In June 2022, educators from around the United States were invited to apply to a year-long Action Research Program supported by the Tang Institute and framed by Dr. Rebecca Stilwell, lecturer at the Klingenstein Center, Teachers College, Columbia University. The cohort of educators generated insights into transitions at their schools by designing and implementing approaches for better supporting students in their home communities. Guided by Dr. Stillwell’s approach to Action Research, participants conducted interventions across a variety of contexts, such as Improving the Collaborative Communication of Buddhist Youth in Massachusetts” and Ready for the First Days: What Students Actually Need to Make a Successful Transition from Middle to Upper School.”


One example is Tang Fellow María Martínez, who used the Action Research approach to redesign her Spanish curriculum. Phillips Academy students observed Martínez’s Spanish class and conducted observations that yielded recommendations for a revised syllabus. Martínez used the feedback to redesign the course. The process built student agency, and when the students who conducted the observations eventually took Martínez’s course, they were more engaged and motivated because the syllabus had more meaning for them. Susannah Poland, project coordinator for the Action Research project, said, The project can support an astonishing amount of system change, more than maybe we imagine.”


System change takes a long time and requires diligent gathering and presentation of data. The work is sure to take baby steps (but it does snowball into actionable changes).

Takeaways & Best Practices

Action Research allows participants to think in new ways about how they gather data and assess what is relevant to student learning by empowering them to partner with learners on course development.

Through the Action Research project, students at Phillips Academy have been empowered to build coalitions around environmental sustainability. This coalition is currently undergoing an audit of Phillips Academy courses in an attempt to identify courses that teach modules on sustainability.

By empowering students to take ownership over their learning, the Action Research project can create pedagogical and subject alignment across courses at PA. Student capacities around environmentalism will surely improve, because courses will not be repeating topics, and aligned curriculums allow PA to scale up the sophistication of instruction from one course to the next.

Bottom Line

Action Research centers individuality in the research process, providing opportunities to lift up youth voices and build agency into curricula.


In addition to the Tang Fellows listed above, participants included:

  • Nelle Andrews, Miss Porter’s School, Farmington, CT
  • Jane Beckwith, Holland Hall, Tulsa, OK
  • Oris T. Bryant and Talya Sokoll, Noble and Greenough School, Dedham, MA
  • Will Miller and Bee Stribling, Moorestown Friends School, Moorestown, NJ
  • Kurt Prescott, Humanities Instructor and Institutional Research Apprentice, Maret School, Washington, DC
  • Tham Tran of Chua Tuong Van, Buddhist Temple, Lowell, MA
  • Chua Tuong Van, The Buddhist Youth Program, affiliate of the Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Association in the United States, Lowell, MA

    *Susannah Poland 07 served as the project coordinator of the Action Research project.


Related Blog Posts

Learn more about our Action Research program through blog posts written by the participants.

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