Teachers as Researchers

As part of our annual School Development Planning, the leadership team began to explore the role of research in day to day teaching.  In part this was a response to the number of research projects we have now taken on board as part of our role as a teaching school but also in response to the growing enthusiasm of staff to the various research schemes currently taking place.  There are now a number of teachers following M. Ed programmes, or the University of Exeter’s Research in Action project, but by far the largest number is involved in Trio projects which continue to prove to be very successful.

This prompted a discussion of the role of research in a teacher’s day to day activities.  Secondary teachers especially have long considered themselves to be specialists in their particular subject areas and it is this interest which drives their enthusiasm for the subject and thus encourages them to teach.  Increasingly, teachers are seeing themselves as experts in pedagogy, and much recent teacher training enhances this notion.  However, the idea of teachers as researchers is relatively new and considered by some to be somewhat faddish.

However, when you think about it, teaching never stands still and it is up to classroom teachers continuously to update their knowledge, both in terms of their own subjects but also in terms of teaching techniques.  The best teachers do this naturally and those that don’t tend to fall into the time serving category.  The teachers’ professional standards recognise the need to keep up to date in order to maintain the appropriate level of competence.  Sadly, there are staff who rely on their university education and never seek to update their knowledge; similarly, some think that the teaching skills they have already are sufficient.  The good teachers, however, are constantly updating their skills and always open to new ideas.  This is where the research element comes in.

Attached to this blog entry is a simple mind-map which seeks to explore the role of research in teaching at Woodroffe, though it is of course equally applicable to any school with a few details changed.  It is clear that the role of the contemporary teacher is no longer simply a matter of good subject knowledge (although Gove’s Free School agenda is out of line with this idea, as with so much else) but a question of pedagogy and research.  Teaching is dependent on good subject knowledge, strong pedagogy and a willingness to engage with new ideas, in other words to take part in research.

Building research into a teacher’s job description does not add any more work but simply acknowledges a role which is usually undertaken as part of their day to day lives.  Offering more formal research opportunities is an excellent way of both recognising this role and expanding it.  The notion of teacher as subject specialist, pedagogue, and researcher also serves to enhance the status of the role and underlines its professionalism, something desperately needed in the current political and cultural climate where teachers are regularly denigrated by politicians, the press and, increasingly, parents.

It could be that the teacher as a researcher is a way of increasing professionalism in teaching, enhancing the status of teachers and showing the outside world that there is more to the game than crowd control and exam technique.

Above all it keeps teachers interested, allows them to develop their classroom practice and leads to improvements for pupils in the classroom.

 

There are currently two types of Trios in operation: the cross-alliance Trios, which form the key plank of this research project, and the usual school based Trios which Woodroffe has been running for a number of years now.

Both sets of Trios were asked to do mid year reviews. Attached below are two very interesting responses.  The first is from Sharron Hutchings, who is leading one of the cross-alliance Trios, and she outlines in some detail the work she has been undertaking with colleagues from Kings and Axe Valley.  The second is a a brief summary of the collaborative work taking place at Woodroffe.

Both documents offer useful perspectives on the way outstanding pedagogy is developed both in school and across schools.

Learning Log – X-Alliance Trio

Trio Mid Year Review 2014

As part of our work as a Teaching School, we are of course happy to host visits from colleagues taking part in NPQH programmes.  Part of the qualification involves a project which will be useful to the host school.  Steve Bond, Deputy Head of Minehead Middle School,  undertook a placement at Woodroffe and decided to look at the operation of the Teaching School as the focus for his project.

He chose to look closely at the work undertaken at Woodroffe, as the lead schools of the JCTSA, and then visited two other alliances in order to make comparisons.  His final report, which is attached, is a very thorough piece of work, and gives both a very clear account of the ethos and practice of the JCTSA, and some very useful comparisons with the other alliances.  He concludes with some action points which tie in very neatly with our own plans.

