Last week, delegates to the American Educational Research Association held its enormous annual conference in Washington DC. Engaging with research and evidence as part of effective professional teacher development is an obvious topic for such a gathering of teachers, academics, school leaders and students. It has benefits for teacher practice and pupil outcomes. At the same time school leaders often require help with understanding how to harness these benefits. As I note in Leading the Use of Research and Evidence in Schools, however, school leaders can support evidence-informed practice by addressing the five key checklist items set out below.
CHECKLIST ITEM 1: does your approach to research and evidence use demonstrate your own commitment as well as facilitate the efforts of others?
School leadership must actively and demonstrably buy-in to research and evidence use for it to become part of a school’s ‘way of life’. This means that school leaders must not only promote the vision for and develop the culture of a research engaged school, they must also provide the necessary resource and supporting structures so that sustained and meaningful research use can become a reality, and resulting changes in practice employed widely.
CORE THEME 2: does your approach to research and evidence use have buy in throughout the school?
A key aspect of many definitions of leadership is that there must be a process of influence. Leadership activity when viewed as a form of influence can, however, be undertaken by more than just those possessing ‘formal’ responsibility. As a consequence, the implementation of new initiatives, such as research and evidence use, must pay attention to the informal aspects of an organization: i.e. the organization as lived by organizational members in their day-to-day work life. Bringing into play the informal organization, means that the vision of school leader needs to be grounded in collaborative ideals and be consensual.
CORE THEME 3: does your approach to research and evidence use ‘start with the end in mind’ and ensure progress towards this end is tracked?
As Louise Stoll explains, when embedding any new intervention we need to ‘start with the end in mind’. In other words, to be clear about intended outcomes before we begin any professional learning activity. There are two key benefits to this approach: first, it provides a point of focus – a goal or vision for which you can strive. Second, starting with the end in mind also provides a way to measure impact and so assess how effective your efforts have been in achieving this vision.
CORE THEME 4: does your approach to research and evidence use have teacher learning and practice at its core?
Effective research use doesn’t mean replacing teacher knowledge with the ‘what works’ knowledge produced by bodies such as the Education Endowment Foundation. Effective research use actually stems from developing expertise; ensuring that teachers are able to bring together ‘what is known’ (i.e. formal knowledge) with what they know about their context, their pupils and what they currently see as effective practice. Engaging in knowledge ‘creation’ means that teachers at once have a wider understanding of both the causes of problems relating to teaching and learning and practical understanding for how these might be addressed.
CORE THEME 5: does your approach to research and evidence ensure that the right people are in the room?
In the same way that the vision of school leaders needs ‘on the ground’ champions if it is to be embedded more than simply at a surface level, aspects of learner centred leadership also need support from teachers who agree that specific approaches to improving teaching and learning are required, and are happy to promote them to peers. In other work Louise Stoll and I detail how we selected middle leaders for this role, but not just any middle leaders – we wanted those keen to tackle and promote evidence-informed change. As we soon discovered, the most effective ‘catalysts’ were influential within and beyond their schools. This meant that their peers were willing to learn from and engage with them.
Dr. Chris Brown received the American Educational Research Association’s ‘Excellence in Research to Practice’ award at this year’s conference. This is presented for ‘exemplary performance in moving research into the field of practice and is based on scholarship that brings substantive attention to the degree to which research is applied and sustained in decision-making, practice or school policy’. He is a Senior Lecturer at the IOE’s London Centre for Leadership in Learning.
Brown, C. (2015) Introduction, in Brown C. (ed) Leading the use of Research & Evidence in schools, London, IOE Press.
Brown, C. and Rogers, S. (2014) Knowledge creation as an approach to facilitating evidence-informed practice: examining ways to measure the success of using this method with early years practitioners in Camden (London), Journal of Educational Change, 15 (1), early online access.
Finnigan, K., Daly, A., Hylton, N. and Che, J. (2015) Leveraging social networks for educational improvement, in Brown C. (ed) Leading the use of Research & Evidence in schools, (London, IOE Press).
Stoll, L. and Brown, C. (2015) Middle leaders as catalysts for evidence-informed change, in C. Brown (ed) Leading the use of Research & Evidence in schools, (London, IOE Press).
Spillane, J., Healey, K. and Kim, C. (2010) Leading and managing instruction: formal and informal aspects of elementary school organization, In Daly, A. (ed) Social Network Theory and Educational Change, (Cambridge, MA, Harvard Education Press).