Telling stories: sustaining improvement in schools operating under adverse conditions
We know what good schools look like but experience tells us that it is very difficult to create and maintain them, especially when they are operating under adverse conditions -constant change, limited resources, high staff and student turnover, and a concentration of first time leaders and beginning teachers. The Changing Schools in Changing Times Project 2005-7 was designed to investigate ways in which schools working under adverse conditions can engage in sustained school improvement. From the outset, the project team acknowledged that the quid pro quo of being given access to these types of heavily researched schools was the expectation that they would get something in return, and this was most often expressed in terms of some feedback on how they were progressing. Consequently, we had to find ways of working in and with the schools we were researching and, like them, we found it difficult to get people together in the same place without interruption for long enough to maintain a focus on what works and why it matters. Unremarkably, we started to write field notes, make classroom observations, take minutes of meetings and transcribe interviews, but we needed a way of supporting and documenting our observations and conversations that could be regularly and readily shared and negotiated with research participants. We started to scratch together short stories that drew on all our data sources, and shared them with each other and the research participants. The stories have come to function as both a product of the research and one of its data sources. They raise a number of questions related to their use and distribution, such as: Whose stories are they? In whose interest are they told? Do those depicted within them recognize themselves? These stories are described and discussed in this article, and the roles they are playing in the research and reform processes are critically analysed.