During the 2022 – 2023 school year, the Tang Institute partnered with ten educators from across the United States to launch the Action Research Program—a collection of projects aimed at implementing stronger approaches to student support in the educators’ school environments. Throughout the year, they learned to apply the principles of improvement science with guidance from Dr. Rebecca Stilwell, organizational psychologist at Teachers College, Columbia University. Now that a year has passed, we’re catching up with the educators to learn how their projects have progressed.

In this post, Thắm Thị Thu Trần details the enduring lessons from her Action Research project, Improving the Collaborative Communication of Buddhist Youth in Massachusetts,” which aims to support students as they develop self-advocacy and related skills. Thắm Thị Thu Trần is the director of Tường Vân Buddhist Youth at the Chùa Tường Vân temple in Lowell, Mass.


Describe your Action Research project.

The action research project connects to a youth program — Tường Vân Buddhist Youth — at the Chùa Tường Vân temple with a goal of enhancing youth teamwork skills by bolstering the self-efficacy of young people. Given this focus of the project, the Improvement Science framework at the center of the Action Research program played an impactful role in developing the project.

What did you hope to achieve at the start of the project and what have you achieved up to this point?

At the beginning, we set the goal of improving young people’s collaboration skills and to do so through a series of leadership workshops.

The project started by analyzing data gathered about the program participants, including the challenges and opportunities associated with the program. We identified collaboration as something that our young people needed to develop and so started to brainstorm how we could best support the development of this skill. We came up with the idea of a leadership workshop that would be offered to a core group of students. We chose 16 youth members who are representative of the program’s groups and who demonstrated the passion, commitment, and eagerness to participate in the leadership workshop. They took part in monthly discussions with fellow leaders, in addition to participating in the weekly programming along with the rest of the youth participants. Since November 2022, we have held monthly leadership workshops and, along the way, gathered data to understand the workshop’s effectiveness.

From the survey, we found the young leaders have each made a positive transformation. For those who tended to be shy or passive, they have developed a sense of confidence through the monthly workshop. As well, we found that the leadership workshop benefitted not only the core students but also contributed to the self-efficacy of all members of the youth program. After the core leaders participate in the monthly workshop, we invite them to apply what they have learned to the weekly program and, in particular, to support and guide their peers. Because of the lessons imparted through the workshops, these young people have the know-how to manage and lead and positively influence their program peers. There is clear evidence of the workshop impact that is reflected in the youth teamwork project work. There are lots of teamwork projects for program participants to carry out and, therefore, many opportunities to observe the effect of the leadership workshops. Our team has been pleased to witness the young people working well in groups and strengthening bonds among group members.

What is your learning through the current phase(s) of your project work? Is there something that has further inspired your work or served as a reminder of the continued relevance of the work?

We have learned that fostering solidarity and commitment are crucial for improvement. The success of each workshop has reinforced our aspiration to maintain the leadership workshop as a component of our youth program. Over time, we want to be able to strengthen the youth program both in terms of quality and quantity. In order to sustain our success in equipping youth with the skill of collaboration, the workshop represents an important component of the program’s development.

We have also learned the significance of self-efficacy, or the belief in our ability to accomplish certain tasks. How do we support students in realizing self-efficacy in themselves and in their daily actions? There are four self-efficacy components that we have included in the leadership workshops:

  • Setting realistic but challenging goals
  • Identifying a role model who has overcome challenges (and so can inspire motivation)
  • Finding a mentor who can provide guidance and reinforce efficacy through their knowledge and practical experience
  • Paying attention to one’s own physiological states, including emotion and mood

The work of the program has inspired our program’s staff, and we are fortunate to be able to share our findings with others. We presented at the 2023 National Association for Multicultural Education’s (NAME) annual international conference, which served as an opportunity to share our resources and activities with others, something we are keen to keep doing. We continue to develop our program and look closely at what we can do to make the workshop even more relevant, interesting, and inspiring for young leaders. We are engaged in a process of regular reflection and continuous improvement — and our reflection to date has reinforced for us the importance of the workshop programming as a means of promoting positive outcomes for young people.

Please share your thoughts about your experience working with the Action Research cohort, including guide and facilitator Dr. Rebecca Stilwell. How did working with fellow educators help you design and develop the ideas and research at the center of your project?

I would like to express my deep gratitude to Andy Housiaux, Rebecca Stilwell, and Susannah Reed Poland for their efforts in establishing the Tang Action Research Program and for their insightful instruction and guidance. Additionally, I would like to thank the cohort for collaborating in this endeavor. The group sessions facilitated valuable discussions that enriched my understanding of Action Research concepts and their practical applications, while also shedding light on common challenges and insights. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the staff at Tuong Van Buddhist Youth for their unwavering support and companionship throughout the Action Research process. My heartfelt appreciation also goes to the youth members who actively participated in our youth program.

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