The capstone experience is for candidates seeking a principal endorsement, which prepares them to promote the success of the schools they lead by using a problem-solving process known as action research. Action research supports continuous school improvement through staff collaboration, data analysis, and self-reflection that furthers the well-being of the school community.
Each student will select an action research topic to investigate relevant to her/his school or classroom. This topic is one that the student has a particular interest in researching because it addresses a need of the school or her/his teaching situation. The action research capstone project does involve teachers’ own classrooms and students. In most cases, studies are implemented in the teachers’ classrooms, so they can design the investigations specifically to meet the needs of the students they instruct.
The teachers select these topics based on their relevance to current learning theories and trends, their school or students’ needs, and their personal interests. Some recent action research questions that have helped guide students’ capstone studies are listed below.
- How does the restructuring of classroom time and implementing evidence-based practices in writing instruction improve students’ writing skills?
- What effect will the development of common math rubrics at intermediate grades have on the fidelity of teacher judgment on student proficiency?
- How will the decentralization of whole-school professional development impact teacher engagement?
- What effect do restorative practices have on behavior management and student relationships in an elementary classroom?
- What is the effect of daily positive parental communication to improve attendance rates of chronically absent students?
- How will implementing retrieval practices in reading affect students’ comprehension?
Each student conducts an extensive eight-week investigation that requires them to collect evidence to answer an educational question of interest. Before implementing the investigation, the student researches their topic to examine up-to-date literature and studies that discuss the pros and cons of the intervention or program they have chosen to explore. The student describes this information in a written review of the literature.
Additionally, the student designs a plan that includes evidence to be collected during the study’s implementation to answer the action research question. This evidence may consist of the following data collection tools:
- Focus groups
Findings are described and summarized along with the literature review in a capstone report, which is presented to class colleagues and a panel of university instructors.
Benefits of the Capstone Experience
By completing the capstone experience, students will learn how a school can utilize action research to study and investigate programs and interventions to understand its effect. For example, they may ask questions like, “are the programs and interventions promoting the anticipated change?” If not, “how might they be modified or enhanced, or is additional teacher training required to ensure implementation fidelity?”
Other benefits of the capstone experience are that it demonstrates how action research promotes personal and school-wide best practices by:
- Enhancing decision-making; it is an intelligent way of making decisions
- Promoting reflection and self-assessment
- Instilling a commitment to continuous improvement
- Creating a positive school climate with a teaching and learning focus
- Impacting directly on practice
- Empowering those who participate in the practice
Through their investigations, students may find that a program or intervention needs to be modified or enhanced to work effectively with their population of learners. Contextualization is the power of action research. It empowers educators to explore ideas and their effects in their teaching environments.