I have been a teacher for 25 years, a Headteacher for 10 years and, at the age of 49, this much I know about the trouble with educational research.
Like my imaginary teacher, Masie Tubbs, the vast majority of teachers do a good job, but it is their job not an obsession. They work really hard, they juggle work and home, they get everything done as well as they can considering the demands upon them. They have years of experience, they have pretty well mastered the pedagogic basics, it’s a job they do with assured competence. They help develop responsible citizens, the examination results are good, the students’ destinations are promising. They like the students, the students like them, the parents are happy. So why would someone like Masie Tubbs feel particularly compelled to take the time to read educational research to improve her teaching at the margins of pedagogy? It’s what I call the Masie Tubbs problem and we have to solve it if we are going to increase the influence of educational research on students’ outcomes in our schools.
The educational Twitter world is very small. Those of us who blog and exchange ideas about education through Twitter are part of a small close-knit community; even a big hitter like @learningspy only has 15,000 followers, not all of whom will be teachers. Tom Bennett and Helene Galding-O’Shea’s ResearchEd 2013 conference saw a relatively small number of research-inspired teachers gather together and form what could develop into a foundation upon which to build a research-informed profession. Ben Goldacre, in his key-note speech that day, talked about what can be achieved in a decade or two, a generation or three: how teachers and researchers can network to find out what works and to do it. It will take time and spods. People like me are, according to Goldacre, spods and if we are going to see evidence-based practice widespread in teaching we’ll need few more spods yet…
(with thanks to @eyebeams)
From the Urban Dictionary, SPOD: n. Chiefly British Slang
One who spends an inordinate amount of time exchanging remarks in computer chatrooms or participating in discussions in newsgroups or on bulletin boards. Words related to spod: Geek; Nerd; boredom.
Remember the bleedin’ obvious. Teacher research has to address questions to which teachers really need an answer. It’s pointless doing research which ticks the research box but which doesn’t improve the impact of teaching upon students’ learning.
Isolating a variable is a tricky business. Undertaking research in a way that is methodologically sound is very difficult. Partnerships with professional researchers are critical if teachers are going to complete research which has any value…
Understanding the validity and import of research findings is another thing altogether. Even if we read the research, how do we know if it can help us, or whether it’s worth anything anyway? Alex Quigley’s excellent posts here and here on just this conundrum are a must read if you are interested in using research to inform your practice.
Some of the most influential research is influential because it is well-packaged. Inside the Black Box had a snappy title and it was a wonderfully thin, easily-read pamphlet. Carol Dweck has repackaged her Mindset work in a best-selling book. Marketing research effectively is a crucial part of winning over the hearts and minds of teachers.
One side of A4 maximum. If we are going to encourage Masie Tubbs to read research then we have to make the research easily accessible…
Tick boxes are really helpful. If we have established that a certain practice has a positive impact on student outcomes and if we all adopted it students would benefit significantly, then create a simple way for teachers to check they have adopted it until it becomes hard-wired into their brains. Fullan is a big checklist fan and so am I…
It’s that Bentley mantra again! If we want to increase the influence of research and develop evidence-based policy making then we need to change our structures. We are mid-way through a SLT restructure and at the heart of the new Director of Teaching and Learning’s brief is developing research-informed practice, working vertically within Huntington (green) and horizontally across collaborations regionally and nationally (yellow).
Research-led schools are hard to find. Tom Sherrington’s school seems to have systematically embedded research within the school’s DNA; their Learning Lessons website is well worth a look.
How do we learn how to teach? I’m lamenting the orchestrated dismantling of the university PGCE. The ITT courses at the University of York, for instance, are extraordinarily good compared to my training on the PGCE English course at the University of Sussex in the late ’80s. The PGCE at York has a research project as an integral element of the course. The course designers deliberately highlight the importance of being able to interpret and undertake educational research: teachers as learners from the outset – it’s the only way and whatever is replacing the modern university-based PGCE must have a distinct research element if we are going to have a research-informed profession in a decade or two, a generation or three.
Masie Tubbs or Jen Ludgate? Maybe we shouldn’t worry too much about Masie Tubbs. Maybe it’s young teachers like Jen Ludgate, in her second year of teaching, already Assistant Leader of the English Faculty, co-director of #TLT2013 who we should be inspiring to engage in a meaningful and sustained way with educational research. Inspire her now and she might be inspired to be research-savvy for a whole career; she’s more important than me as well, me with only ten career-years left. Don’t inspire her and, as Rivkin, Hanushek and Kain established through their own research, she’s unlikely to consciously improve her practice significantly for the rest of her career: There appear to be important gains in teaching quality in the first year of experience and smaller gains over the next few career years. However, there is little evidence that improvements continue after the first three years.