Shaun Allison, Director of Research School and Deputy Headteacher, Durrington High School writes for the SSAT network.
In recent years there has been a significant shift in the teaching profession – one that is to be applauded. A growing number of teachers and school leaders have become interested in engaging with the research evidence around education and cognitive science, and using this to improve their practice. This is a really welcome development. The experience that a child receives in school is too important to be left to chance. It will shape their future, for better or worse.
With this in mind, effective teaching should not be based on hunches or guesses. It should instead draw from the wisdom of our most successful teachers and the available research evidence.
There is a problem though. A huge number of research papers are published every year, covering a dizzying variety of topics. How is a busy teacher expected even to access this evidence, let alone use it to improve their practice?
So how can we get started?
1. Get in contact with your local research school.
There are now 22 research schools around the country, which act as regional hubs for the Research Schools Network. They will share what they know about putting research into practice and support your school to make better use of research evidence. Find your nearest research school at https://researchschool.org.uk/.
2. Use Twitter to engage with institutions and individuals that post regularly about research.
The Education Endowment Foundation (@EducEndowFondn) and the Institute for Effective Education (@IEE_York) are good starting points. Individual tweeters like Dylan Wiliam (@dylanwiliam), Daniel Willingham (@DTWillingham), Tom Bennett (@tombennett71) and Carl Hendrick (@C_Hendrick) are also great sources of information.
3. Sign up for the brilliant e-newsletter ‘Best Evidence in Brief’.
This is produced fortnightly by the Institute for Effective Education, and is a really useful digest of the most recent research findings: http://www.beib.org.uk/.
4. Organise a journal club in your school.
Choose a research paper, publicise it among the staff in your school and then arrange a time to meet and discuss the implications for teachers and leaders. One paper can spark a huge range of ideas and questions among teachers and staff working in all areas of a school. And through this the club can encourage greater research-based collaboration among colleagues.
5. Encourage your SLT to invest in educational books which can be used as the focus for CPD.
There are a huge number to choose from, but I would strongly recommend Why don’t students like school? by Daniel Willingham, What every teacher needs to know about psychology by David Didau and Nick Rose and The hidden lives of learners by Graham Nuthall. Making every lesson count, which I wrote with Andy Tharby, explains how we have used educational research to inform our teaching and learning policy. You could also set up a staff CPD library in your school library or even start an EduBook club, where staff regularly discuss and unpick the evidence presented in the books.
6. Attend events such as ‘researchEd’.
This is a grassroots, teacher led organisation started in 2013 by Tom Bennett, assisted by Helene O’Shea. ResearchEd does a brilliant job of organising low-cost conferences for teachers all over the country, giving them the opportunity to hear from researchers, teachers and leaders who are interested in evidence informed approaches. They can be found here https://researched.org.uk/.
7. Set up a school blog and/or research bulletin.
Use this as an opportunity for colleagues to share how they are using research evidence to inform their practice. We started our blog at Durrington in 2012; it now has over 12,000 followers and is getting close to 1 million hits. It can be found here https://classteaching.wordpress.com/.
8. Send your staff a weekly blog.
Written by a teacher who is using research evidence to inform their practice. There are hundreds to choose from, as can be seen from our ‘blog of the week’ archive https://classteaching.wordpress.com/blog-of-the-week/.
These are just a few examples of the things that schools can do to help staff become more research-informed. The key to this, though, is a commitment from SLT. If the school leadership invest their time and interest, then so will teachers. The benefits are obvious. By realigning our focus and priorities on what has been shown to work rather than what we hope might work, we are doing the best we can for the young people in our schools.
If you are based in the south of England and would like to hear more about our work as a research school, we warmly invite you to our launch event on 27 September, from 5pm-7pm. Please email Lisa Edwards (firstname.lastname@example.org) to reserve a place.
Shaun Allison is presenting a workshop at the SSAT National Conference 2017: Illuminating learning to shine a light on what happens in our classrooms, helping you to become truly evidence-informed in your decision making. All member schools receive one complimentary place and additional places at a reduced rate. Find out more.