Research like a champion..do schools need ‘research leads’?

“It is evidence that will liberate the teaching profession from (its) shackles.”

(Nick Gibb Research Ed conference, London, 6th September 2014)

“Teachers know thy impact! Expert teachers are not wedded to specific teaching strategies- rather they regularly focus on evaluating the effects they have on students, and adjust teaching methods accordingly” (John Hattie 2009)

“The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing” (Socrates)

 

I’ve been wanting to write this blog for quite some time and much of what is in it, has been sat in draft form for quite a few weeks, unfinished, partly because I’ve been mega busy and partly due to procrastinating over it, I guess because it’s something that matters to me. Recently I’ve been observing with great interest the rise of the ‘research champs/leads/advocates’, Alex Quigley at Huntingdon, Carl Hendrick at Wellington to name a couple and the move by some schools to formally create roles for such talented individuals to act as research leads.

 

Messiah (noun) A saviour

Life-Of-Brian

I’m not normally cautious when something new comes along in education, quite the opposite, a self-confessed “hyper puppy evangelist of the new” as described by Tom Sherrington in his blog on barriers to effective CPD. There is a place for being excitable and enthusiastic as an educator yet as Robert Coe states “excitement is a dangerous thing in education and we get excited about a lot of stuff that does not work”.

Personally I really really do not want the role of the research champs to be a passing fad, I’m sure we have all paid homage to ”the next big thing” and as educators we are all weary of anything that may lay claim to being the next magic bullet. (SPOILER ALERT: there is no magic bullet in education). As Carl Hendrick points out in his marvellous article ‘Why every school needs a research champion’ ” There should be no single, ‘best’ way of teaching but rather a deeply reflective approach informed by high-quality evidence and appropriate for the specific context in which it is applied. We need to get rid of the phrase ‘best practice’ and replace it with ‘reflective’ or ‘informed’ practice.”

Engaging teachers with research (and school leaders putting structures in place that allow the busy classroom practitioner the time and support) to engage with (and in) research for me has the potential to be game changing and is long overdue.

The emphasis on research informed practice has been part of a wider revolution in CPD, which over the last couple of years, has seen forward thinking schools and educators taking charge of their own professional development. A rise in attendance at teach meets, teachers blogging about education as a way of reflecting on their practice, teachers using Twitter/facebook to connect with other educators on a global scale and the current drive for teaching to truly become an evidence based practice; with teachers encouraged to carry out classroom based research to measure the impact of the strategies they are using with their students.

Teaching isn’t an exact science though (which is why I love it), we’ve all taught the same lesson twice to different groups, for it to work wonderfully period one and for it to flop two lessons later with no real plausible explanation , different times of the day, different kids, the weather, a different member of staff delivering, different school contexts….there are a million and one variables that make measuring impact difficult (if nigh on impossible).

This is summed up perfectly by @turnfordblog in their post ‘A refreshing lack of certainty: Reflections on researchED 2014’ who reflect on talks they went to by Martin Robinson and David Didau at the recent ResearchED conference.

“Science isn’t about imposing ‘truth’ upon the world. Science is a system of asking sceptical questions to the world and finding (over time, with plenty of false trails and occasional backtracking) slightly better answers…..David Didau completed the day by making exactly this point; that whatever we think we know, we’re probably wrong. He gave some excellent examples of cognitive biases; the in-built flaws in our natural capacity for reasoning. This is why the processes of science – it’s obsession with minimising bias, improving validity and reliability – are so important….the intellectually honest answer to ‘what works’ is probably ‘we don’t really know’. There are promising clues, tantalising hints and tentative suggestions, and some things that we can be pretty darn sure really don’t work. But this refreshing lack of certainty is the starting point that promises real change within education. At the last, it’s only when we become dissatisfied with answers we possess that we start to ask better questions.”

 

Champion (noun) 1. A person or thing that has defeated all the others in a sport or competition 2. Someone who supports a cause by fighting, speaking etc

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There has been much discussion bandied about on Twitter about what we should call people who take on research lead roles in school (see Kev Bartle’s excellent post ‘Confessions of a wondering horse’). I share the opinion of many that perhaps ”champion” isn’t the right impression those undertaking this role want to convey to other staff.  “Champ” reminds me of of going to the pictures in the 80s to see Rocky (showing my age), Ivan Drago “I must break you”, Apollo Creed and Eye of the Tiger blaring in the background…. then again not sure I’m digging Kev’s Research Advocate either..I would expect someone with the title of an ”advocate” to be a bit dull, it’s not grabbing me (sorry Kev!).

Alternative? for me I’ve not really heard anything that improves on “Director of Research & Development”. However if you can think of anything with a bit more sex appeal then give your suggestions in the comments below!

 

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The way forward

Key Questions for schools:

  • Where are we now? Where would we like to be?
  • What does quality educational research look like?
  • How to engage staff ‘in’ carrying out research?
  • How to engage staff ‘with’ external research?
  • How do we share findings?
  • How do we measure the impact of research based approaches to developing T&L?