Part of his review inevitably focuses on Trio work and the leading of outstanding pedagogy across the alliance, so it is useful in that respect too.

An external, objective perspective is very useful, and the NPQH project would well be a useful way of introducing a light touch peer review for the teaching schools involved.

Since completing his NPQH, Steve has secured a headship.

Steve Bond Peer Review

NCTL has just announced a funding opportunity to allow Teaching Schools to develop their research skills using the Evidence Based Teaching methodology.  Clearly this ties in neatly with our work on the Leadership of Great Pedagogy and a number of other projects the alliance is involved in.  Our bid is outlined below:

The Woodroffe School, Lyme Regis

Jurassic Coast Teaching School Alliance

Funding opportunity – developing expertise in supporting Evidence-Based Teaching

 

Dear Sir/Madam,

I would like to apply to take part in the Evidence-Based Teaching project advertised by the NCTL in the January 2014 newsletter.

The Woodroffe School, leading the Jurassic Coast Teaching School Alliance, is a cohort 2 school with a strong record of research work and a real enthusiasm for developing its expertise in this area. As a Research and Development Lead school, we have worked closely with the college on a number of projects and I am a member of the R&D advisory group.  As you will see below, we have a strong commitment to Evidence-Based Teaching and we consider Research to be one of our strengths as a Teaching School Alliance.

How is teachers’ engagement with the wider evidence base currently supported in your school?

The Woodroffe School has been interested in using research evidence for a number of years and we are now stepping up our involvement in this area in order to make research a key feature of the way the alliance operates.  More specifically we:

  • Keep up to date with key academic studies. Recent development planning, for example, has been based on responses to the Sutton Trust report plus the work of Hattie, Fullan, Hargreaves et al. We have been working recently with Gordon Stobbart from the IoE in order to develop our G&T programme, basing our initial development on ideas drawn from Syed’s Bounce – the Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice.
  • Encourage staff to take part in Masters level courses.  This year we have set up a Research in Action group led by Keith Posthelthwaite from The University of Exeter which gives teachers a chance to undertake small scale research projects before committing to the full M.Ed course.  This is funded from Teaching school income.
  • Ensure that all teaching staff at Woodroffe take part in Trio Research Projects, which are written up and evaluated at the end of the year (there is also a presentation evening).  This mode of working has now been widened to encompass cross phase and cross alliance Trios. See below.
  • Encouraging senior and middle leaders to keep abreast of current educational research and disseminate via staff and department meetings.

What research and development activity is your alliance part of and how is it linked to teaching and learning?

The JCTSA is taking part in the following activities:

  • We have an R&D grant from NCTL exploring the question: “How can leaders lead successful teaching school alliances which enable the development of consistently great pedagogy?” This is proving to be a very successful project now in its second year.  Due both to our geographical location and the pace at which we are working, we moved into a Cohort 1 cluster.  We have Trios successfully operating right across the alliance and we are already planning our second Presentation event at which the projects are disseminated and evaluated.  There is a huge amount of work relating to this project on our TS website, including a Blog of research activities: http://www.jctsa.org.uk/category/r-d-leadership-log/
  • We have been working with The University of Exeter as part of the Empowering Partnerships initiative and they are working with our Business Studies teachers to explore innovative approaches to Enterprise Education
  • We are involved in the local My Science Learning Centre project
  • We also have our own in-house research project based around offering free instrumental hire and tuition to Pupil Premium students in Years 7 and 8.
  • We have six of our alliance schools involved in the Closing the Gap project, with two chosen to lead projects this year and the other four as controls.

 

Ideas for developing the JCTSA alliance to support EBT as a routine method for robustly supporting teaching.

Much of the work we have been doing derives from our Learning Plan’s intense focus on Teaching and Learning.  This began at Woodroffe but has now become the driver of much of the work of the alliance. In order to avoid the top down, SLT committee driven TS alliance model, we chose to make classroom practice the fundamental linking device.  Trio working has allowed us to create a real sense of a learning community across the alliance and this is something we wish to expand year on year.

