Resilience in Crisis: Developing Community Through Action Research

Resilience in Crisis: Developing Community Through Action Research

Alina Slapac, Sarah A. Coppersmith, Kathryn G. O'Brien, Phyllis Balcerzak
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6922-1.ch002
Chapter PDF Download
Open access chapters are freely available for download


Teacher action research serves as a framework that can transform practice while supporting inquiry, investigation, and problem-solving. This chapter provides a research report on the challenges experienced, strategies used, and lessons learned from 41 graduate education teacher-researchers who designed and implemented their own educational research during the COVID-19 crisis as part of their Action Research Capstone course before graduation. Graduate students were enrolled in three sections of the Action Research course in a Midwestern university. Methodology included a qualitative approach to data collection and analysis. Findings from discussion board posts, reflections, and research papers captured challenges in facing COVID-19, yet participants' engagement in the community of learners within the course ameliorated and buffered stress, trauma, and compassion fatigue felt due to the pandemic's impact on these frontline workers.
Chapter Preview


Teachers, parents, administrators, and children in schools were caught off-guard and were unprepared for the immediate transitions required during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic (Duncan, 2020). Challenges included a lack of resources such as professional development, technology, connectivity, and “digital skills training” for the families and educators working to ensure engaging online learning opportunities for all (Duncan, 2020, p. A11). As a result of these and other severe adjustments required during the crisis, “the level of stress for educators rose exponentially” (Fasanella, 2020, p. 191). The impacts of the pandemic occurred in schools from the United States to China (Wong & Moorhouse, 2020; Yang, et al., 2020), where teachers and students experienced physical and mental stress together and researchers worked to examine the phenomena. Resources then quickly emerged to help the over 90 percent of educators reporting high levels of stress and sacrifice during the crisis (Carello, 2019; Fasanella, 2020).

Four instructors, who taught an online graduate action research course during the pandemic, where most of the graduate students were classroom teachers by day and were also working toward their Master’s in Education, decided to study their graduate teacher-researchers’ daily challenges caused by the pandemic, the ways that they overcame those challenges, and what they took away from this unique experience as teacher action researchers. The focus of this study centers on the challenges faced by the graduate researchers in their classroom settings while accomplishing the required action research projects.

For over 20 years, the master’s degree program in this midwestern university’s College of Education has promoted action research as a strategy to reflectively improve teaching practice while enacting innovations (Herr & Anderson, 2014; Slapac & Navarro, 2011; Zeni, 2001). The program’s focus on teachers as agents of change has resulted in an accumulation of reports documenting the power of action research to build confidence and competence for both new and experienced teachers in order to meet the daily rigor of the profession. Recently, the topics upon which some teachers focused began to shift from issues around traditional pedagogical practices to the mental health of students and, subsequently, to their own personal struggles and challenges. In one author’s courses, from 2016-2018, for example, 35 percent of the report topics were focused on how to improve responses to student behavior caused by histories of trauma. During these same years there was only one study that addressed a teacher’s socio-emotional health. During 2019, three of 30 teachers addressed the topic of what they called, ‘teacher burn-out’ and ‘socio-emotional health of teachers. As with all other stressors on our institutions, the pandemic amplified this parallel dilemma of the teachers’ experiences of secondary trauma and their capacity to meet increasing challenges to students’ emotional health. During 2020 and under the influence of the pandemic, the number of teachers who identified their personal mental health as a priority tripled.

Building on the tradition of encouraging the study of issues present and important to our graduate students, we intentionally designed and taught our courses to provide a situated, supportive environment where they could inquire, reflect, learn, and adopt action research projects to benefit their learners and themselves during one of the most challenging times in global history. While we made some assumptions about the power of inquiry to solve problems, the evidence in this study illuminates concrete affordances and challenges faced by these practitioners in their own unique settings as they engaged in action research projects to improve their practice. To focus our inquiry, we collaboratively developed the following research questions:

  • 1.

    What were the main challenges teachers/educators encountered while doing action research during the COVID-19 pandemic?

  • 2.

    What were the strategies used by teachers/educators to overcome those challenges?

  • 3.

    How have the pandemic times influenced teachers/educators’ resilience and growth?

  • 4.

    What were the most relevant lessons teachers/educators learned from the action research experience for their professional career?

Evidence collected from teacher participants situated within an action research course shed light on how teachers navigated service to their students while providing insights into their own self-resiliency.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Digital Skills Training: Organized instruction providing competency in digital literacy for communicating, interacting, teaching, and networking using a variety of devices and platforms in the classroom and online.

In/Out Teaching: In person, classroom learning that alternates with virtual school during quarantine, a “one or the other” approach.

Student Engagement: The degree to which a student demonstrates interest, initiative, curiosity, and attention in a learning setting. This may be in a brick-and-mortar or virtual classroom, and may occur in a synchronous or asynchronous environment.

Resilient Teaching Techniques: Adaptations applied to instructional processes, expectations, and learning environments including strategies to support learners at all levels during times of stress, crisis, or disruption.

IEP (Individualized Educational Plan): The IEP is a written plan created by a school district and parents containing goals and services for individual students who receive special education in the United States.

Zoom: Online video conferencing tool supporting communication via virtual interactions.

Hybrid Teaching: Weekly classes in-person and online, state-wide and school-district-wide, for K-12 (kindergarten - Grade 12) grades. In the United States, hybrid teaching was introduced during the pandemic for safety purposes.

Classroom Action Research: Teachers inquire into their own practice, reflect on classroom challenges, and choose a structured course of action to solve a problem using a process of data collection, analysis, and action.

Resilience: The ability to devise creative strategies for moving forward in adverse circumstances.

Situated Learning: Learning that is positioned within a context featuring participation and interaction with others.

Discussion Board: Online learning management system platform allowing a framework for communication between class participants within a course.

Trauma-Informed Teaching Approach: Awareness, knowledge, and skills for educators of the need for specific approaches to fostering safe, supportive learning environments for students who may have experienced prior trauma.

Voicethread: Tool within an online course allowing video, audio, and text-based interactions as a platform for collaborative learning.

Community of Learners: Individuals working together toward similar goals, who collaboratively engage in mutual support, critique, problem posing, and solution finding.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: