Deputy Head Veronica Waldie recently attended a conference jointly hosted by the National Teacher Enquiry Network and researchEd at Huntington School in York. Here are her reflections on the day.
Why I went
I went to the ResearchED Conference hoping to be inspired, hoping to learn.
In school we are beginning conversations around “big issues “ such as how we can define, assure and improve the quality of teaching and learning.
I went to this conference to both deepen and clarify my own thoughts and to find ideas and practices which we could develop in school.
What I learnt
The conference undoubtedly helped me to do did this.
Part of this was because so much resonated with where we are as a school – with fires lit; a resurgence of interest in teaching and learning and the beginnings of curiosity about how research could help us to improve further.
However, there was also a buzz, an enthusiasm and a level of intellectual challenge which I have rarely encountered at CPD events. The speakers were all warm, engaging and inspiring. Above all, I felt the conference was a reflection of a positive and passionate movement for change, which we are starting to feel at the heart of our school.
What follows are my summaries of the sessions I attended. These deliberately concentrate on those aspects of most significance to us.
John Tomsett- Research Matters
This focussed on the question of how to get teachers interested in research and how this can make a difference.
Key points were:
- A key role of SLT is to create conditions for growth for teachers. More specifically, to develop a professional culture where teachers are working at the margins of their practice and are using research to help improve this. Part of how we will do this is by removing a culture of fear – for example, by taking away judgements from lesson observations.
We also need to:
- Keep a clear focus on impact – on “the Golden Thread “linking research to improving student outcomes.
- Think very carefully about processes. Implementation really matters.
- Put energy into evaluation.
Mary Myatt- High challenge, low threat: Micro research in a macro world
This started by “de-mystifying” research, defining this as:
“actively thinking about practice and its impact on learning “
Other key points were:
- We all need challenge and stimulus – the converse is sterility.
- Innovation and research should not be high stakes – we need high challenge but low threat
- Mistakes can be a trigger for renewed insight – as long as what we do is legal, honest & decent we can afford to be wrong
- Don’t wait for everything to be in place to start. Go for brilliance not perfection
- Keep research manageable, very specific in focus and related to immediate practice
- Recognise that what we learn through a focus on one practice or on one child can impact much more widely
- Engaging in research can release huge amounts of positive energy and enthusiasm is infectious.
David Weston – What methods of “knowledge transfer“ and CPD will help teachers use research?
This started with a reminder that learning happens when:
- We are motivated to pay attention
- We are motivated to remain resilient; to put in time and effort; to reflect; to practise and to seek new knowledge
- We have the opportunity to connect new learning & skills to existing experience
- We are able to do this over time
For CPD to be effective it needs these characteristics.
Other specific points were:
- The value of NTEN lesson study is that it makes tacit, implicit, habitual knowledge explicit and draws on the power of the interplay between theory or expectation and reality
- In schools we need CPD toolkits with different strategies to inform, to influence and to embed
- Clarity of evaluation should start before we engage in any research or innovation – by asking ourselves: “which students will benefit; in which way and how will we know?”
Keven Bartle – Bottoms up
Keven focussed on teaching schools, with a theme of inverting hierarchies.
Key points were:
- The need to remember what it feels like to be at the bottom of a hierarchy
- The importance of “doing it well; doing it right; ensuring it lasts”
- The value of a “Trojan mouse” approach – empowering teachers to make small changes for big impact – rather than top-down “Trojan horse” initiatives
- Developing these ideas in practice-for example, teacher rounds – rather than (SLT) learning walks
Jill Berry – How to grow the next generation of school leaders
This focussed on behaviours and attributes needed to take organisations into the future. Jill identified that leaders need to:
- develop different professional persona and support networks
- deal sensitively with legacy – with “ ghosts of principles past”
- have hope, humanity, humility and humour (quoting from John Dunford)
Tom Bennett – Idiocracy – how did we get so stupid?
This presentation highlighted the harm muddled thinking and “bad science “ can and have caused in teaching.
More specifically, caution is needed in accepting “evidence” as:
- There is difference between RCTs conducted on buckets of water and on people
- Social science is useful as a commentary on human behaviour but does not provide normative laws
- We should always question the agenda of those who present “evidence”
- This doesn’t mean we should not engage with research. We actually need to bring research and practice closer – we need to ask the right questions to find what works for us, for our learners
- Suggestions for how to do this include “wise line management “ or “constructive tasking“ and creating research champions in schools
Stephen Tierney – The Babylon and Jerusalem of Professional Development
Stephen explored the tensions between the Jerusalem of professional development – where we gather people in one place at one time to “deliver what the new ritual will be“ and the Babylon – “wild”, more personal professional development , focussed on creating rather than passing on wisdom.
He suggested that Joint Practice Development may be a way of bringing these together and developing “Disciplined Innovation”
Further key points included the need to:
- Create opportunities for people to grow
- Give time and allow time as most innovations are abandoned before they reach maturity
- Be pragmatic– doing fewer things better leads to improved outcomes
- Evaluate – quantitative & qualitative evaluations are both valuable & valid – not evaluating is not
Specific ideas included creating or providing:
- Innovation Fellows
- System Redesign TLRs
- R & D communities
- Voluntary INSET
- Seed funding
Overall the speakers conveyed a passionate belief that when research and experience align we can create a growth culture for teachers and students alike. It also helped demystify research -research is already happening in schools and is profound in its ability to raise energy and passion. Clearly we need to recognise strengths and limitations – research evidence is complex; can be flawed and subject to conflicting agendas but can also be of real value. As John Tomsett pointed out, however, to have real impact, research must help us move from what we know to what we do.
What difference will it make and why it matters
At the point where we are planning for next year – and at time of massive curriculum innovation in school – I believe having these ideas as part of our dialogue from the start will make a difference.
As a first step, we want to make even more sure that the “good stuff” we already do is caught, shared, lifted and trialled. (Eduflections).
To develop further, joining NTEN and investing in technology, such as IRIS, could help.
We also want our professional development to be the best – to be “aspirational, collaborative, relevant, differentiated, sustained, underpinned by research and evaluated” (David Weston) Having this as our goal from the start, and planning meticulously for this, means it is more likely to happen.
More fundamentally, however, as a school I believe we are highly motivated by the need to make a difference, by a moral imperative to narrow gaps and improve outcomes for all. We know we will do this most effectively by improving teaching and learning, and everything we spend our time on should support this. Systematically reflecting and questioning all our practice is an essential part of this.
I will finish with an extract, quoted by John Tomsett, which I believe shows how doing this can help us create the school we all want:
“I would welcome the chance to work in a school characterised by a high level of collegiality, a place teeming with frequent, helpful personal and professional interactions……..where a climate of risk taking is deliberately fostered and where a safety net protects those who may risk and stumble……..where important differences…….were celebrated…….and which accorded a special place to philosophers who constantly examine and question……….”
Roland S Barth – A Personal Vision of an Idealised School Culture