This culture is now beginning to become embedded in the alliance but we are now seeking to find ways to formalise the links.  Use of the EEF’s DIY evaluation toolkit, for example, would give a common format to the work of our Trios and allow us to take our research up to the next level.  In addition, further work utilising the skills of our HEI partner, and indeed other HEIs, will help to enhance the research work currently undertaken and enable use to disseminate it more widely and more effectively.

More specifically, if our bid is successful, we would like to:

  • Devise a common format for the presentation of research
  • Extend and develop our TS Research website  – http://www.jctsa.org.uk  – to make it of national importance
  • Create routes into research for teaching and non-teaching staff linked closely to our CPD programmes, beginning with involvement in Trios/Collaborative projects; participation in Research in Action projects; involvement in M.Ed and Ed.D courses at The University of Exeter
  • Create effective means of ensuring that the outcomes of the various research projects are fed back directly into the classroom
  • Create a model for EBT which can be used by other schools interested in getting more involved in Research based teaching

In the dark days of winter it is easy to overlook the fact that a lot of work is going on in the background and that teachers are quietly beavering away at their tasks while often, and this sounds terrible, the leadership team look on, engaged with more pressing issues.  Of course, leadership does not have to be constant and hectoring: the best leaders trust their colleagues to get on with things.  However, it is always useful to remind staff of the end point and to look ahead towards the next thing.

It was therefore with a quiet sense of excitement that I begun putting together the plan for our second Trio Presentation Evening. Last year’s event was was excellent and it is definitely something we want to repeat.  The most pleasing aspect was the intense focus on pedagogy and it was a pleasure to see the excitement and enjoyment that the teachers involved had clearly derived from participating in their Trios.  Partly this was down to the revivifying experience of simply working with someone from another school but it was also due to a real sense of engagement with educational research and  cutting edge practice.

In our second year of the project, there are more teachers involved in Trios, though setting this up has once again not been easy.  Establishing links across schools, clearing things with disparate leadership teams, ensuring that time is made available, quibbling over funding support etc. etc. makes the task seem almost impossible sometimes.  However, the enthusiasm of those who took part in Year 1 carried the day and we now have a growing level of support across the alliance for this type of interaction.

Once again, securing commitment from Primary colleagues has proved to be the weak link.  I have written before about the ‘too busy’ culture, and though I acknowledge the difficulties of providing cover for colleagues in small schools, this is a problem which can easily be overcome.  The real problem is persuading primary colleagues that this is a powerful form of professional development.  The three or four primary schools who have become key players in the project are now becoming frustrated that colleagues from other primary schools can not find the time to take part. Consequently, the secondary aspect of the Presentation day programme is complete; the Primary element still undecided.

An interesting aspect of the programme this year is the decision to kick off the evening with a brief talk from one of the first cohort of Trio leaders.  The aim here is to show that Trio work is supposed to keep developing; it is not a one off event which is enjoyed then forgotten.  Experience of working in a Trio should encourage colleagues to continue to work in collaborative ways, and it should also act a catalyst for similar developments in their own schools.  This year Sara Sawtell from Budmouth will kick off the event by exploring the impact her Trio work has had both on her own practice and the work of her school.

This will be followed by presentations from Trios who began work in January 2014 and those due to start in the spring.  We also hope to include some feedback from a new collaborative venture at Woodroffe this year, namely pairs of Year Heads who have chosen to work jointly on small scale research projects as part of their continuing staff development.

Hopefully, it should be a very successful event and encourage further participation the year after.  The draft programme is attached.

In addition, this year we plan to ask all Trios to provide us with a brief summary of their research following a common format in order to ensure that outcomes are recorded, developed and disseminated.

It should be a great event.

