I have been a teacher for 25 years, a Headteacher for 10 years and, at the age of 49, this much I know about why educational research matters more than ever.
It’s OK to be unsure about what you think. In a recent post I outlined the trouble with educational research; here I argue that, in the era of ever-shrinking school budgets, it’s more important than ever to be a research-centred school…
Could you tell us about a CPD experience which has fundamentally changed the way you teach? I asked this question of a truly great teacher at interview recently and after 30 or more seconds of furrowed-foreheaded silence a bluffer’s reply mumbled across the interview table. The truth was that in over 2,000 days of teaching and 50 plus INSET days this teacher of more than a decade could not remember a single moment of meaningful advice about pedagogy.
Never blame the students if they are not learning in your lesson; instead ask yourself, What is it about my teaching that means they are not learning? I was taught this 25 years ago by Dave Bradley, an inspirational History teacher at Dorothy Stringer School and my wife’s PGCE mentor. It is a truism which all teachers should heed and the CPD experience which still prompts me to change the way I teach.
The vast amount of high quality research into pedagogy means we know what works. The trouble is, too few teachers read the research; even fewer act upon it.
The features of a good teacher are obvious to any student. Extensive student voice research by John Corrigan of Group 8 Education identified the top six characteristics of a great teacher from a student’s point of view:
My teacher respects me;
My teacher is knowledgeable in their subject;
My teacher is friendly, approachable and willing to listen;
My teacher is positive, enthusiastic and has a sense of humour;
My teacher encourages and helps me to succeed;
In class I do work that is interesting and challenging for me.
It sounds easy to be a good teacher, doesn’t it? Ask your students and I bet you a year’s salary they will give you the same answer. Group 8’s most recent research publication is well worth reading
We know what it takes to be a good school. Two of my favourite educational thinkers are Sir Tim Brighouse and Chris Husbands and between them they articulate how to set up a good school and how to improve our school system respectively.
We have to stop guessing about what works. Our budget is getting tighter and tighter; the forthcoming rise in National Insurance contributions will help matters not a jot. It is even more important, then, that every penny we have left to spend impacts positively upon improving the quality of teaching and student outcomes.
We need to know ensure that knowledge about what exactly helps children learn impacts upon our classroom practice. We haven’t got the money to experiment wildly to find out what works, and we don’t need to. Improving teaching is about working deliberately at the margins of our practice. At Huntington we use our educated intuition about what works, alongside the relevant educational research, to shape our school improvement strategies. We focus heavily upon implementation of strategies and we evaluate, evaluate, evaluate. It is a model we are refining with the help of Dr Jonathan Sharples, who is currently working with the Education Endowment Foundation. If you want to find out more about how we are becoming a (cost-efficient) research-centred school – and hear some brilliant speakers to boot – then please come to the NTEN/ResearchEd conference we are hosting on 3 May. A Bank Holiday weekend away in the UK’s most romantic city with Tom Bennett and Helene Galdin-O’Shea thrown in – you know it makes sense!