. The action research process gives highly effective teachers the chance to hone in on their own practice. Findings can be shared with administrators during feedback sessions during evaluations, and findings can be shared with other teachers who are working on action research.

There are many models for teachers to use for the action research protocol, but at first, keep it very simple. Ask teachers what specific problems they may be encountering with their instruction. Formulate a question to be answered, then research possible solutions. Implement a possible solution, then reflect on its effectiveness. Tweak and try again. Continue the cycle until the teacher feels that the question has been answered.

When teachers talk about their own research, their own classrooms, and their own reflections, powerful conversations result.

Dr. Terri Steffes is a trainer and field support representative for the Network for Educator Effectiveness and an educational consultant for the Heart of Missouri Regional Professional Development Center. She is a retired Missouri school principal and teacher.


The Network for Educator Effectiveness (NEE) is a simple yet powerful comprehensive system for educator evaluation that helps educators grow, students learn, and schools improve. Developed by preK-12 practitioners and experts at the University of Missouri, NEE brings together classroom observation, student feedback, teacher curriculum planning, and professional development as measures of effectiveness in a secure online portal designed to promote educator growth and development.