In October 2014 I was appointed as Lead Practitioner for Research & Development at my academy; the first time such a post has existed, and the first occasion in which both money and time have been set aside purely for the purpose of research.
Fortunately my academy recognises the paradigm shift happening in education in the UK, which signals a conscious move towards evidence-based practise, with grassroots uptake on a significant scale.
What is my role?
My role as a Lead Practitioner is two-fold:
1) Collective responsibility alongside other Lead Practitioners, the Teaching & Learning team, and SMT for improving the quality of teaching and learning across the school.
2) Whole school responsibility for the development and implementation of research.
These two roles are not mutually exclusive. Research plays a vital role in developing effective pedagogical strategies and staff training methods, and it has always done so, whether we as classroom practitioners realise it or not.
Ultimately, our goal is:
To embed the use of, and participation in, research into the culture of the academy
To foster a climate where research is an integral part of what we do on a daily basis, where it informs our classroom practice, helps us make crucial decisions, and is a driving force behind CPD.
But more than that, we want to develop staff who are able to question, interrogate and challenge, rather than blindly accept a new strategy. It’s crucial that we know that what works for someone else, won’t necessarily work for us, and thus its also crucial that we are confident enough to make changes and push boundaries to achieve more.
We have learned so much on our journey to ‘outstanding’ and we think we know what works, but research will help us prove that (or prove us wrong!). In doing so, we hope to support other schools and teachers in their own development, by sharing our findings, either through publication or training.
In the future, is a research conference, held in schools, driven by, and for, teachers an impossible goal? I don’t think so. Is it a worthwhile goal, undoubtedly.
What have we done so far?
Potential funding bid- the Impact of Coaching
The aim of our research is to investigate the impact of a structured coaching programme on staff performance and student attainment. The programme is in the process of completing its first trial, and we are due to evaluate it next half term. Our intention is to develop an effective and practical proposal, which has tangible benefits for staff & students, which will constitute a viable bid for funding.
MA support group
We have a sizeable number of staff studying for an MA at the moment. We started an MA support group last term to assist staff. The group meets once per half term to:
- share good practice
- discuss dissertation and assignment strategies
- monitor ethical guidelines
- share resources and readings
- troubleshoot any difficulties people are having.
TRIG (Teacher Research Interest Group)
We have also introduced TRIG as a forum for the dissemination of research, and the discussion of new ideas. The TRIG will primarily:
- discuss new ideas for research projects
- develop ways of disseminating the findings of what has been done, out to all staff in an accessible way
- act as a sounding board for staff research ideas
Some research papers can appear a overwhelming and lengthy, thus potentially discouraging staff. To this end it is important to share research with staff in a more accessible and easily digestible format. Therefore we are trialling summarising new/key research into 1-page bulletins to circulate via email.
Research forums in directed time
In order to start disseminating research across the academy, and engaging staff with research, one directed time this term will be given over to the discussion of research / literature.
- LPs will choose a piece of research and analyse it between now and the session- what are its implications? How might it be useful for their practice / across the school
- LP will share the research they’ve chosen and lead departments in discussion of how the research may apply to their subject.
The intention is to build on this further in the summer term, having Middle Leaders and SMT disseminate research that they have engaged with/in at an INSET/Directed time, and finally end the year by having each department develop a research proposal for the new academic year 2015-16.
Research & development blog
New for the spring term will be the launch of our R&D blog, which will offer a platform for staff to share their own research, as well as critically review literature and share their own theories related to pedagogy and education.
Teaching & Learning Twitter account
Using social media is an excellent way to share good practice across the school and let others have an insight into the high quality teaching and learning that happens in our classrooms. Twitter provides a fast, simple way of disseminating ideas out to a wide body of staff, and a good platform for professional debate. Staff are able to share images of students’ work, video clips links to resources & research, blog articles and news via the academy T&L Twitter account. Our goal for this year is to familiarise staff with using the account and get them sharing ideas/good practice as and when it happens.
Staff research projects
Several members of staff are undertaking action research at the moment, with topics currently under investigation including: homework in Year 11, giving students ‘do now’s’ from the next key stage up, giving students only formative feedback, not marks/levels, and the benefits of mindfulness for staff wellbeing.
The challenges we face
Summarised, the biggest challenges we seem to be facing this year are:
- Buy-in / perception of research held by staff– how do we convince staff research isn’t boring and unnecessary? How do we change the perception that research is just another fad? What is the best way for staff to be involved in research? Do we need to build in meeting time for it, or INSET time?
- Time- Where do we find time to conduct research along side everything else we do? Will staff give up their own time to engaging with and in research? How can we realistically get staff involved in an effective way?
- Money- although conducting research doesn’t have to be expensive or indeed cost anything at all, trying to embed a whole new culture requires some resources at least! e.g. books, journal access, training for staff, attendance at conferences like ResearchED (I went to ResearchED London at the end of last year- well worth it for the networking and sharing of ideas. I’ll be attending Cambridge and Brighton this year too) Does this mean the school needs a distinct research budget?
- Access to research materials- journal access is EXPENSIVE! Some providers of packages want £3000+ per year. As a school that just isn’t a sustainable figure. If we can’t give staff easy access to materials, how can we expect them to participate? (We have recently joined NTEN, which comes with whole school logins for a journal database, as well as Lesson Study resources and a CPD audit for a smaller price tag – a smart move on our part, one we should have made sooner!)
- Building partnerships– Will universities want to support us? What are the best organisations for us to join? Will there be significant fees involved? How can we ensure links made are sustainable?