Trio Plan 1 July 2014

Trio review proforma

Recently I had a very interesting meeting with the heads of three of our ‘local’ teaching school networks, Rhonda Moore from Poole, Pauline Price from Huish and Andrew Penman from Westfield.  The aim was simply to share ideas, talk about how things were going and generally discuss some of the highs and lows of running a Teaching School alliance. Predictably we found ourselves with very similar concerns and very similar difficulties to overcome.  We discussed aspects of the Big Six, exploring School Direct, Closing the gap, OTP, etc. but the most interesting aspect of the conversation was around the difficulty of creating an effective and genuinely cooperative alliance of schools.  Even though each of us is running a fairly successful operation, we keep coming back to the question of how to secure the buy in.  

There are so many constraints upon collaboration that it is indeed a wonder that we manage to get things done at all.  From the perspective of schools asked to join the alliance, the key question is ‘What’s in it for me?’, and of course this shapes their response to the whole set up.  They participate actively when it is to their advantage (particularly if money is involved!) and then drop back if they don’t see anything in it for them.  And, quite honestly, what school leader wouldn’t do the same?  If you are running an alliance, however, you need to ensure that your alliance partners are involved at every step – and involved actively. 

Other issues often intervene: schools worried about an Ofsted visit, tend unfortunately to look inwards and retreat from the world.  Others worried about finance, refuse to allow staff out to participate in activities.  In some places, conflicts of interest abound, so that the exciting school improvement day your alliance has planned is blown off course by a county initiative, or a national event. Primary schools often do not have the staff to send out, or to commit to the time needed to allow real collaboration.

In the light of the ‘leadership of great pedagogy’ research question, this raises some interesting issues.  Leadership of great pedagogy is much easier within your own school because you are able to exercise significant control over what goes on there.  It is much harder over a wider system.  I have mused on this before (see below) but what I haven’t done is considered the wider aspects of system leadership.

The DfE and NCTL are, of course, part of the leadership conundrum too.  It is too easy to focus the question of great leadership on the head of the teaching alliance downwards.  Much of the rhetoric around leadership explores the role of the head, senior leaders and, more recently, middle leadership.  This, however,  ignores the leadership roles of the architects of the system, from the secretary of state downwards.

In a system where education is being managed increasingly centrally, it is therefore wrong to cut off the leadership discussion half way down the system.  

So, how does the Secretary of State influence great pedagogy?  That is a question I daren’t answer but if we look a few steps below there are some interesting discussions to be had and some interesting questions to be asked.  Has the introduction of the Teaching School movement been led and managed sufficiently well to ensure the development of great pedagogy in the classroom?

There are lots of areas where we could say yes. The target of 500 teaching schools is not far off, there is a reasonable geographical spread, they are responsible for appropriate areas of educational development, and funding is available.  There is also a growing sense of community across TS alliances and some examples of outstanding practice.

On the other hand, there are definitely areas which could have been done better and which are undoubtedly hindering the development of great pedagogy:

  • How have Teaching Schools been promoted and has a proper relationship been defined with Local Authorities, Academy chains etc.?
  • How effective is the new NPQH licensing system? Are these courses really valued now that the NPQH is no longer required?
  • Why are so many heads unclear about the role of SLEs? Why wasn’t this new role promoted nationally?
  • What power have Teaching Schools been given to intervene?
  • How can a Teaching School make long term plans when the funding is both low and time limited.

I could go on.  The point is clear, however: Leadership of Great Pedagogy does not start from the headteacher down, it starts with the Secretary of State – and there is probably a research project in that!

Meanwhile, I suppose here in the JCTSA alliance, we have been turning the idea on its head by focusing on what happens in the classroom where the leadership of learning is the key to the whole thing.  Leadership at the higher levels plays a significant part in the process, creating the culture and climate for great learning to develop, but it is in the classroom where the difference is made.

Great leadership should therefore be directly connected to the classroom – or linked as closely as possible – something Mr Gove might want to think about.