If you haven’t read this great article by Carl Hendricks, Director of Research at Wellington College, on the need for ‘research champions in schools, you should. In it Hendricks persuasively sets out the case for the importance of there being a designated member of staff to champion the cause of education research in every school:
Education research has provided teachers with enlightening and elegant ways of approaching their practice. There is an ever-growing and robust evidence base in a wide range of areas that have improved standards and enfranchised both teacher practice and student achievement. However there has also been a history of ideologically driven, methodologically unsound and politically entrenched dogma in the name of education research that has compromised the very teachers and students it was intended to empower.
This is something I’ve been mulling over for some time. Basically, it would be my dream job. Tom Sherrington says that every school needs someone who reads all the books, blogs and research papers – this is, I’m afraid to say, how I spend my life. I’m also reasonably adept at extracting meaning, condensing the meaning into something comprehensible and communicating it clearly and cogently.
Let’s imagine you’re interested in the idea of employing the services of a ‘research champion’ – what should you hope to get? If you employ an existing member of staff you’ll get someone you know, who in turn knows your school. But I’d imagine in most cases the greater part of their time will be taken up with the vital business of teaching their own classes. The potential advantage of employing someone like me on an ad hoc basis would be that the entirety of their attention would be focussed on just this one are of school life. After all, my view is that schools should be pretty clear about their core purpose; the business of educating young people. As such, designing and conducting your own research questions may divert energies that might be more fruitfully spent exploring how to use the staggering quantity of research that’s already out there and working out how it might be applicable to your unique context. Instead we could explore the possibility of conducting small-scale replication studies, trying to test out the findings of other researchers. I’m also convinced by Dylan Wiliam’s argument that teachers are best concentrating on ‘disciplined enquiry’ rather than actual research. To that end I’m optimistic about the possibilities afforded by rigorously implemented Lesson Study for driving forward real and sustained improvements.
Now, I have no idea about your context but I do have some interesting ideas about how we might make meaningful and measurable predictions of how pupils are likely to react to the introduction of a particular intervention. I’m fairly sure that some conclusions from the realm of psychology are generalisable. That is to say, the ways in which children learn are more similar than they are different. Yes of course every child is unique and has a multitude of competing environmental and genetic influences acting on their behaviour, but in very many important ways, all human beings tend to respond similarly. We don’t have to understand every single child to be able to accurately predict how most children will respond to an intervention.
And if we get it wrong? Well, I’m with Rob Coe on this:
Our strategy should therefore be to make the best choices we can from the best evidence available, to try it out, with an open mind, and see if it works. If it does, we can keep doing it; if not, we will learn from that experience and try something else.
There may be precious few certainties in education, but there are many probabilities.
If all this sounds interesting and you’d like to dip your school’s toes in the rapidly warming pool of education research then as chance would have it I’m currently foot loose and fancy free. I send my time training teachers and working with a number of schools around the country to improve the outcomes for their students. I’d be very excited to work with you to build your own capacity and provide regular ongoing support. And because of the vast sums I get paid to do training, I’m the fortunate position of being able to offer my services at a rate that should be very affordable. If this offer sounds in any way tempting, please email me to discuss the possibilities; I’m sure we can work out something mutually agreeable.