Assignment One

Practitioner to Researcher – a circuitous path

A post-graduate level investigation of the research question “What are the highly successful strategies that improve student attendance in Queensland state secondary schools?” commences when one develops a deep connection to, and concern for, the status of a problem or issue. In my daily work as a Principal of a large Logan City high school my team refer to the concept of “problems of practice” to describe what Schön (1991) details as an evolving issue or challenge that professionals face. For school leaders, improving student attendance is one of these. In Queensland state schools, the average rate of attendance is ninety-one per cent (Queensland Department of Education, 2016) and for a plethora of societal benefits this figure must increase.

For more than a decade, I have led schools in low socio-economic communities where increasing low student attendance rates is one of the many challenging aspects of improving school performance. My experience is that poor student attendance has a detrimental effect on student learning, school tone, teacher morale, and public perception of the school as a preference for enrolment. My own anecdotal observation is supported by significant research conducted over many years that details the negative effects of poor student attendance (Gottfried, 2013; Balfanz & Byrnes, 2012; Reid, 2007; Rothman, 2002).

Success in improving student attendance rates is achieved when an entire school team combine to enact specific strategies that support students to feel a connectedness to school (Taylor, 2010). At my previous school, the team I led experienced great success in lifting an alarming attendance rate of seventy-seven per cent to eighty-nine per cent over the course of five years. This resulted in not only drastically improved student learning performance and a much calmer, purposeful learning environment, but increased staff satisfaction and happier children. As we moved through the journey, the stark realisation I experienced was that improved student attendance also positively impacted the school in many secondary and tertiary ways. What started out as an intervention for learning, actually became a vehicle to also improve student behaviour, uniform, and a collective sense of self-worth and purpose. Students who want to be at school behave like they do. System recognition followed in the form of case studies (Queensland Audit Office, 2012) and regional and state awards. More importantly though, the experience equipped me with a range of skills and strategies that I continue to hone and refine in order to enhance my own learning, and naturally improvement, for my current cohort of students.

My current school is also located in a low socio-economic area. The school attendance rate of just under ninety-three per cent is above the state average. The vast suite of strategies that we have enacted has improved this from eighty-nine per cent three years ago. These experiences, and my parallel observation that other schools have not made similar strides, has driven me to want to enact real change in the skill set within the profession. This drive is the reason why I have commenced a professional doctorate with student attendance improvement as the focus. It is my intention to not only commence a rich conversation with professional colleagues who face the challenge of increasing low levels of student attendance, but also to play a key role in sustained system improvement. Davies, Eggins and King (2013) explain the importance of the notion of “self-promotion” to enact change and this is a challenge I must navigate. I will need to develop specific, targeted strategies to realise the appropriate mode to achieve an outcome that isn’t just about me promoting myself, but supporting the field in the domain of student attendance. Sharing and genuinely engaging in co-learning with secondary school leadership teams is a key goal of this research project.

The academic journey thus far has been one of immense personal growth and realisation for me. At first, I experienced trepidation based on a lack of confidence that I belonged at this level of learning. I have always felt comfortable in my professional skin, and proven performance allows this to develop and grow. The academic world was initially an entirely different experience however, and again it took some success with navigating research, adapting to academic writing and indeed receiving feedback to develop my sense of belonging. This process though has allowed me to deeply explore the construct of my research plan and the winding nature of its path has been thoroughly worthwhile. What commenced as a fairly straightforward and rudimentary quantitative study of schools demonstrating consistent performance in maintaining high rates of student attendance, has morphed into a much more exciting, deep and, hopefully, worthwhile mixed-mode, two-component process. The final product will include a series of collective stories for analysis and a co-constructed (between researcher and school teams) student attendance improvement model.

Component one of the research project is designed to answer the sub-question: Which Queensland state secondary schools reported the highest average student attendance over the years 2013-2015? Answering the sub-question will provide the preliminary data to form the sample group for further investigation during component two of the research project. Interviews and document analysis will deliver collective stories and the co-created student attendance improvement model. I have developed my understanding of how to frame sub-questions, and target the important themes that are critical to answer the research question.

At present, I am engaging in deep thinking about how I wish to deliver the final product (a student attendance improvement model) post-research. Naturally, the completed thesis will conform to the requirements that satisfy the awarding of the qualification, but beyond that I am beginning to explore how I can contribute to networks and organisations that support the goal of improving student attendance across schools and systems. The work of Mewburn and Thompson (2013) is new to me and I have been delving into different academics’ online work to generate ideas and plans about how to share the model, alongside my existing practical skill set. Indeed, Mewburn’s (2016) comments about the importance of succinctness within the three minute thesis resonated with me because it is a very similar principle that I am trying to instil in my middle leadership team. That is, to share critical information in sentences of no more than nine words. My current thinking is to develop a precise and concise online presence through a blog that shares key, easily implementable strategies whilst researching so as to build momentum prior to completion. I am aware of the possible pitfalls of developing a blog and will proceed with caution. As advised by Dufty-Jones (2015) there are risks associated with online modes, including neglecting one’s primary audience. From here, it will be a case of leaping into an unfamiliar medium, whilst seeking to achieve the goal of improving student attendance in Queensland state secondary schools…………


Balfanz, R., & Byrnes, V. (2012). The Importance of Being in School: A Report on Absenteeism in the Nation’s Public Schools. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools.

Davies, M., Eggins, M., & King, M. (2013). Maintaining a “Digital Profile” under Web 2.0. Australian Universities Review, 55(1), 80-82.

Dufty-Jones, R. (2015). Cyberspace, the “Blog” and Research Writing. Conversations with AUSCCER, Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (University of Wollongong). Retrieved from

Gottfried, M.A. (2013). Retained students and classmates' absences in urban schools. American Educational Research Journal, 50, 1392-1398. doi:10.3102/0002831213498810

Mewburn, I. (2016). The importance of being interesting. The Thesis Whisperer. Retrieved from

Mewburn, I. & Thomson, P. (2013). Why do academics blog? An analysis of audiences, purposes and challenges. Studies in Higher Education, 38(8), 1105-1119. doi:10.1080/03075079.2013.835624

Queensland Audit Office. (2012). Improving Student Attendance. Retrieved from

Queensland Department of Education and Training. (2016). Performance insights. School attendance strategies: A result of a survey of Queensland state school leaders. Retrieved from

Reid, K. (2007). Managing school attendance: the professional perspective. Teacher Development, 11(1), 21-43. doi:10.1080/13664530701194652

Rothman, S. (2002). Student absence in South Australian schools. Australian Educational Researcher, 29(1), 69-91.

Schön, D. A. (1991). The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. Aldershot: Avebury.

Taylor, A. (2010). Here and now: the attendance issue in Indigenous early childhood education. Journal of Education Policy, 25(5), 677-699. doi:10.1080/02680939.2010.493225

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