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Research methodology

March 1, 2015


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The purpose of this qualitative study is to use grounded theory methods to generate theory on coaching where none currently exists in education. Within the interpretivist framework adopted, narrative inquiry will be a means by which the organisational culture of the case study school is explored through individual staff members’ perspectives (Marshall & Rossman, 2006).

The researcher

is seen as the primary instrument for data collection and analysis (Punch, 2000, p. 57),

thus participant and non-participant observations, along with semi-structured interviewing, and ongoing coaching conversations based on daily teaching practices – also recorded as photographic artefacts  – contribute to data collection.

Given that the stated intention of the inquiry is to generate theory about the perspectives of staff on what they consider to be coaching in secondary public schools in Perth, Western Australia, conflicting storylines in the form of collected narrative vignettes were anticipated, and subsequently confirmed during pilot interviews which necessitate a flexible approach to the study.


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While creative review of the literature was underway, contradictions emerged in the case study school, however reassurance was drawn from acknowledgement that

cognitive dissonance has long been considered to be a valuable learning experience (O’Donoghue, 2007, p. xi).

In particular, time was perceived as a pressing constraint. Theoretical sampling also necessitates flexibility since emerging contrasts in data collection serve both to enable points of comparison and blur boundaries of the analytical process (Dey, 2004). Inevitably, complexities arise, especially as the case study school confronted an IPS review and the previous year’s survey findings provoked concern.

According to critics of grounded theory, grappling with complex procedures of generating and analysing data

should not blind us to its ambiguities and problems (Dey, 2004, p. 81).

Reflective practices undertaken during this inquiry were seen generating feedback loops which, of themselves, assisted in shaping understanding of, and insights to, development of theory (Schon, 1983).

Groundsel calyx and pappus (6)

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Attendant procedures relevant to this study are derived from:

  • Action in practice
  • Feedback
  • School change
  • Leadership practices
  • Attending to trust

As both a participant in a formal leadership role, and observer analysing the case study school’s processes, ethical considerations were paramount: Staff were invited to participate in the study; questions were shared and discussed prior to interviews being undertaken; identities are concealed in order to ensure anonymity; and draft transcripts were returned to interviewees to prompt further insights, confirm perspectives, and maintain integrity of theories expressed. While informed consent was obtained as subjects were invited to participate in the study, ensuring security of data and primary materials was a negotiated process, especially where storage of photographic records was involved (Australian Government, 2007).

Limitations of the study

There are a number of limitations to this work. By design, the participants were selected due to availability in the local context. The small scale of the study renders conclusions highly specific in nature.  While findings may be transferable, any generalisations are offered with caution. Raising these considerations here serves as a reminder that

the study is bounded and situated in a  specific context. The reader, then, can make decisions about its usefulness for other settings (Marshall & Rossman, 2006, p. 42).

Selected references

Australian Government. (2007). Australian code for the responsible conduct of research. National Health and Medical Research Council publication. Retrieved February 1, 2015

Dey, I. (2004). Grounded theory. In Seale, C., Gobo, G., Gubrium, J.F. & Silverman, D. (Eds.). Qualitative research practice. London: Sage, pp. 80—93.

Marshall, C. & Rossman, G.B. (2006). Designing qualitative research (4th Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

O’Donoghue, T. (2007). Planning your qualitative research project: An introduction to interpretivist research in education. Oxon: Routledge.

Punch, K. F. (2000). Developing effective research proposals. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Schon, D.A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York:  Basic Books.

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