Possible barriers to research informed practice:

  • Time and space to engage ‘with’ research and ‘in’ research. Getting teachers to read stuff, let alone carry out their own research
  • Lack of clarity about what research is
  • Lack of teacher expertise in carrying out research, how do we make carrying out research a rigorous process?
  • Lack of relevance of some external research
  • Conflicting external research
  • Research ethics?

Developing a research based community: Key features

  • Appoint research lead person. “If schools are to genuinely move towards becoming effective users, synthesisers and creators of research that improves education for the better, then they need to invest all their capital in the many, not the one and, in doing so, recognise that research in education cannot be boiled down to a single unifying message. Instead of driving or exemplifying or critiquing, the Research Leads in schools need to create capacity for their staff of champions to do all of these things for themselves” (Keven Bartle)
  • Modelling the research process : Provide case study specific examples of classroom based research as carried out within own context. Examples of how new ideas could be implemented in practice.(formulate question-develop methodology-conduct lesson study-report findings).
  • Staff engagement with external research: Create opportunities for staff to discuss evidence (book club, social media, blog of the week?).
  • Staff engagement in internal research: Staff receive training in lesson study/research methods. Develop competencies in carrying out action research. Co-ordinate lesson study.
  • Disseminating internal research: Celebrate projects through termly T&L bulletin, school T&L Blog/website, T&L Twitter account, staff learning and research journal published at the end of the academic year, the ”hyper puppy” in me gets majorly over excited when I see how far some schools have gone with this! (see Sandringham learning journal or KEGS Leading edge and learning lessons), internal teachmeet/marketplace, share research projects across schools in similar contexts (bigger sample sizes). Measuring impact?
  • Disseminating external research: Research lead to mobilise the wider evidence base, filter it down, share with staff through T&L bulletin, making it easier for the ‘busy’ classroom teacher to engage with research.
  • External links and partnerships: Create links between schools and the  researchers. Link with university education departments?working together to build sustained research informed partnerships. Advice on carrying out research or getting involved with their research. JPD-Develop partnerships with other schools to get bigger sample sizes.

 

Useful links:

School Research: How, what, and why:
Six things school leaders should know about educational research.
(John Hattie)

Bridging the gap between academic research and classroom practice by @SLTeachmeet (@Teachertoolkit)

Confessions of a wondering horse (@Kevbartle)

Research Champion/Lead/Overlord/Jedi: A ResearchED thing (@bethgg)

Do your homework: Acting on evidence from educational research (@headguruteacher)

A refreshing lack of certainty: Reflections on researched 2014 (@turnfordblog)

One word mission statement for the ResearchED movement (@pedagog_machine)

#rED14 Lunch of Research Champions: A Tabula Rasa (@C_Hendrick)

Why every school needs a research champion (@C_Hendrick)

CamSTAR: Research as CPD: CPD as research (@headguruteacher)

What is a research champion? (@Waldenkent)

Research in schools: Being Devil’s advocate (@MissDCox)

Developing research leads in schools: ‘the good we oft win’ (@turnfordblog)

Research lead slides (@huntingenglish & @C_Hendrick)

Educational research-where to begin (@imsporticus)

Professor Coe #rEDlead slides (@profcoe)

RSA Essays: Licensed to create (@headguruteacher)

Teaching schools: national research and development network (TSC)

How lesson study is placing pupils at the heart of improving learning (@carpenter_rob)

Is this research as we know it? (@hannahtyreman)

Blueprint for a self improving school system (ACSL)

Sutton Trust Teaching and Learning Toolkit (@suttontrust)

Is this research use?Why might lesson study help improve your teaching? (@benjamindwhite)

Researched Lead Network Part 1 (@bethgg)

Research Lead Network Part 2 (@bethgg)

Access to research (@bethgg)

Nfer research and policy developments (@TheNFER)

The school research lead and journal clubs (@DrGaryJones)

The most read articles in @RoutledgeEd journals

Education research: why bother? (@wellylearning)

Why has practitioner research had such little impact in schools? (@C_Hendrick)

What can educators do to better link research to practice? (@C_Hendrick)

Panel discussion on education: Battle of the ideas (@C_Hendrick)

Navigating research: A guide for teachers and school leaders (@Farrowmr)

Action research journal (@ImpingtonVC)

Some problems with Action Research (@Bio_Joe)

Educational research-Treasures old and new (@ThinkReadTweet)

Calm down dear: Its only educational research (@davidErogers)

Research as a tool, not a set of handcuffs (@T74L)

The blind men and the elephant (@nickdennis)

Importance of evidence for school leaders and governors (@researchED1)

The role of the research lead (@petenealon)

Tools to evaluate the quality of research (@judeenright)

 

Rachael Edgar

@Dubai_Teachmeet

 

 

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